Lesbia mi dicit semper male, commonly known as Catullus 92, consists of two elegiac couplets written by Gaius Valerius Catullus (84-54 B.C.E) for his lover, Lesbia. Lesbia was the name believed to have been given by Catullus to his mistress. Her real name was Clodia, the sexually promiscuous wife of proconsul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer, known as Metellus. Catullus’ earlier poem, 83, brings some context to 92. In the first part of 83, Catullus says:
Lesbia keeps insulting me in front of her husband:
this fills the fatuous idiot with delight.
Mule, do you perceive nothing? If she shut up and ignored me
that’d show healthy indifference;…
In 92, Catullus expounds on the idea of why Clodia insults him in front of Metellus. Catullus reckons that he is always cursing her, and he loves her. She always curses him, so she must love him as well. In his desperation, Catullus uses his wit and humor to reason that his obsessive love for Coldia is reciprocated. This setting of 92 uses incessant driving rhythms in the women’s voices to paint the words, “Lesbia mi dicit semper male nec tacet umquam de me” (Lesbia always speaks ill of me, never shuts up about me). The repeating rhythms return in the men’s voices when Catullus says he does the same, “quia sunt totidem mea: deprecor illam assidue” (…it’s the same with me: I’m continually complaining.) The piece comes to a final rest after Catullus realizes the he will always be cursed to love her.
Lesbia mi *dicit semper male *nec *tacet umquam
de me: Lesbia me dispeream nisi amat.
quo signo? quia sunt totidem mea: *deprecor illamassidue, *verum dispeream nisi amo.
Lesbia always speaks ill of me, never shuts up
about me: damn me if she doesn’t love me.
What’s the sign? Because it’s the same with me: I’m continually complaining, but damn me if I don’t love her.
*Pronunciation note: the letter ‘c’ is always pronounced like a hard ‘k’; the letter ‘v’ is always pronounced like a ‘w’.