Was Clodia Catullus’s Girlfriend? & Uncommon Book Lists

I am chortling over Robert DeMaria’s Clodia, an entertaining historical novel set in Rome in the first century B.C.  All right, it’s mostly the jacket copy that makes me laugh.

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.

I am a fan of  Darling by Frederic Raphael, who also wrote the screenplay  and won an Oscar for it!  And I have  also read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Country Girls, and  The Group.

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.

6 thoughts on “Was Clodia Catullus’s Girlfriend? & Uncommon Book Lists”

  1. Oh, dear, what does it mean that I’ve read many of the books on the left side of the advertisement. Some I know only as the movies based on them. I’ve seen the Mustich book in, maybe, your blog post, but I didn’t make the connection with The Common Reader – my favorite book catalog of all time. Why, oh why can’t good things last?! I’ve just told my husband that he’s buying me 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die!

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    1. I love those ads! I want to read The Americanization of Emily and see the movie with Julie Andrews. And I’m sure you’d enjoy 1,000 Books. It makes me sad that The Common Reader folded, too, but this is kind of like a BIG catalogue!

      On Thu, Dec 20, 2018 at 7:49 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:

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  2. Does 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die include any books by Trollope, or does reading Letwin’s book save you the trouble?
    The legend that Lesbia was Clodia dates back to Roman times: Catullus is also said to have made puns about Clodia and her brother Clodius’s cognomens, Pulchra and Pulcher.
    She’s also portrayed sympathetically in Thornton Wilder’s The Ides of March, which I read years ago. I thought it was quite good then.

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    1. Yes, there is a Trollope entry. Mustich writes about The Way We Live Now and briefly mentions the series. The Gentleman in Trollope is out-of-print but very cheap. Apparetnly Letwin says the perfect gentleman is Madame Max Goesler!

      Well, the interpretations of Lesbia/Clodia vary.. In Roman lyric poetry and elegy, there is often a promiscuous woman and an unhappy lover. Catullus wrote about Lesbia, Ovid wrote about Corinna, Propertius about Cynthia, Tibullus and Delia. I don’t read the poems as autobiography. In one of my reference books, two researchers/shcolars have different points-of-view . In a short entry about Clodia, awriter assures us that the Lesbia/Clodia thing is well-documented, bur provides us with no documentation. In the entry about Catullus, a writer assures us that the documentation is *questionable, *and that classicists have in general given up that idea. Cicero hated Clodia, and Cicero and Catullus knew each other; therefore, somebody decided Clodia was Catullus’s lover. The historical novel is great fun, though not very well-written!

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