People - Ancient Rome: Catullus Born Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca. 84 BC – ca. 54 BC), he was a Latin poet of the Republican period.
Catullus in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
A celebrated Roman poet, born in the territory of Verona, about B.C. 84. His praenomen, Gaius , is not given in any good MSS., which
only mention his cognomen; but Gaius is accepted on the authority of Apuleius ( Apol. 10). In consequence of an invitation from
Manlius Torquatus, one of the noblest patricians of the State, he proceeded in early youth to Rome, where he appears to have kept but
indifferent company, at least in point of moral character. He impaired his fortune so much by his extravagance that he complains he
had no one
Fractum qui veteris pedem grabati,
In collo sibi collocare possit.
This, however, must have been written partly in jest, as his finances were always sufficient to allow him to keep up a delightful
villa on the peninsula of Sirmio and an expensive residence at Tibur. With a view of improving his pecuniary circumstances, he
adopted the usual Roman mode of reestablishing a diminished fortune, and accompanied MemmiusGaius , the celebrated friend of
Lucretius, to Bithynia, where he was appointed praetor to that province. His situation, however, was but little ameliorated by this
expedition, and, in the course of it, he lost a beloved brother who was along with him, and whose death he lamented in verse never
surpassed in delicacy or pathos. He came back to Rome with a shattered constitution and a lacerated heart. From the period of his
return to Italy to his decease, his time appears to have been chiefly occupied with the prosecution of amours in the capital or in
the solitudes of Sirmio. He died B.C. 54.
The distracted and unhappy state of his country, and his disgust at the treatment which he had received from Memmius, were perhaps
sufficient excuse for shunning political employments; but, when we consider his taste and genius, we cannot help regretting that he
was merely an idler and a debauchee. He loved Clodia (supposed to have been the sister of the tribune Clodius), a beautiful but
shameless woman, whom he has celebrated under the name of Lesbia. Among his friends he ranked not only most men of pleasure and
fashion in Rome, but many of her eminent literary and political characters, such as Cornelius Nepos, Cicero, and Asinius Pollio. His
enemies seem to have been as numerous as his loves or friendships, and competitions in poetry or rivalship in gallantry appear always
to have been a sufficient cause for his dislike; and where an antipathy was once conceived, he was unable to put any restraint on the
expression of his hostile feelings. His poems are chiefly employed in the indulgence and commemoration of these various passions.
They have been divided into lyric, elegiac, and epigrammatic, an arrangement convenient from its generality, but to which all can
not, with strictness, be reduced. He seems to have been the earliest lyric poet of Latium, notwithstanding the claim of Horace to the
same honour. Much of his poetry appears to have been lost: the pieces that remain to us (116 in all) exhibit, in singular contrast,
the sensual grossness which is imbibed from depraved habits and loose imaginations, together with exquisite touches of sentiment and
taste, and the polish of intellectual cultivation. Those who turn with disgust from the coarse impurities that sully his pages may be
inclined to wonder that praises of his delicacy should ever have been coupled with the name of Catullus. But to many of his
effusions, distinguished both by fancy and feeling, this praise is justly due. Many of his amatory trifles are quite unrivalled in
the elegance of their playfulness; and no author has excelled him in the purity and neatness of his style, the delightful ease and
simplicity of his manner, and in graceful turns of thought and felicity of diction. Some of his pieces, which breathe the higher
enthusiasm of the art, and are coloured with a singular picturesqueness of imagery, increase our regret at the manifest mutilation of
his works. Among these, the most remarkable is, perhaps, the Attis, a poem in the galliambic metre, and unlike the work of any other
Latin author in the strangeness of its subject and its weird imaginative power. No one of his poetical predecessors was more versed
in Greek literature than Catullus, and his extensive knowledge of its beauties procured for him the appellation of Doctus.
Catullus translated many of the shorter and more delicate pieces of the Greeks, an attempt which hitherto had been thought
impossible, though the broad humour of their comedies, the vehement pathos of their tragedies, and the romantic interest of the
Odyssey, had stood the transformation. His stay in Bithynia, though little advantageous to his fortune, rendered him better
acquainted than he might otherwise have been with the productions of Greece; and he was therefore, in a great degree, indebted to
this expedition for those felicitous turns of expression, that grace, simplicity, and purity which are the characteristics of his
poems, and of which hitherto Greece alone had afforded models. Indeed, in all his verses, whether elegiac or heroic, we perceive his
imitation of the Greeks; and it must be admitted that he has drawn from them his choicest stores. His Hellenisms are frequent; his
images, similes, metaphors, and addresses to himself are all Greek; and even in the versification of his odes we see visible traces
of their origin. Nevertheless, he was the inventor of a new species of Latin poetry; and as he was the first who used such variety of
measures, and perhaps invented some that were new, he was amply entitled to call the poetical volume which he presented to Cornelius
Nepos lepidus novus libellus. The expressions, too, and idioms of the Greek language, which he has so carefully selected, are woven
with such art into the texture of his composition, and so aptly paint the impassioned ideas of his muse, that they have all the fresh
and untarnished hues of originality.
All the MSS. of Catullus are of recent date, and all are derived from a single codex (Codex Veronensis) of which Rather, bishop of
Verona (A.D. 965) made some use, and which in the fourteenth century was again copied, as also a third time, and then finally lost.
The earliest and best MS., copied directly from the Codex Veronensis, is one in Paris (Germanensis), nearly related to which is the
Codex Oxoniensis, probably copied about the year 1400 (Bährens). In all, there are some seventy MSS. of Catullus, on which see R.
Catullus in Roman Biography
Ca-tul'lus, [Fr. C atuli.e, kt'tiil',] (Catus Valerius,)
an eminent Latin poet, born at or near Verona about
77 B.C., (some authorities say 87 B.C.) He went to Rome
at an early age, and by bis literary merit obtained
into the society of Cicero, Caesar, Pollio, and
others. His indulgence in vicious and expensive pleasures
soon reduced him to poverty, which, however, did
not subdue his hilarity. His superior genius as a poet is
generally admitted by ancient and modern critics. He
wrote numerous poems, which are still extant, including
odes and epigrams of great beauty and pathos. He also
excelled in heroic verse, and was the first Roman that
cultivated lyric poetry with success. His longest poem
is "The Nuptials of Peleus and Thetis," in hexameter
verse. Some critics estimate the "Atys" as the greatest
of his works. "His '
says Professor William
" is one of the most remarkable poems in the
whole range of Latin literature. Rolling impetuously
along in a flood of wild passion, bodied forth in the
grandest imagery and the noblest diction, it
every line the fiery vehemence cf the Greek ditnyramb.
. . . We admire by turns, in the lighter efforts/ of his
muse, his unaffected ease, playful grace, vigorous
pungent wit, and slashing invective." He imitated
Greek models, and seemed like a Greek poet
writing in Latin. He is supposed to have died about
45 B.C. ; though Scaliger maintains that he lived about
thirty years after that date.
See Sellar, "Roman Poets of the Republic," chap. xii. ;
" Bibliotheca Latina ;"
" Nouvelle Biographie Generate ;"
'Foreign Quarterly Review" for July, 1842;
" Fraser's Magazine"
for March, 1849.
Catullus in Wikipedia
Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca. 84 BC – ca. 54 BC) was a Latin poet of the Republican period. His surviving works are still read widely, and
continue to influence poetry and other forms of art.
Catullus came from a leading equestrian family of Verona in Cisalpine Gaul, and according to St. Jerome, he was born in the town. The family
was prominent enough for his father to entertain Caesar, then proconsul of both Gallic provinces. In one of his poems Catullus describes
his happy return to the family villa at Sirmio on Lake Garda near Verona. The poet also owned a villa near the fashionable resort of Tibur
(modern Tivoli); his complaints about his poverty must be taken with a pinch of salt.
The poet appears to have spent most of his years as a young adult in Rome. His friends there included the poets Licinius Calvus, and Helvius
Cinna, Quintus Hortensius (son of the orator and rival of Cicero) and the biographer Cornelius Nepos, to whom Catullus dedicated the extant
libellus which is the basis of his fame. He appears to have been acquainted with the poet Marcus Furius Bibaculus. A number of prominent
contemporaries appear in his poetry, including Cicero, Caesar and Pompey. According to an anecdote preserved by Suetonius, Caesar did not
deny that Catullus's lampoons left an indelible stain on his reputation, but when Catullus apologized, he invited the poet for dinner the
very same day.
It was probably in Rome that Catullus fell deeply in love with the "Lesbia" of his poems, who is usually identified with Clodia Metelli, a
sophisticated woman from the aristocratic house of patrician Claudii Pulchri and sister of the infamous Publius Clodius Pulcher. In his poems
Catullus describes several stages of their relationship: initial euphoria, doubts, separation, and his wrenching feelings of loss. Many
questions must remain unanswered - most importantly, it is not clear why the couple split up - but Catullus's poems about the relationship
display striking depth and psychological insight. One such poem with insight to the reasons of his parting with "Lesbia" is poem 11, which is
addressed to his companions Furius and Aurelius and requests them simply to pass a farewell insult to Lesbia.
He spent the provincial command year summer 57 to summer 56 BC in Bithynia on the staff of the commander C. Memmius. While in the East, he
traveled to the Troad to perform rites at his brother's tomb, an event recorded in a moving poem.
There survives no ancient biography of Catullus: his life has to be pieced together from scattered references to him in other ancient authors
and from his poems. Thus it is uncertain when he was born and when he died. St. Jerome says that he died in his 30th year, and was born in 87
BC. But the poems include references to events of 55 and 54 BC. Since the Roman consular fasti make it somewhat easy to confuse 87 – 57 BC
with 84 – 54 BC, many scholars accept the dates 84 BC – 54 BC, supposing that his latest poems and the publication of his libellus
coincided with the year of his death, a most unlikely proposition.[why?]
Catullus's poems were widely appreciated by other poets, but Cicero despised them for their supposed amorality. Catullus was never considered
one of the canonical school authors, although his body of work is on the reading lists for Ph.D. programs in the classics. Nevertheless, he
greatly influenced poets such as Ovid, Horace, and Virgil. After his rediscovery in the late Middle Ages, Catullus again found admirers. His
explicit writing style has shocked many readers, both ancient and modern.
Main article: Poetry of Catullus
Wikibooks has a book on the topic of
The Poetry of Gaius Valerius Catullus
Sources and organization -
Catullus's poems have been preserved in an anthology of 116 carmina (three of which are now considered spurious — 18, 19 and 20 — although
the numbering has been retained), which can be divided into three formal parts: sixty short poems in varying metres, called polymetra, eight
longer poems, and forty-eight epigrams.
There is no scholarly consensus on whether or not Catullus himself arranged the order of the poems. The longer poems differ from the
polymetra and the epigrams not only in length but also in their subjects: There are seven hymns and one mini-epic, or epillion, the most
highly-prized form for the "new poets".
The polymetra and the epigrams can be divided into four major thematic groups (ignoring a rather large number of poems eluding such
poems to and about his friends (e.g., an invitation like poem 13).
erotic poems: some of them indicate homosexual penchants (50 and 99), but most are about women, especially about one he calls "Lesbia" (in
honour of the poetess Sappho of Lesbos, source and inspiration of many of his poems).
invectives: often rude and sometimes downright obscene poems targeted at friends-turned-traitors (e.g., poem 30), other lovers of Lesbia,
well known poets, politicians (e.g., Julius Caesar) and rhetors, including Cicero.
condolences: some poems of Catullus are solemn in nature. 96 comforts a friend in the death of a loved one; several others, most famously
101, lament the death of his brother.
All these poems describe the lifestyle of Catullus and his friends, who, despite Catullus's temporary political post in Bithynia, lived their
lives withdrawn from politics. They were interested mainly in poetry and love. Above all other qualities, Catullus seems to have sought
venustas, or charm, in his acquaintances, a theme which he explores in a number of his poems. The ancient Roman concept of virtus (i.e. of
virtue that had to be proved by a political or military career), which Cicero suggested as the solution to the societal problems of the late
Republic, meant little to them.
But it is not the traditional notions Catullus rejects, merely their monopolized application to the vita activa of politics and war. Indeed,
he tries to reinvent these notions from a personal point of view and to introduce them into human relationships. For example, he applies the
word fides, which traditionally meant faithfulness towards one's political allies, to his relationship with Lesbia and reinterprets it as
unconditional faithfulness in love. So, despite seeming frivolity of his lifestyle, Catullus measured himself and his friends by quite
Intellectual influences -
Catullus's poetry was influenced by the innovative poetry of the Hellenistic Age, and especially by Callimachus and the Alexandrian school,
which had propagated a new style of poetry that deliberately turned away from the classical epic poetry in the tradition of Homer. Cicero
called these local innovators neoteroi (νεώτεροι) or 'moderns' (in Latin poetae novi or 'new poets'), in that they cast off the heroic model
handed down from Ennius in order to strike new ground and ring a contemporary note. Catullus and Callimachus did not describe the feats of
ancient heroes and gods (except perhaps in re-evaluating and predominantly artistic circumstances, e.g. poems 63 and 64), focusing instead on
small-scale personal themes. Although these poems sometimes seem quite superficial and their subjects often are mere everyday concerns, they
are accomplished works of art. Catullus described his work as expolitum, or polished, to show that the language he used was very carefully
and artistically composed.
Catullus was also an admirer of Sappho, a female poet of the 7th century BC, and is the source for much of what we know or infer about her.
Catullus 51 follows Sappho 31 so closely that some believe the later poem to be, in part, a direct translation of the earlier poem, and 61
and 62 are certainly inspired by and perhaps translated directly from lost works of Sappho. Both of the latter are epithalamia, a form of
laudatory or erotic wedding-poetry that Sappho had been famous for but that had gone out of fashion in the intervening centuries. Catullus
sometimes used a meter that Sappho developed, called the Sapphic strophe. In fact, Catullus may have brought about a substantial revival of
that form in Rome.
Catullus wrote in many different meters including hendecasyllabic and elegiac couplets (common in love poetry). All of his poetry shows
strong and occasionally wild emotions especially in regard to Lesbia. He also demonstrates a great sense of humour such as in Catullus 13.
Many of the literary techniques he used are still common today, including hyperbaton: “plenus saculus est aranearum” (Catullus 13), which
translates as “[my] purse is all full – of cobwebs.” He also uses litotes e.g. “Salve, nec minimo puella naso nec bello pede nec…” (Catullus
43) (“hello, girl with a not so small nose and a not so pretty foot and...”) as well as tricolon and alliteration. He is also very fond of
diminutives such as in Catullus 50: “Hestero, Licini, die otiose/multum lusimus in meis tabellis” – “Yesterday, Licinius, was a day of
leisure/ playing many games in my little notebooks”.
Cultural references -
The epistolary novel Ides of March by Thornton Wilder centers on Julius Caesar, but prominently features Catullus, his poetry, his
relationship (and correspondence) with Clodia, correspondence from his family and a description of his death. Catullus's poems and the
closing section by Suetonius are the only documents in the novel which are not imagined.
Catulli Carmina is a cantata by Carl Orff to the texts of Catullus.
The new musical TULLY (In No Particular Order), which appeared in the 2007 New York Musical Theatre Festival, loosely adapts the poems of
Catullus while retaining the non-linear structure of the published edition, exploring his relationships with both Clodia and Juventius,
renamed Julie, and the timeless nature of memory and love.
The 20th-century Irish poet Louis MacNeice references Catullus in his poem "Epitaph for Liberal Poets," where he mentions Catullus as amongst
the first liberal poets - "Catullus/ went down young," mentioning him in the context of the death of the individual and recognising his and
the universal plight.
Archibald MacLeish wrote a poem entitled "You Also, Gaius Valerius Catullus," where he addresses the poet.
Catullus is discussed in John Fowles's novel The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969) as being one of the foremost poets of love, sexuality and
The 16th-century Spanish poet Cristóbal de Castillejo plagiarized Catullus in his well-known work "Dame amor, besos sin cuento".
Yeats references Catullus in his poem The Scholars.
Ned Rorem has a song entitled, "Catullus: On the burial of his brother."