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Biography of Gaius Valerius Catullus

Gaius Valerius Catullus

Gaius Valerius Catullus was born in 84 BCE. His life is little known, but many sources agree that he was born near Verona although the Palatine hill of Rome has been mentioned before.

Catullus was the son of a leading family of Verona, but lived in Rome for most of his life. In 57 BCE he accompanied his friend, Memmius, to Bithynia where Memmius received the post of propraetor. And just one year later Catullus held a political office on the staff of the governor of Bithynia.

Catullus' poetry was influenced mostly by the Greek neoteroi, especially that of Callimachus, who created a new style of poetry turning away from classical epic poetry in the tradition of Homer. The poetry instead focused on personal themes, although seeming quite superficial and the subject of everyday concerns.

Catullus' works were handed down as an anthology of 116 carmina, which can be divided into three formal parts; 670 short poems in varying meters called polymetra, 8 longer poems and 48 epigrams.

All of Catullus' poems were of the Epicurean lifestyle of him and his friends who lived withdrawn from politics. Their interests were mainly of poetry, love and 'virtus', the virtue that had to be proved by a political career or by military valor.

Catullus was also an admirer of Sappho, 7th century BCE poetess. Catullus 51 is in fact a direct verse translation of Sappho 31 (with his own touch), while Catullus 61 and Catullus 62 were inspired by and perhaps translations of Sappho.

It isn't sure when Gaius Valerius Catullus died, but some sources tell he died from exhaustion at the age of 30 in 54 BCE. Due to the dates based on allusions he makes in his poetry it is believed Catullus lived between 84 and 54 BCE. His poems were despised by politicians like Cicero, but they also inspired many future poets like Ovid, Horace and Virgil.

Poems by Gaius Valerius Catullus

Both the English and Latin versions of the poems are available.

Catullus 51 (includes Latin). Speaks about his love Lesbia.
Catullus 62 (includes Latin). A poem about marriage.