Posted by: gdevi | February 5, 2016

Catallus Notes

English 220

Dr. Devi

Catallus Reading Notes

Dates: Catallus (c. 84-54 BCE)

Influenced by the Greek lyric poet Callimachus; preferred to write in shorter, lyric poetic form rather than the epic and narrative poetic forms; made wide use of Greek and Latin meters; wrote lyric poems, odes, and epigrams

Catallus is believed to have written 116 poems during his short but prolific life; he died when he was thirty years old, his poems having been composed between twenty and thirty years of age. He lived in Rome. The poems were discovered in the 14th century in Verona in three different manuscript versions.

Catallus’s love poems have directly influenced a whole generation of lyric poets in the western canon. In England, we can see the influence from the early Elizabethan period onwards. Catallus provided an original template, motifs and possibilities to write love poems that were deeply personal, but also elegantly artful, simple, sophisticated and learned.

The collection entitled Libellus may be classified according to their metrical organization as follows: short poems in different meters or polymetric poems (1-60), hymns and an epillion or mini epic (61-69), and couplets and epigrams (70-116). The order in which the poems are placed in Libellus follows this order and is not thematically arranged.

In Rome, Catallus is believed to have fallen in love with Clodia Metelli, the wife of a Roman statesman, who had several liaisons with several other men of whom Catallus was one.  Catallus’s Lesbia poems are believed to be addressed to Clodia Metelli. The poems go through a gamut of varied stages of love: from infatuation to sexual excesses to bitter scorn and eventual ending of the affair. Clodia Metelli is believed to have finally poisoned her husband to death according to Cicero and other sources.

Catallus 1: Dedication. How does Catallus present himself and his poetic craft in this poem?

Catallus 2: What is the purpose of the device of the sparrow in this poem?

Catallus 5 and Catallus 7: How do these poems portray the erotic announcements of the speaker? Notice the references to “rumors” and “gossip” referring to the clandestine nature of the relationship. Note the “seize the day” philosophy — “come on, let us have fun while we can” arguments in the poem.

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
and let us judge all the rumors of the old men
to be worth just one penny!
The suns are able to fall and rise:
When that brief light has fallen for us,
we must sleep a never ending night.

These are interesting divergences from Latin and Greek poems of the time; Catallus expressly rejects a belief in afterlife in his efforts to convince himself and Lesbia that there is nothing beyond life and pleasures of the body.

What is the purpose of the mathematical figures in the second half of Catallus 5?

What is the purpose of the references to the “grains of sand” and “stars in the sky” in Catallus 7?

Catallus 11: The poem is a trenchant, bitter and final rejection of Lesbia. The geographical areas mentioned in the poem–as far East as India, Arabia, Hyrcana, Parthia (ancient Iran), Bactria (ancient Afghanistan) Sacae, Egypt, France, England– are all enemy lands of the Roman empire; this is where Catallus asks his “comrades” to go and find Lesbia and give her his message. The “friends,” we have to assume are making an appeal on behalf of Lesbia:

you who are prepared to try all these things,
and whatever else the will of the gods will bring,
announce to my girl a few
nasty words.

Let her live and let her flourish with her adulterers,
whom having embraced 300 of them at the same time, she owns and keeps them,
truly loving none of them, but repeatedly breaking the groins of
all of them;

nor, let her no longer look back for my love as before,
which by her fault, has fallen,
just like the farthest flower of the field
has been killed by a passing plow.

Notice the sardonic usage of “my girl,” presumably Lesbia’s words. How does Catallus characterize his love in the final stanza? How is Lesbia characterized?

Catallus 11 and Catallus 51 are written in Sapphic stanza form, which consists of 3 long lines of eleven syllables each followed by one short line of 5 syllables. Catallus 51 is an adaptation of Sappho 31. Compare and contrast Sappho 31 and Catallus 51. How is Catallus’s adaptation reworking the original?


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