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Gaius Valerius Catullus (c. 84-54 BC) was a poet of the late Roman Republic.  Writing in Latin, using a blend of scholarly language and street slang, he composed poetry about himself and his friends.  His Carmina, based on a manuscript rediscovered in 1300, collects 113 poems.  It is uncertain if all his verse is authentic as some lines may have been rewritten or lost over the centuries.  As well, several poems have vanished.  He was admired by his contemporaries, influenced many Renaissance poets and remains popular today.

Catullus composed many erotic poems, mostly centering on women, with a few focusing on men.  He wrote especially about his love for a woman he calls Lesbia.  Reflecting the rise and fall of their love affair, the verse ranges across tenderness, sadness, disappointment and sarcasm.  Lesbia is probably based on Clodia Metelli (c. 95-45 BC), a prominent and sexually adventurous Roman woman.

Gaius Valerius Catullus’ poetry was vivid, emotional and humorous, a ground-breaking expression of eroticism.

Below is Poem 5:

Let’s live, my Lesbia, and let’s love—
And not give a damn for the gossip
Of sanctimonious old fools.
Suns may fall—yet rise again;
For us, when once the brief light has dimmed
One eternal night must be slept.
Give me a thousand, then a hundred kisses
Followed by a thousand and another hundred more—
Then again a thousand, again a hundred,
And when we’ve kissed so many, many thousands,
We’ll mix them all up, so we won’t know the number
Or so some jealous sort can’t jinx us
When he discovers just how many kisses there are.

(Above is a 20th century bust of Catullus).

                                                                                                              S. Gray

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