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The Key by Benita Kane Jaro

The Key (edition 2002)

by Benita Kane Jaro

Series: The Key (1)

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282568,090 (3.2)None
Title:The Key
Authors:Benita Kane Jaro
Info:Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers (2002), Paperback, 207 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:historical fiction, catullus, rome

Work details

The Key by Benita Kane Jaro



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Intense, intense, intense! I was enthralled by this novel of the life of Catullus, the Roman lyric poet during the ten years he lived in Rome. Immediately upon closing the book in 2014 I reread it.

My December 2016 rereading really brought home the artificiality and purpleness of the prose, which really had impressed me the first time, but is annoying this time. This is one of the few times I have downgraded a book.

After the poet's sad life of barely thirty years, his good friend Marcus Caelius Rufus conveys the corpse to its burial. Catullus's father [the Old Man] journeys out from Verona, visits Caelius, and asks, "Explain my son to me" after giving Caelius a box of mementos and writings--poems, notes, letters. The novel jumps back and forth in time [54 BC--in the novel the present] to Caelius's memories through those years, the most important event being Catullus's passionate love affair with Clodia Metelli. As she is a high-born lady and he doesn't want to compromise her reputation, he calls her Lesbia'.

Some of his poetry is inserted into the text, each poem having to do with some incident in the story. We see how Catullus has poured his heart's blood into these poems; 'Lesbia' has played viciously with his emotions; Catullus has swung from euphoria to despair because of this unrequited love.

"Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris?
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior."
[I hate and I love. Perhaps you ask why I do this?
I do not know, but I feel it happen and I am torn apart.]
Poem #85

In his 'crossroads and alleyways' poem, #58, he admits to himself what a slut she is. Even so...
The author tells us in her Notes its ambiguity is the key --i.e., catalyst, to her conception of the story.

Through the descriptions of Rome -- the mansions on the Hills to the seedy taverns and the Subura to the mystery rites of the goddess Cybele -- I felt myself to be an onlooker of the events. The characters were not saints, by any means; I loathed Clodia, the femme fatale. As one character, an actor named Xanthius, describing Clodia: "Now I know how to play Circe." Catullus was completely obsessed with the woman; we might even call him a "stalker" in our day. Yes, there was sex in this novel owing to the subject, but as it was written a generation ago, I felt it was not as blatant or vulgar as much of today's writings. Also, for that time, although graphic, it was not tasteless.

In my December 2016 rereading I still felt it wasn't tasteless, but it got repetitious and boring. The author should have used such descriptions more sparsely

The last few pages were poignant. I will never again listen to Orff's Catulli Carmina without thinking of this novel. On rereading, I've marked each poem in the novel with the number in Catullus's own poems and am fascinated with how the author worked them into the story, especially as they were out of order. ( )
1 vote janerawoof | Oct 16, 2014 |
I understand what Jaro was doing with this book--fleshing out her theory of the trajectory of Catullus' relationships with Clodia and Marcus Caelius Rufus and how they relate to his poetry--but I really did not enjoy reading it. She has some interesting theories on the kinds of people they were and on the origins of some of the poems (e.g. the glubit in the crossroads poem as a final frustration with Clodia's constantly being with other men). But that alone a good book does not make. There is way too much "in the head" reflection, and a lot of it is repeated over and over again--I found myself skimming whole paragraphs and pages because I already knew what it was saying and I just wanted to get to the dialogue that actually moved the story along. There are also no characters to like (including Catullus himself). I guess I am glad I read it for the provocative ideas it will make me think about, but I did not enjoy it and I will not read it again or recommend it to others. ( )
  saholc | Sep 2, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0865165343, Paperback)

The first volume of a dazzling trilogy, THE KEY shows a world on the verge of collapse through the eyes of its greatest and most passionate poet. Gaius Valerius Catullus, the boy from the provinces who became the lover of the most powerful and beautiful married woman in Rome, is dead at twenty-nine. His friend Marcus Caelius Rufus must search for the meaning of his life in the slums and bloody secret cults, the palaces and law courts of the tottering Roman Republic. Vivid, exciting, carefully researched and beautifully written, THE KEY has been a cult favorite in hardbound for years.

Jaro inserts English translations of and comments on Catullus' poems into the text of her novel, The Key. The following table shows the page in The Key where the poem is located as well as the number of the poem in the Catullan corpus.

Special Features


Written with the most scrupulous attention to historical accuracy

Contains some 40 poems of Catullus', in acclaimed translations by the author. Some have appeared in the recent anthology CATULLUS IN ENGLISH, and the author's original interpretation of the most important of them, poem 58, has influenced contemporary approaches to that work

May be read independently as a single novel, or as the first volume of the trilogy THE KEY, THE LOCK, THE DOOR IN THE WALL

Features maps of Rome and the Empire, specially drawn for the novel

Includes reader-friendly list of Principal Characters and a Chronology of Events in the novel

Also available:

The Lock - ISBN 0865165351
The Door in the Wall - ISBN 0865165335

For over 30 years Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers has produced the highest quality Latin and ancient Greek books. From Dr. Seuss books in Latin to Plato's Apology, Bolchazy-Carducci's titles help readers learn about ancient Rome and Greece; the Latin and ancient Greek languages are alive and well with titles like Cicero's De Amicitia and Kaegi's Greek Grammar. We also feature a line of contemporary eastern European and WWII books.

Some of the areas we publish in include:

Selections From The Aeneid
Latin Grammar & Pronunciation
Greek Grammar & Pronunciation
Texts Supporting Wheelock's Latin
Classical author workbooks: Vergil, Ovid, Horace, Catullus, Cicero
Vocabulary Cards For AP Selections: Vergil, Ovid, Catullus, Horace
Greek Mythology
Greek Lexicon
Slovak Culture And History

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:27 -0400)

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