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   Catullus: love and poetry                   indexitaliano.jpg (1812 byte)     virtual tour



Catullus met the woman destinated to occupy all his thoughts and his poetry production in Rome. He called her Lesbia, like the elegiac poets’ fashion, who gave a pseudonymus to women they loved. The choice of the name reveals the root of the poetic and literary world of Catullus: Lesbia is the femminine gender of "lesbius" and refears to the island of Aegean Sea, that was the Sappho’s native country, an important Greek woman poet, and Catullus found inspiration in her lines (like the poem 51, that imitates Sappho’s lyric, A.C. 10,1-2).

It is too difficult to understand Lesbia’s personality through Catullus’ poems, because he can’t give an obiective judgement since he is conditioned by his love for her.

At the beginning of the relationship and just after a reconciliation, in succession of a period of crisis, Catullus, thoughtless and happy for his love, makes Lesbia appear beautiful and joy of his soul.

In fact, in the poem 86,5-6 he describes Lesbia’s actractiveness with these words: "Lesbia formosa est, quae cum pulcerrima tota est,/ Tum omnibus una omnis subripuit veneres". This thought can also be found in poem 107, where he describes her "gratum animo proprie".

giardinoIn poem 2,5-6 there’s an image of Lesbia who is playing with a sparrow and is looking for comfort of love pain amusing herself with the bird ("Cum desiderio meo nintenti/ carum nescioquid libet iocari/ et solacium sui doloris,/ credo, ut tum gravis acquiescat ardor" ) and in poem 3,17-18 ("Tua nunc opera meae puellae/ flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli" ) stand out the grace and the delicacy of the note of affection.

Lesbia’s real nature comes out in lyric 8, in which she leaves the poet, although she has been loved by him more than anyone, and showing her incapacity to keep on being faithful to such a true love (v. 5 "Amata nobis quantum amabitur nulla"; v. 9 "Nunc iam illa non vult" v.14 "At tu dolebis, cum rogaberis nulla").

Then in a moment of anger, at the end of his restless love, Catullus underlines that she’s corrupted by pleasure and perdition: after leaving a sincere love, she prefers other lovers chosen more for a fancy than for a true passion, (11,17-20 "Cum suis vivat valeatque moechis, quos simul complexa tenet trecentos, nullum amans vere, sed identidem omnium ilia rumpens").

But, even when love seems to get in a serene moment Lesbia’s behaviours and words do not reassured Catullus, and troubled love’s serenity (70,3 "Mulier cupido quod dicit amanti/ in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua"), although in lyric 72,1-2 "Dicebas quondam solum te nosse Catullum, Lesbia, nec prae me velle tenere Iovem" disillusion was growing.


Francesca Ferretto, Rosamaria Santoro, Giulia Scrinzi e Rachele Tommasi


















Sirmione. Catullus' villa. Cryptoporticus: the rebuilt arcade