Counting the Stars
Ancient Rome in the late Republic was an unsettled place: violence, corruption and murder were a tangible part of the brutal world empire where politics were power. It is in these extraordinary times and during one long hot summer that Helen Dunmore has set her latest novel.
The book focuses on the poet Catullus and his intense and tormented relationship with his older mistress, beautiful and unscrupulous Clodia, wife to the rich patrician, Metellus Celer and sister to the notorious Clodius Pulcher. It is the most documented and candid love story ever known to history.
The author has written a prose anthem on first century BC Roman society at the very apex of its glory and prosperity. The political events that make this period so fascinating are used only as the backdrop to Catallus’s obsession with his poetic ‘Lesbia’. At the beginnings of Empire, when he finally breaks with his dark muse and travels to the east, he is emotionally and financially drained.
The tale evokes an atmosphere of riches lightly balanced with sordidness and iniquity and mixed with a thesaurus of poisons, but the passions which should burn the pages with lust and rhetoric are confined to a low pitch which seldom leaves the level of domestic routine.
Witty Catullus, whose lyric poetry is the most versatile and rich in style, and his love songs, the finest in antiquity, is here given less than his full worth.