Is It 52 BCE Yet? Catullus and Cicero Love Clodius Pulcher

Of late, there is a twitter presence bringing to the world the ravings of the Late Republican Tribune Publius Clodius [né Claudius] Pulcher.  He was an active participant in the political life of the Republic’s last generation—many critics have seen him as merely a partisan of Caesar (and Crassus), though my good friend from undergrad saw Clodius’ use of mob politics as the work of an independent agent.

(The twitter feed is pretty good on the historical details; this tweeting Clodius also has a pathological obsession with Cicero). Clodius manipulated the rules of traditional Roman politics—he had himself adopted into a different family so that he could be Tribune of the Plebs.

He is most well-known to us from the works of Cicero. He opposed old Marcus during the Catalinarian conspiracy. The most scandalous moment of their sparring was the so-called Bona Dea scandal (Clodius was accused of disguising himself as a woman and entering rites forbidden to men). Cicero prosecuted; Crassus bribed the jury.  That was in 61 BCE—Clodius was active until his death in 52 at the hands of a mob allegedly controlled by Titus Annius Milo Papianus. Cicero was supposed to defend Milo from the charge, but he was frightened by Pompey’s armed guards in the forum.

Oh, Clodius also got Cicero exiled, his property confiscated and his house burned. Apart from muscular mob violence and tribunate legislation, Clodius was also popularly known as a sister-lover:

Catullus, Carmina 79

“Lesbius is fine. Why shouldn’t he be? Lesbia prefers him
To you, Catullus, and your whole family.
But let this fine boy sell Catullus and his clan
If he can summon even three acquaintances to kiss.”

Lesbius est pulcher. quid ni? quem Lesbia malit
quam te cum tota gente, Catulle, tua.
sed tamen hic pulcher vendat cum gente Catullum,
si tria natorum suavia reppererit.


Cicero, Against Piso 28

“But that friend of yours was still doing something: he was safeguarding the authority of the noblest man. But he was himself a wretch, a gladiator, although he was fighting against a criminal and gladiator as his equal. But you, in truth a pious and devoted man, hesitated to transgress the treaty you made in my blood over the agreement of the provinces. For that criminal, the adulterer with his own sister, made this deal on his own: a province for you, an army for him—if he gave to you the funds ripped out of the vital organs of the state, you would offer yourself as his aid and comrade in every kind of crime!”

[28] sed ille tamen agebat aliquid; tuebatur auctoritatem summi viri. erat ipse sceleratus, erat gladiator, cum scelerato tamen et cum pari gladiatore pugnabat. tu scilicet homo religiosus et sanctus foedus quod meo sanguine in pactione provinciarum iceras frangere noluisti. caverat enim sibi ille sororius adulter ut, si tibi provinciam, si exercitum, si pecuniam ereptam ex rei publicae visceribus dedisset, omnium suorum scelerum socium te adiutoremque praeberes.

4 thoughts on “Is It 52 BCE Yet? Catullus and Cicero Love Clodius Pulcher

  1. Hey, don’t forget-when Clodius died, his supporters rioted and burned the Senate to the ground. Which was the pretext Pompey used to bring in the army. I would love so dearly to see his own version of the events Cicero describes. 🙂

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