Catullus’ Bedspread: The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet

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Daisy Dunn’s immediate narrative rediscovers the life and poetry of Gaius Valerius Catullus, Rome’s first ‘modern’ poet, a dandy who fell in love with another man’s wife and made it known to the world through his timeless verse.

Famed for his lyrical, subversive voice, Catullus was Rome’s first and foremost poet. Amid the death of the Roman Republic, his life, as told through his poetry, was beset with love, loss, political conflict and above all, a desire for escape.

Catullus’ Bedspread follows the young poet’s journey from his native Verona to Rome, filled with all the indulgences and sexual, social mores of the time, and then his lasting affair with the married Clodia, whom he would immortalise in his poetry. While Catullus and Clodia made love in the shadows, the whole of Italy was quaking as Caesar, Pompey and Crassus forged a doomed allegiance. When the older Clodia in turn betrayed Catullus for another man, the result was his greatest work, Poem 64: the wonderful, mythical tale of a sorrowful marriage and a lover’s desertion, told through a picture on a bedspread. For a year Catullus turned his back on Rome, Italy and love. In his journey of escapism he encountered new geography, new cultures and at last an understanding that there was no escape, that yearning for the past, recent or ancient, is futile. Following a brush with the might of Caesar, and a cunning evasion, Catullus died, at the age of just thirty.

Drawing on his peerless poetry and turbulent circumstances, Daisy Dunn’s immediate narrative rediscovers Catullus the man, Rome’s most ‘modern’ poet – oscillating between the glorious past and the vivid, sensual present.

Reviews of Catullus’ Bedspread

An amazing mixture of pacey biography and first-rate literary analysis. Rome’s most famous bad boy poet comes alive as never before. Stunning’ – Boris Johnson

‘For those of us who love counting stars none burns brighter in the literary firmament than that of Gaius Valerius Catullus – Daisy Dunn’s brilliant new biography of the Roman master shines beams of light on his darkly passionate poetry’ – Professor Paul Cartledge

‘Lyrical, playful and startlingly original…Breathes extraordinary new life into the classical world. An unforgettable journey into the high art and low life of ancient Rome’ – Dan Jones

Simultaneously imaginative and learned, Daisy Dunn has written the perfect introduction to Catullus and his world’ – Tom Holland

‘A haunting reminder of how little humanity has changed over two thousand years and a moving introduction to the greatest love poet of all time’ – Robert Harris

‘A superlative translation…Dunn’s beautifully written biography is a superb portrait of this most human of poets who leaps to life, hating and loving as ferociously as ever, before our 21st-century eyes’ – The Sunday Times (full review)

‘This is a triumph of modern classical scholarship made accessible through lucid writing’ – The Independent (full review)

‘Dunn is an appreciative and observant guide, pointing to continuities in the landscape and teasing out ancient allusions…Not since Nicola Shulman’s ‘Graven with Diamonds’ has literary criticism seemed so thrilling. An imaginative, enriching and quick-witted book reminds us that Catullus is a poet for all time’ –  Standpoint (full review)

‘The task of piecing together a biography from verse alone is one that Daisy Dunn performs with admirable creativity and diligence’ – The Times (full review)

‘A lively, finely crafted biography…Dunn skilfully avoids the pitfalls of obscurity or glibness, weaving well-researched social history with a compelling account of political machinations in Rome’ – The Observer (full review)

‘Dunn writes beautifully and clearly adores her subject. She deserves plaudits for bringing this fine poet and his tumultuous times so vividly to life’ – Daily Mail (full review)

‘Step forward young classicist and art historian Daisy Dunn to imaginatively revive this most accessible of Roman poets…Dunn is an intelligent and often original interpreter of the poetry and provides clear, direct and readable translations’   Financial Times

‘A biography of Catullus is a bold undertaking…she has brought it off admirably. Daisy Dunn has very skilfully fashioned a full and persuasive biography from meagre records. Dunn has translated and analysed [the poems] acutely. Any reader of Catullus will want to have this book’ – Allan Massie, Literary Review

‘Enjoyable and diligently researched…Dunn’s undoubted strength is as a sure-footed and elegant literary critic, particularly when it comes to poem 64, the scintillating mini-epic (Dunn’s own deft version is included as an appendix; and she has translated, with bright-eyed intelligence, all the poems in another volume.)…Catullus’ Bedspread is richly woven, and Dunn’s deep passion for her subject is patent’ – The Spectator

‘Dunn knows Catullus’s work inside out and skilfully interweaves an impressive number of his surviving 117 poems into her text…Both The Poems of Catullus and Catullus’ Bedspread represent a rollicking good read for all’ – New Statesman

‘A wonderfully vivid biography’ – The Week

‘Hugely enjoyable…Daisy Dunn lifts the lid on an era and world that remains engrossing two millennia on’ – The Catholic Herald

‘The narrative is fresh, pacy, well-structured and incredibly well-researched…She adores this ancient verse-maker, and now, since reading her first books – published concurrently – so do I’ – Erotic Review (full review)

‘This is a rewarding, idiosyncratic book…Catullus would certainly applaud’ – Country Life

‘Wonderfully lucid and original book, Dunn has brought both the man and his world into sharp, colourful focus’ – Surrey Life

‘Check out: sexy old Catullus in Daisy Dunn’s inspired new translation of the Roman poet’s work’ – From Simon Barnes’s column in The Sunday Times

The Wall Street Journal picks Catullus’ Bedspread as a summer read:

‘Dunn’s work is sure to entice intrigued readers to her worthy subject…Extracting insights about Catullus’ life from his poems, she places him expertly in his time and place…Dunn’s exploration provides fascinating nuggets of knowledge, social history, and poetry’  – Publishers Weekly, US

‘Delves deep into the ancient Roman cultural and political climate in which the poet Gaius Valerius Catullus crafted his erotic poems. . . Well-researched. . . . The author skillfully pieces together an uncensored portrait of her subject’ – Library Journal, US

‘An appreciative, informed biography of Rome’s first lyric poet. . . . A fresh, knowledgeable introduction to life, love, war, and rivalries in ancient Rome’ – Kirkus Reviews, US

‘An excellent introduction to a fabulous, scurrilous poet…Classicist Daisy Dunn presents a lucid and provoking interpretation of one of Ancient Rome’s most fascinating and enduring literary figures’ – Shelf Awareness, US

‘Dunn weaves her three main sources of material into a cohesive, well-written, and entertaining story that succeeds in its main goal of stimulating interest in her subject. There are thorough notes for the curious, but her prose reads like skilled historical fiction and avoids the scent of the academy’ – The University Bookman, US

The American Scholar (US)