Table of Contents
Marilyn Skinner's Blackwell Companion to Catullus is a most welcome addition to the growing shelf of companion volumes on our shelves and my tardiness in completing this review, which I regret, is in no way a negative comment. Catullus is a poet who provokes many of the particular issues faced by companion volumes. What kind of balance should be struck between the big questions and detailed readings? Should the editor solicit survey essays that review recent scholarship, or that give new takes on old questions? Skinner provides an admirable blend of all of the above. It is a strong volume, to which the student meeting Catullus for the first time and the highly experienced reader can be sent with confidence. The net result of reading the entire volume is not surprising: we encounter at least as many different Catulluses as contributors. The plasticity of Catullus is remarked on a number of times: Julia Haig Gaisser says of a sixteenth century Italian humanist, 'like all of Catullus' interpreters, from Martial to the present, he created a Catullus in his own image' (452) and Elizabeth Manwell closes her essay with the suggestion that 'the elusiveness of the poet may be what is most appealing about Catullus' (126).
Part I, 'The Text and the Collection', consists of two essays, both rather dry and detailed. Although it is hard to see where else these essays might have been placed in the volume, they do not offer the most accessible start for the Catullan novice--and that's a shame, as the issues raised by the transmission of the text and the arrangement of the poems are fascinating and important. J.L. Butrica's discussion of the history and transmission of the text of Catullus (Chapter 2) strikes me as very competent but bolstered with too many examples and an excess of detail that could cause confusion. I do, however, applaud the decision to start the chapter with an extended quotation from Tom Stoppard's play, The Invention of Love, which offers the most accessible introduction to textual criticism imaginable. Next, Marilyn Skinner tackles the authorial arrangement of the collection (Chapter 3), asserting that an account of die Catullfrage provides a microcosm 'of aesthetic reception in the West from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present' (35). Skinner is to be applauded for refraining from taking a position, despite her other publications on this topic: 'it is essential for students of Catullus to acquaint themselves with the problem and its implications before drawing conclusions' (36). Taken with Chapter 1, one crucial point is the possibilities offered by the prospect of other poems that do not survive.
Part II contains four essays on 'Contexts of Production'. Of course no volume on Catullus would be complete without a contribution from Peter Wiseman and we are fortunate to have his contribution on the Valerii Catulli of Verona (Chapter 4). Wiseman deploys a hugely attractive range of material here, including apposite quotations from authors ancient and modern along with a wealth of illustrations: a map and a photograph of the north end of the Sirmione peninsula, inscriptions and family trees, a hypothetical reconstruction of the Sirmio villa and a fragment of wall-painting from the villa. In my view, this essay would have been the one to place at the head of the volume. It packages its superb scholarship very accessibly and provides a valuable insight into Transpadane identity. And the closing mention of transmission of the text of Catullus would have made a good segue into Butrica's chapter.
Chapter 6, David Konstan's discussion of the contemporary political context, complements Wiseman's chapter very nicely. Konstan certainly covers the necessary ground as well as offering some intriguing ideas for the background for individual poems, for example, a political dimension to Poem 64 (80). He descends into too much detail at times and allows himself a surprising amount of speculation (note the repetitions of 'presumably'). For example, he floats the idea of a shift in Catullus' attitude towards the triumvirs, while himself conceding the tenuousness and possible circularity of his arguments: see the warning on page 82 and on page 83 the words 'Fanciful? Absolutely.' I was puzzled by the omission from page 77 of Holt Parker's important work on Roman sexuality and by the inclusion of Janan's 2001 study of Propertius 4 in the guide to further reading; I cannot see that the intended readership would benefit from Janan's Lacanian readings, while getting clear about the dynamics of Roman sexuality is essential. Chapter 7 is devoted to the intellectual climate that informs Catullus' poems. Andrew Feldherr does an excellent job of exploring the roles of cleverness and cliquey-ness in the poetry of Catullus and his contemporaries. He starts in the best possible place with the opening of Poem 64 to demonstrate that 'this kind of poetry, then, is already literary scholarship' which requires modern scholars to 'use all their skills to recover the intellectual background that would have made it comprehensible to its original Roman audience' (92). But he immediately warns us against finding a comforting amount of 'the learning valued by philologists' in Catullus and he rightly insists that Catullan learnedness is part of the performance of friendships and enmities and therefore inseparable from its social context (93). Feldherr makes a good choice of Poems 12 and 64 as his main texts for a valuable discussion of what he playfully denotes Catullus' 'material culture'. The suggestions for further reading, starting with Elizabeth Rawson's Intellectual Life, are excellent. One tiny omission: Sallust deserves a mention alongside, or instead of, Livy at the foot of page 99 in the Roman diagnosis of greed. The section concludes with Elizabeth Manwell's useful discussion of gender and masculinity (Chapter 7), a study of 'softness' and 'hardness' that ranges through Poems 11, 63, 16, 51 and 50 among others. Manwell shapes what could be a sprawling essay--given the volume of material in gender studies--by examining first a Foucauldian reading of Catullus offered by Marilyn Skinner and then a postmodern interpretation by David Wray, cleverly providing us with readings by these two scholars and her own analysis of them. She readily acknowledges that these are not the only approaches available--her familiarity with the relevant secondary literature is clear from the works cited and the guide to further reading--and she rightly concludes with a warning about the limitations of our acquaintance with both Catullus' oeuvre and the cultural context of the poems (126).
Part III contains two essays on 'Influences', the first on Catullus and Sappho, by Ellen Greene, and the second on Catullus and Callimachus, by Peter Knox. Both contributions cover the expected ground excellently. Greene (Chapter 8) discusses Poems 5, 7, 51 and 11 in some depth and my sole point of hesitation in the entire chapter is the introduction of Sappho's notion of 'magical space' (a term apparently taken from Snyder) towards the end (146). I applaud Greene's honesty when she closes by acknowledging the difficulty of reconciling Catullus' identification with the feminine Sappho with 'his aggressive, masculine stance towards Lesbia' (146). It is hard to imagine a more deft handling of Catullus and Callimachus than that provided by Knox in Chapter 9. I would commend this discussion to anyone needing to understand Callimachus in his own right, as well as anyone wanting to comprehend his influence upon Catullus and contemporaries such as Cinna. Knox insists that Callimachus' Aetia 'more...than any other single work of Greek literature after Homer impressed itself upon the minds of the Roman poets of the first century BC' (153). He proceeds to explore the Callimachean aspects of Poems 1, 95, 65 and 66, 116 and 36 as well as 64, with reference not only to the Aetia but also to the relevant epigrams, to the Iambi, the Hecale and the Coma Berenices.
Part IV has three papers on 'Stylistics'. First is W.R. Johnson's essay on neoteric poetics (Chapter 10), written in an appealingly colloquial tone of voice with some neat and apt coinages. The juxtaposition with Knox's piece on Callimachus works superbly. Johnson carefully reviews the evidence furnished by Cicero for considering the 'new poets' as a group and contrasts the experimentalism of Catullus' longer poems with Cicero's poetry 'where what is being said is framed with and overlaid by a venerable, if freshly refurbished, way of saying it' (180). He proposes that the new poets were especially attracted by stories dealing with 'the power of transgressive love' that offered an escape from tradition, 'from the implacable demands for total submission to the code and the culture of Duty' (184). He sees Catullus' fusing of the themes of transgression and transformation as part of a wider phenomenon in which the young poets were drawn to mythical characters who were 'between selves, unselved, reselved' (185). He closes with a glance at the post-Catullan Alexandrian sensibility, here over-emphasizing Dido at the expense of Ovid's neotericism, but this is no major criticism. I was glad to see Crump (1931) alongside Lightfoot (1999) in the bibliography.
The next chapter (Chapter 11) is George Sheets' overview of 'Elements of Style in Catullus'. This lucid and well-pitched essay will surely be essential reading for all students. Sheets covers a huge amount of ground on matters of metre and style and more, discussing diction under the rubrics of archaism, vulgarism, Grecism and diminutives, before moving on to the interrelated topics of metre, rhythm and sound. Finally, under the heading 'Pragmatics', he succinctly touches on the role of figures of thought such as metaphor and simile, metonymy and synecdoche, irony, puns, double meanings and personifications in Catullus. He distills semiotics in a paragraph and in the next paragraph makes valuable cross-references to other chapters in the volume (206). His conclusion offers a well-considered comparison between Poem 4 and the opening of Poem 64, chosen for their 'similar content and dissimilar styles'. Throughout, Sheets makes telling connections with Romance languages; his conspectus of the use of metres by Catullus and his predecessors is especially useful. Two tiny flaws: he introduces the notion of 'iambic periods' in his second sentence but does not explain what he means till more than halfway through the essay (202); and J.N. Adams' co-editor of the 1999 British Academy volume on the language of Latin poetry is R.G. Mayer, not Meyer, a mistake repeated in the final bibliography.
The third piece in this section is Brian Krostenko's essay on 'Catullus and Elite Republican Social Discourse' (Chapter 12). Krostenko alerts us to the fact that this chapter is a synopsis of the chief arguments of his 2001 monograph Cicero, Catullus, and the Language of Social Performance. He covers the expected ground of the Catullan keywords such as lepidus, uenustus, bellus and facetus and their manifestations in e.g. Poems 86, 12, 22, 35, 36 and 16 and relates them to the rhetorical trends of the time. His central thesis is that these keywords had a capacity 'for ambiguity, effected by the Romans' ambivalence toward stylishness, that made them attractive to Catullus' (215). Perhaps the most important single point he makes is this (221): 'The apparent naturalness of our keywords in their programmatic contexts in Catullus is thus deceptive. It was not inevitable that Callimachean poetic ideals be expressed in Latin by those words in particular.' There is a tension in this essay between extensive citation of Latin and explanation of basic phenomena: for whom did Krostenko think he was writing? For example, the contrast in footnote 2: Lepos non scurrilis: Frasier; lepos scurrilis: South Park, though acute, might be lost on precisely the readership who would most benefit. I conclude with applause for the inclusion of Ramage's book on Urbanitas in the guide to further reading.
Part V of the volume is devoted to 'Poems and Groups of Poems', with fairly full coverage of the collection parcelled up into six essays on the programmatic poetry, the Lesbia cycle, the wedding poems, Poem 64, Poem 68, and poems of social commentary and political invective.
Catullus' programmatic poems have been well worked over, leaving little room for originality. But Batstone, in 'Catullus and the Programmatic Poem: The Origins, Scope, and Utility of a Concept' exemplifies the dangers of over-reading: he makes it more complicated than it is; the 'hermeneutic circle' is illusory (249). He starts with a mistaken analogy with programmatic music (235); programmatic music is not music written for a specific occasion but music designed to evoke images, scenes or a narrative). He proceeds to discuss Poems 1, 36, 50, 65, 95 and116, as one might expect, but inserts Poem 27 early in his essay, offering a programmatic reading of what looks like a symposiastic piece; it is hard to find any reason to read this poem metapoetically. His method appears to consist of offering rather literalist, heavy-footed interpretations then criticizing them--unfairly. And he ends in unnecessary aporia: 'the very task that programmatic poetry is being asked to do cannot be done' (250). The chapter does contain a valuable page on the history of the term 'programmatic' in classical scholarship (239-40) and concludes with an extremely useful guide to further reading and bibliography.
I was somehow disappointed by Julia Dyson's discussion of the Lesbia poems (Chapter 14), probably because of the central difficulty of identifying 'the Lesbia poems' and because of the assumptions made by treating them in the sequence presented in the collection. Dyson starts with the 'polymetric Lesbia', Poems 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11, 13, 36, 37, 43, 51, 58 and 60, then moves to the Lesbia of Poem 68 and lastly deals with the 'epigrammatic Lesbia': Poems 70, 72, 75, 76, 79, 83, 85, 86, 87, 92, 104, 107 and 109. Her observation that 'the polymetrics contain not a single reference to Lesbia's mind' (266) while the epigrams 'contain not a single reference to any physical characteristic of or non-verbal action by Lesbia herself' (269) is striking. In the brief coda, she observes that Catullus' other love interest, Juventius, also receives disparate treatment in the polymetrics and the epigrams. In other words, the essay ends up obliquely underlining the generic differences between these two parts of the collection. Dyson's extensive quotation of the Lesbia poems is valuable, though I do feel that the space could have been better used for discussing the Juventius poems in the same kind of depth.
A dedicated discussion of the wedding poems in a volume like this is most welcome. Vassiliki Panoussi's essay, under the title 'Sexuality and Ritual' (Chapter 15), offers good close readings of Poems 61 and 62, starting with the complex issue of ritual context and performance. I noticed no mention of the independent transmission of Poem 62, but this is a topic already covered by Butrica in Chapter 2.
To write a brief overview of Poem 64, one of the Latin poems most discussed in recent scholarship, is not an easy assignment. Jeri Blair DeBrohun's approach in Chapter 16 ('Catullan Intertextuality: Apollonius and the Allusive Plot of Catullus 64') is to provide not a survey (for an outline see her guide to further reading) but an argument about the relationship between the poem and Apollonius' Argonautica as revealed through a close study of the opening of Poem 64: a recognition that 1-30 are 'an introduction constructed in direct response to Apollonius enables us to answer, once and for all, why a poem on the wedding of Peleus and Thetis starts with the Argo' (309). DeBrohun does an excellent job of showing how Catullus combines allusion and suppression 'to convey the tension between the poet's desire for continuity with the literary tradition and his recognition that a break with it is necessary if he is to establish a place for himself' (309). This essay is an enjoyable read as well as an excellent demonstration of the complexities of Poem 64.
Writing about Poem 68 is an even harder task. In Chapter 17, Elena Theodorakopoulos elucidates this notoriously difficult poem in an excellent essay, at every point explaining what is at stake in the different positions taken by scholars. She has the right idea of the task of a companion volume and at every point she is concerned with what a 'newcomer to the poem' might need to know (315). She takes us through the poem, dealing with the issue of whether it is one poem or two and with its various themes, using other Catullan poems, including 65, 38, 50, 12, 86, 35, to illuminate the text. The point I enjoyed most is her observation that 'editors will not allow Catullus to contradict himself' which 'for the poet who wrote odi et amo' seems 'an odd criticism to make' (328). This is exemplary literary criticism: independent, lucid and sensible.
The final chapter in this section is Jeffrey Tatum's discussion of 'Social Commentary and Political Invective' (Chapter 18). Tatum commences with a clear and succinct statement of the importance of invective and exemplarity in Roman society and then outlines the chief reasons for Catullan invective with very thorough lists of relevant poems (337). He then, rightly, complicates the picture by bringing in the influence of Greek iambic poets, especially Archilochus, arguing for a contrast 'between the voice of righteous Roman moralizing and that of compromised iambic reviler' (350). The bulk of the essay focuses upon particular objects of invective--Caesar, Mamurra, Memmius, Clodius and Gellius--with readings of Poems 29, 113, 57, 93, 28, 79 and 116. The reminder that Caesar was in the 50s governor of Cisalpine Gaul, where Catullus' town of Verona was situated (339), is valuable; but the attempt to date Poem 29 to the years 55-54 BCE (341) is not convincing, given the persistence of the relational label socer-gener for Caesar and Pompey even after the death of Julia (as Lucan's poem shows). All in all, Tatum makes an unsurprising case for reading Catullus' poems as social commentary; I especially applaud his discussion of Poems 65 and 66 in this context. His guide to further reading, naming Syme then Richlin, Corbeill and Wiseman, along with Nappa, Wray and Skinner, is excellent.
Next comes Part VI of the volume: six chapters on 'Reception', with the term reception construed broadly, since we start with chapters on Catullus and Horace, Vergil, love elegy and Martial, and continue with chapters on Catullus in the Renaissance and the modern reception of Catullus. The rationale for the first four of these is clear enough, yet none of these chapters is very satisfying--and I say this despite my warm admiration of the four scholars involved. Randall McNeill is undoubtedly the right person to discuss Horace (Chapter 19)--but on the connection between Catullus and Horace there is precious little to say. McNeill's useful conspectus of the metres used by the two poets (360-1) shows at a glance how very complementary they are in their choices of metre. Many of Horace's alleged allusions to Catullus in the following pages fail to convince me and the claim that both poets 'place a special emphasis on the importance of reliability and friendship' (370) is no surprise for Roman poetry. McNeill is right to challenge Horace's claim to be 'the first person to have adapted Greek lyric forms into Latin' (359) but the material he presents actually provides substantiation for that claim. Christopher Nappa cuts his cake two ways in his discussion of Catullus and Vergil (Chapter 20), starting with separate discussions of Catullus' presence in the Eclogues, Georgics and Aeneid and then highlighting individual poems: 64, 66, 11 and 101. He does not discuss the wedding poems, which 'seem to have influenced Vergil greatly', but in note 2 refers us to the work of Arkins and Jenkyns on that topic. While it is pleasing to find the net cast wider than just Poem 64, there are some claims here that simply fail to convince, e.g. that Vergil's phrase praeceps prono of the boat being swept away (Georgics 1.203) is taken from Catullus 65 (prono praeceps, 65.23), of an apple dropped from a girl's gown. I do not have to perform a word search to assert that these are two words likely to occur together without any literary allusion. That said, Nappa's discussion of Poem 66 is valuable: he is surely right (following Johnston) to see Vergil's virtual quotation of 66.39 (inuita, regina, tuo de uertice cessi) at Aeneid 6.460 (inuitus, regina, tuo de litore cessi) as something that 'activates a system of correspondences and contrasts between Dido and three other...Hellenistic queens: Berenice, Arsinoe, and Cleopatra' (387).
In his discussion of Catullus and Roman Love Elegy (Chapter 21), Paul Allen Miller poses some clear questions about the relationship between Catullus and elegy, starting with the ancient perception of that relationship--'Catullus is by universal account the undisputed ancestor of Roman love elegy' (401)--and continuing with the disagreements in modern scholarship. Miller maintains his earlier (1994) view that Catullus' significance consists of 'the composition of a self-conscious poetic collection' (403), 'the first exemplar of lyric consciousness in western poetry' (404). The chapter contains a discussion of Poem 68 that complements that of Theodorakopoulos in Chapter 17. Allen states that the poem is 'not the first Roman love elegy' (410), a position with which many will disagree. The possibility of non-extant Catullan elegies is not raised. The essay is admirably lucid, with the exception of page 407, where the Meleager mentioned should be quoted and where Greek, French and Latin phrases such as eromenos, coup de foudre, in fine and opera omnia may be offputting for the beginning student. Sven Lorenz's discussion of Catullus and Martial (Chapter 22) is probably the most successful of these four chapters on the ancient reception of Catullus. Happily, he decides not to list Catullan allusions in Martial and engages instead with how Martial's self-presentation relates to that of Catullus. In his examination of Martial's metapoetic statements, obscenity and direct attack are central concerns: 'Martial has turned Catullus' topic "justification of obscene poetry" into a complex game he plays with his readers' (427; see also 433) in the prose preface to Book 1, in the opening poems of Book 1, in 7.12, 10.5 and 12.61. Lorenz plausibly finds that Martial adapts Catullus to his own times by turning Catullus into an epigrammatist 'and himself into the new Catullus' (434).
Chapters 23 and 24 provide an exciting taste of the reception of Catullus in more recent times, although the chronological limits of the two chapters leave the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries neglected. It is not as if nothing happened between the Renaissance and modern times. Julia Haig Gaisser's expert discussion of Catullus in the Renaissance (Chapter 23) is a model of clarity and concision. In fewer than twenty pages she demonstrates how Renaissance readers approached Catullus through the lens provided by Martial and without any awareness of the influence on Catullus of Alexandrian literature. In the fifteenth century, Catullus was 'a light and racy epigrammatist, witty and often obscene, without emotional complexity, political animus, or Alexandrian intricacy' (441). Gaisser dissects the Catullan poems of Pontano, with a glance at Mantuan and Poliziano, before examining the effect of the publication of the first edition in 1472, which generated the ample commentary of Partenio (1491), reprinted five times in its first fifteen years. Perhaps most fascinating is her discussion of Valeriano's lectures on Catullus at the University of Rome (1521 on), including a moralising recuperation of the sparrow poems. The chapter closes with mention of commentators outside of Italy: Muret, Estaço and Scaliger. Her closing remarks on shifts in taste are well made. In Chapter 24 Brian Arkins tackles the modern reception of Catullus, framed as 'selected aspects of the reception of Catullus in the Romantic and Victorian eras and in the twentieth century' (461). After a brilliantly succinct statement of the two-way traffic of reception in general (461) and a sketch of the perceived modernity of Catullus (462), he explores a range of translations, versions and imitations, in verse and prose, of Catullus as well as a few poems about Catullus. After brief discussions of Landor, the Romantic poet who engages most with Catullus, and Swinburne, the Victorian equivalent, Arkins provides a fuller discussion of Pound (466-70), then moves through Hardy and Tennyson to Yeats' appreciation of the translations of Catullus by Arthur Symons (1865-1945), with which I am happy to make my first acquaintance. The appreciative attitudes of Graves and Frost are contrasted with Eliot's attack on Catullus as a 'ruffian' (474), which Arkins suggests is part of a wider phenomenon in which Catullus and Vergil are juxtaposed, to the detriment of one or the other (462). Arkins' range is refreshingly wide, embracing Tom Stoppard and John Fowles (462) as well as Flann O'Brien and George Moore. The only shortcoming here is actually one that might have received an entire chapter to itself, namely, that is the topic of illustrated translations of Catullus, of which there were many in the period covered by Arkins.
In what I believe to be a departure from other companion volumes, the editor has included a section on Pedagogy (Part VII), with chapters on 'Catullus in the Secondary School Curriculum' by Ronnie Ancona and Judith Hallett (Chapter 25) and 'Catullus in the College Classoom' by Daniel Garrison (Chapter 26). Since Catullus has a special role in our teaching of the ancient world, often being the first Latin poet read in the original, these chapters are most welcome and the editor is to be commended for her breadth of vision. The chapter by Ancona and Hallett discusses Catullus in both the US and the British school curricula (though devoting three times as many pages to the US), drawing heavily and informatively on a Catullus survey that they carried out. In their conclusion, they remark on how many different Catulluses there are in different pedagogical contexts and raise a crucial question about 'literary proprietorship': 'Whose Catullus?' (497) It's worth registering the recent proposed change in the US Advanced Placement prescriptions, announced in April, which threatens to remove Catullus entirely after 2009, leaving Vergil as the only AP Latin subject.
Daniel Garrison deals with the handling of Catullus in colleges and universities--an experience that includes unteaching 'the bad habits and crippling misconceptions acquired in earlier stages of Latin study'; 'a certain of wrecking and rebuilding' (504) may be necessary. Garrison proceeds to share with us a number of 'home truths' about teaching at college level garnered from his 46 years in the profession. He ranges far and wide among issues including use of the f-word in the Bible Belt (511) and he likens the Catullan libellus to 'multi-threaded dramas' such as The Sopranos. Among the many good suggestions here about teaching Catullus, his closing remark is probably my favourite: 'The proper study of Latin revives the dying art of reading slowly' (517).
The final chapter in the volume occupies a section all on its own (Part VIII), which is a little strange since surely translation is a very particular form of reception; this chapter belongs with the essays by Gaisser and Arkins--and this would have had the merit of concluding the volume with the pedagogical chapters. Leaving that aside, Elizabeth Vandiver does an excellent job of covering the necessary ground clearly and succinctly. After some intelligent remarks about the project of translating poetry, especially into poetry (for which she invokes J.S. Holmes' notion of the 'metapoem', 524), she deals with the specific difficulties facing the translator of Catullus: gender/sexuality/obscenity; word-play and topical references; learned, Alexandrian obscurity (529). She uses three different texts to explore the problems: Poems 16, 84 and 68.107-14, all excellent choices. She finds that Alexandrian neotericism is the most intractable for the translator, being 'even more resistant to cultural translation than is the sexual invective of poem 16 or the word-play of poem 84' (537). Though Vandiver does mention the first complete translation of Catullus (though she names the author, John Nott only in a footnote), this essay is not a historical survey but has as its focus mainly late nineteenth century and twentieth century translations into English. The volume concludes with a useful consolidated bibliography and indices.
Skinner has assembled here a fine array of scholars and covered nearly all the topics and angles one would wish for in a companion volume to Catullus. Of course there are omissions. It would have been good to see a contribution by Monica Gale, since she is currently at work on the Cambridge 'green and yellow' commentary on Catullus. Since my favourite Catullus poem is 63, I would have relished a dedicated discussion. It is a shame that there is no mention anywhere of the curious publication history of Sir Richard Burton's 1894 translation. And we might have had a wonderful illustrated chapter on illustrated translations of Catulluses, along with discussion of erotica in the book trade. A most fitting and generous touch is Skinner's decision to dedicate the volume to James Butrica, the contributor who died while the book was in production.