Notes on the text and interpretation of Catullus

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Notes on the text and interpretation of Catullus

     1 Notes on the text and interpretation of Catullus


     Passer, deliciae meae puellae,

     quicum ludere, quem in sinu tenere,

     cui primum digitum dare appetenti

     et acris solet incitare morsus,

     cum desiderio meo nitenti 5

     carum nescio quid lubet iocari,

     et solaciolum sui doloris,

     credo ut tum grauis acquiescat ardor;

     tecum ludere sicut ipsa possem,

     et tristis animi leuare curas!

2b * * *

     tam gratum est mihi quam ferunt puellae

     pernici aureolum fuisse malum,

     1 quod zonam soluit diu ligatam.

    2Robin Nisbet, whose masterly article on the text of Catullus it is a particular pleasure to be able to salute in a piece appearing in the same journal twenty years later, adduced an

     We are most grateful to the editors of PCPS, to its anonymous referee and to Profs.

    R.G.M.Nisbet and H.D. Jocelyn for salutary criticism and comment; and we thank Prof.E.J.Kenney for his kind and timely help in finding the conjecture mentioned in n.45.

     1 For convenience, and except where otherwise indicated, we cite the text and sigla of Mynors' OCT of Catullus (corrected reprint, 1960) in this article, though we often modify or amplify his apparatus. The following editions of Catullus are referred to by author's name only : Robinson Ellis, Catulli Veronensis Liber (Oxford, 1878), C.J.Fordyce, Catullus 23(Oxford, 1961), G.P.Goold, Catullus (London, 1989), W.Kroll, Catull (Stuttgart, 1959),

    Guy Lee, The Poems of Catullus (Oxford, 1990), H-P.Syndikus, Catull (3 vols., Darmstadt, 1984-90), D.F.S.Thomson, Catullus (Toronto, 1997). 2 'Notes on the text and interpretation of Catullus', PCPhS 24 (1978), 92-115 = Collected

    papers on Latin literature (Oxford, 1995), 76-100. We would be inclined to accept the following conjectures: 10.25-6 quaero ? istaec; 22.6 nouae bibli; 64.359 densis; 66.74 imi.

    Less successful, perhaps, are the suggestions made at 11.13, 17.3, 61.111, 69.9. All the other discussions are worth close consideration; and some of the passages will be revisited in what follows, a homonymous homage to that ground-breaking article..



    important parallel for verse 5, ,;,~;:;;;?;; (Anacreon PMG 444), and thus demonstrated

    that the probable sense is ‗the woman shining with longing for me‘. If Catullus had written mei rather than meo, there would have been no ambiguity to mislead readers; I therefore conjecture that he did. Assimilation to desiderio will easily have produced the change. It is

    true that Propertius twice has the phrase desiderio meo in the sense ‗longing for me‘ (3.22.6;

    4.3.28); but there is not the same ambiguity in either case.

     Further difficulties follow. One, to which insufficient attention has been given, is carum,

    which makes an odd internal accusative for iocari. Something like gratum would be far more

    usual - if an internal accusative is wanted at all. For the participle nitenti hangs rather loosely

    without a substantive, which might also help to convey the change of construction, from personal to impersonal. Harrison suggests by way of illustration erae (cf. 68.136, for the

    word in the sense of 'erotic mistress' in Catullus), though this would introduce a second iambic base into this poem that begins the sequence in which non-spondaic bases are almost entirely avoided (the other is in verse 4, where we should perhaps consider atque or aut).

     The grammar of solaciolum is the next problem; to fit it into the sentence we need

    something other than et: possibilities are Ramler‘s ad, marking purpose; B.Guarinus‘s ut,

    3which has a similar effect, and has been advocated by Zicàri and printed by Thomson. es,

    once suggested to us, (or even tu es) would require further surgery both to sui and to verse 8.

    Some alteration of 8 has usually been thought necessary, it is true, with most modern editors printing Guarinus‘s tum ? acquiescat for the paradosis cum ? acquiescet. Another ut or

    even another expression of purpose after ad solaciolum would string out the sentence in a

    feeble and repetitive manner. A different approach was once suggested by Professor Jonathan Powell:

     te solaciolum sui doloris

     credit, cum grauis acquiescit ardor.

    This works quite well in itself, though it draws attention to the overlap of sense between the two lines, but it falls down when one observes the change wrought to the structure of the whole poem (and the same objection could be made to the conjecture es for et in 7): the

    emphasis put on tecum (9) by the long series of relative clauses leading up to it is taken from the sentence that brings the interesting shift of focus and placed instead on lines that merely continue the thrust of those clauses. Finding no easy alternative, I therefore suggest that

     3 M.Zicàri, Scritti Catulliani (Urbino, 1976), 160-79.



    Guarinus‘s conjecture in verse 8 is right in restoring what was originally written, but I do not regard it as Catullian: the verse is an explanatory gloss on line 7 (perhaps originally credo ut

    acquiescat ardor) developed into a hendecasyllable by the addition of the superfluous tum


     Thomson asserts that there can be no link between 2 and the so-called fragment 2b. It is certainly true that Catullus often uses a poem on a very different subject to mark the separation of two poems on the same theme (notably, as Thomson says, in the case of 6, dividing the kiss poems, but cf. also 38, 70); but as the content of ‗2b‘ is both personal to Catullus and apparently erotic, it is not obvious that it can be a fragment of a poem comparable to 6 in its distinction from the pair it divides. The other points made by Thomson are more easily discarded. (i) There is nothing obviously sacrosanct (or even especially Catullian) about the numerical structure 8 + 2; poem 1, which he is perhaps implicitly comparing, as he describes it as consisting of the pattern 2 + 6 + 2 (p.195), is in fact broken into 2 + 5 + 3 by the conjunctions namque and quare. And the completeness of the thought is

    the very point at issue. (ii) The inexplicable syntactical change possem/gratum est is avoided

    by one or other of the conjectures posse or passer in 9. (iii) Thomson argues that C. is

    reflecting on ‗a wholly static situation‘ in 2, whereas Hippomenes‘ dropping of the apple is a sudden event. But this is not necessarily the case. Let us consider the text proposed anew:

     Passer, deliciae meae puellae,

     quicum ludere, quem in sinu tenere,

     cui primum digitum dare appetenti

     et acris solet incitare morsus,

     cum desiderio meo nitenti 5

     carum nescioquid libet iocari, 6

     ad solaciolum sui doloris, 8

     tecum ludere sicut ipsa posse

     et tristis animi leuare curas, 10

     tam gratum est mihi quam ferunt puellae

     pernici aureolum fuisse malum,

     quod zonam soluit diu ligatam.

    The girl‘s playing with the sparrow is indeed a continuous fact, but the comparison with



    Atalanta‘s pleasure in the apple makes Catullus‘s opportunity (posse) to do the same a signal

    moment in his courtship, a relief of his lovesickness, an indication of his intimacy, and

    tantamount to sexual acceptance. This may not be right, but it cannot be dismissed in the

    summary way in which Thomson does so.



     huc ut uenimus, incidere nobis 5

     sermones uarii, in quibus, quid esset

     iam Bithynia, quo modo se haberet,

     et quonam mihi profuisset aere.

     respondi id quod erat, nihil neque ipsis

     nec praetoribus esse nec cohorti, 10

     cur quisquam caput unctius referret,

     praesertim quibus esset irrumator

     praetor, nec faceret pili cohortem.

    12 8 et quonam GR: et quoniam OGR : ecquonam Statius

    129 neque ipsis GR: neque nec in ipsis OGR

    10 primum nec om.R: nunc Westphal quaestoribus Muretus

If we retain the vulgate text in verse 9, ipsis must mean ‗the natives‘. Livy 24.35.1 (Helorum

    atque Herbesum dedentibus ipsis recepit) and 6.30.9 (Setiam ipsis quaerentibus penuriam hominum noui coloni ascripti) offer parallels for this meaning, but in context the sense is questionable: referret in 11 cannot refer to the inhabitants. Such carelessness of expression may be thought not out of place in so conversational a poem, and is paralleled, as the text

    stands, by praetoribus (10)/praetor (13).

     Two routes should be ruled out. Kroll and Syndikus follow Löfstedt (Syntactica II

    (Lund 1938), 38) in taking the initial nec of verse 10 as pleonastic; but how is the reader to know that the apparent articulation into three elements (neque ipsis/ nec praetoribus/ nec

    cohorti) is simply deceptive? But Kroll is right to reject Westphal‘s nunc; this would attach

    ipsis to praetoribus, but only by introducing a superfluous word, out of place and overstressed.



     Muretus‘s quaestoribus, on the other hand, is a good conjecture, if we can accept that

    4the (pro)praetores of Bithynia in the 50's could have more than one quaestor : either

    psychological error or similarity of appearance might have led to the corruption to praetoribus,

    where the plural is nonsensical, especially with praetor in line 13. If we want a logical

    expression we will accept quaestoribus, and look again at the problems of 9. We might

    expect in that verse an answer to the question posed in 8: ‗did the province enrich you with

    5any money?‘ It is possible that Catullus wrote nihil mihi ipsi : ‗I replied, as was the case,

    nothing for me; nor for the quaestors or the cohort was there any reason why they might bring home a head more richly anointed‘. This would suppose nec/neque added to mark the

    isupposed structure, and m read as in (leading in turn to ipsis). Catullus elides mihi at 21.7,

    58b.10; and has elision at this point in the line at 10.21, 15.7. The addition of nec may seem

    6arbitrary; but no more so than the addition of in was for the vulgate text.



     quod si, ut suspicor, hoc nouum ac repertum

     munus dat tibi Sulla litterator,

     non est mi male, sed bene ac beate,

     quod non dispereunt tui labores.

    The poem accuses Calvus of having passed on a Saturnalian gift of a book of noxious poems to Catullus; the book appears to be a collection or anthology of a number of bad poets (see 14.5 cur me tot male perderes poetis?). In 8 ac repertum seems difficult: in what sense is the

    gift of bad poetry ‗found‘? Fordyce glosses ‗ingeniously devised‘, but admits there is no parallel for such a sense; Thomson, following Levens, suggests ‗original‘, a meaning equally difficult to match. Could ac have been added from line 10? If so, and ac were ejected,

    repertum could be substantive with its Lucretian sense of ‗discovery‘ (1.136), with munus

     4 One quaestor per (pro)praetor was the norm; but the (pro)praetor of Sicily, a province

    with two major centres, had two (Cicero Ver.2.2.11), and it may be that the double province

    of Bithynia/Pontus had two when established by Pompey in 63-2, for which the evidence is very scanty; for what can be known cf. C.Marek, Stadt, ;ra und Territorium in Pontus-

    Bithynia und Nord-Galatia (T?bingen, 1993), 34-47. 5 mihi nec ipsi was already conjectured by Statius. 6 Here, as more generally, I owe a debt to Dr David McKie, with whom I discussed the



    used predicatively (‗gives this ―new discovery‖ to you as a gift‘) - for the construction cf. Calvus fr.11.1-4 Bl?nsdorf haec ... / carmina ..../.../ Prusiaca uexi munera nauicula, Ovid,

    Ars 1.557 munus habe caelum. nouum repertum is not elsewhere attested as a combination, though Demosthenes (20.89) has ;?;;;;;;;;;(? in a similar negative sense; nouum here

    means 'new' in the sense of 'strange, bizarre' - cf. OLD s.v. nouus, 3.



     di magni, horribilem et sacrum libellum!

     quem tu scilicet ad tuum Catullum

     misti, continuo ut die periret,

     Saturnalibus, optimo dierum.

    If Mynors' text is rightly punctuated, continuo die would have to mean ‗on the following day‘, for which, as Fordyce shows, there is no precise parallel. This involves two further oddities:

    firstly that the original gift came to Calvus on the day before the Saturnalia, and secondly that

    he sent it to Catullus in the expectation that it would cause his death, but only on the day after

    it arrived. Better to take continuo as the adverb (‗you immediately sent it to your friend

    Catullus‘). Now, however, we are left with unacceptable phrasing in the ut clause. How is

    die to be construed? The verse-division makes an enclosed apposition very awkward, and

    Thomson reasonably expresses doubts about the phrase die optimo dierum itself. We might

    suppose that die has intruded in 14 through inadvertence or as an explanatory gloss on optimo,

    7and write for instance ut periret ipsis/ Saturnalibus, optimo dierum .



     paterna prima lancinata sunt bona,

     secunda praeda Pontica, inde tertia

     Hibera, quam scit amnis aurifer Tagus ?

Here in the catalogue of fortunes appropriated and squandered by Mamurra, quam scit in 19

    seems at first unexceptionable. That the local river Tagus can bear witness to Mamurra‘s

passage as an undergraduate. 7 The anonymous referee suggests miser for die, also attractive.



    Spanish booty uses a common poetical trope: cf. similarly Tibullus 1.7.11-12 (rivers witnessing Tibullus‘ participation in Messalla‘s campaigns) testis Arar Rhodanusque celer

    magnusque Garunna, / Carnutis et flaui caerula lympha Liger. For scit Fordyce (following

    Baehrens) compares Aeneid 11.259-60 [infanda supplicia] scit triste Mineruae / sidus et ?

    Euboicae cautes ultorque Caphareus. But Wiman (Eranos 61 (1963) 30) saw that aurifer

    makes a point here: the Tagus is gold-bearing because it is imagined as adding to Mamurra‘s

    booty from its natural resources; scit then seems weak and colourless. He proposed quam

    unxit, but the verb ung(u)ere (as opposed to its past participle unctus - cf.29.22) is never used

    for the idea of metaphorically anointing or oiling, i.e. enriching, and seems inappropriate for the more liquid action of a river. I conjecture quam auxit, making the point more forcibly and

    providing assonance with aurifer (for the elision of relative quam cf. 59.2). Auxit would here

    make the additional point that even Mamurra's third fortune, specially augmented by the gold-bearing Tagus, has been wilfully wasted, with an over-emphasis appropriate to the hyperbolic and satiric context ; for augere of increasing property or wealth, a common use in both prose and poetry, cf. Horace, Ep.1.7.71 rem strenuus auge, Ovid, Am.1.10.41 census augere

    paternos, TLL 2.1346.23ff. scit might well have been generated by the common phonetic

    spelling of x as cs in Latin, together with the loss of a syllable in elision.



     hunc Galliae timet et Britanniae.

This is the transmitted text, which does not scan (Mynors prints Fr?lich's timetur): the second

    metron is a syllable short, and the first syllable of the line elsewhere follows the consistent

    8norm for the poem , of giving pure iambics. The one possible exception, Mamurram in 3, is

    the kind of exception that does prove a rule, as it is the proper name essential to make sense of the poem by identifying the victim of Catullus‘s invective; and even in this case we might

    pronounce the name with a short initial syllable, using a licence to fit the word to the poem rather than the other way around. As there is no monosyllable that will provide us with a single short syllable to stand before Galliae, we must assume that the two deficiencies are

     8 But note that primum is transmitted in line 17.


     8 9connected, and supply either Baehrens‘s eine or Munro‘s et huicne in place of hunc. All the

    other conjectures are unmetrical, given the pattern of this poem, and should be discarded.

     In the centre of the line we now need only an iambus between Galliae and Britanniae.

    Baehrens‘s optima et, a superlative version of bona, is not easy to parallel. Better, and palaeographically attractive, is Munro‘s Gallia et metet Britannia, printed by Lee. However, it is hard to see why Catullus should have written the future, given the present habere in verse

    3, and (e)t metit is not significantly more distant from the transmitted timet et: ‗is it for him

    that Gaul and Britain harvest?‘ An alternative that would fit the imagery of consumption

    10(elluatus, 16; lancinata, 17) is eine Gallia estur et Britannia? ‗First, his paternal property was torn in shreds; second the booty from Pontus, then third the Spanish, of which the gold-

    11bearing river Tagus knows : and is he now eating Gaul and Britain?‘ estur is attested at

    12Plaut. Mos.235; Ov. ex P.1.1.69.



     Annales Volusi, cacata charta,

     uotum soluite pro mea puella.

     nam sanctae Veneri Cupidinique

     uouit, si sibi restitutus essem

     desissemque truces uibrare iambos,

     electissima pessimi poetae 5

     scripta tardipedi deo daturam

     infelicibus ustulanda lignis.

     et hoc pessima se puella uidit

     9 Catullus is one of the few poets to use ei ; but on the one occasion where the mss have the form (at 82.3) it is scanned as a single long syllable. The 9 instances in Lucretius are all

    spondaic, in the final foot of the hexameter; and it is not until the pseudo-Ovidian Halieutica

    (v.34), and Germanicus (Arat.333, 457) that we find secure examples of iambic scansion. See B. Axelson, Unpoetische Wörter (Lund, 1945), 70; J.A. Richmond, The Halieutica Attributed to Ovid (London, 1962), 42, TLL 10 comestur was already conjectured by Wiman. 11 Or ‗has increased‘, if we read auxit (see above). 12 Rossberg‘s nulli at 8.14 gives us another instance of dative of the agent with a finite verb in

    Catullus (note 7.9 for confusion between ei, an alternative spelling for long i, and a in the

    tradition). None of the supposed parallels for nulla stand up; at 17.20, for example, it functions as a complement (= ‗non-existent‘).



     iocose lepide uouere diuis.

9 hoc] uos Housman 10 ac add. Goold post iocose ioco se lepido Scaliger se diuis V,

    corr. !;

    The background to this poem is, I believe, clear, and uncontroversial. Catullus‘s girlfriend (Lesbia, for convenience) has vowed to Venus that, if he returns to her, she will dedicate to Venus‘s husband, the fire god, Vulcan, the choicest poems of the worst poet - by which she means Catullus‘s iambic scurrilities (5). Now, the reunion apparently having occurred, Catullus discharges the vow for her; but instead of his own urbane verses, he burns the crappy pages of Volusius‘s Annales. As the text stands, however, even with Goold‘s elegant ac

    (preferred to the early correction et because it is the more common copula for pairs of adverbs:

    e.g. 14.10, 42.8, 77.1), verses 9-10, the centre of the poem, lack the clarity and point of what precedes.

    13 pessima must, as Housman argued , recall pessimi in 7; he took it as a neuter plural

    vocative, with hoc altered to uos. But neuter plural vocatives are not common, se better

    14follows nominative pessima than vocative , and puella will remain an immediately attractive

    noun for the adjective, even if we read uos. And more can be said in defence of pessima ?

    puella than is said by Housman. Catullus is reinterpreting Lesbia‘s words, treating pessimi as

    a definitive expression; it would not be inappropriate for him to illustrate the breadth of connotation a word may have by using pessimus again, in a context where its sense is

    superficially mild (‗naughty‘) and where it is now applied it to Lesbia herself, the tables wittily


     et is superfluous; but in linking uidit with uouit, it does discourage the reader from

    thinking the sense perfect. In any case without nunc or some such temporal adverb an

    antithesis between present realisation and past ignorance would be feeble. But if uidit is

    preterite, then it contradicts the picture the poet has established: in making the vow Lesbia did not realise that she was perpetrating an elegant ambiguity; the wit and charm come only in a later reinterpretation, whether by the poet or the girl herself. And of the two, rather the poet: he acts throughout in her interest, but nowhere on her orders. So for et I do not conjecture

     13 JPh 22 (1894) 88 = Classical Papers (Cambridge, 1972), 317. His rejection of the earlier

    correction haec (Itali) on the grounds that the Annales are still addressed, I consider valid. 14 As Prof.Jocelyn points out.



    nunc (which would, moreover, clumsily anticipate the nunc of 11), but nec: ‗Nor did the

    naughty girl realise that she made this vow to the gods with wit and charm.‘ Anger and spite were presumably what filled her thoughts. This is a text of more force, I feel, than the vulgate; but better still, and therefore more probably Catullian, would be to accept also Housman‘s

    conjecture uos (but not his punctuation):

     nec uos pessima se puella uidit

     iocose ac lepide uouere diuis.

    ‗But the naughty girl did not see that it was you she was wittily and charmingly vowing to the gods.‘ Thus the negated idea is placed next to the negative.

     Some may be alarmed at the alteration of two consecutive words (and another error follows in 10); but corruptions are not distributed neatly; they do not even come at random. One slip may enourage correction, and corrections bewitch the eyes and minds of later scribes.

     When a scribe‘s concentration lapses, with thoughts of dinner, an assignation, or his God, then it may well lapse for more than just a single word. The collation of manuscripts reveals that errors do often come in clusters.



     puella nam mi, quae meo sinu fugit,

     amata tantum quantum amabitur nulla,

     pro qua mihi sunt magna bella pugnata,

     consedit istic.

In line 11 puella nam me (OGR) makes no sense (me is clearly wrong); mea is printed in some

    early editions, but Catullus never in his choliambics allows a resolution for a syllable which is properly short. mi (Heinsius) will not do (even Mynors, who prints it, says uix latine); it is

    too far separated from amata which would govern it, and in too emphatic a position, and it

    15cannot be possessive dative as Thomson wishes . Avantius‘ namque is attractive (for the

    postponement of namque in Catullus cf. 64.384, 66.65): -que would be lost by haplography

     15 He supports this view by a cross-reference to 21.11, where he improbably reads a te mi

    puer for the obviously corrupt me me puer of the MSS; Goold more persuasively reads

    Froelich's a temet puer. Kroll cites Terence Andr.596 corrigi mihi gnatum porro enitere for

    the possessive interpretation of mi, but there the dative is at least partly that of advantage.


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