Little information exists on the life of Catullus (kuh-TUHL-uhs), one of the most important lyric poets of his generation, although he seems to have been born into a prominent family. He is generally considered one of the so-called neoteric poets, but he is the only one of these whose work has largely survived. His extant work consists of approximately 116 poems in various meters on a wide variety of topics. Most famous are the Lesbia poems, which describe a love affair with a married Roman woman of the aristocracy. These poems range from expressions of passionate love to bitter outcries of disappointment, jealousy, and rage.
Catullus is often credited with redefining love, perhaps even creating a notion of “romantic” love, by including within an erotic relationship affection, loyalty, and the kind of mutual respect demanded by other types of social bonds. He thus paved the way for later Roman and European conceptions of love and love poetry. Catullus left his mark on all the major poets of the next several generations, especially the elegists and the Roman poet Martial. His fortunes waned in later antiquity and little was known of him in the Middle Ages as his poems had been lost. They were rediscovered during the Renaissance and have been gathered and translated into English as Gaius Valerius Catullus: The Complete Poetry, a New Translation with an Introduction (1957).
Arkins, Brian. An Interpretation of the Poems of Catullus. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999. Surveys Catullus’s life and literary influences and offers a reading of his poetry that...
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