In the fourteenth century, a manuscript of Catullus’s works was discovered containing 116 of his poems, varying from a short couplet to a long poem of more than four hundred lines. His Latin texts, edited by Elmer Truesdell Merrill, are available in Catullus (1893).A good modern translation of his poems is that of Frank O. Copley, Gaius Valerius Catullus: The Complete Poetry, a New Translation with an Introduction (1957)
Gaius Valerius Catullus (kuh-TUHL-uhs) ranks with Sappho and Percy Bysshe Shelley among the world’s great lyric poets, yet this son of a wealthy family of Transpadane Gaul delights more in the flesh than either of the others, recording a struggle between flesh and spirit. Where Catullus studied is not known, but in 62
While there is no record of his marriage, the account of his love affair with “Lesbia,” a name suggested by the birthplace of Sappho, comes down in 116 poems, of which three may be spurious. They run the gamut from dawning love to flaming hate when the lady proves faithless. Apuleius, author of The Golden Ass, identifies the subject of the poems as the notorious Clodia, sister of Clodius and wife (63-59
Influenced by Greek form and meter, as well as by the early poets of Alexandria, Catullus evolved his own simple style, which can be seen in “On the Death of Lesbia’s Sparrow” and the brief lament at his brother’s death. His most ambitious poem is a 408-line epithalamium on the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. Catullus also wrote epigrams, some obscene, some amiable, that lampoon the Romans of his day. His lyric poetry, marked by wit, grace, and sensual imagination, is what endures.