Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.05.14

J. Godwin, Catullus: the shorter poems.   Warminster:  Aris and Phillips, 1999.  Pp. xii + 223.  ISBN 0-85668-714-6 (hb).  ISBN 0-85668-715-4 (pb).  

Reviewed by A.J. Woodman
Word count: 2303 words

This book contains text and translation of, and commentary on, all of C.'s poems except 61-8, which G. dealt with in a previous volume (Aris & Phillips, 1995). Parts of the latter's introduction are reprinted (sometimes in modified form) here, although new sections have been added as well. The two volumes together represent an ambitious undertaking, but do we need a new commentary on C.?

The most recent commentary on C. was that of D.F.S. Thomson (1997), perhaps too recent to be included in G.'s list of such works (ix). Thomson's volume is a lavish production and horrendously expensive (Sterling 71); despite its length (575 pp.), the notes are highly selective, but there is an excellent bibliography accompanying each poem. Before that there were D.H. Garrison (1992, second edition 1996) and, also not mentioned by G., J. Ferguson (1985). Garrison's is a fairly minimalist commentary but has a useful vocabulary. Ferguson adopted the format of the 'running commentary', like that of G. Williams on Odes 3; his interpretations and observations were characteristically his own; and each poem was again accompanied by a helpful bibliography. Whereas Thomson's intended readership seems to be fellow scholars, Garrison's aim was to help students with the Latin but not to offer much in the way of literary criticism, and Ferguson's aim was evidently the converse of Garrison's. There is thus good case for a new commentary which offers to students both literary comment and significant help on the meaning of the Latin. The last to attempt this was K. Quinn (1970), which is now thirty years old and keeps going out of print just when one wants a class to buy copies.

G.'s book gets off to an uncertain start. In the list of 'Works of Reference' it is implied that CIL, whose title is unfortunately rendered as Corpus Inscriptionum Latinorum, was completed in 1863. In the list of 'Books and Articles' J.N. Adams' Latin sexual vocabulary and G. Williams' Tradition and originality in Roman poetry are both mis-titled (each was correct in G.'s previous volume); Lyne's paper on seruitium amoris is listed but not that of Murgatroyd on the same topic; Macleod's discussion of Poem 116 is listed but not his equally important paper on 'Parody and personalities in Catullus' (each reprinted in his Collected essays, which G. does not mention); and Wilamowitz is spelled 'Wilamovitz' here and throughout (again a departure from G.'s previous volume).

In what follows I shall review G.'s commentary on some of C.'s more famous poems, starting with Poem 1. Despite the enormous amount which continues to be written about this poem (and of which G. gives no hint), few scholars seem able to get it right. It is a shame that G. repeats the unthinking and second-hand verdict on Nepos which is found in the new OCD; to others, Nepos is 'complex' and 'extremely accomplished' (Moles, CR 42 (1992) 315-16). On the other hand, G. deserves praise for insisting that dono (1) is a true indicative, but it is not the case that C. 'dismisses his poetry as nugas', i.e. ' trifling efforts': the word means 'rubbish' or 'nonsense' and is to be imagined in quotation marks as the view of the majority; C. is not denigrating his own achievement. On 5-7 G. does not comment on ausus es unus, fails to mention any link with 1-2 above (and hence misses the similarities between C. and Nepos), and states unequivocally that Livy wrote 150 books of history. It also seems to me highly implausible that C. would insult Nepos by suggesting that to read the latter's Chronica was a 'pain' (laboriosis). One of G.'s merits over Quinn is that he sometimes provides at least a spare apparatus criticus, as here for line 9, where he daringly prints Bergk's emendation. But his discussion of the issues seems rather woolly, and (like Thomson, Quinn and Fordyce) he fails on the last line to quote Cinna fr. 14.

G. dismisses the idea that the passer of Poem 2 is to be understood as something rather more than a bird, but on 2-3 acknowledges that the 'association of birds and sex is ... hardly novel': a reference to the phallos-birds illustrated by K.J. Dover, Greek homosexuality (1978), R494 and R414, might have exemplified the latter and encouraged second thoughts about the former. In the same note G. points to the tricolon of relative causes but fails to say that such clauses are a feature of prayers or to explain the form quicum. He follows Munro in transposing lines 7 and 8, but credo suggested a marginal gloss to Tartara, who deleted line 8: this solution, reported by Ellis, deserves to be re-aired. Curiously, while G. notes Munro's transposition in the apparatus, he fails to tell us that posse in 9 is Vossius' emendation of the transmitted possem.

The discussion of Poem 4 is much better than either of the above: the introductory note is good and there is a passing reference to a point of syntax (line 2). But the term 'onomatopoeia' is mis-spelled on 1. 12, as elsewhere, and talking trees might have been illustrated by Pease on Cic. Diu. 1.101 or Ogilvie on Liv. 2.6-2.7.4. I particularly regret the absence of at least a brief reference to the notion that erum tulisse (19) is capable of two different meanings, despite the savagery with which the notion is dismissed by E. Courtney (CJ 92 (1997) 118-19).

Poems 5 and 7 are not identified as examples of the arithmêtikon, and there is no reference to Anth. Pal. 14. Quinn has an important note on occidit (5) but nevertheless believes that there is a 'personal reference implied in line 6': if that is right, as I would like to believe, una is not an otiose repetition of perpetua but hints that C. and Lesbia will be united even in death, a consolatory 'voice' which contradicts the argument of the poem. There is none of this in G., who is rather better on the doctrina of 7.3-6 but still leaves much unsaid.

For the background to Poem 8 G. refers to the passages listed by Syndikus, whose volume unfortunately appeared in the same year (1984) as R.F. Thomas' decisive demonstration that the key text is Menand. Samia 326-56, which G. fails to mention. On 1 there is no reference to G. Williams' discussion of self address; and quae tu uolebas nec puella nolebat (7) should be compared with CIL 3.754 et uellet quod uellem, nollet quoque ac si ego nollem and Sall. C. 20.4 idem uelle atque idem nolle, ea demum firma amicitia est (see S. Treggiari, Roman marriage (1991) 245 n. 127). G. rightly notes the double focus of 15-18 but not that it is part of the circularity of circumstance in which C. finds himself and which is further symbolised by the ring composition of the poem's final line; indeed by describing 12-18 as 'like a digression' G. fails to do justice to the temporal sequence of past (3-8), present (9-11) and future (12-18). Finally, although G. in his previous volume gave short shrift to Putnam's interpretation of Poem 64, neither there nor here does he mention that the situation at 64.55ff. is very similar to that in the present poem, except that the gender roles are reversed: 'necdum etiam sese quae uisit uisere credit, /... miseram ... / at iuuenis fugiens ...' = 8.2 'quod uides perisse perditum ducas', 8.10 'quae fugit ... miser ...'.

G. has a good introduction to Poem 11 but he is wrongly tempted to treat the address to Furius and Aurelius as ironical. Aequora (8), so far from being 'waves' (a word in any case used to translate unda in 4), is a reference to the 'plains' of Egypt (Fordyce is right as against Quinn), and the various etymologies of 6-8 go unremarked, as does the propagandist tone of Caesaris ... magni in 9 (see J. Reynolds, Aphrodisias and Rome (1982), p. 160). In 10-11 G. boldly opts for Wilkinson's horribiles quoque (some prefer Hudson-Williams' horribilem gelu) but passes in silence over Nisbet's attractive quacumque in 12. It seems culpable not to mention Mayer's suggestion that 14-15 allude to formal divorce proceedings, which is surely accepted by everyone and explains so much (including G.'s own question 'What is the purpose served by them [sc. Furius and Aurelius] in this poem?'): the marriage theme is continued in the next line (17), where it seems to me that a key parallel is Augustus' last exhortation to his wife (Suet. Aug. 99.1 'Liuia, nostri coniugii memor uiue ac uale').

Like almost everyone else, G. completely misinterprets Poem 51. Lines 1-2 do not refer to 'happiness' or 'felicity', and to talk of 'the poet's jealousy of the man' is utterly misleading. The contrast between ille and C. is one of strength: ille seems to be as strong as the gods since on repeated occasions he can withstand the sight of Lesbia's sweet laughter without adverse effects, whereas a single glance makes C. ill. It needs to be stated firmly that quod (5) refers to Lesbia's sweet laughter, otherwise the argument of the poem will not work (but G. has no note at all), and that C. has added spectat to his Sapphic original precisely to articulate that argument (it is picked up by aspexi; G.'s note is irrelevant). G. rightly believes that the final stanza belongs to Poem 51 but mistakenly follows others in stating that otium is the cause of C.'s condition. This has never seemed to me at all plausible, although I admit that I find it much more difficult to formulate a satisfactory explanation of my own.

Very surprisingly, Poems 70 and 72 are not identified as (another example of) twin poems; and G. does not realise that Callim. Epigr. 27, whose relationship to 70 is treated quite inadequately, continues to provide the background in 72 (5 nunc ... uror = Callimachus' line 5). Poem 76 is plausibly seen as falling into two halves, but whether the break comes at 12 (so G.) or 16 is arguable. I do not understand how G. can say that 'the examples of his [Catullus'] past goodness [in 3-4] are unrelated to his behaviour in the relationship [with his mistress]'; and G.'s dismay at the negative expressions in 3-4 misses the point: C. sees himself in a relationship of reciprocity, as the language clearly indicates, and he is saying that he is not guilty of the failures of which his mistress has been guilty. I am not sure that G. has dis inuitis (12) right, either: the point is not that the gods do not favour his relationship but that he wishes to stop being ill even if the gods are unwilling. However, since it is difficult suddenly to jettison a long-standing love (13), he needs all the help he can get, including that of the gods, to whom he therefore starts to pray (17). Though G. comments on none of the si-clauses in lines 17-19, it should be noted that that in 19 is to be distinguished from the more common type found in 17-18; si uitam puriter egi not only is appropriate to the theme of reciprocity but exemplifies a prayer-motif which, at least in Homer, enjoys an almost hundred-per-cent success rate (S. Pulleyn, Prayer in Greek religion (1997) 27): on this occasion C.'s hopes of success are bolstered by the fact that the truth of the statement uitam puriter egi has already been 'proved' in lines 1-9, to which the si-clause in 19 therefore looks back. As for the prayer itself, G. is confusing (and perhaps confused). In his introductory note he seems to say (rightly) that C. is praying to recover from his illness, but in his note on 17 he seems to say that the poet is praying for 'the gods' assistance in easing an inevitable death' and for 'a gentle demise into oblivion'.

G. is quite good in general on Poem 95, but we are offered no help on how the opening lines work (contrast Quinn on 1. 2). We are told that the name Hortensius may be corrupt but not that Hatrianus was proposed by Munro and Hatriensis by Housman (Volusius came from Hatria); nor are we given any notes on the Callimachean motifs of the contrasting rivers (5-7) or intellectual elitism (10).

On the evidence of this selection I confess that I have severe reservations about G.'s book. While the facing translation tells the reader what the Latin is thought to mean, there is virtually no attempt anywhere in the notes to tell us how that meaning comes about: the translation presupposes readers with less Latin than Quinn's readers had thirty years ago, yet the notes seem to presuppose the opposite. I find this deeply unsatisfactory, although the responsibility may lie with the series as a whole rather than with G. himself. There is almost nothing on the structure of the poems, and G. is far too fond both of remarks which seem to me naively anti-biographical and of invoking ironical readings as one of his 'interpretative strategies'. The citation of modern scholarship is based on an uneven selection and is much too infrequent. Above all, I did not really find evidence that G. has thought sufficiently hard or sufficiently independently about the poems on which he is commenting.

In short, the answer to my opening question is that we still need a new commentary on C. In fact, I think we need two commentaries: one should be of the green-and-yellow type in which due attention to explaining the Latin is combined with first-rate literary comment; the other should enjoy the more ample proportions of Nisbet and Hubbard on the Odes, where, in addition to other virtues, space is allowed for the discussion of scholarly views.

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