Jump to Content Jump to Main Navigation

In This Article Catullus

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • General Overviews
  • Collections of Papers
  • Critical Studies
  • Guides to the Poems
  • Bibliographies
  • Lexica
  • Arrangement of the Collection
  • Greek Influences
  • Sexuality and Gender
  • Lesbia
  • Influence on Roman Poetry
  • Later Reception

Classics Catullus
by
David Konstan

Introduction

Catullus, a master of lyric poetry, epigram, and other forms during the late Roman Republic, was born in Verona in 87 BCE, according to Jerome’s Chronicle, which also reports that he died at the age of thirty. Since the latest datable references in his poems relate to 54 BCE, most scholars assign Catullus’s birth to 84 (thus treating one of Jerome’s statements as true), but it is possible that he lived longer. At the time of Catullus’s birth, Verona had not yet been granted full Roman status; but Catullus’s family, which was prominent in the city, probably enjoyed Roman citizenship. Catullus moved to Rome as a young man (the precise year is unknown), and probably died there. From his poems, we know that he was very attached to an older brother who died in the Troad. His verses give evidence of a wide circle of friendships among the highest classes in Rome, but, of course, they must be used with great care in reconstructing anything like a narrative of his own life. His friends, as well as his amatory relationships, are discussed below.

Biography

In the first half of the 20th century, critics still attempted to recover details of Catullus’s biography, and especially of his love affair with Lesbia, from the poems. Such literal interpretations have been superseded, and critics have adopted more subtle approaches to the poet’s relation to his times. Skinner 2003 offers a summary of the issues; Wiseman 1985 shows both the problems and the kinds of information that can be extracted from Catullus’s verses. Wiseman 1979 is a brief survey of what can be known of Catullus’s life; Wiseman 1987 discusses the famous villa at Lake Sirmio.

  • Skinner, Marilyn B. 2003. Catullus in Verona: A reading of the elegiac libellus, poems 65–116. Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    The introduction, available online, provides a clear summary of the debates over a biographical reading of the poetry; argues that this part of the collection was arranged by Catullus himself.

  • Wiseman, T. P. 1979. Catullus, his life and times. Journal of Roman Studies 69:161–168.

    DOI: 10.2307/299066E-mail Citation »

    A brief and balanced introduction to Catullus’s life.

  • Wiseman, T. P. 1985. Catullus and his world: A reappraisal. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Offers interesting evidence and speculation on Catullus’s biography and relations with his contemporaries; questions the usual (but not universally accepted) identification of Lesbia with Clodia, wife of Metellus, and suggests his lover was a younger sister of hers (already argued by Wiseman in his 1965 Catullan Questions). Also argues for an original three-volume edition of the poems by Catullus, and that Catullus went on, after completing these poems, to write dramatic mimes (cf. Cicero Epistolae ad Familiares 7.11.3), a view that has not won general acceptance.

  • Wiseman, T. P. 1987. The masters of Sirmio. In Roman studies: Literary and historical. By T. P. Wiseman, 309–370. Liverpool, UK: Univ. of Liverpool Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the family estate of the Valerii on Lake Sirmione (Sirmio in Latin), the subject of Catullus’s poem 31, and the later history of the family.

LAST MODIFIED: 01/13/2014

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389661-0010

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions and individuals. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article

Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.

If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email onlinemarketing@oup.com to express your interest.

Article

Up

Down