Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin


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PART I -- Vae Victis1

It is in this light that we need to consider such poems of Catullus's as Theo- phrastus's Characters, so bubbling over with the minutiae of Athenian daily life and business, was written c. Gossip, dinner parties, love-affairs, literary rivalries, libellous feuilletons, passionate moments of self-dramatization: all are here.

It is one of Catullus's great skills to make his reader, almost without realizing it, an invisible eavesdropper on this intensely alive social picture of a mere two millennia ago.

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It was their older contemporary Cicero who described this group of young po- ets as "Neoterics" or vEufTEPOL, "the younger ones" or "the innovators" , or "the new poets" poetae noui. He did not mean the label as a compliment Grat.


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Clearly he thought of them as in some sense a school or a movement Lyne , In 50 he sent Atticus a parody of a N eoteric hexameter, with its heavy spondaic fifth foot see below, p. He also referred slightingly to these "praise-singers of Euphorion" for writing off Ennius.

Part 1 (1979–90)

Euphorion was a slightly later contemporary of Callimachus, with the same interest in recherche ma- terial and stylistic innovation affected obscurity included , who strongly influenced Catullus's friend Cinna, as the latter's epyllion Smyrna suggests Here was the Alexandrian answer to old-style epic, and Catullus's own Marriage of Peleus and Thetis It is worth noting that as far as genre and subject matter went, the Neoterics' Alexandrianism was largely confined to the epyllion, or mini-epic, and related forms Le. But the influence of Callimachus the one such Hellenistic mentor whom Catullus acknowledges by name in matters of style, diction, erudite allusiveness, and structure e.

In about 64, Cinna bought the Greek poet Parthenios of Nicaea, who had been captured and enslaved during the Third Mithridatic War, made him his family tu- tor, and freed him in honor of his formidable literary achievements. He subsequently became Virgil's Greek tutor [Macrob. Parthenios must have been a powerful influence on the group, though in what precise way is still debated.

Cer- tainly he was a Callimachean; he also owed something to Euphorion. Perhaps more important for our assessment of Catullus, he took a strong interest in something which left Callimachus himself completely cold Clausen , : the celebration of heterosexual love.

It is often claimed for Catullus that his intensely personal and uncomfortably acute cycle of poems on and to Lesbia are without precedent in the history of ancient literature. If we possessed Parthenios's three-book hexameter Encomium on his wife Arete as we do his prose summaries of a wide range of exotic love stories culled from past literature, the Erotika Pathe- mata , that judgment might well need modification.

The Lesbia cycle is a natural consequence, if not a direct product, of a steadily more self-regarding and psychologically analytical trend in ancient literature, which we can see developing as early as Euripides, and which acquires nearly pathological dimensions at times among the Alexandrians.

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A direct line runs from Phaedra and Medea to Lesbia; our trouble lies in lacking too many of the intervening links. This is not to deny for one moment Catullus's original brilliance, merely to try and set it in historical context. Those somewhat clumsy amatory epigrams-plainly Hellenis- tic in derivation-written a generation or two before the N eoterics by poetasters such as Lutatius Catulus consul in , or the lyric erotica of Laevius in a variety of me- tres, with sometimes bizarrely innovative diction , both reveal the on-going influence of Alexandria-exercised through anthologies of epigram such as the Garland of Me- leager no less than by Callimachus and his epigoni-and demonstrate, by contrast, the measure of Catullus's independent genius in transmuting such material.

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It is also surely not a coincidence that Catullus himself and a number of his ac- quaintances, Cinna, Cornelius Nepos, Furius, Valerius Cato among others, were like Virgil after them , though Roman citizens-and thus entitled to an equestrian or even a senatorial career-still natives of Cisalpine Gaul, "that remote, self-conscious, and highly developed province" Fordyce , xix in what is now northern Italy: a re- gion close enough to Rome to participate in its cultural traditions, yet distant enough to have its own native vocabulary and customs some of Catullus's words, most fa- mously barium for "a kiss," were Cisalpine imports , and to bring a robustly inde- pendent attitude to urban literary fashions.

Verona in particular, at the junction of two important trade routes, had grown to great prosperity, and had attracted an in- fusion of highly placed settlers from the south it is possible that Catullus's family was amongst them. Such immigrants were Janus-like: they looked north for wealth, south for political and social advancement Wiseman " ff. On Catullus's "sense that the responsibilities of family and com- munallife were matters to be taken seriously," see also Wiseman , But this independence also is in evidence when we look at the way Catullus and his Neoteric friends handled the Alexandrian, and more specifically the Calli- machean, tradition which they used to mark themselves off from the post-Ennian traditionalists.

The Greek hendecasyllabic line cf. Even in an erudite display of counter-epic principles such as Catullus still remains everywhere in debt to the phraseology, verbal usages, and stylistic habits such as alliteration of the tradition he is so aggressively reject- ing cf. Fordyce , xxi : what he concentrates on is the avoidance, at all costs, of long-windedness, heroic platitudes, and predictable mythic narrative. Homer as Cal- limachus had seen was supreme and inimitable; but the Homeric age had long ago vanished, and what had to be eradicated were the feeble and anachronistic efforts of Homer's latter-day imitators to revive it artificially.

The process of assimilation and recreation was a complex one, and I have here only touched on some of its salient points. To explore it further, and get a sense of an ancient literary movement in action, complete with feuds, manifestos, and polemic, the reader should turn to Catullus's own poems, in all their kaleidoscopic variety, aided by the material available in the glossary and explanatory notes.

Beyond these, again, lies the world of scholarship and literary theory, both of which have been busy with Catullus's slim volume of poetry at least since the Renaissance, and which I have made accessible, via the bibliography, to anyone eager to pursue this aspect of the Catullan phenomenon further.

Both Virgil and Horace show his influence again and again. Virgil picks up lines and uses them with only minimal changes: a nice example is Ariadne's dream of a happy marriage at Horace alludes contemptuously Sat. Our great predecessors, as T.


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Eliot well knew, help those who help themselves. The surest mark of familiarity is parody: someone up in the Province seized on 4. Ca- tullus's tribute to his cutter, and turned it into a very funny take-off Ps. By the first century C. Martial, whose ideal was to rank second after Catullus 7.

The double entendre is clear: was it borrowed? Cer- tainly Martial used Catullus as a precedent for outspokenness I epist By way of contrast, he imposed a stricter spondaic rule cf. Indeed the elder Pliny, in the dedicatory epistle of his Natural History to Vespasian, citing 1. This popularity was not to last.

It persisted'into the second century-it was, of course, Apuleius to whom we owe the identification of Lesbia as Clodia Metelli- but thereafter the evidence rapidly dries up. Even as early as Aulus Gellius's lifetime born c. Fordyce , ; Holford- Strevens , We are witnessing here the early stages of that disintegrating process so brilliantly described by Tom Stoppard in The Invention ofLove : [A]nyone with a secretary knows that what Catullus really wrote was already corrupt by the time it was copied twice, which was about the time of the first Roman invasion of Britain: and the earliest copy that has come down to u.

Napkin Poem: Reflactions

Think of all those secretaries! And there you have the foun- dation of the poems of Catullus as they went to the printer for the first time, in Venice years ago. There are occasional sightings during the Dark Ages. Catullus's epithalamium 62 shows up in a ninth century anthology, the Codex Thuaneus T , and thus be- comes our oldest surviving text. About the same time, there are echoes of Catullus in verses by a monk of Brescia, Hildemar.

A century later, in 96 , Bishop Rather of Verona refers to his perusal of the "previously unread Catullus" Fordyce , xxvi. It has been conjectured that this was the one manscript now known as V, the Codex Veronensis which, unknown for the next three hundred years, mysteriously and briefly, resurfaced c. A, too, was lost; but it was copied twice before van- ishing, and one of these copies, 0, the Codex Oxoniensis or "Oxford MS," made c. These copies-G, the Codex Sangermanensis of I37 , and R, the Codex Vaticanus Ottobonianus, also fourteenth century-survive, and with 0 form the basis of our modern texts.

Tand Vare close enough to posit a common source. Stoppard's rhetorical strictures are all too well justified; Goold I, II calculated that V contained atleast a thousand scribal er- rors. But he also pays an amply justified tribute to the "enthusiasm and genius" of Italian Renaissance scholarship, which eliminated nearly seven hundred of them. By today, as he says, "we are approaching the limit of what we can hope to accomplish" But as he admits, "in the matter of interpretation there is no end.

What we have, in our surviving manuscripts, is a rough categorization by metre and genre: a the "polymetrics," 1- 60; b the some- what mixed bag of the long poems Such an arrangement is characteristic of the methods employed by Hellenistic scholars in Alexandria; it also reminds us of the standard edition of the satirist Lucilius in an- tiquity Rudd I, 82 , similarly arranged by metre and also, as it happens, in three books papyrus rolls. It certainly dislocates anything we know about the chronol- ogy of individual poems. Was this deliberate or accidental? Above all, to what ex- tent, if at all, does the sequence as it has come down to us represent Catullus's own choice?

He died young: did he anticipate his own death? If, as I believe above, p. This would cast doubts on Skinner's thesis [, xiii] that the elegiac libellus might have been "released to the public after Catullus's return to Verona, as a valedictory to his public and a retrospective pronouncement upon his completed body of work. I3-I4; Skinner I ,butwe cannot even be certain that it included all of them; some were vers d'occasion which could have been assembled by a posthumous edi- tor, and 58b, similarly, looks very much like an unfinished scrap harvested from the poet's papers after his death.

As Wray I, 53 rightly says, this "Catullan question" is "still with us and not likely to disappear soon. The most commonly advanced argument in- volves perceived significant correspondence what German scholars so vividly term Einklang between anything from individual words to lines, themes, concepts, whole poems, or even groups of poems, the symmetry being created by either ring com- position or chiasmus earlier and later elements balanced in the first, interlocking like an X in the second.

Part 1 (1979–90)

A variant on this is the "triplet argument," noting cases where a pair of poems consonant in tone sandwich a violently contrasting one see Jocelyn on for a striking example , the argument being that only the poet himself could or would make such an arrangement. There is also the metrical argument referred to above see p. Quinn , 16 even gets round the presence of evident fragments in the corpus by the highly modernist argument that the "il- lusion of work unfinished" could have been deliberate.

N one of these claims, most of which remain, by the nature of the evidence, nec- essarily subjective, can be regarded as irrefutable. On the other hand, they have cumulatively succeeded in establishing the sensible position that Catullus was re- sponsible for organizing at least some of his collected work before his death.


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Per- haps their most useful achievement is to make us consider Skinner , xxvi "the visual and tactile experience of manipulating an ancient scroll and its effect upon cognitive apprehension of the emerging content. Few would now argue I certainly would not for a posthumous editor sorting out an inchoate mass of material virtu- ally from scratch. What is more, such evidence as there is points clearly to the poly- metric group, , as most unambiguously displaying signs of authorial control and pattern making.

As Thomson shrewdly remarks , 6 , the further one pro- ceeds beyond this point, the less persuasive the theories become see, e. With this group I find myself in substantial agreement.

Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin
Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin
Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin
Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin
Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin
Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin Sloppy Poems & Other Senseless Banter Barely Worthy of a Bar Napkin

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