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Gaius Valerius Catullus

One of the most lauded of the poets of Ancient Rome was Gaius Valerius Catullus, usually simply referred to by his cognomen, Catullus.

Born in about 84 BC, he lived during a time of turbulence and chaos when the Republic of Rome was undergoing a change to become the Roman Empire. His parentage and rearing in Verona made him half Celt which is said to have affected his poetry, giving it lyrical overtones not always recognizable in Latin letters.

His poems are, of course, all in Latin. But they have been translated by many and various writers. The primary focus of Catullus was his relationship with a woman he calls Lesbia, but who is thought to be a famous historical figure named Clodia (one of three sisters by the same name). Many of the poems track their relationship from ecstatic love, to disillusionment and betrayal.

Though Catullus is witty, and his poetry (written in superb meter and rhyme) places him among the greats of any age, much of his work can be course and is littered with low phrases and sometimes even lower sentiments. His poetry is not for the young, tender, susceptible or the refined. Even Lord Byron, a great poet of the Romantic Age wrote of him in his famous Don Juan "Catullus scarcely has a decent poem."

Being a wealthy Roman, he mixed with some of the more famous people of his era. He is said to have given a slur to Caesar in one of his poems and been invited to dinner by the powerful general the very same evening. Not all of the targets of his wit were so forgiving. He was not loved by Cicero nor by some of Clodia's lovers.

The exact date of Catullus's death is not known for certain, but it is known that he died at a relatively young age, perhaps 30 years of age in 54 BC.


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