Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.04.09


Julia Haig Gaisser, Catullus and His Renaissance Readers. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. Pp. xiii + 446. ISBN 0-19-814882-8.


Reviewed by Paul Pascal, University of Washington.

Hats off to a work of old-fashioned scholarship! How pleasant, and how comforting, to find a bibliography that is not only up to date on contemporaries, but that also gives room -- lots of room -- to the scholars of the past, to Pierre de Nolhac, B.L. Ullman, and Remigio Sabbadini, to say nothing of Giovanni Pontano, Angelo Poliziano, Justus Lipsius, and Girolamo Tiraboschi.

Julia Haig Gaisser's theme is the reconstruction and the elucidation of the text of Catullus, from the editio princeps (Venice, 1472) to the time of Joseph Scaliger about a century later. As she remarks (p. vi), while much study has been devoted to the rediscovery and transmission of the text of Catullus in the fourteenth century, and there are articles on the work of individual humanists, "there is no general study that treats the reception of Catullus after the first edition or follows his fortunes through the Renaissance." Clearly there should be one; and as the author of the article on Catullus for the Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum, Professor Gaisser is particularly well qualified to fill this gap. The result is the best and most provocative book on Catullus in many years.

Catullus has been the beneficiary, or the victim, of many renaissances since the miraculous reemergence of his work. Surely none is more momentous than his renaissance in the Renaissance, when his poetry made the transition from merely being available once more to being comprehensible, a source of pleasure to scholars, imitators, and general readers alike.

The organization of Professor Gaisser's work is clear and well thought out. The treatment is for the most part expository, and it does not lend itself readily to summarizing. A brief but expert introduction (Fortuna Catulli) sets the stage with an account of Catullus's reputation in antiquity, emphasizing Martial; the shadowy Catullus of the Middle Ages; the Verona manuscript and its descendants; and early critical work or use of Catullus by, e.g., Coluccio Salutati and Antonio Beccadelli. The six subdivisions that follow are elegantly named and self-explanatory:

1. Emendatio: From the Editio Princeps to the First Aldine [viz, from 1472 to 1502].

2. Interpretatio: Making Sense of Catullus.

3. Praelectio: Pierio Valeriano at the University of Rome.

4. Commentarius: Marc-Antoine de Muret, Achilles Statius, and Joseph Scaliger.

5. Imitatio: Catullan Poetry from Martial to Johannes Secundus

6. Parodia: Catullus and the Res Publica Litterarum [dealing primarily with parodies of Phaselus ille (Catullus 4) and its inexorable iambs].

In addition the volume includes a useful chronological table and nine appendixes, devoted primarily to the layout or specific readings of various manuscripts, editions, and commentaries, as well as some metrical and thematic considerations.

The players in Professor Gaisser's drama were men -- yes, all men; the only woman with an entry in the index (besides Sappho, Lesbia, and the indefatigable Ipsitilla of Catullus 32) is Lucrezia Borgia, mentioned by Jacopo Sannazaro as an incestuous counterpart to Lesbia -- of great learning by any standards. Many of them were also ambitious, envious, vain, argumentative, and jealous about receiving full credit for their discoveries. Professor Gaisser recounts their triumphs and setbacks with zest and good humor.

A matter of special concern, in view of the diverse readership this book is likely to attract, is the use of translations. One of its most valuable features is Professor Gaisser's extensive quotation of the letters, lectures, prefaces, commentaries, and imitative poems that are among her major sources. Poems of Catullus himself are not translated; fair enough. Poems imitating Catullus are given in the text both in Latin and in prose translation. Everything else is translated in the text, with the Latin given in the endnotes. This strikes me as a perfect solution to a difficult problem. All translations are Professor Gaisser's own, and they are splendid.

A simple demonstration will serve to suggest the magnitude of the accomplishment of the Renaissance scholars who form the subject of Professor Gaisser's study. Here are the poems of Catullus that appear on the final text page of G (Par. 14137, dated 1375), transcribed exactly as they appear there:

A uffilena uiro conte(n)tam uiuere solo
N uptar(um) laus est laudibus eximiis
S ed cuiuis q(uam)uis poti(us) succu(m)bere pars est
Q uam matrem patres ex patruo
M ultus homo est naso neq(ue) tecu(m) multus homo
D escendit naso multus est (et) pathicus
C onsule pompeio primu(m) duo cinna solebant
M ecilia(m) facto consule nu(n)c iterum
M anseru(n)t duo sed creueru(n)t milia i(n) unu(m)
S ingulum fecundum semen adulterio
F irmanus saluis no(n) falso m(?)sula diues
F ertu(r) qui tot res in se habet egregias
A ucupia(m) om(n)e genus piscis prata aura ferasq(ue)
N equicq(uam) fructus sumptib(us) exuperat
Q uare concedo sit diues dum om(n)ia desint
S altem laudemus dum m(od)o ipse egeat
M entula habet instar triginta iugera prati
Q uadraginta arui cetera sunt maria
C ur no(n) diuiciis cresum superare potuisset
U no qui in saltu tot moda possideat
P rata arua i(n)gentes siluas saltusq(ue) paludesq(ue)
U sq(ue) ad hyperboreos (et) mare ad occeanum
O mnia magna hec su(n)t tam(en) ip(s)e si maximus ultor
N on homo sed uero mentulla magna minax
S epe tibi studioso a(n)i(m)o uenante requires
C armina uti possem mittere batriade
Q ui te lenirem nobis neu conarere
T elis in festa mitterem(us)q(ue) caput
H u(n)c uideo michi nu(n)c frustra su(m)ptu(m) e(ss)e laborem
G elli nec n(ost)ras hinc ualuisse preces
C ontra nos tela ista tua euitabim(us) amicta
A ffixus nostris tu dabis supplicium
These lines present the text of what we now designate as Catullus 111-116, poems consisting of from two to eight lines each. It is not always completely obvious where the divisions occur; the manuscript provides no clue. The meter is elegiac couplets; it is immediately apparent that several of the lines as presented in the manuscript do not even scan. Furthermore, we are dealing here with satire, containing the names of real but obscure men and women, and topical references of various kinds. Horace and Juvenal come to us provided with a supply of ancient scholia that, fanciful as some of them may be, at least provide us with a starting point for discussion. In the case of Martial, the relatively large amount of material furnishes the opportunity for cross references that often illuminate each other. Catullus has the benefit of none of this.

The next step in the demonstration is to observe the text of some passages in the 1472 editio princeps, with which (or its clones) the Renaissance scholars had to work until the appearance of the first Aldine edition in 1502. The editio princeps appeared almost exactly a century after the manuscript quoted above, a century during which not much occurred to improve either the text of Catullus or the state of knowledge about him in general. Consequently it represents very little, if any, advance over the manuscript text. In fact, it introduces new errors of its own (Gaisser, pp. 26-31). Professor Gaisser provides two facsimiles of the princeps (pages 26, 70). The printed text is clearly legible in these facsimiles.

If we turn now to Catullus in a modern edition, we find the texts in question completely transformed. Aside from the division into separate poems, no fewer than twenty of the thirty-two lines quoted from the manuscript have experienced substantial (and necessary) emendation. All now scan correctly and make reasonable sense. Some of the proposed emendations are still at issue, but there is considerable consensus about many of them. If our edition has a commentary, we will also find that many of the problems of identification and interpretation have been plausibly solved as well.

Most of the improvements and interpretations in the test passages can be traced to the work of the scholars of the late 15th and the 16th centuries, who either solved the problems involved or at least identified them and initiated the discussion that resulted in their ultimate solution. This last, as A.E. Housman remarked, entitles them to half the credit. The pattern holds for the rest of Catullus as well.

It is the story of this transformation, from the largely garbled and incomprehensible version of Catullus that survived the Middle Ages to something very much like the text we read today, that is told by Julia Haig Gaisser in this useful, important, and delightful book.