Monday, October 31, 2016

'Catullus: A Poet in the Rome of Julius Caesar' (2010)

Aubrey Burl, Catullus: A Poet in the Rome of Julius Caesar (Amberley, 2010; original edition 2004). Given the scanty extant biographical details of the life of Gaius Valerius Catullus (circa years 84-54 Before Christ), Burl gives us not straight biography so much as a good sense of Catallus' life and poetry within the context of his times.

The times were wild. Rome was at the top of the heap in its area of the globe, but still one's life could be cut short by any number of things. Catullus is thought to have died in his early thirties, but how? Was he strangled, bitten, stabbed, poisoned, or sickened, or did he slip, drown or fall off a cliff? As of now, we have no idea. But know this: he was a tight poet, a fierce lover and an equally fierce hater. His poetry gives us insight into the people of his times and of ours. 

Maybe more will be revealed in time. As is, there's a stupendous appendix detailing "The Recovery of the Poems of Catullus from his Death to 1492."
Lesbia's Sparrow by George W Joy, 1896
Let's check out chapter 5 on Catallus' main paramour, Clodia. 

"Catullus called her Lesbia [a nod to the poet Sappho]. Her real name was Clodia Merelli, wife of Quintius Caecilius Celer, a cousin on her mother's side" (p. [97]). 

"Clodia was the eldest of three sisters, all by custom called Clodia. She also had three brothers: Appius, Gaius and the youngest, Publius Clodius Pulcher, whose grand-daughter, Claudia, gained reflected ignominy by marrying the counsul, Publius Quinctilius Varus. His three legions were ambushed in a German forest in AD 9 and slaughtered. 'Quinctilius Varus! Give me back my legions,' grieved Augustus" (page 98). 

Fragments of Catullus, writing about Clodia/Lesbos (Poem 68B, page 111):

. . . my radiant goddess entered,
trod on the worn threshold, sandal tapping
as she paused . . .

in that house fragrant with the scents of Assyria,
during that wondrous night she gave me pleasures
filched from the lap of her token husband.
There's a whole section in the back of translations by Humphrey Clucas. Here are a couple of more snippets related to Clodia/Lesbos:

   No one she'd rather marry, my love says --
     Even if Jupiter himself came courting.
   Fine. But what they say in a fond moment
Is written on rushing water, scrawled in the wind.

          My mind thins to a point, Lesbia,
     Ruined by your guilt, and its own devotion:
I could not wish you well, though you were perfect,
     And if you were worse yet, I'd want you still. 

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

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