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CATULLUS
Form: Gaius Valerius Catullus.
Perhaps the greatest of Roman lyric poets. He was born at Verona B.C. 87, and died about 54. He came to Rome while still young, and found himself in very good society there, being admitted to the circle of such men as Cicero, Hortensius, and Cornelius Nepos, and the poets Cinna and Calvus. He had an estate on the Lacus Larius (Lake of Como), and another at Tibur (Tivoli); but, if we may believe what he says about his debts and poverty, his pecuniary affairs must have been in bad order. In consequence of this he attached himself to the propraetor Gaius Memmius, on his going to Bithynia in the year 57. He gained nothing by doing so, and in the following spring returned home alone, visiting on the way the tomb of his brother, who was buried near Troy. Some of his most beautiful poems are inspired by his love for a lady whom he addresses as Lesbia, a passion which seems to have been the ruin of his life. She has been, with great probability, identified with the beautiful and gifted but unprincipled sister of the notorious Clodius, and wife of Metellus Celer. Catullus was, in his eighteenth year, so over mastered by his passion for her, that he was unable even after he had broken off all relations with her, and come to despise her, to disentangle himself. In his intercourse with his numerous friends Catullus was bright and amiable, but unsparing in the ridicule he poured upon his enemies. He held aloof from public life, and from any active participation in politics, but none the less bitterly did he hate those whom he thought responsible for the internal decline of the Republic--themselves and all their creatures. On Caesar, though his own father's guest, and on his dissolute favourite Mamurra, he makes violent attacks. But he is said to have apologized to Caesar, who magnanimously forgave him. Catullus' poems have not all survived. We still possess 116, which, with the exception of three, are included in a collection dedicated to Cornelius Nepos. The first half is taken up with minor pieces of various contents, and written in different lyric metres, especially the iambic. Then follows a series of longer poems, amongst them the wonderful lament of Attis, wonderful in spite of the repulsiveness of its subject; the epic narrative of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, and a paraphrase of Callimachus' best elegy, "The Lock of Berenice." These are all in the Alexandrian manner. The remaining poems are short, and of different contents, but all written in elegiacs. Catullus takes his place in the history of literature as the earliest classical metrist among the Romans. He is a complete master of all varieties of verse. More than this, he has the art of expressing every phase of feeling in the most natural and beautiful style; love, fortunate and unfortunate, sorrow for a departed brother, wanton sensuality, the tenderest friendship, the bitterest contempt, and the most burning hatred. Even his imitations of the Greek are not without an original stamp of their own.
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