Catullus, who lived during some of the most interesting and tumultuous years of the late Roman Republic, spent his short but intense life (?84-54 B.C.E.) in high Roman society, rubbing shoulders with various cultural and political luminaries, including Caesar, Cicero, and Pompey. Catullus's poetry is by turns ribald, lyric, romantic, satirical; sometimes obscene and always intelligent, it offers us vivid pictures of the poet's friends, enemies, and lovers. The verses to his friends are bitchy, funny, and affectionate; those to his enemies are often wonderfully nasty. Many poems brilliantly evoke his passionate affair with Lesbia, often identified as Clodia Metelli, a femme fatale ten years his senior and the smart, adulterous wife of an arrogant aristocrat. Cicero later claimed she poisoned her husband. This new bilingual translation of Catullus's surviving poems by Peter Green is fresh, bawdy, and utterly engaging. Unlike its predecessors, it adheres to the principle that the rhythm of a poem, whether familiar or not, is among the most crucial elements for its full appreciation. Green provides an essay on the poet's life and literary background, a historical sketch of the politically fraught late Roman Republic in which Catullus lived, copious notes on the poems, a wide-ranging bibliography for further reading, and a full glossary.
Stand-outs in the collection include what often goes first "One" which perhaps states a poet's wish better than any other poem, and "Sixty Four" which tells the story of Theseus and Ariadne along with the prophecy of Achilles, son of Peleus. The voice and concerns of Catullus actually echo the voice of the main character in Satyricon at times and the propensities for humor that both exhibit do not escape this particular reviewer. Both books may not be the height of what literature has to offer (especially Greek) but they are indeed a lot of fun and perhaps damning portraits of a corrupt and/or corruptible society.