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Over the question of the unity of c.68 students of Catullus have long been at variance, some believing that vv. 1-40 have nothing to do with vv. 41-160, and others claiming that a more or less perfect union exists throughout the two, or perhaps three (cf. vv. 149-160), divisions of the poem. On the whole the weight of evidence seems to lie in favor of absolute division of vv. 1-40 from 41-160. §(1) The absence of division indicated by the MSS. is paralleled by similar omission in the case of other poems: §(2) the person addressed in 68a is Malius (or Manlius; cf. v. 11 n.), in 68b, Allius, while the use of two nomina by one man was at this time unprecedented, and there is also no reason why one name should be consistently used in vv. 1-40 and the other in vv. 41-160: §(3) Malius, in 68a, is in extremest sorrow, which the expressions (see notes) show can be only over the death of his wife, while Allius, in 68b, is happy with either wife or mistress (cf. v. 155): §(4) Malius asks for consolation in the shape of love-poems, and Catullus explains why he cannot send them; there is no reference to any request on the part of Allius, but he receives an apparently spontaneous expression of thanks for his services to Catullus in the affair with Lesbia, with which is incorporated an account of the poet's happiness entirely incongruous in 68a: §(5) in 68a the poet is so overcome with grief that he waives all reference to his relations with Lesbia (vv. 28, 29); in 68b he is happy with her, and is disposed to condone her frailties (vv. 135ff.), while his grief is not ever-present, but is aroused only by a chance allusion to Troy, and is forthwith suppressed: §(6) the repetition of vv. 20ff. of 68a in 68b (vv. 92ff.) shows that the two poems were not far separated in time, but is more consistent with the theory of division than of unity (see also heading 5). 68a was evidently written (at Verona or Sirmio) not long before 68b (see 5 above, and later notes), and both before Catullus had become thoroughly aware of Lesbia's real character, and had finally broken away from her. Perhaps her loose life during this period of separation finally opened his eyes. For convenience of general reference the continuous numbering of verses is retained throughout 68a and 68b.

quod: etc. the poetical epistle opens in pure prose form.

[2] conscriptum lacrimis: a somewhat forced figure for ‘tear-stained.’

[2] epistolium: (Gr. ἐπιστόλιον) a rare word, occurring elsewhere only in App. Ap. 6 and App. Ap. 79, and in glossaries.

[3] naufragum: etc. the figure is not infrequently used of great and overwhelming misfortune; cf. v. 13; Catul. 64.62; Catul. 65.4.

[4] a mortis limine restituam: cf. Lucr. 2.960leti iam limine ab ipso” ; Verg. Culex 224te restitui superis leti iam limine ab ipso” .

[5] sancta Venus: cf. Catul. 36.3n.

[5] molli somno: cf. Hom. Il. 10.2μαλακῷ δεδμημένοι ὕπνῳ” ; Verg. G. 3.435mollis sub divo carpere somnos” ; Prop. 1.3.7mollem spirare quietem” ; Tib. 1.2.74mollis et inculta sit mihi somnus humo” ; Ov. Met. 1.685ille tamen pugnat molles evincere somnos.

[6] lecto caelibe: cf. Catul. 6.6viduas noctes” ; Ov. Her. 13.107aucupor in lecto mendaces caelibe somnos” . The great grief expressed in vv. 1-6 can hardly be attributed to temporary estrangement or separation from wife or mistress, but only to her death; cf. also v. 13 n.

[7] veterum scriptorum musae: cf. Eur. Med. 421μοῦσαι παλαιγενέων ἀοιδᾶν” . The ancient poets would be chiefly Greeks, and the word with those following stands in sharp contrast to v. 9 me, and the following words. Manlius tries to find distraction from his grief in the books of the ancient (Greek) poets (cf. Hor. S. 2.6.61nunc veterum libris, nunc somno et inertibus horis” ) and fails; he therefore appeals to his friend for writings of his, either new or old.

[10] munera Musarum et Veneris: i. e. love-poems; cf. Theog. 250ἀγλαὰ μουσάων δῶρα ἰοστερφάνων” ; Anacr. 94bμουσέων τε καὶ ἀγλαὰ δῶρ᾽ Ἀφροδίτης συμμίσγων ἐρατῆς μνήσκεται εὐφροσύνης

[11] ff. Manlius, who apparently has not heard of the affliction of Catullus, had in the first part of his letter begged for consolatory verses from him, and in the second, urged his return to Rome, supporting his urgency by hints about the loose life of Lesbia during the unexplained absence of her lover. Catullus here and in vv. 33 ff. replies to the first part of the letter, and to the second part in vv. 27ff.

[11] Manli: the reading of V mali can readily stand for manli, as Catul. 61.16mallio” , and 61.222maulio” sufficiently show; and very tempting is the conjecture of Muretus that the happy bridegroom of Catul. 61.1ff. is now the grief-stricken widower of 68a who turns to his friend for comfort in his sorrow as he had for congratulation in his joy. Yet both Malius and Mallius are nomina supported by inscriptions of this age.

[12] hospitis: apparently, like ξένος, of one with whom a treaty of friendship and hospitality has been made; cf. Cic. Lael. 37hospes familiae vestrae” .

[13] The reason that leads Manlius to apply to Catullus for help, the death of one dearly loved, is the very reason why Catullus is unable to comply with the request, so reasonable from an amicus et hospes.

[13] merser fortunae fluctibus: cf. v. 3 n.; Hor. Ep. 1.2.22adversis rerum immersabilis undis” .

[15] tempore quo: since the time when; cf. Catul. 35.13n.

[15] vestispura: the exchange of the crimson-bordered toga praetexta for the toga virilis of pure white marked the legal coming of age at about 16 years.

[17] multa satis lusi: i. e. I have written love-poems enough; cf. Hor. Carm. 1.32.2 lusimus tecum, barbite; Ov. Am. 3.1.27quod tenerae cantent, lusit tua Musa, puellae” . — Apollinaris Sidonius (Ep. 5.21) says of himself mihi quoque semper a parvo cura Musarum.

[17] non est: etc. a repetitive amplification of the preceding phrase; for love-poems with Catullus were closely connected with love-experiences.

[18] dulcem amaritiem: cf. Sappho Frag. 40γλυκύπικρον ἀμάχανον ὄρπετον” (of love); Theog. 1353πικρὸς καὶ γλυκύς ἐστιἔρως” ; Pl. Ps. 63dulce amarumque una nunc misces mihi” ; Goethe Egmont 3.2. freudvoll und leidvoll die Seele die liebt; Ellis quotes Romaunt of the Rose, p. 86 Bell “For ever of love the siknesse Is meinde with swete and bitternesse.”

[19-28] 19-28. Cf. Catul. 65.1ff; Catul. 68.92 ff.; Catul. 101.6.

[22] tecum: etc. not so much, perhaps, that the bachelor Catullus looked to his brother's prospective children to keep alive the family name, as that brotherly love led him to ascrihe to his brother all the qualities that honored the family, and to himself none.

[26] haec studia: i.e. the writing of love-poems; corresponding to v. 17 etc. multa satis lusi as omnes delicias animi does to non est dea, etc. With delicias cf. Catul. 45.24n.; Catul. 74.2; with the otiose genitive animi, Catul. 2.10animi curas” ; Catul. 64.372animi amores” ; Catul. 102.2fides animi” .

[27-30] The reference to love-affairs in v. 26 leads Catullus to the second part of the letter of Manlius, wherein the writer, desiring the personal presence and sympathy of Catullus, and not knowing any reason for his long tarrying in Verona, endeavored to draw him thence by a warning (though using no names) that his duty to himself in the protection of his honor summoned him back to Rome; Catullus replies that his grief makes it impossible for even such considerations to move him.

[27] Veronae turpe Catullo esse: apparently the predicate infinitive esse is (though contrary to general usage) omitted here, or else (and most improbably) the later esse serves as both subject and predicate; for in spite of v. 28 hic and the MS. Catulle, a direct quotation in such a setting would be extremely rare. The meaning evidently is, ‘to be staying at Verona is dishonorable for Catullus, when his place with Lesbia is being filled by promiscuous lovers.’ The reply is ‘the matter is not one of dishonor but of sorrow.’

[27] Catullo: the poet likes to refer to himself in the third person, and V not infrequently gives e for o; hence the MS. reading is no great argument for a direct quotation.

[28] hic: at the place where Manlius was writing, the word being quoted directly from his letter: there is no reason for believing the place to be other than Rome.

[28] quisquis: apparently the masculine is here used absolutely (without est) after analogy of established use of the neuter in that way.

[28] de meliore nota: of the better sort; cf. Cic. Fam. 7.29.1Sulpicii successori nos de meliore nota commenda” . Clodia's lovers were naturally not from the lowest orders of society.

[29] frigida membra: they had been excluded while Catullus was on hand.

[29] tepe^factet: on the quantity cf. Catul. 64.360n. tepefaciet; the word is ἅπαξ λεγόμενον.

[30] magis: in a sense approaching that of the French mais; cf. Sall. Iug. 85.49neque quisquam parens liberis uti aeterni forent, optavit, magis uti boni honestique vitam exigerent” .

[30] miserum: pitiful; cf. Catul. 91.2; Catul. 99.15; Cic. Fin. 5.84bonum liberi, misera orbitas” .

[33] Catullus now returns to the first part of the letter of Manlius and explains why he cannot send poems earlier composed, —he has none with him, or none that would be new and pleasing to Manlius The lack of logical order, with the prosaic sentence-openings in vv. 1, 27, 33, and prosaic expression elsewhere, may be taken to indicate the distracted state of the writer's mind.

[33] scriptorum copia: the genetive is neuter; cf. Hor. Ep. 1.18.109sit bona librorum copia” ; Ov. Trist. 3.14.37non hic librorum copia” .

[36] capsula: i. e. scrinium.

[37] mente maligna: etc., in grudging temper or ungracious spirit.

[39] non: modifying the entire expression, though placed before the pronoun, as frequently in Catullus. Riese gives a full list of such phrases.

[39] utriusque: i.e. of verses composed especially for you at this time, and also of earlier verses.

[40] ultro ego deferrem: etc. Catullus had apparently known of the sorrow of Manlius before his letter came, but because of his own grief had taken no notice of it till personally appealed to.

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  • Commentary references from this page (28):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 7.29.1
    • Euripides, Medea, 421
    • Homer, Iliad, 10.2
    • Catullus, Poems, 101
    • Catullus, Poems, 102
    • Catullus, Poems, 2
    • Catullus, Poems, 6
    • Catullus, Poems, 61
    • Catullus, Poems, 64
    • Catullus, Poems, 65
    • Catullus, Poems, 68
    • Catullus, Poems, 74
    • Catullus, Poems, 91
    • Catullus, Poems, 99
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1.685
    • Plautus, Pseudolus, 1.1
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.435
    • Horace, Satires, 2.6.61
    • Ovid, Epistulae, 13.57
    • Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, 2.960
    • Ovid, Amores, 3.1
    • Cicero, de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, 5.84
    • Cicero, De Amicitia, 37
    • Sallust, Bellum Iugurthinum, 85
    • Ovid, Tristia, 3.14
    • Sextus Propertius, Elegies, 1.3
    • Apuleius, Apologia, 6
    • Apuleius, Apologia, 79
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