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David Keth 

 Salvete! I am currently a junior in PAREF Southridge School an exclusive school for boys in the Philippines and I am also a member of the Latin Honors Class.

Vita Catulli

   Little is known of Catullus and the little that is, is almost solely derived from his poetry. It is improbable then that the Catullus modern society is familiar with is an absolutely accurate depiction of the true Catullus. For what little there is known about Catullus, most scholars generally agree about a few things. Catullus was born in 84 BC to a wealthy family and is said to have been born in or around Verona but he lived most of his life in Rome. He started writing poetry as a boy and was encouraged by his older brother to continue writing. After his brother died in 58 BC he spent a year in government in Bithynia but he never really was one for politics and tried to avoid it as much as he could after that. He had several affairs with both men and women. One of the most notorious of which would be his affair with Clodia, sister of the infamous Publius Clodius. These affairs would become the inspiration of several of his most passionate works. He died in 54 BC, dying at the young age of 30, how he died is still a matter of controversy, though some say he had died of exhaustion.

The themes of Catullus’ poetry were varied, from his sexual exploits, to his rude and crude invectives, to his serious poems comforting friends. Catullus could sometimes produce very blunt and frivolous work and yet he could also produce very serious material. One thing was common throughout all his work, they were all technical masterpieces, he was a genius, and he could make even the simplest matter take a whole new dimension of beauty with his mastery of the language and his extraordinary ability to manipulate words. He drew inspiration from the Greek “neoteroi” or “new poets”, particularly Callimachus who had been the first to stray away from classical poetry. They no longer described the feats of heroes and gods but instead focused on smaller personal themes.  The Neoteric poets were known for their technical achievement in their short, witty poems.

Catullus’ poetry reflected his Epicurean lifestyle. Catullus believed that the highest pleasure was tranquility and freedom of fear. He indulged in modest pleasures considering them as a means to achieve the highest form of happiness.

 

 Catullus lived during a very turbulent time for Rome. He was immersed in an environment of political turmoil and power struggle peppered by internal conflicts, namely civil war and rebellion. In his lifetime, he would’ve, or at least should’ve, witnessed the Roman Republic sink into chaos as prominent figures went on their notorious pursuits for power among other things. One such event detrimental to Rome which occurred within Catullus’ lifetime was the slave revolt of 73 BC. The slaves, led by Spartacus, a trained gladiator and a slave himself, rebelled against Rome in an attempted flight to freedom. It was a fairly disorganized uprising and it was eventually crushed by Crassus aided by Pompey. Though it was a failed attempt, it had still impacted Roman society greatly as Spartacus and his army of slaves defeated several Roman battalions in their bid for freedom.

It was clear that the period in which Catullus lived was far from peaceful and prosperous. The irony here is in how Catullus’ work never really reflected his dark, chaotic surroundings. Literature is said to reflect the period it and yet Catullus writes about his lovers and matters that seem trivial and irrelevant given the situation. We can thus infer that Catullus was no ordinary poet; he seemed to either be complacent or just plain indifferent to his surroundings. Perhaps he had just decided to shun the world and all its problems and just focus on himself, a selfish decision no doubt but a reasonable one nonetheless given the circumstances.  

Catullus was an enigma. He almost appears to be schizophrenic judging by the huge differences in theme of his poems. It is certain though that he was a master of his art and though some of his work may seem trivial at first, they are masterfully crafted and brilliantly thought out. No wonder Catullus is still widely studied today. 

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catullus

http://rudy.negenborn.net/catullus/about_cat.htm 

http://www.poemofquotes.com/gaiusvaleriuscatullus/