Catullus

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Catullus

Catullus (Caius Valerius Catullus) (kətŭl´əs), 84? BC–54? BC, Roman poet, b. Verona. Of a well-to-do family, he went c.62 BC to Rome. He fell deeply in love, probably with Clodia, sister of Cicero's opponent Publius Clodius. She was suspected of murdering her husband. Catullus wrote to his beloved, addressed as Lesbia (to recall Sappho of Lesbos), a series of superb little poems that run from early passion and tenderness to the hatred and disillusionment that overwhelmed him after his mistress was faithless. Of the 116 extant poems attributed to him, three (18–20) are almost certainly spurious. They include, besides the Lesbia poems, poems to his young friend Juventius; epigrams, ranging from the genial to the obscenely derisive; elegies; a few long poems, notably "Attis" and a nuptial poem honoring Thetis and Peleus; and various short pieces. His satire is vigorous and flexible, his light poems joyful and full-bodied. He was influenced by the Alexandrians and drew much on the Greeks for form and meter, but his genius outran all models. Catullus is one of the greatest lyric poets of all time. Two of his most popular poems are the 10-line poem, touching and simple, which ends, "frater ave atque vale" [hail, brother, and farewell], and "On the Death of Lesbia's Sparrow."

See translations by R. Myers and R. J. Ormsby (1970), C. Martin (1990), and P. Green (2005); studies by A. L. Wheeler (1934, repr. 1964), T. Frank (1928, repr. 1965), K. Quinn (1959, 1970, and 1972), R. Jenkyns (1982), T. P. Wiseman (1985), J. Ferguson (1988), and C. Martin (1992).

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