Ancient Narratives

Dissecting Catullus: Emotions Symbols and the Complexity of Relationships

Title: Exploring Catullus’s Poem: A Window into Relationships and SymbolismCatullus, an influential Roman poet, has left behind a treasure trove of writings that offer profound insights into the complexities of human emotions and the cultural codes of his time. In this article, we delve into one of his most intriguing poems, examining his feelings towards Cominius and unraveling the rich context and symbolism that pervade his words.

Join us on this journey as we explore the depths of Catullus’s emotions and the intricate web of cultural motifs he intertwines through his poetic prowess. Catullus’s feelings towards Cominius

Negative portrayal of Cominius

In his portrayal of Cominius, Catullus does not shy away from using strong imagery to convey his disdain for the individual. References to “gray old age,” “soiled,” and an “impure life” depict Cominius in a negative light.

These descriptions not only insult Cominius’s physical appearance but also hint at a perceived moral deterioration. Desire for the end of Cominius’s life

Catullus’s intense emotions toward Cominius are further revealed as he expresses his yearning for the demise of his rival.

Through vibrant metaphors and vivid language, Catullus describes a desire to bring about the end of Cominius’s life. The mention of his tongue, eyes, bowels, and penis in connection to this wish reveals the extent of his enmity.

Cultural context and symbolism in Catullus’s poem

Despoiling of the body by animals

Catullus’s poem is not solely focused on personal vendettas; it also reflects the cultural context of ancient Rome. The mention of vultures, ravens, dogs, and wolves in relation to the human body carries symbolic weight.

These creatures represented scavengers and were believed to despoil and devour the deceased. In employing this imagery, Catullus may be conveying a sense of defilement or dishonor associated with the subject of his poem.

Sexual references and figurative destruction

Catullus’s poem entwines sexual references with imagery of destruction. Through his choice of words, he compares sexual relationships with a metaphorical devouring by wolves.

This juxtaposition adds a layer of complexity to his verses. It hints at both the intense passion and pleasure found in relationships, as well as the potential for emotional devastation.


As we peel back the layers of Catullus’s poem, we gain a deeper understanding of his emotions towards Cominius and the cultural context in which his words were penned. Through the use of striking imagery and symbolism, Catullus illuminates the intricacies of human relationships and explores the complexities of his society.

By delving into the depths of this ancient poet’s work, we unearth a timeless masterpiece that continues to captivate readers even today.

Historical background of Cominius

Cominius as a Roman consul and dictator

To fully understand Catullus’s feelings towards Cominius, we must delve into the historical background of this figure. Cominius, whose full name was Lucius Julius Caesar Cominius (no familial relation to Julius Caesar), held positions of power in ancient Rome.

He served as a Roman consul in the year 500 BCE, an esteemed position that made him one of the highest-ranking officials in the city-state. Notably, he was appointed as Rome’s first dictator in 498 BCE, a title bestowed upon him during a tumultuous period in Roman history.

Cominius’s appointment as dictator highlights his perceived strength and leadership qualities during a time when Rome faced external threats. As a dictator, he held absolute power and authority, which allowed him to make swift decisions without the need for Senate approval.

This position was granted in times of crisis, demonstrating the trust and confidence placed in Cominius.

Public sentiment towards Cominius

While Cominius held positions of influence, it is important to note that he was not regarded as a beloved leader by all Romans. Catullus’s negative portrayal of Cominius can be seen as representative of a broader sentiment shared by some members of society at the time.

Catullus’s scathing words, expressing a desire for the end of Cominius’s life, may have stemmed from a discontent with the dictator’s governance style or personal shortcomings. Despite his accomplishments, Cominius may have lacked the charisma and popularity that endeared other leaders to the Roman population.

This unpopularity could have led to a longing for a change in leadership and even a wish for Cominius’s demise, which Catullus so strongly expresses in his poem. Comparison to Shakespeare’s portrayal of Cominius

Cominius as a character in Coriolanus

William Shakespeare, the renowned playwright, immortalized characters from ancient Rome in his works. Cominius makes an appearance in one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, “Coriolanus,” where he is portrayed as a prominent figure within the Roman Republic.

In the play, Cominius is depicted as a loyal general and close ally of Coriolanus, the play’s title character. He plays a major role in the military campaigns against the Volscians, demonstrating his military prowess and unwavering support for Rome.

Differences between Catullus’s portrayal and Shakespeare’s portrayal

It is crucial to note that while Catullus and Shakespeare both reference a historical figure named Cominius, their portrayals differ significantly. Catullus’s portrayal of Cominius focuses predominantly on the negative aspects of the individual, emphasizing physical aspects like his gray old age and impure life.

Catullus’s strong desire for Cominius’s demise showcases his personal animosity and disdain for the man. On the other hand, Shakespeare presents Cominius in a much more positive light.

In “Coriolanus,” Cominius is portrayed as a loyal and dependable character, known for his military prowess and steadfast support of Coriolanus. Shakespeare’s depiction does not mirror Catullus’s negative sentiments, instead offering a more balanced and honorable perspective of Cominius.

This disparity in portrayal highlights the influence that individual authors can have when interpreting historical figures. Each writer’s artistic liberties, personal biases, and the specific context in which they write contribute to variations in character representation.

In conclusion, by examining the historical background and public sentiment towards Cominius, we gain a deeper understanding of Catullus’s poem. Catullus’s negative portrayal of Cominius may reflect a broader discontent with the leader’s rule, while Shakespeare’s portrayal differs significantly.

The contrasting depictions in Catullus’s poem and “Coriolanus” demonstrate how different authors can shape historical figures based on their own artistic intent and personal perspectives. In this exploration of Catullus’s poem, we have uncovered the poet’s intense feelings towards Cominius, a Roman figure intertwined with complex historical context.

Catullus’s negative portrayal of Cominius sheds light on potential public sentiment towards the leader. By comparing Catullus’s portrayal to Shakespeare’s depiction in “Coriolanus,” we see the power of artistic interpretation on historical figures.

This study reminds us of the diverse perspectives that shape our understanding of the past. Ultimately, it is the intersection of personal emotions and the cultural backdrop that makes Catullus’s poem and its historical context so intriguing and relevant even today.

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