Sensual, salacious and above all scandalous, the erotic verse of the Roman poet Catullus has delighted - and shocked - readers for centuries. Charting the lives and loves of a group of smart young men about Rome during the late Republic, Catullus' urbane poetry is renowned for its emotional range and psychological insight, not to mention its often startling obscenity.
Josephine Balmer's new translation of the complete shorter poems highlights both the intense lyricism and the scabrous wit of the original, bringing Catullus' vivid cast of characters back to life for a new audience: the refined Suffenus who writes poetry like a goat-milker, Egnatius who cleans his teeth in the repulsive 'Spanish' manner, Rufus with his goat-like armpits, and Lesbia, the poet's teasing, torturing lover.
Gaius Valerius Catullus (c.84-c.54 BC) came from a wealthy Verona family. He was part of a new movement in Latin poetry, fusing Roman vernacular traditions with imported Greek forms. Although his poetry mentions many famous figures of his day, including Cicero and Julius Caesar, little is known of Catullus' own life. A few poems refer to his provincial service in Bithynia in 57 BC, while his married mistress, Lesbia, may have been the notorious noblewoman Clodia Metelli. According to classical tradition Catullus died at the age of 30. Despite its high reputation, most of his poetry was subsequently lost for over a thousand years, to be rediscovered during the Renaissance.
'Reading this often brutal material, with its phallic obsession and torture imagery, becomes far more enjoyable in a translation by a middle-aged woman. The effect of inserting a female subjectivity between Catullus and the reader is to take the seediness out of a world dominated by notions of sexual degradation. Sometimes Blamer has even found ways to make Catullan misogyny resolate in the age of Eminem and Ice Cube (for example in the "bitches" and "sad tarts" of poem 61), while distancing herself from it in her introduction.' – Edith Hall, Times Literary Supplement