Clodia Pulchra (wife of Metellus)

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Clodia Pulchra
Clodia Metelli.jpg

Clodia (born Claudia, c. 95 or 94 BC),[1] nicknamed Quadrantaria, and occasionally referred to in scholarship as Clodia Metelli ("Clodia the wife of Metellus"),[i] 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.[2]

Like many other women of the Roman elite, Clodia was very well educated in Greek and Philosophy, with a special talent for writing poetry.[3] 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.[4]


Early life[edit]

She was a daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher. She had three brothers: Appius Claudius Pulcher (consul in 54 BC), Gaius Claudius Pulcher (praetor in 56 BC), and Publius Clodius Pulcher (tribune of the plebs in 58 BC); and four sisters, the younger two of whom were married to Quintus Marcius Rex and Lucullus respectively. It is not certain whether Clodia was the eldest or a middle daughter, it is only known that she was not the youngest sister. Along with her brother Clodius, 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 became a notorious gambler[citation needed] and drinker.[citation needed] 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's 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."[5] 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.[citation needed]

Caelius was found not guilty, and after the trial no definite reference is heard of Clodia, and the date of her death is unknown. Cicero refers to a Clodia in 44 BC,[6] 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.

Identification with Lesbia[edit]

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.[7]

The predominant view, however, identifies Clodia with Lesbia primarily on the basis of Catullus 79.1-2:[8]

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" (see line 1 above), 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.[9] 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.

Cultural depictions[edit]

  • Clodia makes several appearances in the Roma Sub Rosa series of historical mystery novels by the American author Steven Saylor.
  • Clodia plays a significant role in several books of the SPQR series by John Maddox Roberts.
  • Clodia also plays a significant role in the novel Lustrum (Conspirata in the US) by Robert Harris, the second book in a trilogy about the life of Cicero. She makes a final appearance in the third book, Dictator, where Cicero shames her into obscurity as retribution for her actions against his wife, Terentia.
  • Clodia is a central character in the novel Clodia by Robert DeMaria.
  • Clodia plays a role in the Ides of March, an epistolary novel by Thornton Wilder covering the events leading to the assassination of Julius Caesar. The author describes Clodia's relationship with Catullus and suggests that Clodia's scandalous lifestyle is inspired by anger at the perceived hypocrisy of her upbringing and by being abused as a child.
  • Historical Consultant Jonathan Stamp of the HBO/BBC series Rome identifies Clodia as the primary basis for the character of Atia of the Julii as little detail is known of the historical Atia Balba Caesonia.[10]
  • Clodia and Catullus are the main characters in Counting the Stars, a novel by Helen Dunmore.

Family tree[edit]

ignota (2)
married c. 138
Ap. Claudius Pulcher
cos. 143, cens. 136
(c. 186-130)
(1) Antistia
married c. 164
born c. 163
born c. 161
Ap. Pulcher
(c. 159–135/1)
born c. 157
Q. Philippus
mint IIIvir c. 129
born 160s, married c. 143
C. Pulcher
(c. 136–92)
cos. 92
Ap. Pulcher
(c. 130–76)
cos. 79
(died c. 89 BC)
xL. Philippus
(c. 141–c. 74)
cos. 91
Q. Philippus
(c. 143–c. 105)
maior et
(born 100–99)
Claudia Tertia
Q. Regis
(born c. 98)
Ap. Pulcher
cos. 54, augur,
cens. 50
C. Pulcher
(96–c. 30s)
pr. 56
Claudia Quarta
Q. Metelli Celeris
(born c. 94)
P. Clodius Pulcher
tr. pl. 58
Claudia Quinta
L. Luculli
(born 92/90)
M. Bruti
C. Caesaris
(born c. 56)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As daughters of Appius Claudius Pulcher, Clodia and her sisters would normally have been referred to as Claudia or Claudia Pulchra; additional names being used when necessary to distinguish between the three. Clodia affected the "plebeian" spelling of her name, which her brother, Publius Clodius Pulcher, had assumed after arranging for his adoption into a plebeian family, so that he could be elected tribune of the plebs. Nearly all scholarship refers to her simply as Clodia. Occasionally she is referred to as Clodia Metelli, meaning "Clodia, (the wife) of Metellus"; but this style is potentially misleading, since Metelli was never part of her name; Roman women did not change their names or acquire new surnames when they married.


  1. ^ Schwabe, Ludwig. Quaestiones Catullianae (Gissae, 1862), 59.
  2. ^ T. P. Wiseman, Celer and Nepos, The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 21, No. 1 (May, 1971), pp. 180-182
  3. ^ Wiseman, T. P.: "Catullus and His World: A Reappraisal".(1987)
  4. ^ Billows, Richard A. (2009). Julius Caesar: The Colossus of Rome. Routledge. pp. 178, 202, 203. ISBN 0415333148.
  5. ^ Cicero Pro Cael. 13,32 translation C.D. Yonge
  6. ^ Cicero ad Att. 14.8.1
  7. ^ Suzanne Dixon, Reading Roman Women (London: Duckworth, 2001), 133–156 (chapter 9, "The Allure of 'La Dolce Vita' in Ancient Rome").
  8. ^ Garrison, Daniel. The Student's Catullus (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), 154. Other affinities exist, though, and major reference works on the classical world admit the identification. cf. Hornblower, Simon, ed. The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 350; Cancik, Hubert, ed. Der Neue Pauly (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1996), s.v. "Clodia".
  9. ^ Cic. Cael. 30-8, e.g., though elsewhere in the speech itself, as well as the corpus.
  10. ^ [1]

Further reading[edit]