Charlotte and Clodia: Clues for Troubled Blood? Beatrice Groves Thinks So

Oxford’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, returns to HogwartsProfessor today to offer thoughts in the run-up to publication of Troubled Blood on the importance of the poet Catullus and his love for Lesbia in understanding Strike’s relationship with Charlotte Campbell-Ross. Enjoy!

After my first post about Strike’s use of the Roman poet Catullus, Joanne Gray pointed out a major Catullan clue I had missed. This post is dedicated to her find!

Joanne Gray’s comment ran:

Another reason I thought the clue JKR was giving to readers with poem #85, was a clue about Cormoran and Charlotte is because she not only had already linked Catullus with Cormoran but she also slipped in a link to Charlotte and Catullus as well.

In The Silkworm, in chapter 42, Charlotte Campbell is linked to Catullus when her email name/address is given as The link is in the name Clodia which is the real life name of Clodia Pulchra, the person behind Catullus’ muse Lesbia, who Catullus is addressing in poem #85.

I think this means that Charlotte will definitely be reappearing in Lethal White.

Since there is so much foreshadowing in the first book about the fierce revenge that Charlotte always exacts on people who wrong her—it looks like she will be bringing some real fury in her return. (I confess I don’t have a clue what that will entail.) Since the real life Roman aristocratic, Clodia Pulchra, was suspected of poisoning her husband, it’s going to be interesting to see if Charlotte is still married or a widow in Lethal White.

This is a great spot, and Joanne certainly hit a bullseye in her guess that we’d be seeing more of Charlotte in Lethal White. On how right she was about Clodia and Charlotte, join me after the jump!

While it is not certain that Clodia Metelli (also known as Clodia Pulchra) is Catullus’s Lesbia, Apuleius, writing a few centuries later, reported that ‘Lesbia’ was a cryptonym for ‘Clodia.’ This (plebeian) spelling of Claudia belonged (among aristocrats) only to Clodia Metelli and her two sisters.1 Marilyn Skinner’s authoritative guide Clodia Metelli (2011) argues that she is not certain to be Catullus’s ‘Lesbia,’ but ‘remains the best candidate.’2 Peter Green (Rowling’s authority on Catullus), however, is even more confident about the traditional identification which – in addition to Apuleius’s testimony – has internal evidence to support it.

Clodia’s scapegrace brother P. Clodius Pulcher (with whom she was suspected of an incestuous relationship) appears to be the subject of the opening line of Catullus 79: ‘Lesbius est pulcher.’ This translates as ‘Lesbius is pretty’ but also appears to punningly solve its own cryptonym: ‘“Lesbius” is [P.Clodius] Pulcher.’ And perhaps that ‘pretty’ is likewise a nod to his most famous misdemeanour, when he scandalised Rome by disguising himself as a woman and breaking into the sacred women-only rites of the Bona Dea. (Bona Dea, the ‘Good Goddess,’ was the guardian of both female chastity and fertility and men were barred likewise from her mysteries and the possession of her true name). Green notes how, if as seems more than probable, ‘Lesbius’ in Catullus is a cryptonym for Clodius then:

Lesbia’ can be identified as one of the three Clodia sisters. Nor is it hard to decide which one. When Catullus’s affair with ‘Lesbia’ began, about 61, she was still living with her husband. The eldest Clodia’s husband died before 61; the youngest was divorced by L. Lucullus for adultery on his return from the East in 66/5. We are left with the most famous and notorious Clodia, scion of a blue-blooded family that had been consular for twelve generations, no less, and thus socially far superior to a provincial rentier whose family was in business. Clodia was the wife of her cousin… [who was] ‘dull and pompous’.3

(The identification of Charlotte with Clodia does not reflect well on her or Jago…) Despite some push-back against this traditional identification of Lesbia in the 1980s, it seems highly likely that it is correct; and even more likely that it is an identification that Rowling accepts.

Marilyn Skinner opens her book Clodia Metelli with a consideration of her subject’s somewhat lurid fame:

To fans of current historical novels, Clodia, the widow of Metellus Celer, is the epitome of Roman corruption. Rich, spiteful, and imperious, she drives talented poets to drink, frames ex-lovers on murder charges, and hosts deliciously louche dinner parties.4

Frames ex-lovers on murder charges’ – now, that’s a plot that leaps out for future Strike novels! One of the reasons that posterity has such a (perhaps unfairly) sensational understanding of Clodia is that, as Skinner explains:

Clodia had the misfortune to incur the dislike of two men who were fluent and inventive detractors. One was Rome’s most famous orator, M. Tullius Cicero, exiled in 58 BCE through the machinations of her brother Clodius. After being recalled the next year, Cicero found a splendid opportunity for payback when, in the speech known today as the Pro Caelio (“On Behalf of Caelius”), he came to the defense of his protégé M. Caelius Rufus. With Clodius’s covert backing, Caelius had been indicted on criminal charges of violence against the state and attempted murder. Clodia, as the chief prosecution witness, was to give evidence that the murder plot was financed by gold she had loaned to Caelius, who had in turn tried to poison her. To impeach her testimony, Cicero claimed that she had invented the entire story to revenge herself on the defendant, a former lover who had thrown her over. In the process, he painted a lurid picture of Clodia’s debauchery, asserting that she was a prostitute in all but name and hinting that, among other crimes, she herself had actually poisoned her husband and committed incest with her brother.5

Historical information about Clodia, therefore, is a little hard to come by, as it must be gleaned from the ‘mass of smears and innuendo’ that Cicero builds to discredit her evidence. But, poetically, it looks as though Catullus may have revelled in creating in his Lesbia ‘an intertextual elaboration of Cicero’s “Palatine Medea.”’6

In Silkworm (the novel in which Charlotte sends her wedding photo from the e-mail address ‘Clodia2’ [375]) the reader discovers how intertwined are Strike’s feelings for his favourite poet and his ex. But in Lethal White it becomes clear that the two are even more intimately bound than we might have expected: ‘in fact the story of his ability to read Latin wasn’t long, merely (to most people) inexplicable. He didn’t feel like telling it in the middle of the night, nor did he want to explain that Charlotte had studied Catullus at Oxford’ (Lethal White, 453). Catullus’s relationship with his muse – both famously passionate and famously fraught – works effectively as a parallel to Strike’s feelings for Charlotte. Catullus 8 laments that Lesbia is ‘that girl you loved as no one shall again be loved.’7 This echoes the way in which Strike believes he will never love again, as he loved Charlotte:

Look me in the eye and tell me you’ve loved anyone, since, like you loved me.’

No, I haven’t,’ he said, ‘and thank fuck for that.’

(Lethal White, 435).

Catullus 8 describes the speaker, like Strike at the beginning of the series, finally calling time on the relationship. Like Strike from that moment onwards, Catullus’s poems veer between yearning and execration. Catullus is drunk with desire for Lesbia – ‘Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,/ then a thousand more’ (5.7-8) – and then calls her a ‘wicked bitch’ (8.15).

It is possible that Rowling has given Charlotte Campbell a cratylic name – as the Campbells have had a somewhat antagonistic history with other clans (which I have written about here). Or this may be an example of Rowling putting in a ‘personal password’ – for, as I discuss in that post, Rowling has relatively recently discovered that her biological maternal great-grandfather was a Campbell. (She is quite happy to name less savoury characters after her relatives – see her striking choice to place her great-great-grandmother Salomé Volant on the Lestrange family tree The Rowling Library Magazine, issue 31 2019, pp.6-7). But whether or not her ‘real’ name is cratylic, the moniker Charlotte has chosen for herself (‘Clodia2’) certainly is.

Green describes Clodia/Lesbia as ‘a brilliant-eyed, dazzling femme fatale’ and Catullus’s relationship with her as an ‘intense, and (despite its brief moments of happiness) essentially ill-starred infatuation.’1 Both descriptions fit Charlotte like a glove. Skinner, likewise, writes that ‘Catullus’s dissembling Lesbia, who never gives us cause to think she speaks the truth’ (‘I am, I am a liar’ [Lethal White, 433]) links closely with Cicero’s portrait of a woman who courted ‘the brazen, self-serving lie.’2 Skinner stresses Clodia/Lesbia’s ‘duplicity,’3 which is likewise Charlotte’s defining characteristic: ‘the lies she told were woven into the fabric of her being, her life; so that to live with her and love her was to become slowly enmeshed by them, to wrestle her for the truth, to struggle to maintain a foothold on reality’ (Cuckoo’s Calling, 62). It seems clear that Rowling has drawn on Clodia Metelli – famed through Cicero’s defamatory depiction of her as well Catullus’s fictionalisation of her as ‘Lesbia’ – for her characterisation of Charlotte. Strike’s anti-heroine is, likewise, an irresistibly desirable woman, full of aristocratic distain, for whom lying is the very stuff of life.

The importance of Catullus so far means that Charlotte’s naming (and framing) as a second Clodia increases the likelihood of her continuing importance. Catullan poetry has both been quoted in its original language, and played a major role, in both the second and fourth novels of the series, so (following Hogwarts Professor’s identification of its chiastic form) my guess is that we’ll see this happening again in the sixth novel. Of the poems which Rowling has not yet used, Catullus 72 perhaps catches Strike’s situation most clearly – so maybe this is the next one we’ll see?

You told me once, Lesbia, that Catullus alone understood you,

That you wouldn’t choose to clasp Jupiter rather than me.

I loved you then…

Now, though, I know you. (72.1-3, 5).

Charlotte insists on the deep connection she has with Strike. She claims that only Strike understands her – in the wedding photo she intends for him, her eyes stare out at the viewer as if he ‘were the only one who might understand’ (Silkworm, 376). In the Latin this comprehension is syntactically ambiguous, Green annotates ‘is she supposed to have meant (as I take it) that only Catullus understood her, that only she understands Catullus, or even that either was the only person the other understood?’

Given the parallels in this poem between the hopes and the reality of being understood, and Strike’s final realisation about Charlotte’s duplicity, I was delighted to learn that the name of Charlotte’s lover (now husband) – Jago (as well as, interestingly, being a name of Cornish origin) – means ‘supplanter.’ This is not only how he stands in relation to Strike, but it also works rather well in relation to Catullus. The surprising idea that Lesbia might prefer Catullus to Jove is raised in poem 72 and also two poems earlier: ‘My woman declares there’s no one she’d sooner marry/ than me, not even were Jove himself to propose’ (70.1-2). Lesbia’s declaration of faith is undermined by her choice of an allusion to the infamously unfaithful Jove, in her promise of fidelity. Strike is deeply surprised, when he first meets Charlotte, that she might prefer him to Jago; although deeply wounded when she does, finally, accept Jago’s proposal. Jago ‘supplants’ Strike, and his name, again, means ‘supplanter’ – and Jove is likewise the most famous supplanter, as he usurped heaven’s throne from his father.

As mentioned above, I’m expecting Charlotte’s return in book six, rather than Troubled Blood (which will be the fifth book of the series), but it might be worth noting that – throughout the series – Charlotte both troubles Strike’s blood, and is troubled by her own.

Skinner writes of Lesbia/Clodia’s ‘aristocratic arrogance’ – and this popular image of her as ‘rich, spiteful, and imperious’11 captures the major thread of Charlotte’s personification. Rowling uses equine metaphors for Charlotte’s aristocratic hauteur, and Dave Polworth jokes that her attraction to Strike is due to a ‘nervy, overbred’ thoroughbred seeking out ‘carthorse blood’ (Silkworm, 89). The Strike series regularly uses such equine metaphors – Matthew ‘looked like a thoroughbred kept in a paddock of Highland ponies’ (Silkworm, 71) – culminating in the literal importance of horse breeding in Lethal White. (It is interesting to note in this regard – and with reference to the future importance of ‘blood’ – that the word Rowling utilised to express such ideas in the Wizarding World is a horse-breeding term: the first pureblood Thoroughbred was a stallion named Northumberland.’ 

Charlotte is a blue blood but she is also described (in every novel) as an infection in Strike’s blood. In the opening novel she is ‘a germ that had lingered in his blood’ (Cuckoo’s Calling, 323), she affects him like ‘a virus’ in Career of Evil (171) while in Lethal White Strike’s knowledge of her love for him is ‘like ineradicable bacteria in a wound that stopped it ever healing’ (459). In Silkworm the three parts of this image – blood, virus, indelibility – come together when Strike thinks of her as ‘a virus in his blood that he doubted he would ever eradicate’ (183). Silkworm is the novel which most clearly stresses the importance of Catullus for framing Strike’s feelings about Charlotte (in addition to the ‘Clodia2’ e-mail, see ‘Rowling and Catullus). It is also the novel which brings together Catullus with this idea of an infection in the blood. Strike quotes Catullus 77 which intimately depicts how his sexual jealous over Lesbia/Clodia’s new lover is ‘grim poison in my blood/ The plague, alas, of the friendship we once had’ (Silkworm, 401).

So, many thanks to Joanna Gray for pointing out Charlotte’s own framing of her relationship with Strike in Catullan terms – and looking forward to seeing where this takes us…

1 Skinner, Clodia Metelli, 131-32.

2 Marilyn Skinner, Clodia Metelli: A Tribune’s Sister (Oxford: OUP, 2011), 7.

3 The Poems of Catullus: A Bilingual Edition, trans. Peter Green (London: University of California Press, 2005), 294. See also: 6.

4 Skinner, Clodia Metelli, 2.

5 Skinner, Clodia Metelli, 3.

6 Skinner, Clodia Metelli, 136.

7 This is Peter Green’s translation, which I shall use throughout as it is the one Rowling is using.

8 The Poems of Catullus: A Bilingual Edition, trans. Peter Green (London: University of California Press, 2005), 7, 6.

9 Skinner, Clodia Metelli, 144.

10 Skinner, Clodia Metelli, 136.

11 Skinner, Clodia Metelli, 136, 2.


  1. Professor Groves,
    Thank you for the kind remarks and for posting these new, fascinating and detailed facts about the historical Clodia. As you stated, she was the source of Rowling’s inspiration for creating Charlotte, Cormoran’s own Lesbia.

    I also wondered if JK Rowling had been tempted to use Clodia’s possible criminal activity, especially in regards to poisoning her husband, for a story line in a future Strike book? Time will tell.

    I agree that book 6 would seem the most logical book to have the question answered: “Will Strike finally manage to break free of the virus that is Charlotte? Will he be cured at last of this addition that has so long plagued his life?”

    Finally, I do wonder if book 5, Troubled Blood, will actually have someone with a real virus (disease) of the blood—since the previous four books have had their book titles shown in literal form.
    Cuckoo’s Calling—the murder victim, Lula Landry, is nicknamed Cuckoo by Guy Some’ on a signed photo.
    Silkworm is the translation of the victim’s book’s title Bombyx Mori.
    Career of Evil is the first track on the third album by the killer’s favorite band—Blue Oyster Cult.
    Lethal White is the equine genetic defect that is portrayed in a famous painting that appears in the finale.
    Troubled Blood can clearly refer to troubled relations in Robin’s divorce but even more so to Strike’s eccentrically jumbled family. Although, it seems that Troubled Blood, like the other books in the series, would also feature a literal meaning of the title. Meaning that book 5 will have a character who is suffering from an actual disease of the blood.

  2. Beatrice Groves says

    Thank you Joanne – I’m glad you enjoyed the post and thank you again for pointing out to me your original spot!

    Rowling has created another blood curse a bit earlier, but still around the time she may have been mulling over Troubled Blood; as she has explained about Nagini in Crimes of Grindelwald: ‘a Maledictus is someone who carries a blood curse that, over time, turns them into a beast. They can’t stop it, they can’t turn back. They will lose themselves…they will become the beast with everything that implies.’ If Troubled Blood involves a literal disease of the blood – and, I agree with you, I think it will: as you say the titles have always been (to some extent, at least) literally, as well as metaphorically, true – then this will be another example of the way in which Fantastic Beasts and Strike, being created alongside each other, feed into each other. I have written two posts for Leaky Cauldron on these cross-overs (particularly about Strike and HP) – which were meant to be coming out today and tomorrow – but their server has gone down! Hopefully will be there tomorrow….!

  3. As I have mentioned serveral weeks ago on this site (I can’t find it but is was in conversation with ms Gray), I have worrying thoughts about the nature of the relation between Charlotte and Cormoran. I still cannot dismiss the idea that they may be, unknown to themselves, twins. Charlotte has mentioned that he is in her blood and bones, the reference to swans and Leda and her classical twins, the Clodia that sends her weddingphoto to Cormoran, the quotes of Catullus studied by Charlotte, Charlotte of Croy vs Helena (daughter of Leda) of Troy, the fact that their birthdays are only two days apart… All that combined must lead to something, surely?

  4. Bonni Crawford says

    Hi Beatrice,
    Many thanks for all your wonderful posts in the leadup to Troubled Blood publication! I see that Leaky Cauldron is back up and running now, but I can’t find your new posts on there. Do you know if they’re still going to be put up on Leaky? Sorry if you’ve answered this question elsewhere on here – I’m avoiding posts or comment threads with potential spoilers until I finish Troubled Blood!

  5. Beatrice Groves says

    Thank you Bonni! Yes, as you noticed, the server crashed at just the wrong moment, meaning that my posts couldn’t go up as ‘predictive’ blogs, as they would have had to come out after Troubled Blood. When I thought that I had used the Spenser-guessed-epigrams to accurately identify the murderer in advance that was, as you can imagine, frustrating; now I have finished TB and know that I was being led up a very niche garden path, it is less so! I decided when Leaky told me about the crash to wait and rewrite the blogs incorporating TB into their discussions of HP & Strike links and Spenser in TB. Two blogs on Spenser in TB will be coming out – probably Mon & Wed next week on Bathilda’s Notebook; and then I’ll think about the Leaky ones again – so probably they’ll come out later next week too, if they haven’t got too much of a backlog after the server shenanigans! But thanks again for keeping an eye out! When do you think you’re going to finish TB?

  6. Bonni Crawford says

    Just finished it! And even though I took my time and carefully considered the clues, along with the stuff at the start about biases and categorisation (“we invest certain categories of people with unearned goodness, ” as Robin put it) – which I took correctly to mean that the killer was a person in one of those categories – Rowling still managed to surprise me!
    I look forward to reading about the niche garden path Rowling laid with the Spenser connection!

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