BMCR 2022.08.06

C. Valerius. Catullus: praelectiones granatenses

, C. Valerius. Catullus: praelectiones granatenses. Granada: Editorial Universidad de Granada, 2020. Pp. 554. ISBN 9788433866424

The humanist schoolmaster Antonius Parthenius lamented that the remains of Catullus’s text had been abandoned like a corpse that could no longer be revived through any human effort or talent. It was from Parthenius’s own praelectiones, however, that the first commentary on Catullus took shape and through which, along with the efforts of renaissance scholars who followed his lead, some life was first gradually breathed back into that corpse. The praelectio is thus a term with a long history in Catullan scholarship.[1] Luque Moreno invokes it here as a signal of his intention to write an introduction to Catullus derived from his lectures, which might serve as a propaedeutic for university students. The modestly stated goal cannot hide what one recognizes quickly upon reading: a long engagement with Catullus that draws on a fifty-year career of research and publication on Latin literature and the fine details of versification. Although the intended audience for Luque Moreno’s book may be students, and one can certainly imagine some of the charming and spirited explications shining through the pages to have first appeared in the classroom, the work will interest more seasoned scholars, too.

In line with his own interests, Luque Moreno has organized the content according to the meters of Catullus, and some of the most interesting parts of the book involve the attention paid to details of meter and the author’s ability to situate Catullus in relation to the metrical practices of earlier Greek and Latin authors. The result of this arrangement, however, is a work that feels somewhat out of step, in structure and content, with other recent introductions to the poet. While there are many close readings of individual poems, which are usually very good and offer many small insights that repay the reader’s effort, there is little to no discussion of thematic material one might expect in such an introduction, such as gender and masculinity, politics and patronage, social-discourse, sex and friendship, or invective and obscenity. Perhaps, amid the endless stream of overlapping publications on Catullus, the author prefers to offer a distinct approach. If so, these praelectiones are successful at handing over the doctrina granatensis. Quaestiones Catullianae is a plural construction that implies multiple problems and, one hopes, welcomes multiple perspectives.

Some caveats. In spite of the author’s stated aims, this is not always a welcoming book for students. One must already understand much about metrical practice to follow many of the arguments in the book, some of which are quite complex. Further, the author employs a unique system of metrical notation, of his own invention, which is left unexplained. Those who are interested will need to consult an earlier publication.[2] Latin passages are not consistently translated. There is a good bibliography, especially of scholarship in Spanish that deserves a wider audience in English publications. But the lack of a subject index feels like a mark of indifference toward the reader. In order to locate a discussion of c. 1, for example, one must consult an index of poems, which directs the reader to sections B.3.4.1 and B., the page numbers of which one must find in the Índice General, unless one prefers thumbing aimlessly through the book.

Liber est omnis divisus in partes tres. The first chapter, Doctus Poeta, falls into four sections, the first of which is a brief chronology of Catullus’s life. The author’s approach is strongly biographical and focuses on establishing a chronology, absolute or relative, for the poems. The poetry is therefore mined for historical connections in the quest for a coherent narrative about the poet, and the poems are read naively as more or less transparent reflections of Catullus’s life. Section two briefly discusses the structure of themes and cycles in the collection and ends with a detailed table that includes first line, theme(s), line count, and metrical form for each poem. Both sections deliver a rather standard picture of Catullus and his work.

In Metra Catulliana Luque Moreno raises the question of whether the various metrical forms employed by the poet allow us to construct an evolution of his technique and locate him in the literary landscape in which he was immersed. There is a table of metrical forms with a chronology for each poem and several very useful surveys: a review of lexical items in the corpus pertaining to rhythm, meter, versification and the processes of artistic creation and oral and written delivery, a large collection of commentary on Catullus from ancient grammarians, passages from metrical treatises on questions of versification, and a collection of references to Catullus in literary sources up to the seventh century. Luque Moreno notes that these latter sections give some idea of the memory of Catullus that remained among later Roman scholars. While his entire work had the attention of grammarians, most of the 40 references to the poet comment on lexical (11x) or grammatical (10x) issues, and most are directed at the polymetra and especially poems 1-5, which are also the most cited or paraphrased in literary sources, as one might expect.

In the fourth section, Catulli Epigrammata, Luque Moreno argues, partly with an eye to explaining c. 51 in the following chapter, that a two-part epigrammatic structure pervades the work of Catullus, not only in the epigrams themselves but even in the polymetra, longer poems, and in fact ‘en la práctica totalidad de los poemas catulianos’ (p. 120). In this view, the ‘barb’ of a poem is suppressed in the first part of a poem but revealed in the second, in which surprise endings, contrasts, and changes of direction or sense are all characteristic. The chapter ends with brief analyses of every single poem—indeed from 1 to 116—into a two-part structure.

In the second and longest chapter of the book, Catulli Polymetra, Luque Moreno reviews the various metrical forms used by Catullus and analyzes representative poems of each type. This chapter also falls into four parts, beginning with a long study of c. 51, to which Luque Moreno assigns a rather exaggerated place among Catullus’s poetry: ‘toda su [i.e. Catullus’s] peripecia se puede considerar condensada en esta poema 51’ (p. 199). In keeping with his view of the epigrammatic nature of Catullus’s poetry, he explains the difficulties of the fourth stanza as an intentional stance taken by the poet to create surprise. The slippery term otium is to be read in malam partem, ‘una actitud pasiva’, ‘afeminamiento’ (p. 161) and Catullus supposedly offers a ‘nueva concepción del otium’ (p. 194)—an otium of private life and literary composition, an otium poeticum.

There is a detailed discussion of versification and chronology in which Luque Moreno compares the metrical treatment (length of the fourth syllable, presence of synaloepha, hiatus, frequency of the break after the fifth syllable) of the two poems composed in Sapphic strophes, 11 and 51. Luque Moreno concludes that 51 is more advanced in its metrical evolution than 11, even though we might expect a more Hellenizing treatment in a poem based on Sappho. This adds a complicating wrinkle to the odd fact that 51 supposedly marks the start of the affair with Lesbia but appears after 11, which marks the relationship’s end, in the collection as it survived. No explanation of this oddity is offered, but one may suggest it is simply a mirage created by the autobiographical premise; there are no very good reasons to read 51 and 11 as termini of the relationship with Lesbia or even to date them to 62 and 54 BCE, as done here. Metrical differences between the poems are slight and one wonders if they hold much weight. Luque Moreno notes that the percentage of short fourth syllables in 11 is 11.12%, while all but one is long in 51. But in fact, this amounts to a difference of 2 shorts in 18 lines (c. 11) versus 1 in 12 (c. 51). The numbers pertaining to the break after the fifth syllable are similarly equivocal: c. 11 shows 66.67% and c. 51 gives 75%, or 12/18 versus 9/12.

The section on c. 51 ends in a rather grand theory that portrays Catullus ‘en peligro de perderse a sí mismo’ (p. 196) and regretting not his love affair with Lesbia so much as his time wasted writing about it. The poem is transformed into a neutron star that condenses every cultural, literary, social and political element in the collection into a single statement about ‘novitas y auctoritas’, the dualities of love, personal life, Roman negotium, ‘las contradicciones entre deseo personal y las concepciones normativas de la masculinidad romana’ (p. 197), ‘el novedoso helenismo y la romanidad de siempre’ (p.198), ‘todas las luces y las sombras de la lírica catuliana, todas las contradicciones, todo lo agridulce de su vida y de su época, las confrontación del odio y el amor’ (p. 199). This is surely an artifact of the inspirational classroom teacher who takes the propaedeutic and inspirational function of the praelectio earnestly, if it goes a bit too far for the jaded souls and bald heads of reveiwers coughing in their ink.

In Catullus Priapicus Luque Moreno examines poems in meters with a glyconic base and maintains that they share a conceptual or thematic identity. Glyconics and Pherecrateans: c. 34 portrays an unhealthy chastity that rejects matrimony; matrimony is also the focus of c. 61. The Priapean: c. 17 is ‘un auténtico carmen Priapeum’ (p. 257) with an emphasis on the relation between the sexes. The Greater Asclepiadean: c. 30 is ‘una solemne invectiva’ with ‘el espíritu arquiloqueo’ (p. 264), but Luque Moreno glosses over the fact that this poem does not really share a theme with the others. Luque Moreno points out that concubine, nuces da in c. 61 is typologically unusual and suggests it is a relic of fescenine verses or some popular formula that has been adapted to the pherecratean verse.

In Hendecasyllabi Catulliani the author demonstrates that there is no single, direct model of the Catullan phalaecian, but rather a medley of models. Catullus used the phalaecian for ‘salty’ and, unusually, erotic poetry. Luque Moreno adduces some evidence to suggest this was perhaps a distinctive mark of the neoterics. Here is also an interesting discussion of the phrase Sapphica puella musa doctior (c. 35), which the author gently suggests should be read as ‘more than learned in Sapphic poetry.’

A catch-all section, Alia Metra, is devoted to galliambics (a form that Luque Moreno suggests stems from ‘cantos liturgicos’), iambi, and hexametra. The section ends with a discussion of distichs, in which Luque Moreno proposes that there is a tendency toward a distichic articulation throughout Catullus, and a close reading of several elegiac poems (85, 86, 93, 94, 105, 186 and 112).

The final and shortest chapter, Variana Catulliana, feels like a collection of leftovers. How best to translate candidus? Without moral signification as ‘esplendido’, ‘reluciente’, or ‘deslumbrante’. What is the force of severiores at c. 5.2? There is no reason not to take it as a comparative rather than an intensive. Comparatives of five or six syllables regularly appear at the end of a Catullan phalaecian after the sixth syllable as a metrically useful recourse. Was there any Catullan influence on Seneca’s Medea? It is not possible to recognize direct links to Catullus anywhere in the work.


[1] On historical forms of the praelectio, see L. Claire, ‘La praelectio, une forme de transmission du savoir à la renaissance: l’exemple de la leçon d’introduction aux Annales de Tacite de Marc Antoine Muret (1580)’, Camenulae 3 (2009) 1-13.

[2] J. Luque Moreno, ‘Un sistema de signos para el análisis métrico de textos latinos en verso’, Florentia Iliberritana 12 (2001) 267-294.