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Cicero Pro Caelio Notes

Classics Notes > Latin Literature of the 1st Century AD Notes

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Give an analysis of the way in which Lesbia, Clodia and Cynthia are represented by Catullus, Cicero and Propertius, and explore to what extent the representation of these female characters is governed by the internal logic of the texts they inhabit. The impression of Lesbia's character presented by Catullus is on the whole negative with regard to her personality, but despite this throughout his work there is always a loving admiration of her beauty, something which stops him from damning her too severely. This is somewhat surprising because often during the course of the poems she is shown to be a promiscuous woman and very much like a courtesan. It starts very early in poem 11, "three hundred of whom she holds all at once in her embrace, not loving one of them really, but again and again draining the strength of all." This is made much worse by the description that follows it of Catullus' love being like a flower in the meadow cut by the plough. She is not just cheating on one of her lovers, she is cheating on the one who loves her, which makes what she does all the worse. The same is true in poem 58, "Lesbia whom alone Catullus loved more than himself and all his own now in the cross-roads and alleys serves the filthy lusts of the descendants of lordly-minded Remus." Again a crude picture is put next to a tender one for maximum effect. She is also shown to be the type of woman who will say anything to please her lover when in poem 70 she says that she wants to marry no-one else buy Catullus, not even Jupiter, something he clearly took seriously but she did not, "what a woman says to her ardent lover should be written in wind and running water." With such numerous betrayals of his trust it is surprising that he stays with her and continues to lover her, but she has clearly other very enticing qualities which the poet is simply unable to turn his back on. The poems very strongly emphasise her incredible beauty, in fact she is so beautiful that she provokes in Catullus some intense physical reactions, "whenever I see you, Lesbia, at once no sound of voice remains within my mouth, but my tongue falters, a subtle flame steals down through my limbs, my ears ring with inward humming." (Poem 51) However these compliments are often in contrast to other women, "is it with you that our Lesbia is compared? Oh, this age!" (Poem 43), and in comparison to Quintia, "Lesbia is beautiful: for she possesses all the beauties, and has stolen all the grace from all the women alone for herself." It is almost as if he is trying to justify her negative qualities to himself in light of the fact she is incredibly good looking. Most of the poems are a reflection upon his perception of what love and their relationship should have been like and how she fell short of his expectations. Therefore her character is viewed from the point of a disappointed loved and her representation is influenced greatly by his character and the purpose of the poems, which often seem to be a cathartic process for Catullus. Catullus talks of their relationship as an amicitia, a word not traditionally used with regard to love, and more often used to imply a social partnership with mutual responsibilities. In poem 75 he says that she has failed in this since she has been cheating on him and so he can no longer feel affection towards her "bene velle", even though he

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