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date: 26 February 2020

Catullus, Gaius Valeriuslocked

  • Warren Anderson
  • , revised by Thomas J. Mathiesen

Extract

(b Verona, ?84 bce; d ?54 bce). Roman poet. He settled in the capital while still a youth, and there formed an adulterous liaison with the woman whom he called Lesbia in his poems. These include one group (1–60) of short pieces reflecting particular occasions, a second (61–4) made up of long poems, and a third (65–116) which ranges from the epigram to the epyllion, a miniature epic, but which retains elegiac metre throughout. Catullus's characteristic passion and simplicity could often manifest themselves as extreme obscenity.

References to music occur only in the second group of poems. At the beginning of 63, the poet lists the instruments that are proper to the cult of Cybele: the tympanum (a small drum), the cymbal and the ‘deep-sounding’ Phrygian aulos ‘with curved pipe’, popular in Rome (63.8–10, 21–2). These reappear in his description of Bacchic rites (64.261–4), with trumpets, described as having a raucous, booming tone. Poem 64 also contains a spinning song (323–81), sung by the Fates; 61 begins with a cult song to the wedding god; and 62, an amoebean wedding song for double chorus, has the tone of folk poetry. Catullus never mentioned the lyre or any other string instrument, nor is there any direct evidence that his poetry was sung during his own time. The qualities already noted, however, together with related evidence, suggest that such performance was possible. The clearest case is 34, a hymn to Diana which parallels the ...

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