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Head of a modern statue of the poet in Sirmione

Gaius (or Quintus) Valerius Catullus (German Catullus ) was a Roman poet of the 1st century BC. BC He came from Verona . Catullus belonged to the circle of neotericists and, like them, was mainly based on the famous Hellenistic poet Callimachos . But the Greek poet Sappho also had a great influence on him. His carmina ('poems') were set to music by Carl Orff ( Catulli Carmina ) , among others .


The Grotte di Catullo in Sirmione was long thought to be the villa of Catullus, but it was probably not built until after his death.

Little is known about Catullus life. Some things can be deduced from his poems, others are reported by ancient authors, but there are contradictions between the two types of sources. So you don't even know when exactly Catullus lived. Hieronymus gives in his Chronicon as the year of birth 87/86 BC And records Catullus death at the age of 30, probably with reference to the only partially preserved work De poetis by Suetonius . The dates of life contradict statements in Catullus poems, which refer to later events. Carmen 11 alludes to Caesar's excursion to Britain in 55, Carmen 111 mentions Pompey's second consulate , and Carmen 53 mentions a speech by his friend Gaius Licinius Macer Calvus against the Caesarian Publius Vatinius , which was given either in 56 or 54. In research, therefore, various life dates are discussed, with consensus only about its lifespan. Some researchers believe that he died in the year 54, others do not assume a date of death until the year 50. Ovid provides another, albeit very imprecise, reference to Catullus early death in his Amores , where he mourns the death of his poet friend Tibullus and says that Catullus, his youthful head entwined with ivy, will meet him in the Elysium .

Catullus father was an eques , i.e. a wealthy citizen, in whose house in Verona after Suetonius even Caesar is said to have frequented during his time as proconsul of Gallia cisalpina . At a relatively young age, Catullus belonged to the personal staff of the proconsul Gaius Memmius and accompanied him to his province of Bithynia . Later Catullus lived mostly in Rome. His livelihood seems to have been secured by his father's fortune, because he apparently had no patron and could afford to attack even high-ranking people with biting mockery, such as Gaius Julius Caesar . With offensive poems on him and especially on his former praefectus fabrum Mamurra , which is apostrophized as mentula ( penis ) in Catullus poems , the poet - at least he suggests this in his own texts - aroused the anger of the powerful triumvir , who demanded an apology. When it arrived, he did not resentfully invite the poet to dinner in Suetonius. Besides Calvus, Catullus was friends with Caesar's general Gaius Asinius Pollio and with the historian Cornelius Nepos , to whom he also dedicated the collection of his poems.


Carmina , 1554

Catullus surviving work includes 116 carmina (poems), which are divided into three groups:

  • carmina 1–60: smaller poems in various meters, so-called polymetra , which are also called nugae (bagatelle poems ); the most common meter is the phalacic Hendekasyllabus .
  • carmina 61–68: larger poems in various meters. The longest with 408 verses, carmen 64 (marriage of Peleus and Thetis), is a so-called Epyllion , a minor poem. In contrast to the great epics , such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey , the focus here is on rather unknown events from mythology and private-erotic concerns of mythical heroes. The famous carmen 68, the Alliuselegie, can also be found here, the oldest surviving example of a Roman elegy , the auctor (founder, inventor) of which, in addition to Catullus, is primarily Cornelius Gallus .
  • carmina 69–116: epigrams in the elegiac distich .

A division is also conceivable which, according to the Polymetra, separates the carmina 61-64 from the subsequent poems in the elegiac distich. This division also gives a pretty good balance between the lengths of each section.

In terms of content, the poems can be assigned to three thematic groups:

  • Poems to and about friends, such as invitations
  • Invective (abusive poems): In these often coarse poems, acquaintances of Catullus and some prominent personalities are mocked. It is unclear how seriously these insults were meant and taken.
  • Erotic poems: They are addressed to the boy Iuventius, to a hetaera named Ipsitilla, but mainly to a woman with the code name “Lesbia”; it alludes to the island of Lesbos , where the Greek poetess Sappho , who was revered by Catullus, lived. The kiss poems 5 and 7 are particularly famous, in which he replies to Lesbia's questions about how many kisses he would be satisfied with with metaphors of infinity . These two carmina were repeatedly imitated by ancient, medieval and modern poets, such as Martial or Lessing . Carmen 51, on the other hand, is a translation and further composition of a well-known Ode Sapphos.

The most famous poem by Catullus is Carmen 85:

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam fortasse requiris.
Nescio. Sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
“I hate and I love - why, you might ask.
I dont know. I feel it - it crucifies me. "

Research problems

Lesbia / Clodia

Research has gone to great lengths to find out who Catullus meant by Lesbia. The scanty information handed down by Catullus himself and Apuleius ( De magia 10) fit best with Clodia , the consul's wife, ten years older than him , in 60 BC. BC (Q.  Caecilius Metellus Celer ) and sister of Publius Clodius Pulcher . But it could also have been her sister or a woman completely unknown to us today, since large parts of ancient knowledge have been lost.

The search for the historical Lesbia is based on a biographical approach to interpretation : one hopes to be able to understand the poems better by understanding their biographical background. However, this approach is problematic for two reasons: If one can gather information about Catullus's life only from the poems and not from other historical documents, then one is moving in a tight circle . In the case of Catullus, however, is not clear (but lost) whether actually lived life and not literary tradition was the occasion of Catullus densities if he his Lesbia has thus not just thought of as about a few decades later Ovid with his Corinna done Has.

The second reason against drawing conclusions about his life from Catullus poems comes from himself: In Carmen 16, the poet personally protests against inferring his way of life from his poetry: In this poem Catullus threatens two friends of oral and anal rape because on the basis of his kiss poems ( carmina 5 and 7) they claim that he is lacking in morality. Catullus emphasizes that the poet must always be chaste and chaste, but not his poems, which he ironically describes as models for masturbation for older men (“qui tum denique habent salem ac leporem, si… quod pruriat incitare possunt, non dico pueris, sed his pilosis, qui duros nequeunt movere lumbos ”) ; finally the crude threat of the beginning is repeated.

Obviously, Catullus is less concerned with the ostensible pleasure of obscenity than with paradoxes : Not only does he cover both friends with crude swear words for homosexuals , although it is he who announces same-sex acts, he also emphasizes his own in the same breath “Chastity”, of which, if he were to live up to his threat, there would be no more talk.

Which of the actions mentioned in the poem now belong to the realm of poetic fiction, which are to be counted in the real life of the poet, becomes so obscure: a conclusion from the lyrical ego to the person of Catullus is therefore impossible. The inclusion of historical background information (also about literary conventions of the time) in the interpretation of the text is legitimate and common practice in literary studies.


Catullus was a follower of the teaching of Epicurus . This taught that the highest good was an understood as the absence of pain pleasure that would be achieved by Unverwirrtheit and dispassion , that is, by avoiding all the things that led to confusion and passion. Accordingly, friendship is recommended as the optimal interpersonal relationship. The consequences of such a worldview for a love poet are obvious: if he takes Epicurus' teaching seriously, passionate love must necessarily end in pain, despair and deep misfortune, and this is exactly how Catullus and the elegists Tibullus and Properz , who followed him, describe love: not even a third of the Lesbia poems speak of love in positive terms; What is striking here is that there is a shadow over the first two of these positive carmina : They are about Lesbia's cute passer (the word is usually translated as sparrow , but it can be any other cage bird), which both the poet and his girlfriend (both seem to be spatially separated), a solaciolum brings a little consolation. Finally, in poem 3, the death of the beloved animal is lamented, about which, as Catullus writes, every loving person should mourn.

In the other 18 poems about Lesbia, Catullus complains about her faithlessness and her downright nymphomaniac behavior: In carmen 58 he complains that Lesbia in Rome's alleys and street corners like a whore "sucks off the proud Remus grandson" ("glubit magnanimi Remi nepotes" ). He is deeply hurt, his love for her is portrayed as nonsense, as fire, as a disgusting disease, even as torture. In this way, he could no longer respect her, but he could not stop desiring her either.

The last poem in the collection addressed to Lesbia, carmen 109, again speaks positively of the hope for Lesbia's love; but not about marriage, from a romantic relationship or passionate eroticism, but epicurean about “this eternal bond of holy friendship” (“aeternum hoc sanctae foedus amicitiae”).

The once again unanswerable question about the biographical background arises: If the suffering from this love arose from a philosophical conviction and from non-lived experience, how authentic are the feelings expressed in the poems? However, these doubts do not diminish the poetic effect: carmen  85's lamentation, quoted at the beginning, about a disappointed love that cannot let go, is in its reduction and extreme compactness (eight verbs and no noun in a single distich) a highlight of world literature.

Literary reception

Text-critical editions

  • Henry Bardon (Ed.): Carmina. Bibliotheca Teubneriana, Berlin, 1973.
  • Roger AB Mynors (Ed.): Carmina. Oxford Classical Texts, Oxford, 1963
  • George Patrick Goold (Ed.): Catullus. Ed. with introduction, translation and commentary. Duckworth & Co. Ltd., London 1983.
    • German version: Catullus, Complete Poems. Latin and German. Ed. And come. by GP Goold. New over. by Carl Fischer . Afterword by Bernhard Kytzler . Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1987.
  • Douglas FS Thomson (Ed.): Catullus . Edition with comments. Toronto 1998.


  • Max Brod : C. Valerius Catullus, poems (with partial use of the translation by KW Ramler ), Georg Müller, Munich and Leipzig 1914.
  • Max Brod: C. Valerius Catullus, poems (with partial use of the translation by KW Ramler ) Facsimile reprint of the 1914 edition with illustrations by an unknown person after a unique copy from the possession of Carl Fischer , EDITION SIGNAThUR, Dozwil / TG ​​2019.
  • Carl Fischer: Catullus, love poems (Latin and German), Heinrich FS Bachmair, Söcking 1948 (reprinted by Vollmer, Wiesbaden 1960), with drawings by Bele Bachem .
  • Rudolf Helm (translator): Catullus, poems . Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1963.
  • Otto Weinreich (translator): Catullus, Complete Poems. Latin and German. Artemis, Zurich 1969.
  • Michael von Albrecht (Ed., Transl.): C. Valerius Catullus. All poems - Latin / German . Reclam, Stuttgart 1995, ISBN 3-15-059395-6 .
  • Cornelius Hartz (translator): Catullus, poems - Carmina. Latin and German. WBG, Darmstadt 2015, ISBN 978-3-534-18157-5 .


  • Carl Orff : Catulli carmina , scenic cantata, set to music in 1930/1943, premiered in Leipzig in 1943
  • Franz Tischhauser (composer) : Amores, the Lesbiade des Catullus, for tenor, trumpet, percussion and string instruments, 1955/1956
  • Franz Tischhauser (composer): Duo Catulli carmina, on the sparrow of his lover, for tenor and guitar, 1949/2001


Web links

Wikisource: Catullus  - sources and full texts
Commons : Catullus  - collection of images, videos and audio files

life and work

Latin texts

Wikisource: Gaius Valerius Catullus  - Sources and full texts (Latin)

German translations

English translations

Wikisource: Catullus  - Sources and full texts (English)


  1. E. T: Merrill: Commentary on Catullus , Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press 1893, 3.6
  2. Ovid: Amores 3,9,59-62.
  3. De vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius 73
  4. De vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius 73
  5. Cornelius Hartz: Roman writers . Philipp von Zabern, Mainz, p. 57.
  6. Raoul Schrott : The Invention of Poetry. Poems from the first four thousand years . Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich, p. 167.
  7. See e.g. B. John Ferguson: Catullus. Coronado Press, Lawrence (Kan.) 1985, p. 144 et al.