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Modern bust of Catullus on the Piazza Carducci in Sirmione
"I didn't, God help me, think it mattered whether
I put my nose to Aemilius's mouth or ass,
neither being cleaner or dirtier than the other;
but his ass in fact is cleaner, not so crass
no teeth, for starters. His mouth's a cemetery inside:
headstone grinders, gums like old wagon-leather.
What's worse, that grin of his yawns about as wide
as a mule's cunt splits for pissing in hot weather,
and he screws all the girls, thinks he's got charm and class
the mill wheel's the place for him, let him go grind
grain, forget pussy! Any woman who makes a pass
at him would lick a sick hangman's rank behind."
Catullus 97 (translation by Peter Green)
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Gaius Valerius Catullus (c. 84 – c. 54 BC) was a Roman poet who lived during the Roman Republic. His poetry moved away from the ancient Greek epics about gods and heroes to something closer to everyday life. It is greatly admired throughout the ages and influenced poets such as Ovid, Virgil and Christopher Marlowe. Some of his most famous poems include 5, a passionate ode to his lover whom he calls "Lesbia"; 16, an infamously obscene invective that might have been in response to the charge of slight effeminacy and immodesty; and 85, which captures the essence of a Belligerent Sexual Tension in a distich.


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Catullus' work provides examples of:

  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Catullus often moves swiftly from praising his beloved's best features to calling her a whore for her infidelity, and back again, like in 85 and 92.
  • Black Comedy Rape: The opening and closing lines of poem 16 invoke this: Paedicabo ego vos et irrumabo were translated by G.P. Goold as "I'll bugger you and stuff you." Irrumo is a Latin verb meaning "to be fellated".
  • Book Ends: The well-known poem 16 begins and ends with the same sentence: "Paedicabo ego vos et irrumabo".
  • Cargo Envy: In many of his poems he desires to be this or that belonging to his mistress, Lesbia. Most famously, he wants to be her passer or pet "sparrow." Though some believe it may not really be a sparrow.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Most (in)famously 16, which is widely considered one of the most obscene and offensive things ever written in Latin. The first and last lines roughly translates to "I will sodomize you and then facefuck you."
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  • Country Matters: He employed the Latin equivalent more than a few times, especially in 97 —- where he makes fun of Aemilius The Pig-Pen's personal hygiene and says his face looks like a urinating mule's naughty bits (we'd say "could stop a clock" today).
  • Due to the Dead: 101 records his journey from Rome to Anatolia to make sacrifices at his brother's grave. The description of how he feels at the tomb is heart-wrenching.
  • Ho Yay: So, so much; bisexuality was considered usual for upper-class Romans and it shows.
    • Sticky Fingers: Catullus bitterly calls Thallus, his ex-lover, out on his stealing in 25:
"O queenie Thallus, softer than a furry little rabbit,
a goosey-woosey's marrow or the bottom of an earlobe,
an old man's languid penis with its cobwebby senescence
yet also, Thallus, greedier than any fierce tornado
whenever heavenly sloth reveals the tipsy diners nodding:
just give me back that cloak of mine you pounced upon and pilfered,
the monogrammed set of face-towels too, and all those Spanish napkins,
which—-idiot—-you keep on show as heirlooms: pray unglue them
this moment from your talons and return them to me,
if you don't want your fleecy little flanks and tender poofy paw-waws
all scribbled with the lash of whips, burned with a shameful branding,
on heat (not in your usual way), just like a little skiff that's
caught in a heavy storm at sea, a hurricane of gale force."
  • Hidden Depths: Read Catullus 16 and then read 72, or 101. On the other hand, 16 has themes reminiscent of T. S. Eliot's The Triumph of Bullshit, so there's that (in short, "take your personal criticisms and shove them...").
  • The Masochism Tango: 85 which describes Catullus' love/hate relationship with (presumably) Lesbia. Arguably, 25 is also an example (essentially, the bastard child of BDSM and Green-Eyed Monster).
  • Real Men Wear Pink: The reason he wrote 16 was to prove that writing about kisses didn't make him any less of a man, and he chose to show it with filthy expressions.
  • Roman à Clef: Lesbia, the heroine of his romantic poems, is widely believed by modern scholars to be a pseudonym for rather infamous matron Clodia Pulchra Tertia (a "heroine" of Cicero's probably most famous speech, "Pro Celio"), whom Catullus probably had an affair with.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: A master of this. Catullus's love poems are beautiful, describing kisses and lovemaking in carefully crafted wordplay and poetry. And then you flip to 16 where the first line is "one of the filthiest expressions ever written in Latin" (though he drops the C-word in 97, and many, many references to the unmanly vice of the Greeks).
  • Take That!: His entire genre of invective poems: writings meant to take potshots at people such as Julius Caesar and Cicero.
  • Tsundere: Poem 85 ("Odi et amo" or I hate you and I love you) neatly distils the essence of this trope into two lines.
    I hate and love. You wonder, perhaps, why I'd do that?
    I have no idea. I just feel it. I am crucified.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: 16 reveals this side of his relationship with Furius and Aurelius, although it's probably all in good fun. Most of his "Furius and Aurelius cycle" contains insults and invectives towards his friends, though 16, where he basically threatens them with homosexual rape in the filthiest Latin possible over Creative Differences, does stand out.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: In 84, he mocks someone who is putting on a posh accent and miserably failing.
    "'Hopportunity' he was saying whenever he wished to say 'opportunity'
    And 'ambush' Arrius was saying 'hambush,'
    And then he was hoping that he had spoken wonderfully
    Whenever he said 'hambush' with as much effort as he could
    I believe, thus his mother, thus his free uncle,
    Thus his maternal grandfather and grandmother had spoken.
    This man having been posted to Syria, everyone's ears found relief:
    They were hearing the same thing more softly and more lightly,
    Nor afterwards were they themselves fearing such words,
    When suddenly the horrible message is brought that:
    The Ionian waves, afterwards Arrius had gone there,
    Now were no longer Ionian but... 'Hionian'!"
    • 2,000 years later, the character Eliza Doolittle does the same in My Fair Lady, and it's just as funny: "In 'Artford, 'Ereford, and 'Ampshire, 'urricanes 'ardly hever 'appen!"

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