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Gauis Valerius Catullus

Map of Italy showing Verona in the northThree hundred years before the birth of Christ, after the Conquest of The Valley of Po, the city known as Veronia (Verona), was put under the Roman rule. Two hundred and sixteen years later in that same city, one of the greatest Roman poets, Gauis Valerius Catullus, who left an indelible mark in history and a lasting legacy, was born.

 Catullus was born in 84 BC; an era of turmoil and political unrest. He was born to a rich and a prominent family. Not much is known as to how he grew up; all we know is that he spent most of his life, in Rome, writing. While power struggle kept his people divided, Catullus wrote about love and passion. This was highly uncommon since an artist basically has his environment as the focus and source of inspiration of his works. Catullus preferred writing more about personal matters over what was happening around him.

Greek culture was that which greatly influenced the writing style of Catullus. The Neoteroi or the new poets were the ones whom Catullus strived to immitate. He admired them for their excellence and skill in writing. The one who influenced him heavily was the poet Callimachus, a native of Cyrene. Callimachus was a noted poet, critic, and scholar of the Library of Alexandria, and enjoyed the patronage of Ptolemy II. An elitist and erudite, asserting "I abhor all common things," Callimachus is best known for his short poems and epigrams.

       

 Catullus had intimate relationships with both men and women. They were the ones who served as his inspiration for his literary works. The most known relationship he had was that with Clodia, a married woman, and sister of the nefarious politician, Publius Clodius. Clodia had a great part in the works of Catullus, being the person behind Lesbia, the subject of his poems. The name Lesbia according to scholars had been derived from Lesbos, the island where Sappho, another Greek poet and dramatist was born. Here it is clear that Greek culture indeed dealt a great impact in the life of Catullus.

He wrote approximately one hundred and sixteen poems.  He was among the first to introduce into Latin, the mannered style of the Hellenistic school. His works displayed numerous emotions and served different purposes. Some of the works he wrote contained a  wide range of highly emotional and seemingly contradictory responses to Lesbia, ranging from tender love poems, to sadness and disappointment, and bitter sarcasm. He also wrote to ridicule people (Julius Caesar was one of them).

On the contrary, some of his works were serious in nature. He wrote to comfort and to condole certain people. This point can in fact be used to disprove the whole idea of him being purely self-centered (like what was brought up in the class discussion).

In the year 54 BC, at the age of 30, due to unkown causes, Catullus passed away leaving behind him a great legacy. The untimely death of Catullus may have brought an end to his writing but his works contiuned to inspire people. Several renowned Roman poets namely Ovid, Horace, and Virgil were among the ones who benefitted from the masterpieces of Catullus.

The work of Catullus remained virtually unknown during the Middle Ages, but after a manuscript of his poems had come to light at Verona in the 14th century, he exercised an extensive influence.  Poets all over Europe were stimulated by his freshness and simplicity. Because of his great legacy, today Catullus still continues to live in the hearts of many.

Requiescat IPace

Gauis Valerius Catullus

(89-54 BC)