BMCR 2012.09.48

The Student’s Catullus. Fourth edition (first edition published 1989). Oklahoma series in classical culture, 5

, The Student's Catullus. Fourth edition (first edition published 1989). Oklahoma series in classical culture, 5. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. xxv, 236. ISBN 9780806142326 $26.95 (pb).


In his preface to The Student’s Catullus Fourth Edition (hereafter TSC 4), Garrison writes that “Each edition of The Student’s Catullus is an evolutionary stage. A student using this fourth edition will therefore be at a distinct advantage over a student with an earlier edition, and the same will be true for the teacher” (xi). However, I found few substantive differences between TSC 4 and its most recent predecessor.

TSC has retained the same basic structure throughout all its editions; this most recent version is no exception. The book has been frequently reviewed in its various incarnations, generating polarized responses since its first release (the strong endorsements by Trail 1991, Tordeur 2002, and Bartera 2005 in their reviews of respective editions contrast sharply with extremely negative responses by Block 1991 and Yardley 1991, while Mayer 1993 and Arkins 2001 are quite ambivalent1). I imagine little will change in the reception of TSC 4. It is too similar to its previous incarnations in structure, outlook and motivation (as well as substance and detail) to win over many dissenters. The converse is true; those who previously found the book to be a valuable teaching tool will likely find that the new edition meets their needs as well as the earlier editions did.

The book still contains an Introduction, a select list of Further Reading, Maps, an edition of the corpus, Notes to the poems, four Appendices (on People, Meters, Glossary of Terms, and Poetic Usage) and an index of Catullan vocabulary. The Introduction appears to be unchanged, as are the majority of Notes to the poems, and most of the material in the Appendices.

Preliminary notes titled Suggestions for the Teacher and Suggestions for the Student are a new addition in TSC 4. The key theme in each is that students ought to learn to read and understand Latin poetry rather than merely translating it. To enable this outcome, Garrison provides strategies for both teacher and student. The message and the strategies are worthwhile and may well assist student and teacher alike. They are however somewhat prescriptive; teachers may well have their own perspectives on how to use their classroom time.

Garrison has updated the Further Reading section with some recent and important works (such as Skinner 2007, Gaisser 2007, and Dyson Hejduk 20082) but the selection is by no means comprehensive. As in previous editions, here Garrison devotes space to historical fiction; TSC 4 even recommending the HBO series Rome. It is strange that space is devoted to these recommendations in an edition that has no room for a bibliography.

The most substantive part of TSC has always been its Notes, which provide solid grammatical assistance, commentary on events and people, and references to stylistic features. In TSC 4 I found changes in the notes to twenty poems.3 This conversely means that the notes to over ninety poems are unaltered. Of the changes that I detected most are fairly minor additions or alterations, such as a new note on the “relative cur ” in c.14.5, the rewording of the note on c.32.9 (now more readable), the addition of a note explaining why referam is subjunctive at c.64.177 (deliberative), a new note on sana at c.83.4.

Garrison has added an entry on Callimachus to Appendix A: People. Otherwise this section (containing concise entries on the bulk of figures relevant to the poetry) is unchanged. Appendix B: Meters has few alterations. One useful addition is the inclusion of musical notation over the sample line of poetry on p176. Of greater assistance are the changes to Appendix C: Glossary of Terms, with new entries on end-stopping, frequentative/iterative verbs, lacuna, priamel, recusatio and terminus post/ante quem.

In most cases these and other additions provide additional assistance and clarification in the style of earlier editions of TSC. The alterations to the notes do not reflect an adjustment of Garrison’s overall approach in the commentary. What of the book more generally?

In my opinion the Appendices and the Catullan Vocabulary provide the most useful assistance. Appendix B provides a clear explanation of how meter works generally and how Catullus specifically uses particular meters. This is essential for students early on in their Latin career and is provided by few other commentaries on Catullus (Ancona and Forsyth4 are exceptions). The Glossary of Terms is useful for students just beginning to come to grips with concepts like asyndeton, ellipsis, litotes, etc. Garrison often uses examples from Catullus’ poetry to illustrate how a given device works; this will help students to understand the terms concretely. Appendix D: Poetic Usage provides morphology specific to verse; this will certainly aid students transitioning from reading prose to poetry. Finally, The Catullan Vocabulary will save students considerable time on dictionary work.

The Maps distinguish TSC from other Catullan commentaries. However, here they still contain the flaw noted in Block’s review of TSC 1 and pointed out again in Bartera’s review of TSC 3. Five of the maps use a combination of Italian, English and Latin place-names (the sixth map is a star-map relating to c.66). This inconsistency undermines their utility to Garrison’s stated target reader. For instance, will students new to Catullus know that Bononia, alluded to in c.59.1, appears on the map as Bologna? It is frustrating that this practice has not been addressed despite being noted by numerous reviewers. Catullus’ corpus is peppered with place-names and it is crucial that students have accurate maps so that they can locate Catullus’ references.

The Notes to TSC (in any edition) are likely to appeal to many students because they contain basic information and assistance with grammar. However, they also reflect Garrison’s approach to scholarly interpretation and controversy, outlined in the preface to TSC 1 : “Like the text, this commentary is meant to interfere as little as possible with the readings of the poems. It does not as a rule participate in scholarly controversies or promote specific judgments of literary value” (ix). This preface is reprinted in TSC 4 and there is no indication that Garrison’s aims have changed.

In practical terms, this seems to refer to the fact that in the commentary Garrison frequently omits citations of ancient works which influenced Catullus, gives elliptical references to secondary scholarship without providing bibliographic details, and does not present significant controversies where interpretation of a key line or even a poem itself is at stake.

So in the headnote to c.60 students are told that the image of the monstrous woman here goes back to Iliad 16.31-35, Aeschylus Ag. 1232, and Euripides Med. 1342-43. These are precise references that students can pursue. Yet in the note to v.2 in the same poem, Garrison writes of Scylla’s canine parts “Here and in Virgil, Propertius, and Ovid they comprise the lower part of her body”. The reference is vague and does not help students beyond generalities.

This inconsistency in providing citations is a consistent feature throughout the notes, meaning that students must often be content with statements like: “she is dying (of love) for him: a comic idiom, as in Plautus and Terence” (p113 on 35.12), and “The metaphor of writing in wind and water goes back to Sophocles and Plato” on c.70.4 (p155). These general references do not provide enough detail for students to judge whether they did indeed influence Catullus, and if so, how.

The apparent reluctance to provide relevant ancient cross-references is particularly notable when Garrison is commenting on poems that are rich in intertextual allusion. In the notes on c.101 there is no mention of Homer’s Odyssey; a glaring omission. Similarly, on c.70 there is no reference to this poem’s relationship with Callimachus epigr. 25 Pf. In contrast, in her note to c.70 Forsyth informs students of the allusion (p490). A teaching text does not by nature have to exclude (or obscure) references to the poet’s intertextuality.

Full details of relevant secondary scholarship are also frequently omitted from TSC 4. Thus on p185 students will find some bibliographic information for Wilkinson’s Golden Latin Artistry but will later be directed to “see Thomas on Geo. 4.339-40”, without further details. Likewise, on p108 no details are supplied when students are informed that on c.25.5 “ diva Murcia : Munro and Putnam supply this emendation”. This type of omission is frequent throughout the notes and the appendices. No holistic bibliography is provided in the fashion of Ancona or Thomson, and a great many key articles (and some key monographs) are never brought to students’ attention.

Garrison rarely discusses controversies that would affect students’ reading of the text. So poem(s) 2 and 2b are simply printed as one poem. The note to “line 11” of “poem 2” is written on the basis that is indeed line 11 of c.2, and not part of another poem. Scholarship addressing the question of whether the poem is in fact one or two is not referred to. I do not object to Garrison’s particular reading of poem 2, but to his decision not to bring the controversy to his readers’ attention. Similarly, TSC 4 prints c.95 as a single poem of ten lines. In the notes Garrison acknowledges that “some editors take 9-10 as a separate poem, 95b”. However, no references for these editors are given. In the notes to vv.9-10 only Garrison’s interpretation is put forward.

The notes to c.51 illustrate the cumulative limitations of Garrison’s approach, with relevant ancient and secondary material both being omitted. TSC 4 does not include a translation or text of Sappho’s fragment 31, of which Catullus’ poem is an adaptation. In the notes Garrison only compares Catullus’ text to the original in two places, on v.8 and vv.13-16. The comment on v.8 refers to Doering and Sappho but supplies the details for neither. Garrison’s statement on vv.13-16 that the fourth stanza “is not inspired by Sappho’s original poem” obscures the controversy about the relationship between Catullus’ otium stanza and the mutilated end of Sappho’s text. Without having a text or translation of the original in front of them or suggestions for further reading, students cannot judge for themselves the accuracy of Garrison’s reading. In contrast, on these issues both Forsyth and Ancona provide help to readers, not least through including a text of Sappho’s poem itself (Ancona also includes a fairly extensive bibliography).

As I stated above, Garrison made his approach clear in the very first preface – TSC in all incarnations aims not to bring literary and/or scholarly interpretation to students’ attention. On its own terms the book generally succeeds. The question is whether an individual instructor/scholar will feel comfortable with this approach or will choose to use another teaching text, such as Forsyth or Ancona.

In my view, the key difference between TSC 4 and the teaching texts of both Ancona and Forsyth lies not in diverging interpretations of particular constructions or words, but in a major difference of approach and philosophy. While both Forsyth and Ancona suggest, Garrison prescribes. By avoiding scholarly controversy, by limiting references to ancient and modern works, and by providing little (or no) information about disputed interpretations or readings, TSC closes down lines of interpretation rather than opening them up.

Students may well be grateful for this approach. Some teachers too may feel that it is appropriate and that TSC helps them to teach Catullus. I spend a great deal of time and effort in my university Latin classes encouraging students to question words, constructions, texts and authors, and to make critical judgments and evaluations. This extends from their grasp of grammar and syntax to their understanding of a poem’s content and how it fits within a social and/or literary context. To my mind, TSC hampers students in acquiring these skills, by obscuring the controversies and complexities of the text.


1. Reviews of the first edition include Elizabeth Block BMCR 1991.02.04, Roland Mayer CR 43.2 (1993) 426-7, David A. Traill CW 84.3 (1991) 260 and J. C. Yardley Phoenix 45.1 (1991) 89-90. On the second edition see Brian Arkins CI 8 (2001) 133-4 and Pol Tordeur CA 69 (2000) 350. Most recently Salvador Bartera reviewed the third edition BMCR 2005.09.69.

2. M. B. Skinner, ed., A Companion to Catullus (Malden, MA 2007), J. H. Gaisser, ed., Catullus (Oxford 2007), and J. Dyson Hejduk, Clodia: A Sourcebook (Norman, OK 2008).

3. I discerned changes to the notes on poems: 2, 5, 7, 10-11, 14, 22, 25, 32, 34, 36, 42, 45, 64, 69, 71-72, 83, 96-97.

4. R. Ancona, Writing Passion: A Catullus Reader (Wauconda, IL 2008) and P.Y. Forsyth, The Poems of Catullus: A Teaching Text (Lanham, MD 1986).