Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English



Gaius Valerius Catullus was born in Verona about 84 b.c.e. and lived both there and in Rome until about 54 b.c.e. He joined the “Neoterics” in Rome — a group of young “new poets” who focused their work on personal matters instead of Roman high seriousness and favored short, elegant poetry with sophisticated allusions.

Catullus wrote poems on mythological themes (such as Poem 64 about Theseus, Ariadne, and Dionysus) and personal insults to contemporary figures, but he is better remembered for his Lesbia poems (so called because of Sappho’s inspiration). These 25 poems were probably written to a woman named Clodia, some years older than the poet, who was technically married, among the aristocracy, and about whom rumors circulated that she had slept with her brother and poisoned her husband. The poems form a sort of “cycle,” reflecting stages of the relationship from the idealism of love through times of jealousy, reconciliation, anger and finally contemptuous renunciation and resignation. Some smuttiness is also evident.

Mostly fragments alone survived until about 1300 when a manuscript was discovered to contain well over 100 poems by Catullus.

Works Consulted

“Catullus.” Literature of the Western World, Volume 1. 5th edition by Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001. 1158-1167.

“Catullus.” The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Volume I. 6th ed. NY: W.W. Norton and Co., 1992. 808-813.