Authors: Catullus

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Roman poet

Author Works


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 b.c.e. he went to Rome, where he became a leader in the literary and fashionable circles of Roman society. Cicero was his friend. Though Catullus was originally an enemy of Julius Caesar, the two became reconciled. To Caesar and other important Romans Catullus wrote many of his verses.{$I[AN]9810000627}{$I[A]Catullus}{$S[A]Gaius Valerius Catullus;Catullus}{$I[geo]ROMAN EMPIRE;Catullus}{$I[tim]0085 b.c.e.;Catullus}


(Library of Congress)

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 b.c.e.) of the noble praetor, Quintus Caecilius Metellus.

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.

Further Reading:Arkins, Brian. An Interpretation of the Poems of Catullus. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999. Surveys Catullus’s life and literary influences and offers a reading of his poetry that emphasizes its modernity and accessibility to modern readers.Dettmer, Helena. Love by the Numbers: Form and Meaning in the Poetry of Catullus. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. Offers a reading of Catullus’s entire corpus of poetry as a unified body of work organized along thematic, structural, and metrical groupings.Fitzgerald, William. Catullan Provocations: Lyric Poetry and the Drama of Position. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Fitzgerald interprets Catullus’s lyrics and emphasizes his manipulation of the reader’s point of view. Does not require knowledge of Latin. Includes bibliographic references.Fordyce, C. J. Catullus: A Commentary. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1965. An extensive and illuminating commentary in English on the Latin text, flawed by the author’s refusal to print or discuss some thirty-two poems “which do not lend themselves to comment in English.”Garrison, Daniel H. Student’s Catullus. New York: Routledge, 1996. Provides notes on vocabulary, grammar, and mythology along with translations of the poems.Havelock, Eric Alfred. The Lyric Genius of Catullus. New York: Russell & Russell, 1929. A formal and stylistic study of Catullus’s poetry and personality, emphasizing the paradoxical blend of emotional sincerity and scholarly sophistication in his work.Quinn, Kenneth, ed. Catullus: The Poems. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977. This scholarly commentary is somewhat idiosyncratic but suitable for college-level readers. The Latin text of all poems is presented with introduction and commentary in English. A short bibliographical guide for further study of each of the poems is included.Skinner, Marilyn B., ed. A Companion to Catullus. Boston: Blackwell, 2007. This volume provides literary history and criticism on Catullus, along with advice on how to read his works. His influences and writing style are also discussed. Contains an introduction and 27 chapters by Cattullus scholars.Small, Stuart G. P. Catullus: A Reader’s Guide to the Poems. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983. A running narrative, not of the poet’s life but of his poetic achievement. Divided by topic, with sane judgments on matters of literary and scholarly controversy. Small supplements a reading of the poems by giving topical overviews. Includes bibliography.Wheeler, Arthur Leslie. Catullus and the Traditions of Ancient Poetry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1934. Approaches Catullus’s poetry as a problem in literary history, defining his artistic achievement by locating it within the wider context of ancient Greek and Roman poetry.Wilder, Thornton. The Ides of March. New York: S. French, 1971. The classic historical novel on the Rome of Cicero, Catullus, Clodius, and his sister–and Julius Caesar, the emperor whose life ended on the title day in 44 b.c.e.Wiseman, T. P. Catullus and His World: A Reappraisal. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. A highly readable reconstruction of the social and political context, informative not only about Catullus but also about late republican Rome and its personalities. Richly documented, with eight pages of bibliography.
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