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Catulus Essay

947 words - 4 pages

The poet Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca. 84-54 B.C.) lived during one of the most turbulent periods in Roman history, and it was against this unpredictable and violent background that Catullus created the poems that we have today. Catullus moved from Verona to Rome as a young man simply to enjoy the more cosmopolitan atmosphere, but it is here where his attentions began to be focused on poetry as a result of his membership in the Neoterics. The most famous of Catullus' works are perhaps the so-called Lesbia poems, but these passionate poems represent only one part of a larger collection that is just as distinguished. It is through the collection of poems as a whole that we come to understand the world of Catullus-his values, his likes and dislikes, and his convictions on the art of poetry itself. Catullus cleverly uses contrasting language in poems 22, 35, and 43 to indicate his views on sophistication and beauty that become a motif throughout his poetry, whether they are concerned with the qualities of refined writing or of human beauty. The fact that Catullus himself chooses to live in cosmopolitan Rome indicates his preference of cities to rural areas. In fact, in poem 22 there is a direct reference to this supposition, as Catullus even seems to imply that inhabitants of the "dull country" ("infaceto…rure," 22.14) do not possess sophistication or wit. While praising Suffenus for being "venustus et dicax et urbanus" (line 2) as a person, Catullus criticizes him for failing to let his wit and skill shine through in his uninteresting writing, and it is for this reason that Catullus thinks him "…infaceto est infacetior rure" (22.14) as a writer. Furthermore, Suffenus concerns himself with the exterior appearance of his work more than he does with their contents, for he writes "nec sic ut fit in palimpest," (22.5) in which case his work would perhaps be worked-over and improved, but instead on "cartae regiae," (22.6). According to Catullus, a Callimachean poet who thus extols the virtue of quality over quantity and praises substance over image, Suffenus should be seeking to refine the quality of his work rather than to enliven his work with immaterial ornaments. Thus, through the contrast provided between "rursus" and "urbanitas" in this poem we also gain insight into Catullus' opinions on what constitutes good writing. The pursuit of writing is so important to Catullus that he even asks his friend Caecilius to leave his girl behind and come to the city Verona in order to complete his literary works. Although Catullus praises the girl by calling her "Sapphica puella/ musa doctior" (35.16-17), he blames her for holding Caecilius back physically, as it is even implied that, by doing so, the girl is...

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