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Catullus’ Bedspread by Daisy Dunn review – ancient Rome’s most erotic poet uncovered

A finely crafted biography of the poet and libertine fascinates without being titillating

The subtitle of Daisy Dunn’s first book – “the life of Rome’s most erotic poet” – may prove something of a letdown for the dirty mac brigade. Aficionados of lively, finely crafted biography, however, are well served.

Dunn acknowledges that independent evidence of Catullus’s life in the last century BC is all but nonexistent, leaving the poetry – assumed to be autobiographical –as the chief source of illumination. She skilfully avoids the pitfalls of obscurity or glibness, and the central thread of Catullus’s great love for the married Clodia Metelli, the “Lesbia” of his poems, is both haunting and fascinating. Weaving well-researched social history with a compelling account of political machinations in Rome, the picture here is not just of a libertine prone to writing of his obscene desires, but a soulful man at the heart of a remarkable age.

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