Catullus’s poems, particularly those addressed to Lesbia, provide the inspiration for this story of love that is anything but a love story. Catullus appears as a young man, steeped in poetry and scholarship. A chance meeting with Clodia (the real Lesbia according to Jaro and the majority of scholarly and fictional sources) dooms him to a painful intermittent love affair. The poetry, quoted throughout the text, moves from a tender portrait of the beloved’s grief over her dead sparrow to bitter accusations about her unbridled promiscuity. The narrative explains the shifts in feeling as the poet moves from favored lover to discarded outcast.
Catullus shows combative spirit through poems attacking Caesar or his lady love during periods of disillusionment. Weaving the plot around the poems was an imaginative premise, and this first book of Jaro’s series remains the most intriguing for that reason. The poet progresses from a country boy awed by a bedchamber with Cupid frescoes to an embittered lover consoling himself with the bought kisses of a talented slave boy.
The connection with Clodia brings the book to the center of Roman politics, since she had a husband high in conservative ranks as well as brother Clodius, the popular rabblerouser. Because Catullus is more interested in love than politics, he perceives her salon as a nest of potential rivals, including his friend Caelius who develops his own poisonous relationship with Clodia. Jaro’s ironic love story fits well against a background of Roman history and literature. Anyone interested in reading this recently completed trilogy should start with this one and continue through all three attractive matching paperbacks in this edition.