previous next


44. The great majority of his verses -- all the most successful of them -- are the direct expression of his own heart at the moment. No poet was ever more unreserved, more perfectly ingenuous. And yet, such is the facility of his genius and the excellence of his taste, his verses show no ruggedness or roughness, but glide along with the utmost ease and swift grace toward their mark. But he was no precisianist in metrics. His hexameters are less perfect and flexible than those of P. Varro or of Lucretius, his elegiacs less harmonious and melting than those of the Augustans, his logaoedics often less melodious than those of Horace. And nevertheless his rhythmical skill suggests constantly that it is the effect of great artfulness.

45. He studied with admiration both the Lesbian and the Alexandrian poets, though it is not easy to determine the precise limits of the influence of either school upon his genius. Part of this difficulty arise from the meagreness of the remains of these Greek writers that have survived the Middle Ages, andd part from the intense fire of his own personality that has metamorphosed into its own likeness all the material that came into contact with it. Even when he is professedly translating Sappho or Callimachus (cf. cc. 51, 66), his translation is full of original elements, and is worked out in a personal fashion. He is often Sapphic in his tendency to self-address, and in the warmth and tenderness of his emotions, and often Alexandrian in his liking for episode, for richness of mythological allusion, for striking turns of phrase (cf. especially cc. 63, 64, 68, passim); and yet he is, after all, never other than distinctively Roman.

46. The speech Catullus employs is, as might be expected from what has already been said, the speech of every-day life. It will not be necessary to discuss here its phenomena in detail. It approximates closely in general to the speech of Plautus and Terence and of Cicero's letters, and suggests in some respects that of Petronius and other writers of the Silver Age, abounding as it does in diminutives (for the expression of tenderness, or of scorn, or even without any proper diminutive force), in words of Greek or of provincial extraction, in alliteration and anaphora. Yet in many instances in epic passages, or those of a more elevated tone than the majority of his lyric he does not hesitate to employ words and figures that suggest the earlier tragedians rather than the comedians.

47. Cicero, in his later years, professed contempt for the whole tribe of these poetae novi (like Catullus and his friends) who had forsaken all the traditions of Ennius (Or. 161; Tusc. III.45; Att. VII. 2.1); and Horace mentions Catullus but once, and then with definite disparagement (Sat. I.10.19); but even from these references it may be fairly inferred that the poetry of Catullus was well and acceptably known among his immediate generation of Romans, and had not to wait till the time of the elegiasts for a purely posthumous fame. It was, indeed, not so very long after his death that Cornelius Nepos ventured to rank him in quality alongside Lucretius (Att. 12.4). His fame, then, was contemporary with himself. But even a cursory examination of his extant book of poems shows evidence that it was not published till after the poet's death. For although it has come down to us mutilated by the accidents of time in a most unseemly manner, no mutilation can account for the condition of c. 58b, which is clearly but a rejected trial-sketch for the poem afterward elaborated as c. 55, and not a misplaced part of c. 55 itself (note the much greater frequency of dactyls in the second place in the verses of c. 58b than of c. 55). Would Catullus himself have published such a mere fragment? Still more, would he after the reconciliation with Julius Caesar have published, or republished, the poems in which Caesar is bitterly assailed? For this same reason, if for no other, it is also impossible to suppose, with certain critics, that Catullus himself arranged the book for publication, but was overtaken by death before it was actually published.

48. The only satisfactory hypothesis is that the book was both arranged and published, after the author's death, by some literary friend of his at Rome, where he ordinarily kept his books and papers (cf. c.68.33-36). The posthumous editor arranged the poems in three general groups. First come sixty shorter poems on various themes all in iambic or logaoedic rhythms Then follows the group of longer poems (cc. 61-68b), introduced by the three epithalamia (cc. 61, 62, 64), with their Eros accompanied by the Anteros of c. 63; this group of poems begins with glyconics (c. 61), continues with dactylic hexameters (cc. 62, 64), divided by passionate galliambics (c. 63), and concludes with elegiacs (cc. 65-68b). It is followed by a third group of shorter poems (cc. 69-116), all in the elegiac metre, but as varied in theme as the first group. This division was suggested entirely by the metres and length of the poems, and not at all by their subject-matter; for the third group contains poems agreeing in subject and date with others in the first group (cf. e.g. c. 99 with c. 48, c. 81 with c. 24, c. 93 with cc. 29 and 57). Within each group poems on the same or similar themes occasionally stand together (e.g. cc. 2 and 3; cc. 61 and 62; cc. 88-91; cc. 110 and 111), but more frequently are divided by one or more poems on another, and often a contrasted theme (cf. cc. 5 and 7; cc. 21 and 23; cc. 62 and 64; cc. 69 and 71; cc. 70 and 72).

49. The editor certainly included one mere fragment (c. 58b); and perhaps more of the poems whose condition we attribute to the neglect of a later age (e.g. cc. 2.11-13; 14b; 54; 78b) may have been published by him in their present form, on account of his anxiety to omit no scrap found among his friend's posthumous papers.

50. Another possibility suggests itself The editor certainly must have disregarded what would have been the wishes of Catullus in publishing, or republishing, the poems against Caesar, especially if none had yet been written in his favor. The editor was doubtless one of the circle of literary friends of the poet at Rome, and so was, if not, like Catullus, a subject of sudden conversion, an anti-Caesarian. Is it possible that he still further used his discretion, and served his own sympathies by refraining from the publication of later poems favorable to Caesar, and that by this theory, and not by that of the speedy death of the poet we are to explain the absence in his works of all poems (except c. 11) showing a change of personal, if not of political, feeling? But this question may be reserved for another occasion.

51. It is not to be supposed, however, that all of these poems saw the light for the first time after the death of their author. The manifest point of most of the personal poems would have been utterly lost, had they not been published immediately after their composition, and the passage already cited from Suetonius (Jul. 73) shows clearly that Caesar was acquainted before their author's death with some of the poems directed against him. One poem also (c. 16. 12) contains an evident reference to the earlier publication of c. 48 (or of cc. 5 and 7?). It seems likely, therefore, that many of the poems were published singly, at least among the circle of the poet's friends, while the extant dedication of a libellus to Cornelius Nepos suggests that a smaller collection of them was made and published by Catullus himself (cf. introductory note to c. 1).

52. Catullus undoubtedly wrote other poems than those included in the extant liber; but of the fragments attributed to him by the grammarians some are proved to have been falsely so ascribed, and the few remaining are, even if genuine, so slight as to be insignificant (cf. Commentary on cc. 18-21).

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Washington (United States) (2)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide References (40 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (40):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 12.4
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 7.2.1
    • Catullus, Poems, 11
    • Catullus, Poems, 110
    • Catullus, Poems, 111
    • Catullus, Poems, 14
    • Catullus, Poems, 16
    • Catullus, Poems, 2
    • Catullus, Poems, 21
    • Catullus, Poems, 23
    • Catullus, Poems, 24
    • Catullus, Poems, 29
    • Catullus, Poems, 3
    • Catullus, Poems, 48
    • Catullus, Poems, 5
    • Catullus, Poems, 51
    • Catullus, Poems, 54
    • Catullus, Poems, 55
    • Catullus, Poems, 57
    • Catullus, Poems, 58
    • Catullus, Poems, 61
    • Catullus, Poems, 62
    • Catullus, Poems, 63
    • Catullus, Poems, 64
    • Catullus, Poems, 65
    • Catullus, Poems, 66
    • Catullus, Poems, 68
    • Catullus, Poems, 69
    • Catullus, Poems, 7
    • Catullus, Poems, 70
    • Catullus, Poems, 71
    • Catullus, Poems, 72
    • Catullus, Poems, 78
    • Catullus, Poems, 81
    • Catullus, Poems, 88
    • Catullus, Poems, 93
    • Catullus, Poems, 99
    • Horace, Satires, 1.10.19
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 73
    • Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, 3.45
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: