In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section 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
David Konstan, Marilyn B. Skinner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0010


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 in this article.


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 Such literal interpretations have been superseded (though Dunn 2016 is a throwback) and critics have adopted more subtle approaches to the poet’s relation to his times.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.

  • Dunn, Daisy. 2016. Catullus’ bedspread: The life of Rome’s most erotic poet. New York: Harper.

    Fictionalized biography largely based on the poems, but also incorporating Wiseman’s suggestions about the poet’s background. In predictable Catullroman fashion, the narrative attempts to recreate its subject’s inner life and feelings. Dunn’s translation of poem 64 (which she terms the “Bedspread Poem”) is contained in an appendix.

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

    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: 10.2307/299066

    A brief and balanced introduction to Catullus’s life.

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

    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.

    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.

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