16. But whenever these poems were written, they spring from experiences that did not touch deeply the soul of the writer. A passing fancy, a moment's passion, an evanescent humor brought them forth. But at Rome, and not long after he arrived at Rome, Catullus met the mastering passion of his his life, and beside the verses to which it gave birth the melodious chamber ditties of Horace and the elaborated passions of the elegiasts are but as tinkling cymbals. To the woman who exercised this wonderful power over him he gives the name of Lesbia. But more often he is not content with a name, and the familiar terms of endearment flow from his lips with a newer and deeper meaning; for he delights to feel that though his experience is on the outside like that of other men, his mistress is peerless in virtues and his love for her a love passing that of women. On his side the passion was sudden and intense. He adopts the words of Sappho, and tells Lesbia (c. 51) of the deadly faintness that seizes upon him even while he feels himself a' god, and more than a god, in sharing her smile and her voice. And with the swift passion comes the mad desire to win her love. Lesbia is a married woman (c. 83.1), but that consideration demands only additional care and diplomacy on his part, and is no bar to his efforts. He lays siege to her heart. His importunate persistence, youth as he is, commands her attention even amid a throng of lovers, but apparently only irritates her. What does this youngster, lately come to Rome, hope for amid so many of his betters? He sees that victory must be won over this brilliant woman of the world by proving himself no mere moon-calf. Therefore he curbs his sentiment, and matches wit with wit. Even her own display of petulance is turned against her in neat retort (cc. 83, 92). And meanwhile Catullus was winning his way in the Roman world. The unknown young man was becoming well known, and the haughty beauty finally surrendered, doubtless influenced by vanity rather than by passion.
17. Yet Catullus had no haunting fears concerning the genuineness of her love for him. He was so completely mastered by his own passion that he could not doubt hers. Their meetings, necessarily secret for the most part, on account of the lady's position, took place at the house of a friend (c. 68.68). But not even the possibility of discovery restrained the ardor of the poet's soul. He poured forth his feelings most simply and unrestrainedly in a series of charming trifles. Mere childlike delight in multitudinous kisses (cc. 5, 7), daintiest pretence of lover's jealousy at the favors accorded Lesbia's sparrow (c. 2), gentle, half-smiling sympathy with her over the untimely death of her pet (c. 3), flow from his pen with a perfect freedom of movement and yet with an exquisite grace and perfection in every part. And the mere thought that any proud damsel could once claim comparison with his Lesbia rouses him to hot scorn (cc. 43, 86).
18. The sight of this young poet at her feet may have been attractive to Lesbia, but it could not take the place of all other attractions. The exclusive demand his love made upon her grew irksome. He might be so wholly swallowed up in love for her as to disregard everything else, but she was not so in love with him. It flattered her vanity to hold him thus in thrall, but was tiresome if she also must have her freedom limited by the same shackles. And so she gradually turned away from him toward other pleasures. He finally met her coldness by an attempt to assert his own independence (c. 8). But even in his self-exhortation to firmness in meeting indifference with indifference, he cannot forbear to dwell upon the happy days of the past, nor can he conceal his own hope for a reconciliation. Strangely enough, he seems not even to suspect infidelity on Lesbia's part with other lovers. Though he himself had made her unfaithful to her husband, he is troubled by no fear that she may be entering upon fresh fields of conquest. Though he cannot explain her present action, he is so utterly blinded by his own passion, that he even warns her to consider the desolate lot that awaits her, if she persists in breaking with him (c. 8.14 ff.).
19. However misplaced was the confidence of Catullus in the force of his appeal to Lesbia, his independence of bearing was persevered in till it conquered, - at least to a certain extent. Lesbia saw that she had carried her coldness too far, and was likely to lose forever a lover whose talents and devotion were such that to be given up by him was a serious wound to her vanity. And with a shrewd calculation of the effect of such a course upon his wounded heart, she made her unexpected way into his presence, and prayed for reconciliation. As might be expected, the unsuspicious lover received her with a burst of rapture (c. 107).
20. But the relations of the two lovers never could be restored to their old footing. Neither of them felt precisely as before. Lesbia had no intention of confining herself to Catullus alone, but only of numbering him as still one of her slaves. Catullus, too, had won knowledge in a hard school, and the trustful confidence he had felt in Lesbia's full reciprocation of his love was gone. He does reproduce his former tone of joyous mirth in one poem celebrating the reconciliation (c. 36), but when Lesbia appeals to the gods to bear witness to her pledge of eternal fidelity (c. 109), though he joins in her prayer, it is clearly not with hearty faith, but only with a somewhat reserved desire. And with more experience, his heart is becoming a little hardened. However jesting the tone may be interpreted in which he answers Lesbia's protestations (c. 70), a strain of cynicism begins to make itself heard that is foreign to his former songs, though it has not yet become settled bitterness. But Catullus is fast learning to write epigram.
21. It was useless to suppose that he could long remain ignorant of the fact that Lesbia's favors were not confined to him. No one but himself had ever been ignorant of the true state of the case. Rumor now began to penetrate even his fast-closed ears, and that which he perhaps had already begun to fear came with no less a shock when presenting itself in the garb of fact. The emotions it aroused apparently varied from time to time. At one moment his old passion is strong within him, and in dwelling upon the happiness of the past he deter-mines, with a pretence of philosophic carelessness that is supported by the broken staff of mythological precedent, to overlook the frailties of a mistress whose lapses from fidelity he believed were yet but occasional (c. 68.135 ff.). At another moment he appeals in remonstrance and grief to the friends who have become his rivals (cc. 73, 77, 90).
22. And his perturbed soul was still further wrenched by another heavy blow that fell upon him at about the same time with these disclosures. His dearly loved brother was dead, and, to heighten the anguish of the moment, dead far away in the Troad, without a single relative near him to close his eyes, utter the last formal farewell, and place upon his tomb the customary funeral offerings. The news either reached Catullus when on a visit to his father's house at Verona, or summoned him suddenly thither from Rome. For a time this emotion dulled his sensibility to every other. He could think of nothing else. He foreswore the Muses forever, save to express the burden of his woe (cc. 68.19; 65.12). To the request of the influential orator Hortensius for verses, he could send only a translation from Callimachus, and the story of his tears. He must even deny (c. 68a) an appeal from his friend Manlius for consolation on the death of his wife, - perhaps the same Manlius for whose happy bridal he had but a short time before written an exquisite marriage-song (c. 61). And even when Manlius sought to recall him to Rome by hints concerning the scandal aroused by Lesbia's misdoings, the only answer was a sigh(c. 68.30).
23. Possibly other news also reached him concerning his faithless mistress. At all events when, shortly afterward, he did return to the capital, his eyes were fully opened. Not that he now ceased to love Lesbia, for that was beyond his power, and therein lay his extremest torture. He had lost all faith in her, he knew her now to be but an abandoned prostitute, and yet he could not break the chain of his old regard. 'I hate and love,' he cries, 'I know not how, but I feel the anguish of it' (c. 85).
24. Though he was condemned still to love Lesbia, the former connection with her was now broken off, never to be renewed. Yet he has for her words of sorrow rather than of scorn. Even now, as formerly (c. 104), he cannot malign her, although she has sunk so deep in degradation. In a simple, manly way he declares the fidelity of his love for her (c. 87), and the condition to which he has now been brought by her fault and not his own (c. 75). However difficult it be to associate the idea of pure affection with a passion like his, there is, nevertheless, an appeal of truth in his solemn asseveration at this moment of bitterest grief that his love for Lesbia was not merely the passion of any common man for his paid mistress, but was as the love of a father for his son (c. 72). Not wholly evil, a heart that could feel such an impulse, even toward a mistaken object.
25. But however gentle his treatment of Lesbia, the rivals of Catullus found now no mercy at his hands. For them lie had but bitter scorn and anger, since he mistakenly regarded them, and not Lesbia herself, as responsible for her downfall. Egnatius and his set of companions (cc. 37, 39), Gellius (cc. 74, 80, 88, 89, 90, 116), perhaps also Aemilius (c. 97), Victius (c. 98), and Cominius (c. 108), and other unnamed lovers (cc. 71, 78b) suffer on this account from the stinging lash of his satire. Even Caelius Rufus, like Quintius an early friend of the poet (c. 100), and like Quintius the subject of remonstrance a short time before (cc. 77, 82), now finds no such gentle treatment (cc. 69, 71 ?). Possibly, also, the apparent fling at Hortensius in c. 95.3, who was most kindly addressed in c. 65, may have been prompted by personal rather than by professional jealousy. Most significant, too (cf. § 28), is the bolt aimed at a certain Lesbius (c. 79).
26. The delights of vengeance were perhaps sweet, but they did not bring Catullus peace. The torment of his passion was still raging within him, and from that he longed to find freedom, not again in the arms of his mistress, but in victory over himself. For this he prayed most earnestly (c. 76), and this he finally attained, aided partly, no doubt, by absence from the country (cf. § 29), but more by the persistency with which he kept up the struggle within himself. It may well be, however, that in these months of mental anguish are to be found the beginnings of that disease that caused his untimely death. But the conviction evidently grew upon him that Lesbia had not been led astray by his false friends, but had always been deceitful above all things, and with the clearer insight came not only a gentler feeling toward the men he had judged traitors to friendship (cf. e.g. c. 58 to Caelius Rufus), but a horror and contempt, now unmixed with pity, for Lesbia herself. And when she tried once more, in the day of his reconciliation with Caesar, and the hope of budding fortune (cf. § 41), to win him back to her, his reply was one of bitter scorn for her, though joined with a touch of sorrowful reminiscence of departed joys.
27. As part of the history of Catullus after the break with Lesbia has thus been anticipated in order to indicate the course of his struggle with himself, it may be well to pause here a few moments longer to ask who this Lesbia was. That we have in the poems of Catullus a real and not an imaginative sketch of a love-episode cannot be once doubted by him who reads. Lesbia is not a lay figure, a mere peg on which to hang fancies, like the shadowy heroines of Horace. That she was no libertina, but a woman of education and of social position, is equially clear from the passages already cited. The name Lesbia, therefore, is immediately suggestive of a pseudonym; and not only the fashions of poetry, but the position of the lady herself, appear at once to justify this expedient on the part of her poet-lover. To this antecedent probability is added the direct testimony of Ovid, who says (Trist. II.427), “sic sua lascivo cantata est saepe Catullo femina cui falsum Lesbia nomen erat” . Apuleius carries us a step further, saying (Apol. 10), “eadem igitur opera accusent C. Catullum quod Lesbiam pro Clodia nominarit” . The name Lesbia is the proper metrical equivalent for Clodia, as the pseudonym of a mistress should be on the lips of a Roman lover (cf. Bentley on Hor. Carm. II.12.13; Acro on Hor. Sat. I.2.64). <--! Cicero's letters, passim? - what's the n for that? -->
28. It was reserved, however, for the Italian scholars of the sixteenth century to identify this Clodia with the sister of P. Clodius Pulcher, Cicero's foe, wife of Q. Caecilius Metellus Celer, who was praetor B.C. 63, then governor of Cisalpine Gaul, consul for the year 60 B.C., and died in 59, not without suspicion that his wife poisoned him (cf. Cic. Cael. 24.60; Quint. VIII. 6.53). Among almost all Catullian scholars of the present century this view has found acceptance, in spite of the express dissent of a few. The general character and course of life of this Clodia 'Quadrantaria' (cf. Cic. Cael. and Epp. passim; Drumann II. p.376 ff.） coincide with those of Lesbia, and many minor details of reference in the poems of Catullus are thus explicable. Especially it may be noted that M. Caelius Rufus (cf. cc. 100, 77, 69, 58) was a lover of this Clodia (cf. Cic. Cael. passim) about the year 58 B.C., and within two years became her bitter enemy. There was all the more likelihood, then, of the reconciliation between him and Catullus marked by c. 58. And if Lesbia be this Clodia, then the Lesbius of c. 79 is her infamous brother, P. Clodius Pulcher, and the epigram becomes clear in the light of historic fact (cf. Commentary).