LESBIA AND CLODIA. James plays with some of the poems that Catullus wrote to “Lesbia”, who is generally thought to be Clodia Pulcher, a colorful, even swashbuckling Roman aristocrat (I posted here about Cicero’s speech in court attacking Clodia. He had to attack her, but carefully because of her rank. His speech turned like a hinge on the line in which he referred to “the animosity between me and this woman’s husband-excuse me, brother, I always make that mistake.”). In Catullus 5 (translation here), Catullus asked Lesbia for kisses:
“Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then yet another thousand, then a hundred….”
The Clive James poem is set at a time when Catullus has lost Lesbia (as he did) and the poet says:
“Remember when I asked for a thousand kisses?
Let’s make it ten. Why not just kiss me once?”