Directions: For each reading, make sure that the underlined
words are identified*
clearly. You should be able to
relate each term to at least three or four other terms in each passage.
Gaius Valerius Catullus, better known as Catullus, lived fast and
hard and died at an early age. He
lived during the first century BC and has become known as one of the most
passionate Roman love poets.
He was born in a country town named Verona in 87 BC and moved to
Rome early in his life. As a
country boy and outsider to Roman politics, he found himself unable to deal with
life in Rome and the "friends" he made.
He was a contemporary (lived
at the same time as) of Julius Caesar, Cicero, and Vergil.
While in Rome, he fell in love with a woman named Clodia Metelli
who was married to a wealthy politician, but their relationship was very
unstable and unhappy. Many of his
poems are written to her. Unwilling
to risk losing his relationship by calling her by her real name and exposing a
scandal, he refers to her by
another name to commemorate his favorite poet, Sappho, who was from the
island of Lesbos. He calls her Lesbia
to remind all who read his poetry of Sappho's home and the intensity of her
poetry. He writes in a style known
as lyric poetry, which expresses intense emotion or serious thought.
Unfortunately, when he died in 54 BC, he left only a small volume of his
poetry for us to enjoy. He did not
know how influential his work would become, but we can discover a lot about real
Romans by reading his poetry.
Catullus moved to Rome for the same reasons as most young men did - to
begin a political career. A rich
Roman male was encouraged to participate in government in a series of positions
which gave him and his family prestige. Like
today, a young man had to be elected to a series of offices based on age
eligibility. He could advance by
being elected to a higher office only after he had been elected to one below it.
Unlike today, the elected officials received no pay for their work -
running the government was considered an obligation and duty for Roman
upper-class. The series of offices
was called the cursus honorum (the course of honor).
Don't misunderstand: the politicians made money from being in office, but
they did not get paid from the state for their work.
We will discuss this more when we discuss patronage (the Roman
system of friendship).
Catullus wrote approximately 116 poems in various rhythms and on many
different topics. Unlike our modern
concept of poetry, the Romans did not use rhyme schemes to make poems. Instead, Latin poetry incorporated meter, using the
rhythm of the words and length of syllables to make the work a whole.
Like most poets and artisans of his time, Catullus drew material from his
predecessors, but he adapted it to fit his needs and goals.
Older poetry was epic, comic, and tragic, but, for the first time
in history, Catullus made poetry personal. He talked about his individual feelings.
During the first century BC in Rome, there was
school of young men who were called the Novi Poetae (the New Poets) or
the Neoterics. They chose to
express their private emotions - their feelings about each other and society,
their lives and loves. The form
they used to express these ideas was the short poem, but they were personally
intense and structurally complex.
Catullus was a member of this group.
It is important to note that this was not a school of thought as in
philosophy; It was more like a loosely connected group of men who shared the
same thoughts and ideas and spent time together.
Catullus, through his poetry, wanted to define love
for himself. No one before had
tried so hard to find the true meaning and nature of love. He actually turned people's minds, then and now, to new ideas
about love and its proper expression. As
we will see, love, to Catullus, was a non-physical, intellectual, almost
spiritual emotion where being faithful was the ideal, and a relationship was
"an eternal treaty of sacred friendship." Although
he discussed love and desire, it would be wrong to compare his poems to the
songs of infatuation on the radio. His
poems were much more. His style is
always intense, direct, and honest. Though his most famous works are written to
Lesbia and to his brother, the subject matter of his poems varies a great deal
to include friends, enemies, and places.
* identify means define completely and accurately in relation to other terms in the packet. Most often, the definition will immediately follow the term or be closed in parentheses. You should write the term and definition on loose-leaf.