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If Catullus had been born fifty years earlier, in the midst of the Gracchan revolution, or fifty years later, on the eve of the battle of Actium, he would have had a very different life from the one which he did have – and he would have been a very different poet. But this presupposes that we know when Catullus was in fact born; do we? According to St Jerome (Chron. 1930), he was born in Verona in 87 bc (‘Gaius Valerius Catullus scriptor lyricus Veronae nascitur’). The reference to Verona tallies with what can be inferred from the poems. In one poem he begs a fellow poet to visit him in Verona (35.3), in another he appears to write from Verona but explains that his primary residence is in Rome (68a.27–8, 34–5).
On an October afternoon two hundred years ago the poet John Keats paid a visit to his friend and literary mentor, Leigh Hunt. They were so absorbed in their conversation that they forgot the time, and Keats was obliged to spend the night in Hunt’s cottage, where an extemporary bed was made up for him in the library. But he failed to drop off to sleep, so stimulated was he not only by the conversation with his friend but also by his literary surroundings. He therefore resorted to writing part of the poem later known as Sleep and Poetry, in which he describes the circumstances of the poem’s genesis, attacks the poets of a previous generation, and delivers a manifesto for the new poets such as Hunt himself.
Catullus is one of the most popular poets to survive from classical antiquity. Above all others he seems to speak to modern readers with a modern voice. The distinguished contributors to this Companion discuss the principal subjects which drew Catullus' affection and disgust, above all his famous affair with the woman he calls 'Lesbia', and situate him in the social, historical and intellectual context of first-century BC Rome. One of the so-called 'new poets', Catullus had a profound effect on subsequent Latin poetry, and this is explored especially for the Augustan age and the late first century AD. A significant part of the volume is concerned with Catullus' survival into the modern world. There are discussions both of the manuscript tradition and of the interpretative scholarship which has been devoted to his poetry, as well as his reception by renaissance and later poets. Students in particular will appreciate this book.
In this book, a sequel to Traditions and Contexts in the Poetry of Horace (Cambridge, 2002), ten leading Latin scholars provide specially commissioned in-depth discussions of the poetry of Catullus, one of ancient Rome's most favourite and best loved poets. Some chapters focus on the collection as a whole and the interrelationship of various poems; others deal with intertextuality and translation, and Catullus' response to his Greek predecessors, both classical and Hellenistic. Two of the key subjects are the communication of desire and the presentation of the real world. Some chapters provide analyses of individual poems, while others discuss how Catullus' poetry was read by Virgil and Ovid. A wide variety of critical approaches is on offer, and in the Epilogue the editors provide a provocative survey of the issues raised by the volume.