Ancient Narratives

Exploring Catullus’s Passion: Love Desire and the Unconventional Nature of Poem 16

Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, has been a prominent figure in Greek mythology and literature for centuries. Her influence can be seen in various works of art and literature, including the poems of the Roman poet Catullus.

In his collection of poems, Catullus expresses his feelings towards two individuals: Volusius and Lesbia. Through his vivid and often controversial language, Catullus gives us a glimpse into his dislike for Volusius and his admiration for Lesbia’s vow to him.

Catullus’s disdain for Volusius’s writings

Catullus, a prominent Roman poet of the 1st century BCE, was known for his sharp and often caustic wit. In one of his poems, he expresses his disdain for Volusius’s writings, even going so far as to compare them to feces.

This scathing criticism reveals Catullus’s low opinion of Volusius’s literary abilities and highlights his own high standards for poetry. Lesbia’s vow and promise to Catullus

Lesbia, a pseudonym for Catullus’s lover Clodia Metelli, is a prominent figure in Catullus’s poems.

In one of his most famous works, Catullus describes Lesbia’s vow to him, promising to love him like no other. He uses fierce and passionate language to depict their tumultuous relationship, describing it as a love that can burn hotter than the fires of Hephaestus, a Greek god associated with blacksmithing and fire.

This bold declaration of love showcases Catullus’s deep affection for Lesbia and his ability to express his emotions through poetry. Transition:

As Catullus explores his complicated relationships with Volusius and Lesbia, he also draws upon the myths and legends associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.

The following section will delve into the various locations associated with Aphrodite and Lesbia’s vow to the goddess.

Various locations associated with Aphrodite

Aphrodite, as a goddess of love and beauty, was often associated with specific locations in Greek mythology. These locations included the blue sea, Idalium, Urii, Ancona, Cnidus, Amathus, Golgi, and Dyrrhacium.

Each of these places held significance in the mythological narratives surrounding Aphrodite, emphasizing her status as a powerful deity. Lesbia’s vow to Aphrodite and the gods

In one of his poems, Catullus describes Lesbia making a vow to Aphrodite, promising to remain faithful to her lover.

This vow showcases Lesbia’s devotion and commitment to maintaining a love that is both intense and everlasting. It also highlights the importance of Aphrodite as a divine figure who oversees and blesses love and relationships.


Catullus’s poems provide readers with a captivating and often provocative insight into his relationships with Volusius and Lesbia. Through his evocative language and vivid descriptions, Catullus captures the complexity of love, desire, and disappointment.

His references to Aphrodite and the myths associated with her add an additional layer of depth to his poetry, further emphasizing the timeless and universal themes of love and devotion. Catullus’s works continue to inspire and engage readers today, offering a unique glimpse into the emotions and experiences of ancient Rome.

The Unusual Nature of the Poem

Catullus’s poems are known for their unique and unconventional nature, often challenging traditional poetic structures and themes. One particular poem stands out amongst his collection for its unusual form and thought-provoking content.

This section will explore the distinct structure and repetition found in the poem, as well as the difficulty scholars face in categorizing it.

The unique structure and repetition in the poem

Catullus’s poem, often referred to as “Poem 16,” exhibits a distinctive structure that sets it apart from his other works. The poem consists of three separate parts, each with a distinct tone and message.

The first section outlines Catullus’s disdain for Volusius, using explicit and provocative language to express his contempt. The second section shifts its focus to Lesbia’s vow to Catullus, employing passionate and fiery imagery to depict their love.

The final section echoes the structure of the first, returning to the topic of Volusius and ending on a repetitive note. In addition to its unique structure, the poem also employs repetition as a prominent literary device.

Catullus repeats phrases and lines throughout the poem, emphasizing his strong emotions and making his message more memorable. The repetition adds a rhythmic quality to the poem, adding to its overall impact and ensuring its lasting effect on the reader.

Difficulty in categorizing the poem

Scholars and literary critics often grapple with the task of categorizing and interpreting Catullus’s poems, and “Poem 16” is no exception. Its unconventional structure and controversial subject matter make it challenging to fit neatly into a specific genre or style.

Some argue that the poem is a scurrilous satire, a type of poem characterized by its mocking and often obscene content. Others suggest that it falls into the category of invective poetry, which focuses on insulting and berating a particular individual.

Despite the varying opinions of scholars, what remains clear is the raw and unfiltered emotion that permeates the poem. Catullus’s disdain for Volusius and his passionate love for Lesbia are evident throughout, giving the poem a distinct and impactful voice that resonates with readers regardless of its classification.

Content of the Poem and Final Reference to Volusius

Burning of poems and reference to worst poems

In “Poem 16,” Catullus introduces the idea of burning poems, a recurring motif in his works. He rhetorically questions whether burning the worst poems would be better than Volusius continuing to publish his subpar writings.

This concept of destroying inferior pieces reflects Catullus’s commitment to producing high-quality poetry and his disdain for those who do not meet his standards. By referencing the burning of poems, Catullus suggests that not all works of art are worthy of preservation and that the act of destroying them can be a form of purification or cleansing.

This theme of quality control highlights Catullus’s dedication to his craft and his relentless pursuit of excellence in his own writings.

Final mention of Volusius and the repetition in the poem

The final section of “Poem 16” brings the focus back to Volusius, drawing a connection between his writings and defecated paper. Catullus states that even animals would avoid using Volusius’s writings as toilet paper because they are so detestable.

This crude comparison serves as a final insult to Volusius and solidifies Catullus’s disdain for his work. The repetition that concludes the poem further emphasizes the significance of Catullus’s feelings towards Volusius.

By repeating the phrase “cesso repugno” (I cease, I resist), Catullus makes a bold statement about his refusal to acknowledge or engage with Volusius any further. The repetitive nature of this statement adds a sense of finality and closure to the poem, reinforcing Catullus’s unwavering contempt.

In conclusion, Catullus’s poem “Poem 16” stands out for its distinctive structure, repetition, and controversial content. While scholars may struggle to categorize it within specific genres, its emotional intensity and rawness captivate readers.

The poem’s focus on Catullus’s disdain for Volusius, his adoration for Lesbia, and the repetition throughout highlight his uncompromising standards and passionate expression. Through this unconventional work, Catullus leaves a lasting impact on the world of poetry and literature.

Catullus’s poems offer a unique and captivating insight into his complex relationships with Volusius and Lesbia, as well as his exploration of the mythological figure Aphrodite. Through his scathing criticism of Volusius and passionate devotion to Lesbia, Catullus showcases his high standards for poetry and his ability to convey intense emotions.

The unusual structure and repetition in “Poem 16” further add to the lasting impact of his work, while also posing a challenge for categorization. By delving into these topics, we gain a deeper understanding of Catullus’s profound influence in the realm of love poetry and his unwavering commitment to his craft.

The enduring legacy of Catullus’s poems lies in their ability to evoke powerful emotions and provoke thought, reminding us of the timeless nature of love and art.

Popular Posts