Catullus 51 and Poem 5

by Allison Payson
(Bedford, NY, USA)

In Catullus 51, Catullus has just first laid eyes on Clodia, and he is so mesmerized and stunned by her beauty that his senses are debilitated. Since he could not muster the ability to speak to her directly, he decided to express himself through poetry. He is in such great awe that he does not even dare to address her directly, but rather addresses the man who is fortunate enough to sit in her presence. One line in particular that is very striking to me is when Catullus writes, “ille, sī fās est, superāre dīvōs quī sedēns adversus identidem tē spectat et audit.” He is saying how Clodia is so beautiful and alluring that any man who gets to see her and hear her is the equivalent of a God, or perhaps even superior to a God. From this poem, it is clear that Catullus immediately fell in love with Clodia, but was perhaps too nervous or uncertain if she felt the same way so as not to declare his adoration for her directly.

This poem is in direct contrast with Catullus’s poem 5. In Catullus 5, Catullus has a completely shift in his approach, and musters up the courage to address Clodia directly for the first time. It seems as though Catullus has gained confidence in himself, and is starting to see himself as worthy of her love. Whereas in Catullus 51 he was insecure and meek, in Catullus 5 he is bold and audacious. He seemed to be influenced by society’s opinions when he wrote Catullus 51, but in Catullus 5 he says, “Vīvāmus, mea Lesbia, atque amēmus, rūmōrēsque senum sevēriōrum omnēs ūnius aestimēmus assis!” This shows how he is now deciding to disregard the rumors, and instead declares that the two of them should do as they desire in order to live, love, and be happy together.

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