This paper begins by discussing Catullus’ genuine love of life as expressed in poem 5 and introduced in the first line. It considers poem 5 as rather less cynical than many of Catullus’ others, and therefore uniquely revealing. It then examines the first triad, which expresses defiance of convention, and the second, which expresses the brevity of life and the urgency of love. The enumeration of kisses is then discussed in particular detail with comparisons to poems 7 and 48. Finally, it shows that Catullus’ usual cynicism, which is missing throughout most of the poem, appears just at the end, displaying Catullus’ ingenuity.
Though he is indeed a cynic, Catullus seems to express in general a love of life and an eagerness to experience it. He feels the futility of being human, yet he longs to be human, to feel all the joys and pains of being alive. Ultimately he sees love and life as wondrous, beautiful things. In few other poems is this view expressed as well as in poem 5. An idealized picture of furtive love, poem 5 presents a young, budding romance between Catullus and the infamous Lesbia. It is has many common characteristics of new love: it is rebellious in its attitude toward those who disapprove, urgent in its perception of time, charming and innocent in its request for kisses.
Composed “at an early stage in Catullus’ love affair with Lesbia” (Goold 237), poem 5 opens with the words vivamus and amemus. These two words, meaning “let us live” and “let us love,” characterize Catullus in a way that few other poems do so well, revealing who he is when lets down the guard of cynicism. Indeed, poem 5 seems to be one of the less cynical and more honest of Catullus’ poems. The ...
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...us. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.
Goold, G. P. Catullus. London: Duckworth, 1983.
Hart-Davies, T. Catullus. London: C. Kegan & Co., 1879.
Kelly, Walter K. The Poems of Catullus and Tibullus. London: G. Bell and Sons, ltd., 1919.
Lamb, George. The Poems of Caius Valerius Catullus, vol. 1. London: John Murray, 1821.
Merrill, E. T. Catullus. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1893.
Additional Works Consulted
Hornblower, Simon, and Anthony Spawforth, eds. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
Lee, Guy. Catullus: the Complete Poems. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.
Lewis, Charlton T. An Elementary Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1981.
McMarren, Vincent P. A Critical Concordance to Catullus. Leiden: Brill, 1977.
Perseus Digital Library. Ed. Gregory Crane. Tufts University. 20 March 2003
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