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Catullus 16

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Sharon Marshall

on 4 February 2014

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Transcript of Catullus 16

Catullus 16
"I'll bugger you and stuff your gobs,
Aurelius Kink and Poofter Furius,
For thinking me, because my verses
Are rather sissy, not quite decent.
For the true poet should be chaste
Himself, his verses need not be.
Indeed they've salt and charm then only
When rather sissy and not quite decent
And when they can excite an itch
I don't say in boys but in those hairy
Victims of lumbar sclerosis.
Because you've read of my x thousand
Kisses you doubt my virility?
I'll bugger you and stuff your gobs."
Catullus: The Hard Man?
No laughing matter?
"Valerius Catullus, as Caesar himself did not hesitate to say, inflicted a lasting stain on his name by the verses about Mamurra; yet when he apologised, Caesar invited the poet to dinner that very same day, and continued his usual friendly relations with Catullus's father." Suetonius,
Divus Julius

Sexuality in Ancient Rome
Romans divided sexual acts into approved and forbidden
Male could penetrate anyone (male or female) in mouth, anus or vagina
All other acts that are not phallocentric are frowned upon
Any erotic activity that did not culminate in intercourse might be considered passive
'Passivity' criticised in poem 16 = confining description of sex to kissing
Figurative language
Circular structure: begins and ends with threat of anal and oral rape (assertion of masculinity)
traditionally read figuratively ("I'll silence you")
Stevens (2013) suggests
should be too ("I'll teach you a lesson")
Cat. accuses Furius and Aurelius of 'biographical fallacy'
Denies connection between poet and verses
How seriously should we take the framing threat in light of that distinction insisted upon by Cat.?
Hardness vs softness
Romans considered hardness normative
Republican contests of manhood - hardness asserted by revealing opponent's effeminacy
Problem with Cat.'s defence:
If the performance of softness (e.g. tender poetry) is no proof that one is
, can the performance of hardness prove that you are a
durus vir
Is Cat. problematising notion of masculine identity?
A competitive move?
Effeminate, emasculated male as symbol of political castration - represents Catullus' disenfranchisement (Skinner)
Primary concern = status among male peers (Wray)
Emerges as
vir durus
who delights in besting enemies
'Postmodern' in preference for performative and ludic over sincere and introspective
Thousands of kisses
"Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
Then another thousand, then a second hundred."
(Cat. 5)

"You ask how many of your mega-kisses
Would more than satisfy me, Lesbia.
Great as the sum of Libyssan sand..."
(Cat. 7)

"Your honeyed eyes, Juventus,
If someone let me go on kissing,
I'd kiss three hundred thousand times"
(Cat 48)
Further reading
Hallet, J. and M. Skinner, eds. (1998)
Roman Sexualities
. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Skinner (1998) '
Ego mulier
: The Construction of Male Sexuality in Catullus' in Hallet and Skinner (1998): 129-50.
Stevens,B. (2013)
Silence in Catullus
. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Wray, D. (2001)
Catullus and the Poetics of Roman Manhood
. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Full transcript