The narrator is the poet Catullus: he has a bad cough, which the doctor doesn’t take seriously, and is pining away in a villa at Sirmio after breaking up with his girlfriend Clodia. And so Catullus is writing an account of his affair with “wanton” Clodia, a charming, sophisticated woman who dominated Roman society in the first century. She is best known today from Cicero’s character assassination in Pro Caelio (more about this later if it proves relevant).
Was Clodia really Catullus’s girlfriend? There is a romantic tradition among literal-minded classicists that Clodia Metelli was the model for Lesbia, the promiscuous woman who appears in some of Catullus’s poems. There is, to my knowledge, no evidence for this connection. Sure, the name “Lesbia” scans like “Clodia” (dactyl – long short short) but it is primarily a literary reference to Greek lyric poetry, especially Sappho, who lived on the island Lesbos. Catullus modeled much of his work on Greek lyric poetry, and translated a poem by Sappho into Latin.
Well, I’m not sure that I’ll read Clodia cover-to-cover, but it got a good review in Kirkus in 1965. And I adore the jacket copy on the Signet paperback cover:
A spectacular novel of Rome in the last decadent days of the Republic–the story of one of history’s most exciting women, the powerful and wanton Clodia and her stormy affair with the love-poet Catullus.
And there’s more! In the back the publisher advertises an eclectic list of titles.
Do you know any of these books?
ANOTHER LIST: 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die by James Mustich.
My husband and I are poring over this book with fascination. It was a Christmas gift to ourselves!
James Mustich, the co-founder and publisher of the great catalogue, The Common Reader, compiled this list of 1,000 books and wrote accompanying mini-essays. He recommends not just classics, but loads of quirky books.
Have you heard of Shirley Robin Letwin’s The Gentleman in Trollope: Individuality and Moral Conduct? Another one for the TBR.