Catullus 7:
quaeris quot basiationes
tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque.
quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae
laserpiciferis iacet Cyrenis,
oraclum Iovis inter aestuosi
et Batti veteris sacrum sepulcrum,
aut quam sidera multa, cum tacet nox,
furtivos hominum vident amores:
tam te basia multa basiare
vesano satis et super Catullo est,
quae nec pernumerare curiosi
possint nec mala fascinare lingua.

You ask how many kisses of yours,
Lesbia, should be enough and more to me.
How great a number as that of Libyssan grains of sand
which lies between the oracle of sweltering
Jove at silphium-bearing Cyrene
and the sacred tomb of old Battus,
or how many stars, when night is silent,
look upon the secret loves of men:
so many kisses are enough and more
for mad Catullus to kiss you,
and which busibodies should not be able
to number, nor to bewitch with evil speech.



Yet another Lesbia poem, a happier one than many. Catullus measures Lesbia's kisses not in numbers but by stars and sand, traditional metaphors of infinitude. It was believed that to number something exactly or have exact information about it (such as a name or number) was to have power over it and be able to cast a spell on it (fascinare). Catullus' reference to mala lingua, evil speech, shows that he is warding any ill-wishing hexes. The oracle of 'sweltering Jove' (aestuosi Iovis) is actually the Egyptian oracle of Ammon in southern Cyrenaica; Ammon was identified with Jove, and is here personified as sweltering in the desert heat. The mashed-together compound laserpiciferis refers to the silphium that grew around Cyrene, used as a contraceptive. The tomb of Battus, first king of Cyrene (sepulchrum Batti) was about 300 miles away from the aforementioned oracle, making Catullus' grains of sand plentiful indeed.

Latin text from the Merrill edition; notes and commentary cobbled together from the Merril and Quinn commentaries as well as Garrison's text for students. Painfully unpoetic but literal translation mine.

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