Catullus 51 vs. Catullus 5

by Taylor Peretz
(Fox Lane High School)

Of all of Catullus’ poems which we have studied thus far in Latin Class, Catullus 51 and Catullus 5 are the most different. It is true that both poems are about Catullus lover Clodia (or Lesbia as she is referred to in the poems); however, Catullus’ approach towards Clodia in the two poems is very different, as from Catullus 5 to Catullus 51, he goes from admiring her at a distance to being in a full-on love affair with her.

In Catullus 51, Catullus begins by not even addressing Clodia directly. He writes, “ille, sī fās est, superāre dīvōs quī sedēns adversus identidem tē spectat et audit”. In this he addresses how the man who is privileged enough to sit next to Clodia is as fortunate as the gods. Throughout the whole poem he compliments Clodia and expresses his desire to be with her. Catullus evens goes as far as to model his poem after a poem made by a renowned Greek poet named Sappho. In doing so he hoped that Clodia would appreciate his vast knowledge of Greek literature. The whole purpose of this poem is to convince Clodia to fall in love with him by shrewdly declaring his love for her by expressing his raging envy of the man who she is currently with.
By the time that Catullus 5 is written, Catullus is no longer courting Clodia. In Catullus 2 and Catullus 3, Catullus writes about a sparrow in order to not offend the elite members of society and risk a future relationship with Clodia, who is in a higher social class that he is. However, in Catullus 5, Catullus for the first time expresses neglect for the customs of his society and the opinions of the nobility of his relationship with Clodia. In his poem he writes, “rūmōrēsque senum sevēriōrum omnēs ūnius aestimēmus assis!” meaning that he values all the rumors of the elders at less than a penny’s worth. Later in his poem he says, “Dā mī bāsia mīlle, deinde centum, dein mīlle altera, dein secunda centum, deinde usque altera mīlle, deinde centum”, ordering Clodia to give him several thousand kisses. This outward expression of his love for Clodia contrasts greatly with the somewhat timid and flattering remarks he makes towards Clodia in Catullus 51.
Catullus 5 and Catullus 51 are very different poems as the illustrate Catullus’ feeling during different points of his relationship with Clodia. In Catullus 51, he is courting Clodia while in Catullus 5 he is in the heart of a love affair with Clodia. Despite the poem’s major differences, both are similar in the fact that they contain Catullus expressing his love for Clodia.

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