Text #9595"Clodia Metelli Quadrantaria", in .
Clodia (born Claudia, c. 95 BC or c. 94 BC), nicknamed Quadrantaria, and often referred to in scholarship as Clodia Metelli (“Clodia the wife of Metellus”), was one of three known daughters of the ancient Roman patrician Appius Claudius Pulcher and either Caecilia Metella Balearica, or her cousin, Caecilia Metella daughter of Lucius Caecilius Metellus Diadematus.
Of Appius’ three daughters, it is not certain whether Clodia was the eldest or the middle one. It is only known that she was not the youngest sister.
Clodia is not to be confused with her niece, Clodia Pulchra, who was briefly married to Octavian.
Like many other women of the Roman elite, Clodia was very well educated in Greek and Philosophy, with a special talent for writing poetry. Her life, immortalized in the writings of Marcus Tullius Cicero and also, it is generally believed, in the poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus, was characterized by perpetual scandal.
Along with her brother Publius Clodius Pulcher, she changed her patrician name to Clodia, with a plebeian connotation.
Clodia was married to Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer, her first cousin, with whom she had a daughter Caecilia Metella. The marriage was not happy. Clodia had several affairs with married men (possibly including the poet, Catullus) and slaves, and become a notorious gambler and drinker. Arguments with Metellus Celer were constant, often in public. When he died in strange circumstances in 59 BC, Clodia was suspected of poisoning her husband.
As a widow, Clodia became known for taking several other lovers, including Marcus Caelius Rufus, Catullus’ friend. This particular affair caused an immense scandal. After the relationship with Caelius was over in 56 BC, Clodia publicly accused him of attempted poisoning. The accusation led to a murder charge and trial. Caelius’ defense advocate was Cicero, who took a harsh approach against her, recorded in his speech Pro Caelio. Cicero had a personal interest in the case, as Clodia’s brother Clodius was Cicero’s most bitter political enemy. Cicero accused Clodia of being a seducer and a drunkard in Rome and in Baiae, and alluded to the persistent rumors of an incestuous relationship with Clodius. Cicero stated that he “would [attack Caelius’ accusers] still more vigorously, if I had not a quarrel with that woman’s [Clodia’s] husband—brother, I meant to say; I am always making this mistake. At present I will proceed with moderation … for I have never thought it my duty to engage in quarrels with any woman, especially with one whom all men have always considered everybody’s friend rather than any one’s enemy.” He declared her a disgrace to her family and nicknamed Clodia the Medea of the Palatine. Cicero’s own marriage to Terentia suffered from Terentia’s persistent suspicions that Cicero was conducting an illicit affair with Clodia.
Caelius was found not guilty, and after the trial little or possibly nothing is heard of Clodia, and the date of her death is uncertain. Cicero refers to a Clodia in 44 BC, but the lack of female personal names (praenomina) in Latin makes it difficult to specify whether this refers to the infamous Clodia or a sister.
The poet Catullus wrote several love poems about a frequently unfaithful woman he called Lesbia, identified in the mid-second century AD by the writer Apuleius (Apologia 10) as a “Clodia”. This practice of replacing actual names with ones of identical metrical value was frequent in Latin poetry of that era. In modern times, the resulting identification of Lesbia with Clodia Metelli, based largely on her portrayal by Cicero, is usually treated as accepted fact, despite occasional challenges. The predominant view, however, identifies Clodia with Lesbia primarily on the basis of Catullus 79.1-2
Lesbius is beautiful. Why not? And Lesbia prefers him to you and your whole tribe, Catullus. But let this beautiful man sell Catullus along with his tribe if he finds three kisses from people he knows.
“Pulcher”, the Latin word for “beautiful”, is also the cognomen of Clodia’s brother, Publius Clodius Pulcher. This is the only one of Catullus’ poems in which a character named “Lesbius”, the masculine form of the name, appears and Lesbia is present in close proximity. Accusations of incest (as here) against the brother and sister also appear in Cicero. Reading Publius Clodius Pulcher for “Lesbius” makes one element of the poem a pun on his name and another a reminder of one of the political attacks Cicero aimed at P. Clodius Pulcher.
Cicero’s defence speeches: Pro Caelio
W.J. Tatum, The Patrician Tribune. Publius Clodius Pulcher, Chapel Hill 1999.
Suzanne Dixon, Reading Roman Women (London: Duckworth, 2001), 133–156 (chapter 9, “The Allure of ‘La Dolce Vita’ in Ancient Rome”).
Billows, Richard A. (2009). Julius Caesar: The Colossus of Rome. Routledge.
Wiseman, T. P.: “Catullus and His World: A Reappraisal”.(1987)
T. P. Wiseman, Celer and Nepos, The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 21, No. 1 (May, 1971), pp. 180-182