Catullus

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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.

Contents

Biography

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.[1] 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);[1] his complaints about his poverty must be taken with a grain 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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

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