12-02-0084 BCE

The poet Catullus

CATULLUS aka Gaius Valerius Catullus, Roman poet of the 1st century BCE born (d: 54 BCE); His love poetry was never surpassed in ancient times, and influenced a great many poets, both ancient and modern.

Tibullus, Propertius, Horace and Ovid imitated his techniques, and, during the English Renaissance, English poets such as Ben Jonson and Robert Herrick attempted to capture the quality of Catullus (unsuccessfully) in English. Most of Catullus’s poems are short; in a few concise lines he is able to create an experience of love, friendship, or sometimes bitterness and anger either at his mistress (whom he called “Lesbia”) or at some person he despised.

Although most of his poems are about heterosexual love, a good number of them are devoted to the love of boys. These are particularly lusty, some of them very funny, and all of them explicitly sexual. (Since many editions of Catullus prudishly omit these poems, and since almost all translations are severely bowdlerized, only one edition in translation is recommended, that by Peter Whigham.) In one poem, the poet comes upon a young boy “stuffing his girl.” With a wink to Venus, he “stuffs” the boy as “poetic justice.” Since Catullus was a contemporary of Caesar, his pederastic poetry is characterized by the basic prejudice of the period: “taking” a boy is a manly act, but allowing another man to do unto you what you did unto him is sheer depravity.