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Clodia/Lesbia

( 95 - ?44 BC)

Some of Catullus' most noted poems are addressed to or concerned with a woman he calls Lesbia. Although there is some uncertainty concerning her actual identity, the most common assumption is that she was Clodia, a member of the aristocratic Claudian family. She and her brother, the infamous Clodius, changed the spelling of their names to indicate that while they were indeed members of the Gens Claudiana, they were rebelling against the aristocratic life style which membership in a old established and respected family presumed.

Clodia was attractive, well educated, and married to Metellus, a wealthy patrician. None of these deterred her from a life style that was the topic of gossip at the baths and on the streets of Rome.

One of her many escapades involved one Marcus Caelius Rufus. Their relationship endured two years before Caelius broke away. Not one to be rejected, although she herself did not mind rejecting others, Clodia sought revenge. She alleged Caelius had robbed her and attempted to poison her. Caelius turned to Cicero to defend him. Cicero was not only the leading orator of the time, he also had a long running feud with Clodius, Clodia's brother. There were other orators who brought witness to speak on behalf of Caelius on some of the other charges. It was Cicero's task to refute the charges of theft and attempted poisoning. To do this, he felt witnesses and arguments were not sufficient; he needed to discredit Clodia, make her charges look like those of a thwarted lover which indeed she was. The defense, titled Pro Caelio is a most persuasive speech and Caelius was acquitted of the charges.

Excerpt from the Pro Caelio Ch. 13

Sunt autem duo crimina, auri et veneni; in quibus una atque eadem persona versatur. Aurum sumptum a Clodiâ, venenum quaesitum quod Clodiae daretur, ut dicitur. Omnia sunt alia non crimina sed maledicta, iurgi petulantis magis quam publicae quaestionis. 'adulter, impudicus, sequester' convicium est, non accusatio. Nullum est enim fundamentum horum criminum... Res est omnis in hâc causâ nobis, iudices, cum Clodiâ, muliere non solum nobili verum etiam notâ; de quâ ego nihil dicam nisi depellendi criminis causâ. [32] sed intellegis pro tuâ praestanti prudentiâ, Cn. Domiti, cum hâc solâ rem esse nobis... Quod quidem facerem vehementius, nisi intercederent mihi inimicitiae cum istius mulieris viro--fratrem volui dicere; semper hic erro. nunc agam modice nec longius progrediar quam me mea fides et causa ipsa coget: nec enim muliebris umquam inimicitias mihi gerendas putavi, praesertim cum eâ quam omnes semper amicam omnium potius quam cuiusquam inimicam putaverunt.

After reviewing the Latin, now look at the English next to the Latin so you can see a bit about Cicero's style at the same time as understanding how he plans to discredit Clodia.

However, there are two charges, one of gold and one of poison, in which one and the same person is involved. The gold taken from Clodia, the poison sought that it might be given to Clodia, so it is said. All the other (statements) are not charges, but curses of a petulant quarrel rather than a public investigation. Adulterer, swindler, procurer is an outcry not an accusation. There is no foundation of these charges; ... The whole thing (business) in this cause for us, O Judges, is with Clodia, a woman not only of noble (birth) but also truly notorious. (Here Cicero takes the high road) About her I will say nothing unless for the sake of repelling a charge. (32) But you realized with (pro) your outstanding wisdom, Gnaius Domitius, that the case (rem) is for us with her alone. ...(Cicero has to make the case here that he is allowed to defame a Roman matron of noble birth-something many will find ignoble)...Indeed I might make (my case) more vehemently unless my enmity with that husband, I wish (mean) to say brother, I always make this mistake, might intercede. (reference here to a rumored illicit relationship between Clodia and Clodius). Now I will go on with moderation and I will proceed no further than my duty and the cause itself compels me; for never have I thought that the quarrels of (any) woman must be waged by me (good gerund construction here), especially with one (ea) whom all (consider to be) always a friend of all rather than an enemy of anyone.

In speaking of these charges, gentlemen of the jury, my concern is wholly with Clodia, a lady who possesses not only nobility of birth but also a certain notoriety. However, I shall say nothing about her except in connection with the charges against my client. I should be more energetic and forceful in speaking about Clodia, but I do not wish to seem influenced by my political dispute with her husband- I mean her brother of course (I'm always making that mistake). I shall speak in moderate language, and will go no further than I am obliged by my duty to my client and the facts of the case; for I have never felt it right to argue with a woman, especially with one who has always been regarded not as any man's enemy but as every man's friend... I shall name no names, but suppose there were a woman, unmarried, blatantly living the life of a harlot both here in the city and in the public gaze of the crowded resort of Baiae, flaunting her behavior not only by her attitude and her appearance, not only by her passionate glances and her insolent tongue, but by lustful embraces, drinking sessions, and beach parties, so that she seemed to be not merely a harlot, but a harlot of the lewdest and most lascivious description... suppose that a young man, like my client, were to associate with such a woman; do you seriously claim that he would be seducing an innocent victim?... I was present, gentlemen and indeed it was perhaps the saddest and bitterest occasion of my whole life, when Quintus Metellus, who only two day previously had been playing a leading part in the political life of our city, a man in the prime of his years, in the best of health and at the peak of his physical strength, was violently, suddenly, shockingly taken from us. How can the woman, who comes from that house of crime, now dare to speak in court about the rapid effects of poison?

Caelius was acquitted; Clodia's fate is unknown; Clodius was murdered by associates of Milo at Aricia on the Appian Way, on 18 January 52 BCE.


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