Catullus: The Dirtiest Poet You Wish You Knew

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Trivial Diversions

Catullus: The Dirtiest Poet You Wish You Knew

Catullus: The Dirtiest Poet You Wish You Knew

When modern audiences think of ancient Roman poets, they hardly imagine crude writing and swearing alongside the epic descriptions of war and love. But that’s just what Catullus is famous for. His poems range from amazingly beautiful to amazingly disturbing. Here are the real facts about the dirtiest poet around.

1. After the poet Furius and the senator Aurelius criticized him, Catullus wrote a poem that was so vulgar that it wasn’t translated out of Latin until the 20th century. To read the obscene poem, head over to Wikipedia.

2. Catullus was part of a group of poets called the Novi Poetae, the new poets. They lived a lifestyle full of drink and sex, and instead of composing epics with heroic themes, they wrote lyric poetry.

3. While most Roman poetry focused on philosophy or education, sometimes patriotism and virtue, Catullus shunned the common topics and instead wrote about love, revenge, and his own life.

4. One of the women in his poems is called Lesbia, a woman who had an affair with Catullus but later left him. Scholars believe that Lesbia is actually Clodia, the wife of a consul, and an older and wealthier woman. After she left Catullus his poems turned quite vicious, for example in poem 58:

Lesbia, Caelius—yes, our darling,
yes, Lesbia, the Lesbia Catullus
once loved uniquely, more than any other!
—now on streetcorners & in wretched alleys
she shucks the offspring of greathearted Remus.

5. One of the great mysteries of Catullus’ life is how he supported himself. The only job we know he held was a short time in the military towards the end of his life. Yet somehow he never seemed to run out of money.

6. Not only was Catullus’ poem to Aurelis and Furius too graphic to be translated, it actually led to a court case in 2009 when a man texted a coworker a line from the poem. The coworker said it threatened a violent sexual act, whereas the man in question said it was simply a coy poem.

7. The only reason we have poems from Catullus today is because a single manuscript survived the dark ages, unread for 700 years. It was found under a bushel in 1300 and disappeared soon after, but thankfully scholars copied the works quickly and we now have his writings.

8. Catullus died young: he was merely 30 years old when he died, which we know from writings of Ovid.  Just imagine how many more dirty poems we would have if he had lived a full life.

Related topics Catullus, Rome
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