:"For persons with a
cognomen"Catulus", see Lutatius"Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca. 84 BC – ca. 54 BC) was a Roman poetof the 1st century BC. His work remains widely studied, and continues to influence poetry and other forms of art.
Little is known about Catullus' life. Most ancient sources, including Suetonius and
Ovid(Amores III.XV), claim Verona as his birthplace. He came from a leading equestrian family of Verona, but lived in Romefor most of his life.
Catullus' family owned a villa at
Sirmioon Lake Garda. His father entertained Caesar, then governor of Gaul. [http://www.bookrags.com/biography/gaius-valerius-catullus/] Catullus Web page at "Encyclopedia of World Biography" Web site, accessed February 13, 2007] At some point, the poet parodied Caesar and an associate ( Mamurra), but later apologized and was forgiven. [ [http://www.negenborn.net/catullus/about_cat.htm?l=l] Hope, Ken, "Introduction on Catullus" at the "Catullus Translations" Web site, accessed February 13, 2007]
Catullus' friends included the poets C. Licinius Macer Calvus,
Marcus Furius Bibaculus, and C. Helvius Cinna, the orator Quintus Hortensius(a rival of Ciceroin the law courts) and the biographer Cornelius Nepos, to whom Catullus' book of poems is dedicated.
In 61 BC Catullus went to Rome and fell in love with the "
Lesbia" of his poems, generally believed to be Clodia Metelli, sister of the infamous Publius Clodius Pulcher. This sophisticated woman, 10 years older than Catullus, was a member of the aristocratic Claudian family. Their brief affair ended when Clodia spurned him for Marcus Caelius Rufus, a member of Catullus' social circle and an associate of Cicero. In 57 BC he accompanied his friend Memmius to Bithynia, where Memmius served as propraetor. Catullus served on the staff of the governor of Bithynia, his only political office. While in the East, Catullus traveled to the Troadto perform rites at his brother's tomb, an event recorded in a moving poem.
After his year in Bithynia, Catullus returned to Italy, probably settling in Rome and spending the last few years of his life there. Although his poems contain complaints about poverty, he owned a villa near Tibur (modern Tivoli).
It is uncertain when Catullus died. Some ancient sources claim he died from exhaustion at the age of thirty.
St. Jeromegives his birth year as 87 BC and wrote that the poet lived 30 years, but some of the poems refer to events in 55 BC. Since no poem can be dated later than 54 BC, scholars traditionally accept the dates 84 BC – 54 BC.
His 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. 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.
ources and organization
Catullus' poems have been preserved in an
anthologyof 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 categorization):
* poems to and about his friends (e.g., an invitation like poem 13).
eroticpoems: 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 Sapphoof Lesbos, source and inspiration of many of his poems).
invectives: often rude and sometimes downright obscenepoems 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
Epicureanlifestyle of Catullus and his friends, who, despite Catullus' temporary political post in Bithynia, lived their lives withdrawn from politics. They were interested mainly in poetryand 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 virtuethat had to be proved by a political or military career), which Cicerosuggested 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 ambitious standards.
poetrywas influenced by the innovative poetry of the Hellenistic Age, and especially by Callimachusand the Alexandrian school, which had propagated a new style of poetry that deliberately turned away from the classical epic poetryin the tradition of Homer. Cicero called these local innovators " neoteroi" (νεώτεροι) or 'moderns', (in Latin "novi poetae" or 'new poets'), in that they cast off the heroic model handed down from Enniusin order to strike new ground and ring a contemporary note. Catullus and Callimachusdid 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 51follows Sappho 31so 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 laudatoryor 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 anaphorae.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 tricolonand 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’.
Catullus in popular culture
epistolary novel"Ides of March" by Thornton Wildercenters 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' 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.
Icelandic musician and composer
Jóhann Jóhannsson's 2002 album Englabörn ( [http://www.last.fm/music/J%C3%B3hann+J%C3%B3hannsson/Englab%C3%B6rn track listing] ) includes the track "Odi Et Amo", setting Catullus's Poem 85 to music.
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.
Catullus was mentioned in an early
Achewood[http://www.achewood.com/index.php?date=03082002 strip] .
Archiblad MacLeish wrote a poem entitled "You Also, Gaius Valerius Catullus," where he addresses the poet.
Catullus is discussed in John Fowles novel 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' (1969) as being one of the fore-most poets on love, sexuality and desire.
Poetry of Catullus
*Harrington, Karl Pomeroy. "Catullus and his influence". New York, Cooper Square Publishers, 1963.
*Ferguson, J. "Catullus".(G&R New Surveys in The Classics No.20). Oxford, 1988.
*Gaisser, Julia Haig. "Catullus And His Renaissance Readers". Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1993.
*Balme, M and Morewood, J. "Oxford Latin Reader" Oxford, University Press, 1997.
*Thomson, D. F. S. Catullus. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1997.
*Wiseman, T. P. Catullus and his World: A Reappraisal. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1985.
* [http://www.negenborn.net/catullus/ Catullus translations] : Catullus' work in Latin and multiple modern languages
* [http://www.vroma.org/~hwalker/VRomaCatullus/ Catullus] in Latin and English
* [http://www.intratext.com/Catalogo/Autori/AUT61.HTM Catullus] : Latin text, concordances and frequency list
* [http://latinum.mypodcast.com Latinum podcast] : includes Catullus' poems read in Latin
* [http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/classicsfacpub/2/ Catullus purified: a brief history of Carmen 16] by Thomas Nelson Winter
* [http://www.rhapsodes.fll.vt.edu/catullus1.htm SORGLL: Catullus 5, read by Robert Sonkowsky]
* [http://www.perdikapress.com/Catullus.htm] New Catullus translation by
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.