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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

       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.  

To Catullus 101 (Ave Atque Vale)