For almost all present-day readers, Catullus is a compelling love poet; for Quintilian, he was a master of the savage political lampoon. These two views of the same author are not mutually exclusive. Yet a natural wish to establish Catullus as a great ‘lyric poet’, as twentieth-century scholars understand the term, has sometimes trapped his admirers into a false dichotomy: his invectives are denied any claim to artistic merit, and the Roman rhetorician's preference for them is dismissed as an odd lapse of taste. Such a pronouncement hardly does justice to Quintilian's aesthetic judgment. Nor does it give due recognition to Catullus' noteworthy achievements in the iambic mode. Even in the harshest of his lampoons, modern techniques of literary analysis reveal a level of sophistication as high as in any of the famous love lyrics, together with an equivalent degree of emotional complexity. In this paper I intend to support that thesis through an exploration of one significant characteristic of certain pasquinades: the use of standard invective topoi as condensed metaphors of political corruption.