Catulus begins by characterizing the libellus he is offering to Cornelius Nepos (1-2). It is charming (lepidum) and it is new (novum),(2) but it has been a work of refined composition, as evinced by the metaphor of the pumice-stone (2). Three qualities are thus established: novelty, charm, and refinement. Catullus asks who should receive this gift, and comcludes that it is Cornelius, since he thought that Catullus' triffles had some merit.
It is noticeable, however, that the reason for Catullus' choice of recipient is the goodwill shown to his poetry by Nepos. There is no suggestion that the qualities mentioned in the first two lines are also features of the recipient's work. Indeed, Catullus continues by characterizing Nepo's writings in quite a different fashion. In line 5, emphasizing the seriousness of the undertaking, Catulus explains that Nepos' generous opinion of his poetry was manifested at the time when he had embarked on a literary enterprise of his own. The positive Callimachean aspects of lines 5-7, such as the association of Nepos' work (his Chronica) with doctrina and labor, and the implications of literary innovation suggested by ausus es unus Italorum(3) have been identified by Cairns (153-4).(4) However, it is worth examining these lines more closely to see whether there may be ironic aspects in Catullus' praise.(5) Pace Wiseman,(6) who has rejected the notion of an ironic reading of the poem, such a search may still be valid: since this is a poem which begins by discussing Catullus' own work in an ironic light,(7) it is not unreasonable to look for similar elements in Catullus' criticism of Nepos' literary productions as well.(8)
In particular I wish to concentrate on line 7, where Catullus describes the three cartae of Nepos' Chronica as `doctis, Iuppiter, et laboriosis'. Doctis, it is true, can only be a positive epithet, especially in a poem of Callimachean allegiance, but what of luppiter and laboriosis? Why should Catullus mention dove here? Is Catullus simply using the god's name as an oath, perhaps to express surprise at the character of Nepos' work?(9) I would suggest that the exclamation luppiter is more than this; mention of Jove draws attention to the contradiction between Nepos' doctrina and the `epic', non-Callimachean features of his work, which combines the large scale of omne aevum with the compression of tribus cartis. In the Aetia prologue Callimachus had remarked that it was for Zeus to thunder, not for him (Callimachusfr. 1.20 Pf).
And what of laboriosis? The most obvious reading of this word is to take it as a positive assessment of the labor which has gone into Nepos' work. One might compare the opening of Catullus 95, where in lines 1-2 Callimachean labor is exemplified by the nine years required for Cinna to compose his Smyrna. But is this the only possible reading of laboriosis in Catullus 1? The word can also have a more negative meaning: thus Aulus Gellius 9.12.10, in demonstrating that the adjective can mean not only `qui laborat' but also 'in quo laboratur', quotes from the Neoteric poet Calvus (= fr. 2 Morel): `durum rus fugis et laboriosum'.(10) Here the word's semantic range seems close to durus, which need not occasion surprise since the noun labor can itself have positive and negative connotations.(11) The implication might thus be that Nepos' Chronica involved labor for the reader as well.(12) For this dual nature of labor, where the positive qualities of hard work on the part of an author are combined with the undesirable toil which may be imposed on an audience, compare Pliny the Younger, Epist. 2.19.5: `Porro ita nature comparatum est, ut ea quae scripsimus cum labore, cum labore etiam audiri putemus.' Pliny also uses laboriosus in this way (Epist. 5.6.41): `neque enim verebar ne laboriosum esset legenti tibi, quod visenti non fuisset, praesertim cum interquiescere, si liberet, depositaque epistula quasi residere saepius posses.'
Such a reading of line 7, where Callimachean language is used with ironic effect, might gain support from the contrast between Nepos' tribus cartis, and Catullus' own production, which he twice describes in the poem with the diminutive form libellus,(13) a word evoking Callimachus' strictures against `the big book' (fr. 465 Pf.). Though Nepos has summarized `omne aevum' in a manageable work of tribus cartis, when this quantity is set beside the diminutive libellus, Nepos, with his ambitious subject matter, seems quite unCallimachean. A further pointer to this may be Catullus' use of the word explicare in line 6, which is a word used by Nepos himself in his extant Vitue, to signify the process of historical exposition.(14) On one occasion, Nepos contrasts the small scale of his work with the extensive outpourings of his predecessors:
... plurima quidem proferre possimus, sed modus adhibendus est, quondam
uno hoc volumine
vitam excellentium virorum complurium concludere constituimus, quorum
milibus versuum complures scriptores ante nos explicarunt. (Epam. 4.6)
Here Nepos describes the very process of compression which Catullus notes in line 6 (`omne aevum tribus explicare cartis'). Whereas the subjects of his biographies had previously been described in many thousands of lines (one may compare the complaint of the Telchines at Callimachus fr. 1.4 Pf. that Callimachus has not accomplished a poem [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), Nepos is confining his work to a single volumen. Another passage from the Vitae is also relevant here:
sed hic plura persequi cum magnitudo voluminis prohibet, tum festinatio,
ut ea explicem, quae exorsus sum. quare ad propositum veniemus et in hoc
exponemus libro de vita excellentium imperatorum. (Praef. 8)
Here Nepos uses explicare of his own work, and elucidates the almost paradoxical brevity that is imposed on his work by the magnitudo voluminis, which in company with Nepos' desire for festinatio compels abridgement. Taken together these two passages represent the historian's desire for concision, which might be argued to be a Callimachean quality; Nepos' comparison between himself and the authors of many thousand verses is particularly revealing.(15)
At first sight, Catullus might therefore seem to present straightforward praise of Nepos' Callimachean brevity in lines 5-7. However, the juxtaposition of Catullus' libellus with Nepos' three `cartae', is, in Callimachean terms, a comparison decidedly in favour of the former. Even the word explicare, as used by Catullus here, might suggest not only the kind of explicatio employed by Nepos, but also that employed by more prolific writers. Callimacheanism here seems a matter of relativity; a historical work such as Nepos' Chronica or his Vitue may seem impressively small when set beside large numbers of lines. When set beside a libellus which is `arido modo pumice expolitum',(16) Nepos' work seems to be not so different from the specimens of historical writing so vehemently condemned by Catullus in poems 22, 36 and 95. Insicad of displaying open hostility in this poem, Catullus exploits the medium of ironic praise, which complements the similarly ironic language used in apparent disparagement of his own literary effort.
A final argument which I shall adduce in favour of this reading of Catullus' treatment of Nepos in this poem concerns the last lines of the poem. Here. consideration of the textual problems of line 9 seems in order, although the value of the argument is not, I think, irremediably dependent on this vexed passage.
In its simplest form the issue is between acceptance of the reading of OGR, patrona virgo, with o supplied to complete the metre, or adopting a text which refers to a patronus' Nepos. The conservative position is adopted by Arkins, while Goold gives the arguments against retention of patrona virgo. My preference is to reject o patrona virgo, principally on the grounds that the subordinate clause of a sentence which has already mentioned Nepos (tibi in line 8), is an odd place to introduce such a vague and unspecific reference to a patrona virgo (assumed to be the Muse): comparisons with poems featuring dedicate and Muse such as Horace C. 2.1 are irrelevant since this is a far shorter poem. The familiar argument against denoting Nepos as a patronus on the grounds that a person of Catullus' station did not need one disappears if we are alive to the possibility that such a title may be appropriate to the ironic praise of Nepos offered in lines 5-7. Accordingly in my discussion of these lines I am accepting Bergk's text of line 9 `qualecumque quidem est, patron) ut ergo',(17) so that Catullus' poem ends with the wish that Nepos assist in the survival of his libellus.
In lines 8-9, Catullus reverts to a tone of disparagement as he describes his work in vague and unspecific terms, quidquid, for example, recalling the ambiguous aliquid of line 4. After noting Plepos' earlier goodwill and his historical pursuits in the previous lines, Catullus answers the question he posed himself in line 1, announcing his decision to hand over the libellus to Nepos. It is now that Catullus springs his surprise, with the request for immortality, revealing at a stroke the artful nature of his self-deprecation in the preceding lines. The nugae which Nepos thought were aliquid (which we should perhaps view as equivalent to the similarly ambiguous `not bad' in English) are, for Catullus, worthy of something far more, eternal survival. Nepos, as Catullus' notional patronus, is requested to ensure their survival. patron) ut ergo should not be taken too seriously; having previously praised Nepos' own work, Catullus changes his tune and deigns to ask Nepos' assistance, at once complimenting and diminishing him.(18) The last line, with its hopes of literary immortality, has not a word about the tribus cartis; its sole concern is with the nugae. The critical terms used earlier in the poem are thus thrown into question at the conclusion.
The last line, moreover, deserves closer inspection. Why does Catullus ask for his work to last `plus uno ... saeclo'? By hoping that it will last more than one century, Catullus also suggests that there might be books which will not last more than a century. Such a work might be the Chronica of Nepos, saeclo frivolously evoking the title of Nepos' work. Catullus elsewhere does not offer much in the way of life expectancy for historical writings.(19)
Catullus 1 is thus a poem which anticipates and outmanoeuvres criticism. The basic technique is similar to that used by Callimachus in his Aetia prologue. However. Catullus principal weapon is the use of irony; Catullus expects a dismissive reaction to his work, and accordingly praises Nepos' own writings. The end of the poem enacts Catullus' claim to literary fame; the novum libellum becomes perenne. The process of revaluation applies to Nepos' work as well, inviting us to probe more deeply the seemingly innocuous praise offered by Catullus. Nepos may have included omne aevam in his Chronica, but there is no hint that the work will survive anything like so long. (20) (1) For discussions of Callimachean influences on Catullus 1 see J. P. Elder, `Catullus 1, his Poetic Creed and Nepos', HSCP 71 (1966), 143-9 (henceforth referred to as `Elder'), F. Cairns, `Catullus1', Mnemosyne 22 (1969), 153-8 (henceforth `Cairns'), and B. Latta, `Zu Catulls Carmen1', MH 29 (1972, 201-13 (henceforth `Latta'). See also G. P. Goold, `Two Notes on Catullus1', LCM 6.9 (November, 1981), 223-8 (henceforth 1Goold') and B. Arkins, 1Further Thoughts on Catullus 1', LCM 8.2 (February, 1983), 18-20 (henceforth `Arkins').
(2) For the programmatic aspect of this word, see Elder 147, who compares Cicero's use of the term 1poetae novi', on which see N. B. Crowther, 1 [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Poetae Novi, and Cantores Euphorionis', CQ 20 (1970), 335-8, C. Tuplin, `Cantores Euphorionis', PLLS 1 (1976), 1-23, and R. O. A. M. Lyne. `The Neoteric Poets', CQ 28 (1978), 167-87.
(3) Compare the tone of Propertius 3.1.3-4 `primus ego ingredior puro de fonte sacerdos / Itala per graios orgia ferre choros' and Horace C. 3.30.10ff `dicar... / ... / ... / princeps Aeolium carmen ad Italos / deduxisse modos'.
(4) Cairns 153: `Catullus' praise of the Chronica is couched (albeit informally) in the language of Alexandrian literary criticism and shows clearly that Catullus is lauding the Chronica as a work conforming to the canons of that school and possessing all the standard Alexandrian virtues.'
(5) Elder 144 notes the different tone of these lines, remarking that `the middle portion, that about Nepos' work, is puffed and somewhat pompous writing (e.g. iam tum, cum ausus, doctis, luppiter, et laboriosis); the period is longer, more involved.'
(6) T. P. Wiseman, Clio's Cosmetics (Leicester, 1979), 171.
(7) See e.g. Arkins 19.
(8) Goold, in his contribution (`O Patrona Virgo') to Polis and Imperium: Studies in Honour of Edward Togo Salmon, J. A. S. Evans (ed.), (Toronto, 1974), 262-3, suggests that one may compare Catullus 1 with Catullus 49, 7where Catullus expresses his thanks to Cicero in the following terms (4-7): `gratias tibi maximas Catullus / agit pessimus omnium poeta, / tanto pessimus Dmnium poeta, / quanto tu optimus omnium patronus.' Though Goold himself (263) cautions against readings of poem 49 as more than friendly banter, the precise means of companson between Catullus and Cicero (`tanto pessimus... / quanto tu optimus') do seem to invite us to read Catullus' praise, as well as his self-disparagement, as ironic: Catullus is the worst poet, just as much as Cicero is optimus omnium patronus. See further e.g. E. Laughton, `Disertissime Romuli nepotum', CP 65 (1970), 1-7, and W. J. Tatum, `Catullus' Criticism of Cicero in Poem 49', TAPA 118 (1988), 179-84.
(9) Thus Latta (207), who glosses lines 5-7 as follows: `Grosser Gott, an historisches Werk, das dem Forderungen doctrina und labor im Sinne alexandrinisch-neoterischen Dichters gerecht wird.'
(10) See further the parallels cited by C. J. Fordyce, Catullus: A Commentary (Oxford 1961, corr. 1978) on 1.7.
(11) For the negative qualities of labor, see OLD s.v. 6 and 7. One is reminded of the debate over the interpretation of Vergil Georgics 1.145f `labor omnia vicit / improbus et duris urgens in rebus egestas', on which see R. Jenkyns, `Labor Improbus', CQ 43 (1993), 243-8.
(12) It may be objected that laboriosis, even if it did refer to the reader, might only denote the (positive) labor undertaken in reading a text such as the Chronica. This might be no bad thing a Callimachean would hope for a receptive and learned audience. In that case, however, laboriosis would add nothing to what has already been implied by doctis. (13) This contrast is mentioned by Elder 144, who also notes, without further comment or analysis, the contrasting pairs omne aevum and nugae, omne aevum and uno sueclo; lepidum novum and doctis laboriosis; norum and perenne.
(14) E.g. Praef. 8, Timoth. 4.6, Epam. 4.6, Hann. 13.4.
(15) Compare the praise of the short Smyrna of Cinna, and the apparent censure (the text is lacunose) of `milia...quingenta' in Catullus 95.1-4.
(16) I support Goold's (233-5) defence of arido (OGR).
(17) Goold 235-8 argues for the text `qualecumque quidem patroni ut ergo'.
(18) If the correct text in line 9 were,oatrona virgo, the effect would still be a diminution of the importance of Nepos. See Cairns 158 on the effect of such a shift from Nepos to a Muse.
(19) Catullus 95.5-8.
(20) I am indebted to Dr S. J. Heyworth and the anonymous referee for CQ for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
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|Publication:||The Classical Quarterly|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1995|
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