THE KEY by Benita Kane Jaro

THE KEY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A convincingly imagined, well-researched first novel on the life and times of the Roman poet Catullus. Catullus! That fool for love! After his death in 54 B.C., his story is told by his best friend, patrician Roman lawyer Marcus Caelius Rufus. Catullus was born way out in the sticks, in Verona, in 84 B.C.; when he and Caelius, both from good families, met in Rome, they were supposed to be students. But Catullus already had a taste for nightlife of the hard-drinking, slumming variety, and pulled Caelius along with him. On one of their expeditions, they met the brother of the beautiful Clodia, who was to become the famous Lesbia of Catullus' lyrical love poetry. Clodia was married to a wealthy Roman, and some years older than Catullus, but they began a long affair that changed Catullus' life, inspiring him to write his greatest poetry. Unfortunately, though, Clodia refused to marry him after her husband died; in fact, she took on other lovers (among them, his guilty secret, Caelius himself). But Catullus refused to give her up, risking severe beatings by her patrician friends as he continued to pursue her, finally standing by her after a downturn in her fortunes brought her to the edge of ruin. She could never love Catullus the way he did her, but he died--in part through pneumonia caught caring for her in slovenly surroundings--aglow with his romantic love for her, and for love itself. History in a minor key, but an inspiring, near-Byronesque portrait of Catullus.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1988
Publisher: Dodd, Mead