Gaius Valerius Catullus was an Italian poet who wrote before the time of Christ. He was prolific. There are at least 116 poems attributed to his name (Lawall, p.1046). But the most important are those that were written to express his love for a woman named Lesbia. It was not a simple relationship like a boy meeting a girl and they fell in love, get engaged and the wedding follows soon after.
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In the case of Catullus he fell madly in love with a married woman. He wanted her and he wanted to be with her but it was forbidden love. Catullus problem was complicated by the fact that at one point in time, Lesbia agreed to become his lover. Catullus had to break free from her obsession with Lesbia but it was not going to be easy.
Catullus gave a clear explanation why he struggled so much to overcome his feelings towards Lesbia and he wrote:
Now Lesbia is stunning, for Lesbia’s beauty is total:
And by that sum all other women are diminished (Catullus, 86).
The poet had created a standard and therefore it was difficult for him to find another woman that can replace Lesbia. But he must break-up with her because he himself made it clear that she lost interest in him. She is also a married woman but this is not the only complication to the Catullus-Lesbia affair, the poet also hinted that there were other lovers (Catullus, 76). However, she already cast a spell on Catullus and he was unable to break free.
At first Catullus was happy and she regarded the obsession as the expected outcome of desire for the woman that he truly loves. But as time passed, Lesbia’s affection towards him grew cold. Catullus was no longer happy to be under her control. He now calls the feeling lust and he believes that it was a form of disease that he must get rid of. He used different methods to break her spell the first time he tried to convince himself that there is nothing good that will come out of his love for her and he said:
Leisure, Catullus. More than just a nuisance,
Leisure: you riot, overmuch enthusing.
Fabulous cities & their sometime kings have
Died of such leisure (Catullus, 51).
It is easy to understand what he tried to do. He wanted his mind to dwell on the misfortunes of many great men who allowed their passion to hold sway over their rational minds. But this ploy did not work and so he tried a more direct approach and this time he had to speak directly to himself and say: “Wretched Catullus! You have to stop this nonsense” (Catullus, 8). Apparently, the second approach did not work because he continued to worship her and to plead with her why he will be happy if they are together.
Catullus was desperate at the end. He knew he had to end his unproductive and unhealthy behavior towards Lesbia. Catullus tried everything and failed. But at the end he was finally able to see the light and he raided the white flag in surrender by saying that he will no longer ask that Lesbia reciprocate the love that he felt for her. Catullus made the decision that he will ask for healthy life, a life that need not suffer because of love.
The various strategies that he used were of no effect in curing him of his desire for Lesbia, a feeling that is so strong and s destructive that he felt like a broken man just thinking about the things that he did for her.
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When he no longer had anything left in him to go on. He called on the name of his gods and made a hard bargain that if ever they can help him overcome this dreadful feeling then he will be forever grateful and in exchange for their assistance, Catullus vowed to worship them. By asking the help of the gods, Catullus believed that he can finally solve his problem – Lesbia.
Lawall, Sarah. The Northon Anthology of World Literature. Vol. A, 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton Company, Inc., pp. 1046-1051.