An octogenarian, a man who has read Latin for pleasure all his life, recently remarked to me that, of all the Roman poets, Catullus was the one who actually seemed like a human being. I knew what he meant. Gaius Catullus was born in 84 B.C. to a provincial aristocrat in Verona, in the province of Cisalpine Gaul. His father had a villa on Lake Garda, where he entertained Julius Caesar. Later in Rome, Caesar, lampooned by Catullus in stinging epigrams (including one that ran: “I’ve no interest, Caesar, in currying favor with you, or indeed in learning whether you’re a white or a black”), huffily demanded an apology; Catullus obliged; Caesar said, “Come to dinner”; Catullus did. In Rome, Catullus had joined ranks with other young highborn poets like Calvus and Cinna in a loose conspiracy to reform pompous, heavy, elephantine Roman poetry by injections of Alexandrian wit, erudition,...


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