Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2019.06.30 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.06.30

John Kevin Newman, Catullus as Love Poet. Studia Classica et Mediaevalia, 21.   Nordhausen:  Verlag Traugott Bautz, 2018.  Pp. 50.  ISBN 9783959483582.  €20,00.  


Reviewed by Wilfried H. Lingenberg, Universität des Saarlandes (W.Lingenberg@mx.uni-saarland.de)

The slim volume consists of short sections varying in length between several lines and just under three pages, dealing with general aspects of the subject — e.g., “Love then and now”, “First persons”, “Catullus and the Carnival”, “The hendecasyllable not neutral”, “Martial’s Catullus” (pp. 9–30) — and then with single poems or groups of poems (31–47). There is a two-page index of names and subjects at the end. The result does not really read like a finished book but rather like a set of concise notes, parallels, and questions, to be turned into a book maybe some other time. Consequently, its value lies not so much in the development of general ideas; what we get is sometimes assertoric (and not always convincing), sometimes too close to the obvious, and many a paragraph ends in a question instead of a conclusion. There are, however, a substantial number of worthwhile observations in detail. A few examples will suffice.

Taking “love poetry” as defined by its theme, not as establishing a genre, makes it surprisingly easy to draw connecting lines across what would conventionally be seen as borders of genre (16ff). One such connection would be with comedy (19–21).

Catullus’ altering the venue of the wedding of Peleus and Thetis from the traditional Pelion to Pharsalia (Catull. 64.37) is indeed curious and might be easier to explain if the line was written after 48 BC, “when Pharsalia became generally known” (17). Catullus would then have lived at least some six years longer than he is usually granted (17, 35–36; at both places the battle of Pharsalus is erroneously dated to 49 BC).

On a closer look, the choice of the pseudonym Lesbia, presumably for the noble Clodia Metelli, is somewhat odd. It is not in line with the naming conventions of other Roman love poets and would be more appropriate for slaves or even prostitutes (there is an obstetrix of that very name in Terence’s Andria). Newman wants us to be cautious with the idea that Lesbia, and even more so generic terms like puella, necessarily refer to one specific person only (27–29).

In short: There is no fundamentally new theory on offer here, but Catullan scholars will want to scan the volume for overlooked parallels and lines of thought hitherto neglected.

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