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.
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.
Clodia was married to Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer, her first cousin, with whom she had a daughter Caecilia Metella. The marriage was not a happy one. Clodia engaged in several affairs with married men (possibly including the poet, Catullus) and slaves, becoming at the same time a notorious gambler and drinker. Arguments with Metellus Celer were constant, often in public situations. 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 would cause 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.
Identification with Lesbia
The poet Catullus wrote several love poems concerning 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 not uncommon 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. A recent article by the Roman historian Suzanne Dixon argues against not only the Lesbia/Clodia identification but also the notion that 'Lesbia' refers to a historical woman at all.
Lesbius est pulcher. Quid ni? Quem Lesbia malit
quam te cum tota gente, Catulle, tua.
Sed tamen hic pulcher vendat cum gente Catullum
si tria notorum suavia reppererit.
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. 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.
Clodia in popular culture
- 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 (of a proposed trilogy) about the life of Cicero.
- 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. Little detail is known of the historical Atia Balba Caesonia.
- Clodia makes an appearance in Visceral Games 2010 title Dante's Inferno (video game). She is portrayed as a Damned Soul in the third circle of Hell, Gluttony, and the player may choose to Absolve or Punish her soul. She is described as: "A soul filled with grime and smut. The notorious gambler, seducer and drunkard of Rome, left a repulsive trail of rot in her wake."
- Schwabe, Ludwig. Quaestiones Catullianae (Gissae, 1862), 59.
- T. P. Wiseman, Celer and Nepos, The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 21, No. 1 (May, 1971), pp. 180-182
- Cicero Pro Cael. 13,32 translation C.D. Yonge
- Cicero ad Att. 14.8.1
- Suzanne Dixon, Reading Roman Women (London: Duckworth, 2001), 133–156 (chapter 9, "The Allure of 'La Dolce Vita' in Ancient Rome").
- 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 (Stuggart: Metzler, 1996), s.v. "Clodia".
- Cic. Cael. 30-8, e.g., though elsewhere in the speech itself, as well as the corpus.
- Christian Settipani. Continuité gentilice et continuité sénatoriale dans les familles sénatoriales romaines à l'époque impériale, 2000
- Manuel Dejante Pinto de Magalhães Arnao Metello and João Carlos Metello de Nápoles, "Metellos de Portugal, Brasil e Roma", Torres Novas, 1998