Catullus Poem Comparison

by Jacob Blau
(Bedford, NY, USA)

The main difference between Catullus 51 and Catullus 5 is that one (Catullus 51) decribes Catullus' love and desire to date Lesbia, while the other (Catullus 5) is a proposition to Lesbia that they should have an affair, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it. In Catullus 51, he describes how he felt when he first saw Lesbia, and the degree of his love and admiration for her. At the time this poem was written, Catullus and Lesbia have no official relationship. In fact, they haven't even met yet. Plus, Catullus 51 isn't addressed to Lesbia, but instead to her friend. Perhaps this is because Catullus, a poor commoner, felt that if he wrote directly to Lesbia, such a royal, well-respected woman, his letter would be discounted immediately. Also, it's important to note that Catullus based Poem 51 on an ancient love poem written by Sappho. Both poems start similarly: Sappho writes, "Fortunate as the gods he seems to me, that man who sits opposite you, and listens nearby to your sweet voice," whereas Catullus writes, "Surely that man equals the gods in heaven - if it not be blasphemy, he excels them." Catullus writes Poem 51, using Sappho's model, to express his love for Lesbia, and desribe the undeveloped state of their relationship. Catullus 5, contrastingly, discusses Catullus' relationship with Lesbia in its more developed state. By the time Lesbia sees this poem, they already have an established relationship. Catullus writes, "Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus, rumoresque senum severiorum omnes unius aestimemus assis!" Here he's imploring Lesbia to ignore the disapproval their relationship would garner from elders and royal persons, and be together. Catullus 5 shows that Catullus and Lesbia have widely criticized and censured relations. Lesbia, a women of royal standing, was wooed by the commoner Catullus and his outstanding poems. This angers many of the aristocratic members of society. Catullus hopes that, despite their social class difference, "no envious character can hurt us." Catullus was a deeply romantic and emotional man who was attracted to a stunning, regal women like Lesbia.

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