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C Valerius Catullus

(c84BC - c54BC) 

Short Biography

Sir Edward John Poynter (1836-1919) 
Lesbia and her Sparrow (1907)

Catullus was probably born in or near Verona, in northern Italy. 

Nearly all the biographical information about him comes from his own poetry, which survived in just one manuscript, itself the copy of a copy, which contained 116 poems, and which surfaced in Verona c1300. His family was wealthy and of equestrian status, his father numbering Julius Caesar among his friends. His familiarity with Greek literature and culture suggests that he received the traditional education of a wealthy Roman. 

Links with Caesar
tells us that Catullus offended Caesar with one of his poems, but that Catullus apologised, and Caesar quickly forgave him.

Most of his poetry appears to have been written in the decade between 60BC (24) and 50BC (34). It is, in general, short, urbane, witty, well-constructed, sometimes passionate, sometimes amusing and sometimes vulgar. It was considered to be 'new poetry', having little in common with traditional epic poetry. It concentrated on elaborating on personal feelings of anger, sadness, disappointment, outrage and passion, the whole presented with an intelligent acuity of observation, and in the context of everyday life.

Twenty-five of his poems detail his tempestuous relationship with a married woman (called Lesbia in his poems), in reality probably Claudia Metelli Celeris, sister of Publius Clodius Pulcher, a Roman noble of the patrician gens Claudia, and an important politician during the rise to power of the first triumvirate of Caesar, Crassus and Pompey between 60BC (24) and 53BC (31).

Between 57BC (27) and 56BC (28) he was in Bithynia on the staff of the provincial governor, 

The fact that there are no references to events after 54BC (30) in his poetry seems to support the ancient biographical tradition that he died young.

Catullus Biography : Links

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