Catullus, Caius Valerius

, a Roman poet, born at Verona A. C. 86, was descended from a good family and his father was familiarly acquainted with Julius Cæsar, | who lodged at his house. The beauty and elegance of his verses easily procured him the attention and friendship of the wits who were then at Rome, whither he was carried in his youth by Manlius, a nobleman, to whom he has inscribed several of his poems. Here he soon discovered the vivacity of his genius, and so distinguished himself by his pleasantry and wit, that he became universally esteemed, and gained even Cicero for his patron. It is believed that he gave the name of Lesbia to his principal mistress, in honour of Sap ho, who was of the island of Lesbos, and whose verses he much admired. Her true name, however, was supposed to be Clodia, sister of Clodius, the great enemy of Cicero. Like other poets, Catullus is said to have been very poor. His merit, indeed, recommended him to the greatest men of his time, as Plancus, Calvus, Cinna, &c. and he travelled into Bithynia with Memmius, who had obtained the government of that province after his praetorship: but it is plain from some of his epigrams, that he did not make his fortune by it. He died in the forty-sixth year of his age, B. C. 40, and in the height of his reputation.

Though the great talent of this poet lay in epigram, yet some have pretended that he equally excelled in all other kinds of poetry. Martial’s veneration for him was such, that he has not scrupled to put him on a level with Virgil:

"Tantum magna suo debet Verona Catullo,

Quantum parva suo Mantua Virgilio."

And in this he has been followed by Paul Jovius and Barthius among the moderns. Dr. Warton maintains that the Romans can boast but of eight poets who are unexceptionably excellent, and places Catullus as the third on this list, in which he is preceded by Terence and Lucretius, and followed by Virgil, Horace, Tibullus, Propertius, and Phaedrus. The same critic seems to doubt whether the story of Atys in Catullus’s works be genuine. It is so much above the tender and elegant genius of Catullus, that he is inclined to think it a translation from some Grecian writer. Catullus’s writings got him the name of “the learned” amongst the ancients, for which we have the authority of Aulus Gellius, Apuleius, and both the Plinys; but we have no compositions of his remaining, nor any lights from antiquity, which enable us to explain the reason of it. Among others that Catullus inveighed against and lashed in his | iambics, none suffered more severely than Julius Cæsar, under the name of Mamurra which, however, only furnished Cæsar with an opportunity of shewing his moderation and humanity. For after Catullus, by repeated invectives, had given sufficient occasion to Cæsar to resent such usage, especially from one whose father had been his familiar friend Cæsar, instead of expressing any uneasiness, generously invited the poet to supper with him, and there treated him with so much affability and good-nature, that Catullus was ashamed at what he had done, and resolved to make him amends for the future.

The best editions of this author are, that of Vulpius, Padua, 1757, 4to, and that of Barbou, Paris, 12mo, but his works are most generally printed with those of Tibullus and Propertius. The celebrated John Wilkes printed a very correct edition of Catullus some years ago, but not for sale. In 1795, an English translation of his poems was printed with the Latin text and notes, but the author having translated the licentious passages, we are prevented from recommending what is otherwise executed with taste and spirit. 1


Gen. Dict. Crusius’s Lives of the Roman poets. —Vossius de Poet. Lat.­Fabricii Bibl. Lat. —Saxii Onomast. Dibdin and Clarke.