Catullus II, Sacred Poems 34, 61, 62, 63, 64.

        Note: In addition to my own annotations, our translator (Charles  Martin) offers some extremely useful background on the sacred  poems.  Because they are designed to fit ceremonial contexts,  they omit the sorts of situational description which even shorter  lyrics often contain.  In many cases, the poems, themselves, offer us our only clues from which we can infer the existence of now-lost elements of Roman culture.   See pages 165 &168‑75.


        Survival of Catullus' single complete manuscript collection of poems is either the strangest fluke in classical and medieval book production or a sign that his verse was so compelling that it literally forced Christian monks to copy it so that its sole "autograph" copy from Catullus' own hand would not be the sole record of the poems in history.  To see an image of part of poem #1 from one of the three surviving medieval manuscripts, Bodleian MS. Oxoniensis, click here.  This manuscript remained undiscovered in the Bodleian Library at Oxford until the nineteenth century.  The others are the Vatican Library's MS. Romanus and the Parisian Bibliotheque Nationale MS. Sangermanensis.


        For a scholarly article that places Catullus among the other "Neoteric" or avant-garde poets of late Greek and early Latin literature, see:

R. O. A. M. Lyne, "The Neoteric Poets." The Classical Quarterly , New Series, Vol. 28, No. 1 (1978), pp. 167-187


Discussion Questions:


1)  #34 is one of the shorter sacred lyrics in C's collection.    Compare it with Homeric Hymns we have read.  What is C's   intention and how do you reconcile it with the claim in #16?


2)  What "instructions" does the wedding hymn (#61) give to the  participants, and what types of participants does it include?


3)  How does #61 use its allusion to the Troy story compared to  the way The Odyssey uses it?  Compare the roles assigned the gods  in this hymn to those in Sappho's lyrics or in The Odyssey.  How  do they differ in emphasis?  Especially note the apostrophe to  Venus (61‑75) in which her role is magnified.


4)  Marriage, says Catullus, "seals our lawful passions" (45).   Compare the world of this poem with the world of his profane  poems.  Look carefully at lines 96‑105 & 126‑155).


5)  How does the topic of lines 211‑230 fit into the world view  you were considering in #4?  Especially note the poem's reference  to Penelope and Telemakhos as exemplary types of wife and son.   Compare this particular portion of Catullus' wedding song with  the end of Edmund Spenser's Epithalamion (see especially the last three stanzas where he prays to pagan gods of procreation and childbirth for successful conception).


6)  Re: #62, note the key elements of and the differences between  Greek and Roman weddings (n. p. 169).  What cultural values might  these customs reveal?


7)  The Greeks, long before the Romans, were fond of the agon or  struggle between two forces representing differing ideas.  Paired  choirs of unmarried (but potentially courting) boys and girls  frequently are called for by traditional Balkan folk songs, each  side teasing the other in ways which vary from subtle to profane.   How would you evaluate this song's competition? 


8)  How do the paired choruses of this wedding song develop the  idea of courtship as competition, and how does this wedding song  differ from #61 in that respect?  Rather than just making this  struggle a case of "Oh yeah? Yeah, that's right!" Catullus  constructs a drama.  Why does he arrange the circumstances of the  choruses as he does?


8)  How does the women's chorus characterize Hesperus?  How do  the men respond?  Especially, how do you read the unusual  structure of the stanza beginning with line 32 in the context of  that line?  Is C aware of this, do you suppose?


9)  Attis (#63) laments s/he is "a broken part of what I was"   (ego mei  pars, "I part of myself" [Loeb]).  What psychological  effect is C  describing in this line?  How much of self is "I"?


10)  Attis recants his/her allegiance to Cybelle in line 73 ("Now  I detest what I have done to myself, and I repent it!"‑‑iam, iam,  dolet quod egi, iam iamque paenitet, "now, now, I rue  my deed,  now, every minute, I would it were undone" [Loeb]).  How  does  that moment affect the poem's dramatic structure, esp. re:   Cybelle's response?


12)  Why would C spend so much time evoking the power of Cybelle   through her effect on Attis if his intention were (like Attis')   to wish he far from Her?  Compare with other poets' invocation of   goddesses (esp. Sappho on Aphrodite).  How might you use this to  explain Odysseus' decision to spare Phemios in Odyssey 22?


13)  Read the paragraph of Martin's note on the historical  circumstances of Cybele's worship in Rome (169‑70).  What sort of  social controversy is this?  Why is Cybele's chariot drawn by  lions associated with terror, and why (apart from the oracle's  advice) would some Romans like Catullus worship her?  (Remember  C's social class and attitude toward his community.)  How do you  suppose Julius Caesar responded to the worship of this goddess?   Also see question #18 on "the wedding of Peleus and Thetis"  (#64).


14)  In #64, remember that Theseus' voyage to the East (i.e., the   Black Sea) marks for many poet‑mythographers the first move of   modern times, a transgression which brought Medea as well as the   Fleece to the West.  (See Theseus' career in Hamilton or Graves.)    How might this relate to C's motive for using this for an  epithalamium or wedding  song?  Otherwise, wouldn't it seem a  trifle inappropriate?  Or would that be an anachronistic standard  to apply to Catullus' particular social subgroup?


15)  From line 19‑21), Martin opts for a nearly literal sense of  Catullus' verse and the Loeb edition translator struggles to hold  C's sense while losing what we might  call the architecture of  his song.  Compare these parallel anaphorae (repetition of the  same initial words in successive  phrases):

     tum Thetidus Peleus incensus fertu amore    

     tum Thetis humanos non despexit hymenaeas,

     tum Tetidi pater ipse iugandum Pelea sensit

     [Then for love of Thetis is Peleus said to have caught fire,


     Then Thetis did not disdain a mortal wedding,


     Then to Thetis did Jupiter judge Peleus must be joined.]


How does each clause "couple" an inflected form of "Thetis" with Peleus and the ideas of love and marriage?  Think of the idea of  gender and possession with respect to words, as well as people.   What is happening to the name "Thetis" which also is happening to  the mythic character, Thetis?


16)  This poem contains an extended example of thematic  illustration by apparently irrelevant decoration which I have  called "stories in the margin."  From his evocation of Peleus'  and Thetis' wedding day, C  turns to the story in the quilt   covering the wedding bed (51‑250) abandoning Ariadne, his earlier  defeat of the  Minotaur with her help, Ariadne's cursing lament,  Theseus' error  and his father's suicide.  Then he evokes the  Bacchic revels  (152).  Why?  What kind of wedding quilt (and  poem) is this?  What would the poem be like without the "quilt"?


17)  The song of the Fates (Parcae) at the wedding feast turns to   the child of their union (Achilles).  How is his career related   to the quilt's story?  What events in the Troy story does the  "quilt" represent, and how do they contextualize the marriage  being celebrated?  Again, what sort of wedding (and poem) is  this?


18)  C's coda laments that ambitious sexuality and greed have  driven the gods from Roman life.  What does that suggest the  gods are?  How do the charges C levels against the Romans depict  the culture of his day, and what effect does that suggest the  empire is having on its imperial city?  Also see question #13 re:  "Attis" (poem #63).  When you read Juvenal's satires, written several generations (and emperors) after Catullus' lyrics, you will see an even more intense critique of Roman moral and social degeneration.