This series of fictitious interviews is based on the Italian writer Papini’s novel Gog. In it, the main character interviews contemporary celebrities, like Freud and Einstein. In this series I’ve done the same thing, but with well-known personalities from the ancient Greek and Roman world.
Today I’ll be interviewing the Roman poet most famous for his emotional poems to his muse Lesbia during the last days of the Republic. That’s right, it’s Catullus!
Q. Ave, Catulle. Thanks for giving me this interview. As a Latin student I’ve always really admired your work. How did you get started?
A. I don’t know if most people are aware that in the beginning I only wrote prose. I never thought poetry was worth my time, and I was far more interested in philosophy. Still, I received awful reviews from some “senile old men”. I thought I’d never write anything again. Luckily, my good friend Horace suggested I write poetry instead. I don’t know how he guessed that I had a talent for it. Coincidentally, that was also when I met Lesbia for the first time. The first time I saw her I knew I’d found the material for a thousand poems!
Q. What are your plans for the future?
A. I’m looking forward to publishing my complete works. Now that I’m a famous writer and the whole Republic is talking about me, it’ll be a piece of cake. My good friend Maecenas has shown interest in my work, and I can’t say how much I appreciate his friendship. I would be lost without his support, as my editor and most trusted friend. I understand perfectly what Cicero is saying in his essay “De Amicitia”. Maecenas says the 10-volume set of my complete works is coming out this summer, as soon as I write my three-thousandth poem. I only have five more to go! I hope all three thousand will survive and continue to be read for ages to come. If you don’t mind a bit of advertising, I’d like to mention that my book will only cost thirty sesterces. Get yours before it’s too late!
Q. Well, moving on….About Cicero, you wrote a poem that mentions a certain Marcus Tullius. Were you referring to Cicero or to someone else?
A. It was someone else, of course! The guy in that poem was an awful lawyer who did a horrible job representing me once. That’s why I’m so ironic in the poem. I’m not particularly fond of lawyers since very few of them appreciate good poetry. Still, I do admire Cicero. As I mentioned before, I think he hit the nail on the head with “De Amicitia”. It’s a pity Cicero is so expensive since I know I’ll need a good lawyer to defend me in the next lawsuit!
Q. What are your political views? Do you think Caesar has been a good dictator?
A. I admire Caesar very much. He’s a brave man, but I hope he won’t ever get drunk with power. Power corrupts people. That’s why I never entered politics myself. I hope Caesar does what’s best for the citizens of Rome and that the Roman Republic lasts forever. I appreciate his pacification of the Gauls, but I wish he hadn’t killed so many people in Alesia. What a dreadful waste of human life! As Cicero said, “Arma cedant togae”.
Q. Just so you know, in the future people will remember you as a great poet. What would you say is your magnum opus?
A. I’m very fond of my Lesbia poems. I hope people will learn to appreciate them in time. I really do think they’re the best thing I ever wrote. “Vivamus atque amemus” is perhaps my favorite. There’s actually a rumor going around Rome that Caesar recited this poem to Cleopatra when they first met. Whenever I write about my love for Lesbia, I feel as if inspiration were coming from Venus and Cupid themselves. Right now I’m working on a series of poems about Lesbia’s pet sparrow. I am certain my readers will love it.
Q. I’m glad you brought up Lesbia. I was wondering if you’ll ever reveal true identity of your mysterious muse?
A. I hope I have to eventually, when my dear Lesbia finally abandons her stupid and good-for-nothing husband and marries me. I’m a romantic man. I don’t care how long it takes! Love will triumph in the end. Lesbia was forced into marrying a rich suitor by her family, but my poetry will make me richer than he is. Then I’ll get her family’s approval and live happily ever after with my beloved muse!
Q. What message would you like to leave for the people of the future?
A. That there’s no greater joy than reading poetry! I’m happy to hear that your school teaches people to read and appreciate my works and the works of other great writers. I also hope that my love story will inspire other writers and artists!
I couldn’t resist buying one of his books. Sadly though, I was a bit short and only had enough sesterces to get one volume. Still, I know that most classicists will be green with envy when I show them a first edition of Catullus’ poems!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.