The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with Chloë Griggs
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
Catullus is always my go to!
When did you first come across Catullus?
I was in a charity shop just after my GCSEs and found a copy of James Michie’s translation. I’ve been hooked ever since!
Can you tell me a bit about Catullus and his context?
Catullus was alive around 84-54 BCE, so towards the end of the Roman Republic. He published one book of poetry (that we know of!), which has more or less survived in its entirety, written in a variety of metres. He was undoubtedly a source of inspiration for later Roman poets such as Horace, and at the time of Trajan his literary legacy was still going strong, as we see in Martial’s and Pliny the Younger’s works.
What is it about his poetry that appeals to you most?
I fell in love with the variety of poems, and how Catullus jumps effortlessly from lamenting a lost lover to insulting his contemporaries, from beautiful myth to scathing political invective. After reading a lot of Livy and Cicero in class, the human emotion Catullus puts into his poems really struck me; researching his invectives for my dissertation has been a lot of fun! Discovering that, for example, the Furius and Aurelius of the infamous Catullus 16 were likely his colleagues (if not his friends) makes the way he insults them so much more personal, yet alleviates any severity we might perceive in the attacks they suffer. Even if one were offended by such insults, the scathing wit and literary genius in every syllable would make it hard to stay angry at the author for long. According to Suetonius this is more or less what happened when, after he’d attacked Caesar through his poems, Catullus asked for and readily received his forgiveness. (Life of the Deified Julius, 73.)
The artistry of these poems cannot and should not be missed. I very much like Tatum’s summary of the immense talent of this work: that Catullus writes “sometimes lightly but often with a dark and biting humor and equally often in a tone of undiluted vituperation that finds its expression in enormities of obscenity”. (2007, 334 in The Blackwell Companion to Catullus)
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
This term I have brought my dog up to university with me, so I have been taking her on lots of lovely walks around Durham. She has been a really comforting presence in the past month!
Chloë is a third year Classics undergraduate at Grey College, Durham, and will be (hopefully!) completing a PGCE course next year at Cambridge. She is co-president of the university’s Classics Society which has a programme of excellent talks from a variety of scholars this term. Follow their Facebook for information about online events open to the public: https://www.facebook.com/DUClassicsSociety.
My dog Bobbi being cute and trying to help me with work!
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.