Academic journal article Antichthon

Embracing the Young Man in Love: Catullus 75 and the Comic Adulescens

Academic journal article Antichthon

Embracing the Young Man in Love: Catullus 75 and the Comic Adulescens

Article excerpt

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In the prologue of Terence's Eunuchus, written, according to the didascalia, in 161 BC, the author of the play defends himself against the charge of literary theft. He denies completely any knowledge on his part that the Greek plays he had combined to produce his own play had already been translated into Latin. In the alternative, he argues against the charge of comic theft by way of the very nature of stock characters. 'If', argues Terence, 'a man isn't allowed to make use of the same characters [personae] as other writers, how, all the more, is he allowed to write of the running slave, to make his matrons good and his prostitutes wicked, his hanger-on greedy, his soldier arrogant; how is he allowed to have a child substituted, an old man deceived through his slave, to love, to hate, to be suspicious?'1 This last line - amare odisse suspicari - aims to evoke the characteristic attitude of the comic adulescens, whose emotional vacillation is presented as just another stock aspect of the genre, a literary inheritance as clichéd as any of the comedy's archetypal stock characters. 'Nothing is said nowadays which hasn't been said before', concludes Terence.2 Mid second century BC, and the Latin literary lover is already afflicted by textual, as much as emotional, exhaustion.

From our perspective, though, this phrase could not help but evoke Catullus, and not merely because of its striking verbal similarity to Catullus' famous declaration odi et amo (poem 85). Amare odisse suspicari very well captures the Catullus of the Lesbia poems, which present the poet in various states of love, hate and jealousy. Often Catullus does all three at the same time - an emotional contradiction which the asyndeton of Terence's line also evokes. But despite these apparent correspondences, the degree to which Catullus' passionate persona is indebted to the comic adulescens has been a matter of rather scattered debate.3 Certain reminiscences are well-known; it is common academic knowledge, for example, that Catullus' plea for Lesbia to be sincere in poem 109 mirrors, at a verbal and a thematic level, Phaedria's appeal to Thais for sincerity in the Eunuchus. 4 Alessandra Minarini, by intricate verbal analysis, has explored the ways in which Catullus has incorporated elements of an earlier speech of Phaedria's into poems 72 and 85.5 Since the seminal article of E.P. Morris, it has been known that in poem 8 Catullus creates a dramatic persona which draws from the comic adulescens.6 The reasons for Catullus evoking this comic archetype in his love poetry have tended, on the whole, towards the psychological. So, for Marilyn Skinner, the evocation of this character in poem 8 is 'a distancing device, a means of artistic control over feelings of frustration and self-pity'.7 For Minarini, more earnestly, Catullus found in the old-fashioned adulescentes a model of all-consuming passion as sacred bond which chimed well with his own.8

There is value in these psychological readings, even in an academic environment in which we are generally wary of venturing into the writer's mind, since these interpretations at least allow comic stereotypes to retain some mimetic and expressive function in the minds of late Republican readers. But intertextual relationships are public as well as private. This stress is, of course, one virtue which the critical discourse of 'intertextuality' has over the older one of 'allusion'. Barthes, most eloquently: '[A] text is made up of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where that multiplicity is focused, and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author.'9 The connection between Catullus' amatory persona and comic adulescentes is one which might be made not only by Catullus in shaping his images of a love affair, but by his readership in their perceptions of Catullus as an individual in a literary and political milieu. …

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