A Thousand Kisses: Catullus, Shakespeare, and Jonson

Catullus’ *Carmen V*:

“Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
and let us judge all the rumors of the old men
to be worth just one penny!
The suns are able to fall and rise:
When that brief light has fallen for us,
we must sleep a never ending night.
Give me a thousand kisses, then another hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then yet another thousand more, then another hundred.
Then, when we have made many thousands,
we will mix them all up so that we don’t know,
and so that no one can be jealous of us when he finds out
how many kisses we have shared.”

Ernest A. Fredricksmeyer (“Observations on Catullus 5” from *The American Journal of Philology*, 1970: 434) notes: “R. E. Grimm… proposes that a ‘business’ (‘mercantile,’ ‘commercial’) theme runs through the poem as a ‘leitmotiv’ concurrently with the love theme.”

However, Grimm’s proposition that Catullus’ kisses constitute a business transaction doesn’t work since the kisses are ‘a gift’ (i.e. ‘give me’ [l. 7]) which does not require repayment.

Compare Shakespeare’s *Venus and Adonis*:

“If thou wilt deign this favour, for thy meed
A thousand honey secrets shalt thou know” (ll. 15-16)


“A thousand kisses buys my heart from me;
And pay them at thy leisure, one by one.
What is ten hundred touches unto thee?
Are they not quickly told and quickly gone?
Say, for non-payment that the debt should double,
Is twenty hundred kisses such a trouble?” (ll. 517-22)

Certainly, when one ‘buys’ (l. 517) something on credit (‘the debt’ [l. 521]), such action constitutes a business relationship; however, rewarding a ‘favour’ (l. 15) does not in that a reward is a ‘reciprocity’ in kind… i.e. no payment or debt attaches to a favor.

So the reward of ‘a thousand honey secrets’ (l. 16) is not a loan and therefore does not need to be repaid. But the buying of an item (‘heart’) on credit (‘a thousand kisses’) does need to be repaid. Such business ‘kisses’ surely equate with the sealing of a business transaction.

Compare Jonson’s *The Forest VI* “To the Same [Celia]”:

“Kiss me, sweet : the wary lover
Can your favours keep, and cover,
When the common courting jay
All your bounties will betray.
Kiss again : no creature comes.
Kiss, and score up wealthy sums
On my lips thus hardly sundred,
While you breathe. First give a hundred,
Then a thousand, then another
Hundred, then unto the other
Add a thousand, and so more :” (ll. 1-11)

Jonson’s kisses are ‘favours’ (l. 2). ‘Wealthy sums’ (l. 6) seems to imply the ‘kisses’ are of a monetary nature. But, again, ‘favours’ are not a debt and no repayment attaches to such.

Also, I note Catullus’ “Lesbia” is an alias. Apuleius gave four such examples in *Apologia 10*:

Catullus’ alias Lesbia : real name Clodia
Ticida’s Perilla : Metella
Propertius’ Cynthia : Hostia
Tibullus’ Delia : Plania

It has been noted that all these aliases are metrical matches with the real names.

Possibly Jonson’s ‘Celia’ was a metrical match as well??

Interestingly, in *Return From Parnassus* (f.p. 1606), Gullio’s mistress is Lesbia. And, Gullio gets Ingenioso to impersonate Lesbia. It has been noted that Gullio = Southampton and Ingenioso = Nashe.

Also, Marston writes in his *Scourge of Villanie* (1599) re Shakespeare: “If ere you heard him courting Lesbias eyes”.

© 2016 All Knitwits Reserved.

About knitwitted

Goofette and troublemaker
This entry was posted in shakespeare. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s