Catullus

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Catullus (?84-?54 BCE) - his full name was Gaius Valerius Catullus - is one of the greatest of the Roman lyric poets, famous particularly for his love poems and epigrams. The adjective from Catullus is Catullan.

Catullus was born into a wealthy family in the northern Italian city of Verona - whose airport Aeroporto Valerio Catullo is now named in his honour! - but moved to Rome in his early twenties. Apart from a short period in Asia Minor when he served on the staff of the governor of the Roman province of Bithynia he spent the remainder of his short life in Rome.

Soon after his arrival in Rome Catullus fell in love with Clodia, a married woman some years older than himself. Clodia trifled with his affections and treated him badly. Much of Catullus' poetry reflects the vicissitudes of this unhappy affair, and Clodia herself, under the name 'Lesbia', is the addressee of a number of the poems.


Catullus is the author of more than a hundred poems. With the exception of half-a-dozen - among them two wedding hymns and two narrative poems - they are all short lyric poems, many of them love poems, or epigrams. Here are two examples, the first his most famous love poem, and the second his most famous epigram.


Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis.
Soles occidere et redire possunt;
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
Da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein altera mille, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
Dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimis illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.


(Translation: Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love, and let us count all the mutterings of over-strict old men as worth no more than a farthing. Suns can set and rise again, but for us, once our short day is over, there is one endless night to be slept through. Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred, then another thousand, then a second hundred, then even another thousand, then a hundred. Then when we have made many thousands, let us mix them all up to prevent our knowing how many there are, or some nasty-minded person putting the evil eye on them when he knows that our kisses are so many.)


Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.


(Translation: I hate and (at the same time) I love. You may perhaps ask why I do this. I do not know; but I feel it happening, and I am in torment.)


Catullus' poems are written in a variety of metres. Vivamus, mea Lesbia is written in hendecasyllables, as are many of the poems; while the epigram Odi et amo is an elegiac couplet - again, one of the metrical forms of which Catullus made frequent use.