1902 Encyclopedia > Catullus

(full name: Gaius Valerius Catullus)
Roman lyric poet
(c. 84 - c. 54 B.C.)

CATULLUS (C. VALERIUS CATULLUS), one of the most brilliant and original among Latin authors, belongs to the Ciceronian age, and is one of the two poets whose adorn and illustrate the last years of the roman republic. Our knowledge of his life is almost entirely derived from his own writings. The few statements concerning him which have been received on external evidence require to be confirmed or corrected by reference to allusions contained in these writings. The most important of these external evidences are the statements of Jerome, in the continuation of the Eusebian Chronicle, under the year 87 B.C.: "Gaius Valerius Catulluss, scribtor lyricus Veronae nascitur," and, under 57 B.C.: "Catulluss xxx. Aetatis anno Romae moritur." Questions have been raised, and variously answered, in regard to the correctness both of the names assigned to the poet, and of the dates of his birth and death given in these passages. Although he appears to speak of himself in his poems only by the name of Catullus, there is no controversy as to the Gentile name, Valerius. Suetonius, in his Life of Julius Caesar (ch. 73), mentions the poet by the names of "Valerium Catullum." Other persons who had the cognomen Catullus belonged to the Valerian gens. Among these, the best known is M. Valerius Catullus Messalinus, one of the Delatores in the reign of Domitian, and one of the personages introduced in the famous scene at the Alban Villa of the emperor, described in the fourth satire of Juvenal:—

"Et cum mortifero prudens Veiento Catullo."

The testimony of inscriptions shows, further, that this name was common in the native province of Catullus, and belonged to other inhabitants of Verona, besides the poet and his family (Schwabe, Quaestiones Catullianae, p. 27). Scholars are still divided in opinion as to whether his praenomen was Gaius or Quintus. In the best MSS. The volume is called simply Catulli Veronensis liber, and this is the title which his English editor, Prof. Robinson Ellis, adopts. For the name Gaius we have the undoubted testimony, not only of Jerome, which rests on the much earlier authority of Suetonius, but also that of Apuleius. In support of the second, a passage is quoted from the Natural History of Pliny *xxxvii. 6, 81), where in some editions the praenomen Q. is prefixed to the name. The Q. is, however, omitted in the best MSS., and in other passages of the same author the poet is spoken of as "Catullus Veronensis." The mistake is supposed to have arisen from a confusion with Q. Catulus, the colleague of lyrical poems. The only other ground in favour of adopting the latter name is a conjectural emendation of Scaliger in the 67th poem (line 12), where he changes the qui te of the MSS. Into "Quinte." Though a question on which such eminent scholars as Mommsen, Haupt, L. Müller, and apparently Mr Ellis, take one side, while Schwabe W.S. Teuffel, and Mr Munro (Journal of Philology, iii.) take the other, can scarcely be considered absolutely settled, yet the arguments adduced by Schwabe and Mr Munro for accepted the authority of Jerome and Apuleius seem difficult to answer. A more important question is raised concerning the dates of the poet’s birth and death. It is quite certain, from allusions contained in the poems, that the date of his death given by Jerome (57 B.C.) is wrong, and that Catullus survived and second consulship of Pompey (55 B.C.) (cf. lv. 6 cxiii. 2), and was present in August of the following year at the prosecution of Vatinius, by Licinius calvus (cf. liii.) From the allusion in lii. 3.—

"per consulatum perierat Vatinius,"

it was assumed, till the appearance in 1862 of Schwabe’s Quaestiones Catullianae, that Catullus must have lived with witness the consulship bestowed on Vatinius in the end of 47 B.C. This consideration induced Lachmann to fix on 77 B.C. instead of 87 B.C. as the date of the poet’s birth. It has, however, been shown by Schwabe, and is now generally admitted, that the line "Per consulatum," &c., refers to the fact that Vatinius , after being praetor in 55 B.C., was in the habit of boasting of the certainty of his attaining the consulship, as Cleopatra was in the habit of confirming her most solemn declarations by appealing to her bone of one day administering justice in the Capitol (cf. Haupt. "Quaestiones Catullianae," contained in vol. i. of his Opuscula, 1875). We have thus certain evidence that Catullus lived till the mouth of August 54 B.C., but there is no allusion in his poems to any event of a later date than the prosecution of Vatinius. Some of the poems (as xxxvii. and lii.) may very probably have been written during his last illness. He seems to have lived just long enough to collect his works together, to dedicate them to Cornelius Nepos, and to see his.

"lepidum novum libellum
Arido modo pumise expolitum."

If he died in 54 B.C. or early in 53 B.C. there must be a further error either in the first or the second of Jerome’s statements. Catullus must neither have been born later than 87 B.C or have lived to a greater age than thirty. The difficulty in regard to the first supposition is that it increases the disproportion between the ages of the poet and his mistress Clodia, who must have been born about 94 B.C. But as he was supplanted in her affections by a still younger man, M. Caelius Rufus, who appears for a time to have been equally infatuated by her, and as Cicero in his defence of Caelius describes her as one"quae etiam aleret adolescents et parsimoniam partum sius sumptibus sustentaret" (Pro M. Caelio, ch. xvi. 1), this difficulty is not a serious objection to the date. Catullus is described by Ovid, in keeping with all the characteristics of his poetry, as "hedera invenilia cinctus Tempora" (Amor., iii. 9, 61); and this description seems more applicable to a man who dies in his thirtieth year than to one who dies three or four years later. Further, the age at which a man dies is more likely to be accurately remembered than the particular date either of his death or of his birth. The common practice of recording the ages of the deceased in sepulchral inscriptions must have rendered a mistake less likely to occur in that respect, than in respect of the consulship in which he was born. Other instances can be given of the carelessness of Jerome in respect to dates, and Mr Munro gives a probable explanation of the mistake in the confusion between the first and the last of the four consulships of Cinna. [Footnote 247-1] It seems, therefore, on the whole most likely that the words "xxx. Aetatis anno" are correct, and that Catullus was born in 84 B.C., in the consulship of Cn. Papirius Carbo II. and L. Cornelius Cinna IV.

The statement that he was born at Verona is confirmed by passages in Ovid and Martial. Pliny the elder, who was born at Como, speaks of Catullus in the preface to his Natural History, as his "countryman" (conterraneus), and the post speaks of Verona as his home, or at least his temporary residence, in more than one place (lxvii. 34, lxviii. 27, xxxv. 3); and in mentioning the Transpadani among the other inhabitants of Italy, he adds the words "ut meos quoque attingam" (xxxviii. 13).

His occasional residence in his native place is further attested by the statement of Suetonius (Julius Caesar, 73), that "Julius Caesar accepted the poet’s apology for his scurrilous verses upon him, invited him to dine with him on the same day, and continued his intimacy with his father as before." As this incident could only have happened during the time that Julius Caesar was Proconsul, the scene of it must have been in the Cisalpine province, and at the house of the poet’s father, in or near Verona. The verses apologized for were those contained in poems xxix. and lvii., the former of which must have been written after Caesar’s invasion of Britain, so that this interview probably took place in the winter of 55-54 B.C. The fact that his father was the host of the great proconsul, and lived on terms of intimacy with him, justifies the inference, that he was, in wealth and rank, one of the principal men of the province, an inference confirmed by the social position which Catullus himself assumed in Rome, and by his enjoyment of property independent of his father (cf. poems xxxi. And xliv.) during his father’s lifetime. The only other important statement concerning the poet’s life which rests on external authority is that of Apuleius, that the real name of the Lesbia of the poems was Clodia. One other statement, not concerning the poet’s life, but concerning the reputation which he enjoyed after his death, is given in the Life of Atticus by Cornelius Nepos (12,4). It is to the effect that he regarded Lucretius and Catullus as the two greatest poets of his own time.

The volume of poems which Catullus collected and published before his death consists of 116 pieces, varying in length from 2 to 408 lines, the great mass of them being, however, short pieces, written in some lyric or iambic, or in elegiac metre. There poems are not arranged either in chronological order or in accordance with the character of the topics with which they deal. The only principle which seems to have guided the author in his arrangement was that of placing the longer poems, of a less personal and fugitive character, in the middle of the volume, while the first part contained those written in lyric or iambic metres, and the latter part consisted entirely of verses written in the elegiac metre. Many of the last treat of the same topics and refer to the same persons as those forming the subject of the short poems at the beginning of the volume. The elegiac, as well as the phalecian and iambic metres, were employed by him as the vehicle both of his tenderest and his bitterest feelings. Though no chronological order is observed, yet internal evidence enables us to determine the occasions on which many of the poems were written, and the order in which they followed one another, They give a very vivid image of various phases of the poet’s life, and of the strong feelings with which persons and things affected him. They throw much light also on the social life of Rome and of the provincial towns of Italy in the years preceding the outbreak of the second civil war. Apart from their poetic charm, they thus possess the interest of bringing vividly before us some aspects of one of the most critical epochs in the history of the ancient world. In this respect they may be compared with the letters of Cicero, which record the impression produced by the same time on a man of similar susceptibility of feeling and keenness of apprehension, but of character and pursuits as far removed as possible from those of the provincial poet, who modesty contrasts the greatness of the "most eloquent of the descendants of Romulus" with his own humble pretensions.

The poems extend over a period of seven or eight years, from 61 or 62 till 54 B.C. Among the earliest are those which record the various stages of the author’s passion for Lesbia. It is in connection with this passion that he is generally mentioned, or alluded to, by the later Roman poets, such as Propertius, Ovid, Juvenal, and Martial. The real name of Lesbia, as we learn from Apuleius, was Clodia poetess, which is clearly indicated by the imitation of her language in his 51st and 52d poems, affords an obvious explanation of the Greek name which he have to his Roman mistress. After the exhaustive examination of the subject by Schwabe, it may be regarded as certain that she was the notorious sister of Publius Clodius Pulcher, the GREEK, who plays an important part in the drama of Cicero’s fortunes, brought before us in the first three books of the letters to Atticus,—the "Palatina Medea," whose character stands out so prominently in the speech Pro Caelio,—the "quadrantaria Clytemnestra," as she was called by her lover Caelius (Quintilian, viii. 6, 23), in reference to the suspicion she incurred of having poisoned her husband, Q. Metellus Celer (consul, 60 B.C.) in 59 B.C (cf. Munro, Journal of Philology, iii.) In the year 56 she charged M. Caelius Rufus, after tiring of him, as she had of Catullus, with an attempt to poison her. It was in defence of him that Cicero described the spell she exercised over young men, in language which might have been applied to her previous relations with the youthful poet, as well as those with the youthful orator and politician.

It may probably have been on hearing of this defence, that Catullus, whose feelings had by that time charged from passionate devotion to scornful animosity, wrote the short poem (xlviii.) Disertissime Romuli nepotum, which associates his name with the great orator of the age. Poems concerning Lesbia occur both among the earliest and the latest of those contained in the series. They record the various stages of passion through which Catullus passed, from absolute devotion and a secure sense of returned affection, through the various conditions of distrust and jealousy, attempts at renunciation, and short-lived "amoris intergrationes," through the "odi et amo" state, and the later state of savge indignation against both Lesbia and his rivals, and especially against Caelius Rufus, till he finally attains, not without much suffering and loss, the last state of scornful indifference. Among the earliest of the poems connected with Lesbia, and among those written in the happiest vein, are ii. and iii. (Passer, deliciae meae puellae and Lugete, O. Veneres Cupidinesque), and v. and vii. The 8th, Miser Catulle, desinas ineptire, perhaps the most beautiful of them all, expresses the first awakening of the poet to a sense of her unworthiness, before the gentler have given place to the fiercer feelings of his nature. His final renunciation is sent in a poem written after his return from the East, with union of imaginative and scornful power, to his two butts, Furius and Aurelius (xi., Furi et Aureli, comites Catulli), who, to judge by the way Catullus writes of them, appear to have been hangers on upon him, who repaid the pecuniary and other favours they received by giving him grounds for jealously, and making imputations on his character (cf. xv. Xvi., xviii., xxiii.)

The intrigue Caelius Rufus with Lesbia began in 59 or 58 B.C. (cf. Schwabe, Quaest. Catulli, p. 66). It was probably in the earlier stages of this liaison that the 68th poem was written, from which it appears that Catullus, at the time living at Verona, and grieving for the recent death of his brother in the Troad, had head of Lesbia’s infiderality, and, in consideration of her previous faithlessness is his favour, was not inclined to resent it very warmly—

"Rara verecundae furta feremus herae,"

Two other poems in the series express the grief which Catullus felt for the death of his brother—one, the 65th composed at the same time as the 68th, and addresses to the orator Hortensius, who is there, as in some of Cicero’s letters, called Hortalus or Ortalus, and sent to him along with the Coma Berenices (lxvi), a translation of a famous elegy of Callimachus. The other poem referring to this event (ci.) must have been composed some years later, probably in 56 B.C., when Catullus visited his brother’s tomb in the Troad, on his return from Bithynia. Between 59 and 57 B.C. most of the lampoons on Lesbia and her numerous lovers must have been written (e.g. xxxvii., xxxix., lxix., lxxii., lxxvii., lxxix., xc., &c). Some, too, of the poems expressive of his more tender feelings to her, such as viii. and lxxvi.,

"Miser catulle, desinas ineptire,"


"Siqua recordanti benefacta priora voluptas,"

belong also to those years; and among the poems written either during this period or perhaps in the early and happier years of his liaison, some of the most charming of his shorter pieces, expressing the affection for his young friends Verannius and Fabullus (ix., xii., xiii.), may be included.

In the year 57 the routine of his life was for a short time broken, by his accomplying the Propraetor, C. Memmius, the friend to whom Lucretius dedicates his great poem, as one of his staff, to the province of Bithynia. The desire of seeing foreign lands, which was as strong a passion among cultivated Romans as among cultivated Englishmen of the present day, was probably the chief inducement to this temporary change of life, especially as Catullus had the prospect of gratifying this passion in congenial society; for the testimony of Cicero as well as of Lucretius shows that Memmius, whatever else he was, was a man of some accomplishment in literature and poetry; and among his younger companions, in the praetor’s train, was his friend and brother-poet Helvius Cinna (cf. x.) Some expressions in x., written shortly after his return, imply that he had some hopes of bettering his fortunes by this absence from Rome, as humorous complaints of poverty and debt (xiii., xxvi.) show that his ordinary means were insufficient for his mode of life. He frankly acknowledges the disappointment of these hopes, and still more frankly his disgust with his chief (x., xxviii.) some of the most charming and perfect among the shorter poems express the delight with which the poet changed the dullness and sultry climate of the province for the freedom and keen enjoyment of his voyage home in his yacht, built for hi, at Amastris on the Euxine, and for the beauty and peace of his villa on the shores of Lake Benacus, which welcomed him alone "wearied with foreign travel." To this period and to his first return to Rome after his visit to his native district belong the poems xlvi., ci., iv., xxxi., and x., all showing by their freshness of feeling and vivid truth of expression the gain which the poet’s nature derived from his temporary escape from the passions distractions, and animosities of Roman society. This happier vein is not be traced in many of the poems which can be assigned to the years intervening between this time and the poet’s death. Two poems, written in a very genial and joyous spirit, and addresses to his younger friend Licinius calvus (xiv. and l.), who is ranked as second only to himself among the lyrical poets of the age, and whose youthful promise pointed him out as likely to become one of greatest of Roman orators, may, indeed, with most probability be assigned to these later years (xvi.) From the expression "Odissem te odio Vatiniano," in the third line of xiv., it may be inferred almost with certainty that the poem was written not earlier than December (the "Saturnalia") of the year 56 B.C., as it was early in that year, as we learn from a letter of Cicero to his brother Quintus (ii. 4, 1). That Calvius first announced his intention or prosecuting Vatinius. The short poem numbered liii. Records an incidents in connection with eh actual prosecution which occurred in August 54 B.C. The poems which have felt the greatest stain on the fame of Catullus—those "referta cntumeliis Caesaris," the licentious abuse of Mamurra, and probably some of those personal scurrilities addresses to women as well as men, or too frank confessions, which posterity would willingly have let die—were written in the last years of his life, under the influence of the bitterness and recklessness induced by his experience. The complaint expressed in poem xxxviii.—

"Male est, Cornifici, tuo Catullo,"

and one or two other short poems such as lii.—

"Quid est, Catulle? Quid moraris emori?"

appear to be expressive of his state of mind in his last illness. In the first of them we recognize the tender trustfulness, in the last "saeva indignation" of his temperament. There is a return of the old graciousness and playfulness of his nature in the dedication to Cornelius Nepos (i.)—

"Quio dono lepidum novum libellum,"

which must have been written immediately before the publication of his volume.

Of several of the more interesting among the minor poems, as, for instance, xvii., xxxiv., and xlv., we have no means of determining the date. Nor can it be determined with certainty whether the longer and more artistic pieces, which occupy the middle of the volume—the Epithalamium in celebration of the marriage of Manlius Torquatus; the 62d poem, written in imitation of the Epithalamia of Sappho, "Vesper adest: iuvenes, consurgite;" the Attis, and the Epic Idyll representing the marriage festival of Peleus and Thetis—belong to the earlier or the period of the poet’s career. If the conjecture of Schwabe and other commentators is correct, that the person addressed in the first part of the 68th is the Manlius of the Epithalamium, and that the lines from 3 to 8—

"Naufragun ut eiectum….pervigilat,"

refer to the death of Junia, it would follow that the first Epithalamium was written some time before that poem, and thus belongs to the earlier time. We should be inclined to attach as much weight to the consideration that the ringing, cheerful notes of the poem proclaimed it to be the utterance of the unclouded dawn of his genius, before his nature was saddened and embittered by the two great griefs of his life—the faithfulness of his mistress and the death of his brother. The fact that the translation of Sappho,—

"Ille mi par esse deo videtur,"

and the translation from Callimachus (lxvi.),—

"Omnia qui magni dispexit lumina mundi,"

belong to the earlier period might afford grounds for conjecturing that the poems not relating to personal topics, and written after the manner of Sappho or the Alexandrine poets, belonged to the same period. But the Attis and the Peleus and Thetis, although perhaps suggested by the treatment of the same or similar subjects in Greek authors, are executed with such power and originality as declare them to be products of the most vigorous stage in the development of the poet’s genius. That his genius came soon to maturity and did not need the ripening process of time and experience through which Horace attained to the perfection of his art, is a reason for hesitation in assigning any particular time between 62 and 54 B.C. for the composition of the Attis and of that part of the Epithalamium ("Peliaco quondam prognatae vertice pinus") which deals with the main subject of the poem. But the criticism of Mr Munro in his edition of Lucretius, which shows similarities of expression, which cannot be mere casual coincidences, between the Ariadne-episode in the Epithalamium of Catullus (from line 52 to 266) and the poem of Lucretius, leaves little doubt that that portion at least of the poem was written after the publication of the De rerum natura, in the winter of 55-54 B.C. There is no reason for supposing that Catullus could have had any access to that poem in the lifetime of Lucretius, and even if he were personally known to him and had been acquainted with his poem before its publication, the liberty which ancient poets assumed of using the thoughts and language of previous or contemporary writers could not have included the right of appropriating them before they saw the light.

No ancient author has left a more vivid impression of himself on his writings than Catullus. Neither the Letters to Atticus of Cicero nor the Satires and Epistles of Horace afford more trustworthy indications of feeling and character. The interests which occupied his life and inspired his poetry were limited to the passions and the purer pleasures of youth, such as friendly intercourse with men of congenial and cultivated tastes, the enjoyment of outward nature and foreign travel, the cultivation of his art, and the nature and foreign travel, the cultivation of his art, and the study of the early Greek lyric and the later Alexandrine poets. Coming to Rome in early youth from a distant province, not at that time included within the limits of Italy, he lived as an equal with the men of his time of most intellectual activity and refinement, as well as of highest social and political eminence. Among those to whom his poems are addressed we find the names of Hortensius, Cicero, and Cornelius Nepos, attesting the fact that his society was valued by older men of established reputation and graver pursuits. With Memmius he was at least on sufficiently intimate relations to form one of the members of his staff during the time of his provincial government. He lived on terms of affectionate friendship with Licinius Calvus, with Helvius Cinna, whose distinction (whatever his real merits as a poet may have been) is attested in Virgil’s line—

"Nam neque adhuc Vario videor, nec dicere Cinna Digna,"

with Varus, in all probability the Quintilius Varus whose death Horace laments to Virgil in the 24th ode of the first book, and other poets and men of letters contemporary with him. It is interesting to notice among those mentioned as belonging to the circle of his younger friends, one who lived to become one of the most eminent men as statesman, orator, and man of letters in the following generations, Asinius Pollio, characterized by Catullus as—

"Disertus puer et facetiarum."—xii.8.

Catullus brought into this circle the genius of a great poet, the social vivacity of a vigorous nature, the simplicity and sincerity of an unambitious, and the warmth of an affectionate disposition. He betrays all the sensitiveness of the poetic temperament, but it is never the sensitiveness of vanity, for he is characterized by the modesty rather than the self-confidence with accompanies genius, but the sensitiveness of a heart which gives and expects more sympathy and loyalty in friendship than the world either wants or cares to give in return. He shows also in some of his lighter pieces the fastidiousness of a refined taste, intolerant of all boorishness, pedantry, affectation, and sordid ways of life. The passionate intensity of his temperament displays itself with similar strength in the outpourings of his animosity as of his love and affection. It was, unfortunately, the fashion of the time to employ in the expression of these animosities a licence of speech and of imputation which it is difficult for men living under different social conditions to understand, still more difficult to tolerate. Cicero, in reference to such imputations says, in his defence of Caelius (ch. iii.)—"Sunt ista maledicta pervulgata in omnes, quorum in adolescentia forma et species fuit liberalis;" and a few sentences later he says of this kind of malediction, "si petulantius iactatur, convicium si facetious, urbanitas nominator." It is not easy to realize what the style of those scurrilities must habed been, which were "more petulant" and "less urbane" than those of Catullus. But the language of Cicero implues that they were taken, and meant to be taken, merely as a facon de parler, and would not be regarded either by the objects of them or by those who read them as conveying the serious belief of the writer. Mr Munro (Journal of Philology, iii..) has examined the 29th poem—

"Quis hoc potest videre, quis potest pati,"

the longest and most important of the lampoons on Xaesar and Mamurra, and has shown with much learning and acuteness the motives and intention of Catullus in writing them. Had Julius Caesar really believed, as Suetonius writing two hundred years afterwards says he did, that "an eternal stigma had been cast upon him by the verses concerning Mamurra," we should scarcely apply the word magnanimity to his condonation of the offence. But these verses survive as a memorial not of any scandal affecting Julius Caesar which could possibly have been believed by his contemporaries, but of the licence of speech which was one of the symptoms of the social and political disorganization of the age, of the jealousy with which the younger members of the Roman aristocracy, who a little later faught on the side of Pompey, at that time regarded the ascendancy both of the "father-in-law and the son-in-law," and the social elevation of some of their instruments, and also, to a certain extent, of the deterioration which the frank and generous nature of Catullus underwent from the passions which wasted and the faithlessness which marred his life.

The great age of Latin poetry extends from about the year 60 B.C. till the death of Ovid in 17 A.D. There are three marked divisions in this period, each with a distinct character of its own: first represented by Lucretius and Catullus, the second by Virgil and Horace, the last by Ovid. Force and sincerity are the great characteristics of the first period, maturity of art of the second, facility of the last. The educating influence of Greek art on the Roman mind was first fully experienced in the Ciceronian age, and none of his contemporaries was so susceptible of that influence as Catullus. With the susceptibility to art he combined a large share of the vigorous and genial qualities of the Italian race. Like most of his younger contemporaries, the GREEK of whom Cicero speaks (Epist. Ad Attticum, vii. 2), he studied in the school of the Alexandrine poets, with whom the favourite subjects of art were the passion of love, and stories from the Greek mythology, which admitted of being treated in a spirit similar to that in which they celebrated their own experiences. It was under this influence that Catullus wrote the Coma Berenices, the 68th poem, which, after the manner of the Alexandrines, interweaves the old tale of Protesilaus and Laodamia with the personal experiences of the poet himself, and the Epithalamium of Peleus and Thetis, which combines two pictures from the Greek mythology, one of the secure happiness of marriage, the other of the passionate despair of love betrayed. In this last poem Catullus exercises a power of creative pictorial imagination far transcending that displayed in any of the extant poetry of Alexandria. We have no means of determining what suggested the subject of the Attis to Catullus, whether the previous treatment of the subject by some Greek writer, some survival of the myth which he found still existing during his residence among the "Phrygii Campi," or the growth of various forms of Eastern superstition and fanaticism, at Rome, in the last age of the Republic. Whatever may have been its origin, it is the finest specimen we possess, in either Greek or Latin literature, of that kind of short poem more common in modern than ancient times, in which some situation or passion entirely alien to the writer, and to his own age, is realized with dramatic intensity. But the genius of Catullus is, perhaps, even happier in the direct expression of personal feeling than in artistic creation, or the reproduction of tales and situations from mythology. The warmth, intensity, and sincerity of his own nature are the sources of the inspiration in these poems. The most elaborate and one of the finest of them is the Epithalamium in honour of the marriage of a member of the old house of Manlius Torquatus with Junia (or, according to another reading, Vinia) Aurunculeia, written in the glyconic in combination with the pherecratean metre. To this metre Catullus imparts a peculiar lightness and grace by making the trochee, instead of the spondee as the Horace’s glyconics and pherecrateans, the first foot in the line. His elegiac metre is constructed with less smoothness and regularity than that of Ovid and Tibulus or even of Propertius, but as employed by him it gives a true echo to the serious and plaintive feelings of some of his poems,

e.g., lxxvi.—

"Si qua recordanti benefacta priora voluptas,"


"Si quicquam mutis gratum acceptumque sepulchris,"

and ci.,

"Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus,"

while it adapts itself, as it did later in the hands of Martial, to the epigrammatic terseness of his invective. But the perfection of the art of Catullus is seen in his employment of those metres which he adapted to the Latin tongue from the earlier poets of Greece, the pure iambic trimester, as in iv.—

"Phaselus ille quem videtis hospites,"

the Scazon iambic, employed in viii. and xxxi.—

"Paeninsularum, Sirmio, insularumque,"

and the phalecina hendecasyllabic, a slight modification of the Sapphic line, which is his favourite metre for the expression of his more joyful moods and of his lighter satiric vein. The Latin language never flowed with such ease, freshness, and purity as in these poems. Their perfection consists in the entire absence of all appearance of effort or reflexion, and in the fullness of life and feeling, which gives a lasting interest and charm to the most trivial incident of the passing hour. In reference to these poems Mr Munro has said with truth and force: "A generation had yet to pass before the heroic attained to its perfection; while he (Catullus) has already produced glyconics, phalecians, and iambics, each ‘one entire and perfect chrysolite,’ ‘cunningest patterns’ of excellence, such as Latium never saw before or after,—Alcaeus, Sappho, and he rest then and only then having met their match" (Journal of Philology, No. iii.)

From expressions in some of the poem (xvi. 12, liv. 7) it is clear that several of them had been published or circulated separately before they were finally collected in t eh edition which has come down to us. Lines are quoted from Catullus by ancient writers which are not found any of the poems which we possess. If these passages are correctly attributed to Catullus it follows that he must have omitted his death. In some of the older editions (as for instance that of Döring, 1834) two poems addressed "ad Hortorum Deum," and numbered 19 and 20, have been included, of which there is no ground to believe Catullus to have been the author. The lines numbered in Döring’s edition 18 are attributed to him by an ancient grammarian, though they are included in the MSS, of his collected works. The texts, as it has reached us, is in any places corrupt, and its restoration still exercises the acuteness of English and German scholars. There appears to have been one MS. of Catullus extant in France in the 9th century, from which the 62d poem, Vesper adest, iuvenes, consurgite, &c., was copied at that time into an anthology of Latin poems. Another MS. is know to have existed in Verona in the middle of the following century. This MS. is not again heard of till the beginning of the 14th century, when it was again discovered and read by Petrarch. It was soon after lost again. The two oldest extant MSS. Are immediate copies of it. One of these, dated 1375, now belongs to the Paris Library, the other to the Bodleian (cf. Bahrens, Prolegomena). The edition princes appeared in 1472, and other editions appeared a few years later at Parma and Venice. "in the 16th century Catullus, like most of the chief Latin classics, was corrected and illustrated with signal zeal and success. The editions of Avancius, Guarinus, Muretus, Statius, and Scaliger do honour to the learning of Italy and France, even in that age of erudition" (Munro, Journal of Philology, iii.) Nothing more was done of any importance, in the way of emendation or commentary, till Lachmann published his edition of the text in 1829. Since that date editions have appeared by Haupt, Rossbach, Schwabe, Müller, Bahrens (1876), and other German editors, and by Professor Robinson Ellis—the last accompanied by an elaborate apparatus criticus, prolegomena, &c. Most important contributions to the interpretation of the matter and meaning of Catullus have been made by Haupt, Schwabe, and Mr Munro in the Journal of Philology. Among recent English translations may be mentioned those of Mr Theodore Martin, Dr Cranstoun, and Mr R. Ellis—the last being written in the metres of the original poems. (W. Y. S.)


247-1 This is also suggested as possible by Schwabe, who, however, prefers adhering to the date 87 B.C.

The above article was written by William Young Sellar, M.A.; late Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford; Professor of Greek at St Andrews University, 1857-63; Professor of Humanity at Edinburgh, 1863-90; author of The Roman Poets of the Republic, The Roman Poets of the Augustan Age, and Horace and the Elegaic Poets.

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