BMCR 2008.09.41

Clodia: A Sourcebook. Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture, v. 33

, Clodia : a sourcebook. Oklahoma series in classical culture ; v. 33. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. xviii, 269 pages ; 23 cm.. ISBN 9780806139074. $21.95 (pb).

Source-books—all of them, each in its own way, very serviceable—for use by students and teachers alike in women’s, gender and sexuality studies in classics have been appearing on a regular basis over the past few decades. I myself have used two of these for the course I developed in the early 90’s on gender and sexuality in Greco-Roman antiquity—they have been well supplemented, of course, by lengthier readings from Greek and Roman authors selected by myself. The book under review by Julia Hejduk is unusual in that it presents its source-material in the service of the study of one woman, the flamboyant Clodia Metelli, celebrated under the pseudonym of Lesbia and as the great love of his life by Catullus, and correspondingly denigrated and vilified by the poet after the relationship went sour and collapsed.

The identication of Lesbia with the one of the three sisters (all named Clodia) of Clodius Pulcher, the demagogue, who was married to Metellus is not entirely unproblematic, but in her introduction, drawing on the scholarship of Wiseman, Shackleton Bailey and others, while also making her own connections, Hejduk establishes this identification as virtually certain. Her conclusion regarding the Lesbia-cycle in Catullus’ poetry is that “[t]he poems are perfectly consistent with an affair of several years (that is, one that would overlap with both the marriage to Metellus and the affair with Caelius) molded into a “story” whose narrative coherence is emotional, not chronological. ” (6) In her concluding remarks about this identification, she states: “If it is the case that the Clodia of the Pro Caelio, Cicero’s letters, and Catullus’ poems are the same woman, then we have a richer selection of material about this woman than about any other from the Roman Republic.” (8) Indeed, Clodia may be unique among all the women we know about in Greco-Roman antiquity since all this abundant material consists of contemporary testimonia coming from persons who knew her well (Cicero) and even intimately (Catullus); it is this fact that has made Hejkduk’s rich source-book possible.

The “Introduction” includes a helpful section, “Love after Lesbia,” on the course taken by Roman love-poetry after Catullus, especially in Augustan elegy, emphasizing—very much in keeping with current scholarship and criticism—the literary rather than the autobiographical stimuli behind the love-elegies of Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid, and underlining the importance of aemulatio, “the self-conscious reworking of earlier texts.” (9) Thus Hejduk does not hesitate to speak here of “fictions.” (11) This section includes several paragraphs on “the progress of certain themes” (12) such as servitium amoris and love as a disease from Catullus through Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid. Her anthology, in fact, contains extensive selections from these three Augustan elegists as well as from Martial so that Catullus may be seen as the starting point of an important literary tradition. Hejduk has provided her own translations of the texts included in her anthology, and this makes the section, “Some Translation Issues,” where she discusses the challenges facing the translator of classical Latin love-poetry especially interesting. The final section, “Roman Civilization,” contains brief but useful subsections covering a wide spectrum of subjects: women, social classes, slavery, patrons and clients, patricians and plebeians, names, political offices, patria potestas, the circulation of books, and textual criticism—the last deserving special notice given the poor state of the manuscript tradition of Catullus, a fact which even the Latin-less student should be aware of.

The anthology itself casts a net that is ample and wide. Thus, from the correspondence of Cicero, not only do we find cited in its entirety Cicero’s conciliatory letter ( Fam. 5.2 ) to Metellus, Clodia’s husband, in which Clodia ‘s mediation is mentioned with appreciation, but also Metellus’ earlier accusatory letter ( Fam. 5.1) to Cicero, to which Cicero responds in Fam. 5.2 and which, of course, provides the necessary context for Fam. 5.2. Letters, in fact, are cited in toto for the same reason. Similarly, the citations from Cicero’s Pro Caelio are numerous and, wherever needed, lengthy. In the Catullus part of the anthology, not only are those poems cited which are addressed to Lesbia or, in part at least, overtly concerned with her; many other poems which only have an implicit bearing on Catullus’ relationship with Lesbia, or give voice to his self-awareness as a love poet, or express his general capacity for passionate attachments to people and places, are included: e.g. Catullus 1, the dedicatory poem; 4, a celebration of coming home (Hejduk speaks here of “the poet’s quasi-erotic love for places and objects,” 110); 6, in which Catullus tells Flavius that he is familiar with all the tell-tale signs of the sexual relationship his friend is enjoying; and even 48, the kissing poem addressed to Juventius, which is obviously cited for the homoerotic parallel it provides to the two kissing poems addressed to Lesbia (5 and 7). The three testimonia whose provenance is not from Cicero and Catullus include Sallust’s pointed description of Clodia’s contemporary, the wanton and notorious Sempronia ( Cat. 25, with the scholiast’s comparison to Clodia added), for the obvious parallel she provides in character and behaviour to Clodia. Already in their lifetimes, both Sempronia and Clodia served as admonitory examples of how the freedoms enjoyed by upper class women of the Late Republic might degenerate into licentiousness and even outright criminality.

It is a pity that Hejduk’s otherwise ample net has not included Catullus 63, the Attis poem, and the lament of Ariadne in 64, for critics have seen in these narrative poems powerful intimations of Catullus’ own emotional turmoil over the breakup of his relationship with Lesbis. Of the long poems, 62 and 68 are included: the latter, with the poet’s vivid retrospection to the early, happy days of the affair, obviously belongs in the anthology; the connection of 62, an epithalamium, with Catullus and Lesbia is more tenuous, unless we see in the harmonious union of bride and groom prayed for here a symbolic representation of the fulfilment and happiness Catullus himself longed for in his relationship with Lesbia.

The translations are uniformly excellent. One must admire in particular the skill with which Hejduk has rendered the poetry of Catullus, the three Augustan elegists, and Martial in contemporary verse. Hejduk’s renderings indeed compare well with the accomplished literary translations that have appeared over the past few decades, e.g. Peter Green’s translation of Catullus of a few years ago and W.G. Shepherd’s 1985 translation of Propertius. Too often, the translations of poetic texts in classical studies source-books are in prose or ‘prosy’ and uninspired from a literary point of view.

The introductions to the individual authors, together with the annotation of the anthologized texts, also deserve praise. I welcome especially the fact that Hejduk does not exclude matters of poetic aesthetics. Thus Hejduk comments on the arrangement of Catullus’ poem: “Rather than a linear narrative, Catullus gives us a jumbled series of shapshots from different stages of the affair, interspersed with poems that tell of his other loves and hates.” (107). Hejduk’s notes and introductions provide excellent guidance to recent scholarship, which is brought together in an impressive 11-page bibliography at the end; this is preceded by a helpful 27-page glossary.

To conclude: Not only will Hejduk’s Clodia be a wonderful resource for both students and teachers in courses on women, gender, and sexuality in Greco-Roman antiquity (such as the one I have taught for many years) where the emphasis is on social and cultural history; it will also serve as an excellent text for a classical literature in translation course that contains a major unit on Roman love poetry—here the greater emphasis will lie on the study of literature qua literature, a purpose which this exemplary sourcebook can serve equally well.