Catullus 51 and 3
by Steven Still
Catullus’ 51st poem opens with Catullus comparing Lesbia’s (or perhaps Clodia’s) lover to a deity. In the first line he writes “Ille mi par esse deo videtur.” He states that this man must have divine qualities to possibly be able to merely sit across from her. Naturally there may be some jealousy hidden behind this line as he would envy the man who she is married to (or has a romantic relationship with). This poem was written in the “courtship phase” of the relationship between Catullus and Clodia as it is clear that he has not had any real interaction with Clodia either in a romantic or a platonic sense.
It seems as though Catullus is attempting to flatter this woman, in poem number 51, in the hope that she will acknowledge him. Catullus goes on to write that when he is merely in her presence, his senses are rendered useless. He specifies the senses of sight, hearing, touch and taste, and describes the sensation that he feels with each of these senses when he is near her. It seems as though his attempt at flattery was successful, as later poems seem to imply that a relationship between the two did begin shortly after this poem was written.
Catullus 3 has a completely different mood that 51. In this poem he is writing about the death of Clodia’s pet sparrow. Essentially he is saying that everyone should weep for the death of this sparrow, as it had been important to Lesbia. He goes into much less detail about the woman herself than in the other poem. However, he is attempting to do the same thing with this poem as the last; he is attempting to flatter Lesbia. It seems as though he has now been introduced to Clodia in some manner as he has some knowledge of her life. He knows that she not only owned a sparrow that had recently died but also that it was important to her.
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