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Later years. Relations with Caesar.

37. But even Sirmio could not long detain him from his loved Rome. His reappearance among his old friends is marked by a single poem (c. 10), whose gay and charming humor shows that even the vicinity of Lesbia had lost its power constantly to embitter his thoughts. And to the passion for Lesbia now appears to have succeeded that for a boy, Juventius, with the charms of whose company Catullus perhaps attempted to drive out the thoughts of his former love. How the intimacy began we cannot tell. The Juventian gens sprang from Tusculum, but inscriptions (C. I. L. vol. V. passim) show that people of that name also lived in the neighborhood of Verona. It may be, therefore, that the boy came to Rome under the guardianship of Catullus, as perhaps Catullus, years before, under that of Nepos But nothing further is known of him beyond what may be inferred from the poems of Catullus that concern him (cf. introductory note to c. 15). His history is interwoven with that of a pair of friends, Aurelius and Furius, both at first friends of Catullus, to the former of whom the poet at one time was led to entrust temporarily the care of his ward (c. 15). The result might have been anticipated. Juventius learned to prefer them to Catullus, and in consequence Catullus vented his wrath upon them in a group of bitter poems (cc. 16, 21, 23, 26), though for Juventius he had only sorrowful remonstrance (cc. 24, 81).

38. Yet all this experience appears to have touched him in no wise deeply. It was but a passing diversion, and his jealousy not the bitter passion felt against his rivals with Lesbia. With far more earnestness did he throw himself into the political quarrel of his time. The year of his return from Bithynia (56 B.C.) had witnessed the so-called renewal of the triumvirate at Luca, and Caesar appeared to have won everything. In accordance with the agreement made at the Luca conference, Pompey and Crassus were consuls a second time for the year 55, and the senatorial party was at its wits' end. Catullus was apparently not an active political worker, but he did not hesitate to join his political friends in personal attacks upon the foe. Perhaps his earlier shafts were those aimed against Mamurra (cf. § 73), Caesar's notorious favorite (cc. 29, 41, 43, 57), whom Catullus sometimes celebrates under the nickname of Mentula (cc. 94, 105, 114, 115), and these opened the way for the direct attack upon Caesar himself (cc. 54, 93). But whatever the order of attack, that Caesar was piqued by it we know from Suetonius (Iul. 73). That he made a successful effort to win over Catullus, as he did Calvus, we are also assured from the same source. Caesar understood better than most Romans that political power in that city and that day must rest largely upon personal popularity, and he was not above exerting himself to win the good will of individuals of high or low degree. And aside from the fascination due to his great political and military success, he had personal traits that gave him a power over young men. It was the mysterious influence of a natural leader of men; and in many more than these two instances the number of his friends was recruited from the ranks of the younger of his fiercest foes. There was another element also that must have tended to promote the reconciliation between Caesar and Catullus. The father of Catullus was resident at Verona within the limits of Caesar's Cisalpine province. He may not have taken an active part in politics, but at any rate he was a personal friend of Caesar, and often his host (Suet. l.c.). This intimacy may well have led him to see clearly what the result of the approaching struggle for supremacy in Rome was likely to be, and to desire the more eagerly to see his son arrayed for Caesar and not against him.

39. At all events, the reconciliation was brought about, and the lively pen of Catullus ceased to lampoon the great commander. Some have thought, however, that Mamurra was not included in the peace, and that the utmost Caesar could effect in his favorite's behalf was that his personality should be thereafter thinly veiled under the pseudonym Mentula.

40. But Caesar was not to profit greatly from his new ally. Up to the end of the year 55 B.C. Catullus displays only hostility to Caesar and the Caesarians. The reconciliation apparently took place at the house of the father of Catullus at Verona during the winter visit of the governor to the nearer province in the early part of the year 54 (Caes. B. G. 5.1). The only poem that shows the change of feeling toward Caesar is c. 11, and this is connected with another marked incident in the life of the poet.

41. Catullus was now the friend of Caesar. The great commander was entertained at his father's house, and perhaps even there was making his plans for future campaigns. The fortunes of the poet were rising. What might he not hope for from his great patron, and why should others not share in his success? Furius and Aurelius, scorned by him since their faithlessness in the matter of Juventius, were eager to crawl back into his favor. And they fancied they could bring him a message that would be joyfully greeted, and would secure them the favorable reception they sought for their own advances: Lesbia was willing to recall her recalcitrant lover. She had once before been successful when making the first advances herself (cf. § 19). Why should she fear defeat now? But both she and her ill-chosen emissaries were speedily undeceived. The broken chain of the old love could never be welded again. Catullus had won by absence, by self-discipline, and most of all, perhaps, by real knowledge of facts in the case, the freedom from his passion for which he had prayed (c. 76). He could once more believe in the friendship of Caelius Rufus, and to him acknowledge, with pain, indeed, but no longer with unavailing torture his true view of Lesbia's character (c. 58). And these proffers now made to him through, and by, Furius and Aurelius were definitely and disdainfully rejected (c. 11), -with a manly, not a petulant disdain, for Catullus could not even then forget that he had loved Lesbia>.

42. This manly utterance was almost the last of the poet's life. A few scattered verses there may have been, closing perhaps with the touching appeal written from Verona (cf. § 56) to his brother-poet, Cornificius, for a word of consolation, but that was all; and sometime in the year 54 B.C., in his beloved Rome, so says the chronicler, the swiftly burning candle of his life burned itself out.

43. With him died the clearest, if not the richest, poet-voice ever lifted in Rome. He lacked the lofty grandeur of Lucretius, the polished stateliness of Vergil, the broad sympathies of Horace. For on the one hand, he was no recluse to be filled with heavenly visions, and on the other, his personality was too intense to allow him to cultivate a tolerant spirit. He delighted in life with a vigorous animal passion. Not without charm to him was nature in her sylvan aspect (cf. e.g. 34.9 ff.) yet his highest enjoyment was in the life of men. And this life he did not study, as did Horace, from the standpoint of a philosopher. Indeed, he did not study it at all, but simply felt it. For he was not outside of it, but a part of it to the fullest degree, swayed by its ever-changing emotions. Such a nature must of necessity ever remain in many essential aspects the nature of a child. And such was the nature of Catullus throughout his brief life,--warm in quick affections, hot in swift hatreds, pulsing with most active red blood.

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  • Cross-references from this page (23):
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 5.1
    • Catullus, Poems, 10
    • Catullus, Poems, 105
    • Catullus, Poems, 11
    • Catullus, Poems, 114
    • Catullus, Poems, 115
    • Catullus, Poems, 15
    • Catullus, Poems, 16
    • Catullus, Poems, 21
    • Catullus, Poems, 23
    • Catullus, Poems, 24
    • Catullus, Poems, 26
    • Catullus, Poems, 29
    • Catullus, Poems, 41
    • Catullus, Poems, 43
    • Catullus, Poems, 54
    • Catullus, Poems, 57
    • Catullus, Poems, 58
    • Catullus, Poems, 76
    • Catullus, Poems, 81
    • Catullus, Poems, 93
    • Catullus, Poems, 94
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 73
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