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Catullus 49

Author(s): D. E. W. Wormell
Source: Phoenix, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring, 1963), pp. 59-60
Published by: Classical Association of Canada
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Accessed: 04/01/2015 01:33
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D. E.


DisertissimeRomuli nepotum,
quot sunt quotquefuere,Marce Tulli,
quotquepost allis eruntin annis,
gratias tibi maximas Catullus
agit pessimus omniumpoeta,
tantopessimus omniumpoeta,
quanto tu optimusomniumpatronus.
DEBATE on the meaningof this poem has been in progressfor a
On balance, the view that this is not a half-embarrassedextime.
pression thanks, but is ironicalwith mockingundertones,is gaining
ground. But discussion continues,and the issue remains undecided. It
may well seem impossibleto give a verdicteitherway withoutknowledge
of the context; but Cicero could equally well have done Catullus a
serviceor a disservice,and in the absence ofevidenceone mustsubscribe
to Rettig's dictum: ex Catullo non ex CiceroneCatullus potissimumexplicandus. It might appear that the contentsof these seven lines have
been so thoroughlysifted that nothingremains to be said. There are,
however,two hithertodisregardedpieces of evidence in the poem itself
which support the view that Catullus is motivated by resentmentand
hostility,or, as Friedrichputs it, that real and sincerethankssound quite
In lines 4 and 5 the thirdpersonis used where the firstpersonwould
be muchsimplerand morenatural. Catullus is fondof addressinghimself
in the vocative, and of personifyinghimselfin his poetry (which is
frequentlycast in the formof an internaldebate). The oblique forms
Catullum, Catullo, Catullo, as employed by him are almost exactly
synonymouswith me, mihi,me, and Catulli correspondssimilarlyto the
possessivepronoun.Thus he can begin poem 72: dicebasquondamsolum
tenosseCatullum,ILesbia, necprae meuelletenereIouem. But the nominative Catullus followedby the verb in the thirdperson is relativelyuncommon,and is not synonymouswith the simpleverb in the firstperson.


1For bibliographysee the third edition of Kroll's commentary (with supplement by

Kroymann) and H. J. Leon's "A Quarter Century of Catullan Scholarship (1934-1959)
II," CW 53 (1960) 146. Fordyce, Catullus (Oxford 1961) 213 f., considers the poem
judicially, but his finalsentence,"without being sarcastic, Catullus may have his tongue
in his cheek," is too judicial to be convincing. Rettig, Catulliana 3 (Bern 1870) 11, is
known to me only fromO. Harnecker, Philologus 41 (1882) 478. For Friedrichsee his
edition (Leipzig 1908) 230. Wilamowitz, HellenistischeDichtung 2 (Berlin 1924) 309,
calls the poem "das schn6de Verschen."

PHOENIx, Vol. 17 (1963) 1.

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The tone is stiffer

and colder,ratheras in a formalinvitationin the third
English. In 8.12 uale, puella. iam Catullus obdurat... he is
dissociatinghimselffromLesbia, and this is still more true in 58.2f illa
Lesbia quam Catullus unam/plusquam se atque suos amauit omnes...,
wherethe name is introducedpartlyto contrastwithLesbia. It is instructive to compare49 with 1, wherethereis the same self-depreciation,
the tone is warm,relaxed,and friendly.
Secondly, the remarkableassonantal rhymeof lines 2 and 4, Marce
Tulli and -mas Catullus should be noticed. The effectof rhyme in a
fromits effect
highlyinflectedlanguage such as Latin is quite different
in English.WhereasEnglishrhymearbitrarilylinkstogetherwordswhich
have no connectionbeyond similarityof sound, Latin rhymefrequently
originates in similar grammatical terminationsand gives maximum
emphasis to a logical connectionin much the same way as is done at the
simplest level by repetition.It is no accident that rhyme in Latin is
normally an adornmentof prose, in English of poetry. Catullus uses
rhyme freely to achieve effectsranging from balance and emphasis
(8.1 and 19; 31. 3 and 5; 42. 1 and 5; 45. 21-24, wherecorrespondenceof
the linesis meant to suggestthatAcme and Septimiusare a well-matched
pair) to mockery,sarcasm, and bitterness(29. 12-13; 56. 1-4; 58. 4-5;
98. 1 and 5, 2 and 6). In all these instancesthe rhymescheme stresses
an underlyingsimilarityof structure,thought,and feeling.Its effect
here, where Catullus is nominallysuggestingthat he is unworthyeven
to thank Cicero adequately is surely satirical. For a somewhat similar
mockingjingle on names, thoughin a kindlieratmosphere,compare56. 3
ride quidquid amas Cato, Catullum; and for a savage play upon names,
compare 79. 1 Lesbius estpulcer.

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