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Modern bust of Catullus on the Piazza Carducci, Sirmione.[1]
Not to be confused with Romans named "Catulus", see Catulus.

Gaius Valerius Catullus (/kəˈtʌləs/; c. 84 – 54 BC) was a Latin poet of the late Roman Republic who wrote in the neoteric style of poetry. His surviving works are still read widely, and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art.

Catullus's poems were widely appreciated by other poets. 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. Indeed, Catullus was never considered one of the canonical school authors, although his body of work is still frequently read from secondary school to graduate programs across the world.


Gaius Valerius Catullus was born to a leading equestrian family of Verona, in Cisalpine Gaul. The social prominence of the Catullus family allowed the father of Gaius Valerius to entertain Julius Caesar when he was the Promagistrate (proconsul) of both Gallic provinces.[2] In a poem, Catullus describes his happy homecoming to the family villa at Sirmio, on Lake Garda, near Verona; he also owned a villa near the resort of Tibur (Tivoli).[2]

Catullus appears to have spent most of his young adult years 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 a libellus of poems,[2] the relation of which to the extant collection remains a matter of debate.[3] 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.[4]

"Catullus at Lesbia's," by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

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 family Claudii Pulchri, sister of the infamous Publius Clodius Pulcher, and wife to proconsul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer. In his poems Catullus describes several stages of their relationship: initial euphoria, doubts, separation, and his wrenching feelings of loss. Clodia was a woman with a ravenous sexual appetite; “From the poems one can adduce no less than five lovers in addition to Catullus: Egnatius (poem 37), Gellius (poem 91), Quintius (poem 82), Rufus (poem 77), and Lesbius (poem 79).” There is also some question surrounding her husband’s mysterious death in 59 B.C., some critics believing he was domestically poisoned. Yet, a sensitive and passionate Catullus could not relinquish his flame for Clodia, regardless of her obvious indifference to his desire for a deep and permanent relationship. In his poems, Catullus wavers between devout, sweltering love and bitter, scornful insults that he directs at her blatant infidelity (as demonstrated in poems 11 and 58). His passion for her is unrelenting— yet it is unclear when exactly the couple split up for good. Catullus's poems about the relationship display striking depth and psychological insight.[5]

He spent the provincial command year summer 57 to summer 56 BC in Bithynia on the staff of the commander Gaius Memmius. While in the East, he traveled to the Troad to perform rites at his brother's tomb, an event recorded in a moving poem.[2]

Bithynia within the Roman Empire

There survives no ancient biography of Catullus: his life has to be pieced together from scattered references to him in other ancient authors and from his poems. Thus it is uncertain when he was born and when he died. St. Jerome says that he died in his 30th year, and was born in 87 BC. But the poems include references to events of 55 and 54 BC. Since the Roman consular fasti make it somewhat easy to confuse 87–57 BC with 84–54 BC, many scholars accept the dates 84 BC–54 BC,[2] supposing that his latest poems and the publication of his libellus coincided with the year of his death. Other authors suggest 52 or 51 BC as the year of the poet's death.[6] Though upon his elder brother's death Catullus lamented that their “whole house was buried along” with the deceased, the existence (and prominence) of Valerii Catulli is attested in the following centuries. T.P. Wiseman argues that after the brother's death Catullus could have married, and that, in this case, the later Valerii Catulli may have been his descendants.[7]


Main article: Poetry of Catullus

Sources and organization[edit]

Catullus's poems have been preserved in an anthology of 116 carmina (the actual number of poems may slightly vary in various editions), which can be divided into three parts according to their form: sixty short poems in varying meters, called polymetra, eight longer poems, and forty-eight epigrams.

There is no scholarly consensus on whether 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 epyllion, 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 that elude such categorization):

  • poems to and about his friends (e.g., an invitation like poem 13).
  • erotic poems: some of them (50 and 99) indicate homosexual penchants, but most are about women, especially about one he calls "Lesbia" (which served as a false name for his married girlfriend, Clodia, source and inspiration of many of his poems).
  • invectives: often rude and sometimes downright obscene poems targeted at friends-turned-traitors (e.g., poem 16), 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 lifestyle of Catullus and his friends, who, despite Catullus's temporary political post in Bithynia, lived their lives withdrawn from politics. They were interested mainly in poetry and love. Above all other qualities, Catullus seems to have valued 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 virtue that had to be proved by a political or military career), which Cicero suggested as the solution to the societal problems of the late Republic, meant little to them.

However Catullus does not reject traditional notions, but rather their particular 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.

Intellectual influences[edit]

Catullus's poetry was influenced by the innovative poetry of the Hellenistic Age, and especially by Callimachus and the Alexandrian school, which had propagated a new style of poetry that deliberately turned away from the classical epic poetry in the tradition of Homer. Cicero called these local innovators neoteroi (νεώτεροι) or 'moderns' (in Latin poetae novi or 'new poets'), in that they cast off the heroic model handed down from Ennius in order to strike new ground and ring a contemporary note. Catullus and Callimachus did 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 seventh century BC, and is the source for much of what we know or infer about her. Catullus 51 follows Sappho 31 so 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 laudatory or erotic wedding-poetry that Sappho had been famous for but that had gone out of fashion in the intervening centuries. Catullus twice used a meter that Sappho developed, called the Sapphic strophe in poems 11 and 51. In fact, Catullus may have brought about a substantial revival of that form in Rome.

Catullus, as was common to his era, was greatly influenced by stories from Greek and Roman myth. His longer poems—such as 63, 64, 65, 66, and 68—allude to mythology in various ways. Some stories he refers to are the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, the departure of the Argonauts, Theseus and the Minotaur, Ariadne's abandonment, Tereus and Procne, as well as Protesilaus and Laodamia.


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.

Musical settings[edit]

Catulli Carmina is a cantata by Carl Orff to the texts of Catullus.

Catullus 5, the love poem "Vivamus mea Lesbia atque amemus", in the translation by Ben Jonson was set to music (lute accompanied song) by Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger. The translation by Richard Crashaw was set to music in a four-part glee by Samuel Webbe Jr. It was also set to music in a three-part glee by John Stafford Smith.

Finnish jazz singer Reine Rimón has recorded poems of Catullus set to standard jazz tunes.[8]

Cultural references[edit]

  • Alexander Hamilton took the pseudonym Catullus in his newspaper debates with Republican opponents during the early 1790s while acting as Treasury Secretary.
  • The epistolary novel Ides of March by Thornton Wilder centers 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's poems and the closing section by Suetonius are the only documents in the novel which are not imagined.
  • 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.
  • The 20th-century Irish poet Louis MacNeice references Catullus in his poem "Epitaph for Liberal Poets," where he mentions Catullus as amongst the first liberal poets – "Catullus/ went down young," mentioning him in the context of the death of the individual and recognising his and the universal plight.
  • Archibald MacLeish wrote a poem entitled "You Also, Gaius Valerius Catullus," where he addresses the poet.
  • Catullus is discussed in John Fowles's novel The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969) as being one of the foremost poets of love, sexuality and desire.
  • The 16th-century Spanish poet Cristóbal de Castillejo plagiarized Catullus in his well-known work "Dame amor, besos sin cuento".[9]
  • W. B. Yeats references Catullus in his poem The Scholars.
  • Ned Rorem has a song entitled, "Catullus: On the burial of his brother."
  • The poem "Be Angry at the Sun" by Robinson Jeffers includes the line "You are not Catullus, you know, To lampoon these crude sketches of Caesar."
  • The 2011 radio play A Thousand Kisses was based on his life.
  • Catullus features in Steven Saylor's historical mystery The Venus Throw (1995).
  • The webcomic Achewood refers to Catullus as "the first poet who ever got his Bone on."
  • A quotation of Catullus appears at the beginning of the 2001 film, The Believer.
  • In the third season of the TV series The Borgias (2013), prince Frederigo of Naples uses Catullus's Carmina to decipher an encoded letter.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Muse", the alien Onaya (Meg Foster) tells Jake Sisko (Cirroc Lofton) that she helped Catullus "unlock his potential." His early death is attributed to Onaya draining his mental energy. The same fate is revealed to have befallen John Keats.
  • Detective Cormoran Strike quotes Catullus in The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith a/k/a J.K. Rowling.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The bust was commissioned in 1935 by Sirmione's mayor, Luigi Trojani, and produced by the Milanese foundry Clodoveo Barzaghi with the assistance of the sculptor Villarubbia Norri (N. Criniti & M. Arduino (eds.), Catullo e Sirmione. Società e cultura della Cisalpina alle soglie dell'impero (Brescia: Grafo, 1994), p. 4).
  2. ^ a b c d e Gaius Valerius Catullus from Encyclopedia of World Biography accessed February 13, 2007
  3. ^ M. Skinner, Authorial Arrangement of the Collection, pp. 46–48, in: A Companion to Catullus, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.
  4. ^ Hope, Ken, "Introduction on Catullus" at Catullus Translations, accessed February 13, 2007
  5. ^ Howe, Jr., Quincy (1970). Introduction to Catullus, The Complete Poems for American Readers. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. pp. vii to xvii. 
  6. ^ M. Skinner, Introduction, p.3, in: A Companion to Catullus, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  7. ^ T.P. Wiseman, The Valerii Catulli of Verona, in: M. Skinner, ed., A Companion to Catullus, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  8. ^ Reine Rimón and her Hot Papas jazz band; Gregg Stafford; Tuomo Pekkanen; Gaius Valerius Catullus, Variationes iazzicae Catullianae (in Latin), retrieved 2013-10-07 
  9. ^ Side-by-side comparison

Further reading[edit]

  • Balme, M.; Morewood, J (1997). Oxford Latin Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Barrett, A. A. (1972). "Catullus 52 and the Consulship of Vatinius". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 103: 23–38. 
  • Barwick, K. (1958). "Zyklen bei Martial und in den kleinen Gedichten des Catull". Philologus 102: 284–318. 
  • Clarke, Jacqueline (2006). "Bridal Songs: Catullan Epithalamia and Prudentius Peristephanon 3". Antichthon 40: 89–103. 
  • Coleman, K.M. (1981). "The persona of Catullus' Phaselus". Greece &Rome. N.S. 28: 68–72. doi:10.1017/s0017383500033507. 
  • Dettmer, Helena (1997). Love by the Numbers: Form and the Meaning in the poetry of Catullus. Peter Lang Publishing. 
  • Deuling, Judy (2006). "Catullus 17 and 67, and the Catullan Construct". Antichthon 40: 1–9. 
  • Dorey, T.A. (1959). "The Aurelii and the Furii". Proceedings of the African Classical Associations 2: 9–10. 
  • Duhigg, J (1971). "The Elegiac Metre of Catullus". Antichthon 5: 57–67. 
  • Ellis, R. (1889). A Commentary on Catullus. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  • Ferguson, J. (1963). "Catullus and Martial". Proceedings of the African Classical Associations 6: 3–15. 
  • Ferguson, J. (1988). Catullus. Greece & Rome:New Surveys in the Classics 20. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  • Ferrero, L. (1955). Interpretazione di Catullo (in Italian). Torino: Torino, Rosenberg & Sellier. 
  • Fitzgerald, W. (1995). Catullan Provocations; Lyric Poetry and the Drama of Position. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  • Fletcher, G.B.A. (1967). "Catulliana". Latomus 26: 104–106. 
  • Fletcher, G.B.A. (1991). "Further Catulliana". Latomus 50: 92–93. 
  • Fordyce, C.J. (1961). Catullus, A Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Gaisser, Julia Haig (1993). Catullus And His Renaissance Readers. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  • Greene, Ellen (2006). "Catullus, Caesar and the Roman Masculine Identity". Antichthon 40: 49–64. 
  • Hallett, Judith (2006). "Catullus and Horace on Roman Women Poets". Antichthon 40: 65–88. 
  • Harrington, Karl Pomeroy (1963). Catullus and His Influence. New York: Cooper Square Publishers. 
  • Havelock, E.A. (1939). The Lyric Genius of Catullus. Oxford: B. Blackwell. 
  • Jackson, Anna (2006). "Catullus in the Playground". Antichthon 40: 104–116. 
  • Kidd, D.A. (1970). "Some Problems in Catullus lxvi". Antichthon 4: 38–49. 
  • Kokoszkiewicz, Konrad W. (2004). "Et futura panda sive de Catulli carmine sexto corrigendo". Hermes 32: 125–128. 
  • Kroll, Wilhelm (1929). C. Valerius Catullus (in German). Leipzig: B.G. Teubner. 
  • Maas, Paul (1942). "The Chronology of the Poems of Catullus". Classical Quarterly 36: 79–82. doi:10.1017/s0009838800024605. 
  • Martin, Charles (1992). Catullus. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. ISBN 0-300-05199-9. 
  • Munro, H.A.J. (1878). Criticisms and Elucidations of Catullus. Cambridge: Deighton, Bell and co. 
  • Newman, John Kevin (1990). Roman Catullus and the Modification of the Alexandrian Sensibility. Hildesheim: Weidmann. 
  • Quinn, Kenneth (1959). The Catullan Revolution. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. 
  • Quinn, Kenneth (1973). Catullus: The Poems (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. 
  • Rothstein, Max (1923). "Catull und Lesbia". Philologus 78: 1–34. 
  • Small, Stuart G.P. (1983). Catullus. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America. ISBN 0-8191-2905-4. 
  • Swann, Bruce W. (1994). Martial's Catullus. The Reception of an Epigrammatic Rival. Hildesheim: Georg Olms. 
  • Thomson, Douglas Ferguson Scott (1997). Catullus: Edited with a Textual and Interpretative Commentary. Phoenix. 34: suppl. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-0676-0. 
  • Townend, G.B. (1980). "A Further Point in Catullus' attack on Volusius". Greece &Rome. n.s. 27: 134–136. doi:10.1017/s0017383500025791. 
  • Townend, G.B. (1983). "The Unstated Climax of Catullus 64". Greece &Rome. n.s. 30: 21–30. doi:10.1017/s0017383500026437. 
  • Tesoriero, Charles (2006). "Hidden Kisses in Catullus: Poems 5, 6, 7 and 8". Antichthon 40: 10–18. 
  • Tuplin, C.J. (1981). "Catullus 68". Classical Quarterly. n.s. 31: 113–139. doi:10.1017/s000983880002111x. 
  • Uden, James (2006). "Embracing the Young Man in Love: Catullus 75 and the Comic Adulescens". Antichthon 40: 19–34. 
  • Watson, Lindsay C. (2003). "Bassa's Borborysms: on Martial and Catullus". Antichthon 37: 1–12. 
  • Watson, Lindsay C. (2006). "Catullus and the Poetics of Incest". Antichthon 40: 35–48. 
  • Wheeler, A. L. (1934). Catullus and the Traditions of Ancient Poetry. Sather Classical Lectures 9. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  • Wilamowitz-Möllendorf, Ulrich von (1913). Sappho und Simonides (in German). Berlin: Weidmann. 
  • Wiseman, T. P. (1969). Catullan Questions. Leicester: Leicester University Press. 
  • Wiseman, T. P. (2002). Catullus and His World: A Reappraisal (1st pbk. ed. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-31968-4. 
  • Wiseman, T. P. (1974). Cinna the poet and other Roman essays. Leicester: Leicester University Press. ISBN 0-7185-1120-4. 

External links[edit]

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33 news items

Nashville Scene

Nashville Scene
Thu, 28 Aug 2014 02:00:00 -0700

The Roman poet Catullus' affair with his mistress Lesbia may not be the greatest love story in the history of Western literature. But it's surely the most human. The 25 poems that the youthful patrician wrote to his older (and married) lover explore ...
Washington Free Beacon
Mon, 01 Sep 2014 08:56:15 -0700

Augustus' personality is appealing—he had deep and lasting friendships, and a serious interest in Rome's history, traditions, and literature—he went so far as to write vulgar poetry, in the style of Catullus. He seems to have genuinely loved his wife ...

New York Times

New York Times
Thu, 28 Aug 2014 14:11:15 -0700

Mr. Taylor's strikingly colorful setting of a Catullus poem, in which the text was declaimed with panache by the composer-soloist rather than notated, is just one of eight world premieres featured in Bargemusic's seventh annual Labor Day Festival, part ...
The Conversation UK
Thu, 28 Aug 2014 21:52:30 -0700

Their one-liners made perfect comebacks and they are peppered with literary quotations by every great writer from Shakespeare to Dylan Thomas, to Yeats and even Catullus – “da mi basia mille” – yes, you can get Greek poetry in a “bonkbuster”.

Calcutta Telegraph

Calcutta Telegraph
Thu, 21 Aug 2014 14:22:30 -0700

At the heart of the book is Carson's oddly halting translation of a great Latin elegy — Catullus' poem 101, written for a brother who died in Troy when Catullus was living in Italy: “Many the peoples many the oceans I crossed —/ I arrive at these ...
Huffington Post
Mon, 04 Aug 2014 11:55:46 -0700

Today I was passing by Verona, the city of Juliet and Romeo, the Roman arena hosting international opera and lyrical performances and hometown of Latin love poet Catullus. When entering the city, a big brown plaque informed me of the city being awarded ...

Nashville Scene

Nashville Scene
Thu, 07 Aug 2014 02:00:00 -0700

Hell, sometimes he finds an exquisite turn of phrase and hits it with the timeless moral punch of Twain or Catullus. With two albums to his credit (2010's Death of the Party and 2012's Whiskey Icarus) and the kind of relentless schedule that seems more ...

The Guardian (blog)

The Guardian (blog)
Tue, 05 Aug 2014 02:32:24 -0700

The part of me that spent three years reading Classics at university does want to prescribe Donoghue an improving course of Plato, Cicero, Catullus and Virgil. All historical novelists have to provide psychological character insight. But Renault has to ...

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