now it includes a bit of explanation of why i chose to order it as a venn diagram (the original assignment asked for a list but i thought that was an unfair guideline). i did get an A on the first draft (!! to my surprise! it didn't feel like my best work and the topic is definitely outside of my comfortable knowledge.) but i had specific comments to explain or expand on certain topics so here is my edited work.
based on this book:
my professor also had a comment "what do you mean by 'public pervert'?"
to be honest, i was directly referencing this song:
The poems of Catullus vary in meter, style, and theme. While Catullus conveys his thoughts effectively through the individual poems, it is not known how he intended to portray them as a collection. In Catullus: The Complete Poems (Oxford World’s Classics) the poems are arranged by meter and in no particular thematic order . In order to show a more cohesive narrative and better represent the philosophy of Catullus, the following revised arrangement is proposed:
27, 29, 31, 33, 46, 73, 78, 81, 84
2B, 4, 17, 25, 34, 53, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 66, 67, 68B
10, 26, 28, 39,52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 113, 114
57, 59, 74,78B, 80, 88, 89, 90, 94, 97, 98, 105, 106, 111
2, 3, 24, 45, 86, 87
14B, 16, 42, 93, 98
1, 6, 15, 50, 68A, 102
8, 11, 60,85, 99, 104
9, 13, 32, 58, 100, 101, 109
12, 14, 21, 22, 23, 30, 35, 36, 37, 38, 47, 40,41, 44, 49,77, 82, 91, 95, 103, 110, 108, 116
5, 7, 51, 43, 58, 70, 72, 75, 76, 79, 83, 92, 109
Preferably, the poems would be visually represented in a nestled grouping to indicate overlapping themes:
The poems are to be read from the outside in, starting with observations and converging on the crux of all themes, Lesbia. This format is suggested because it covers the topics from most general to most specific and complex. A reader may have the freedom to read within the theme any particular poem, as they do not tell a linear story. While some poems do refer to the same characters, they are mostly stand alone topics and do not have to be read in a specific order, just as a thematic group. Using a Venn diagram clearly organizes poems by themes but causes less confusion in the event a poem has multiple themes. A Venn diagram also shows how the themes are related to each other, which helps to define the author’s psyche as much as the poems contents do.
Catullus was a neoteric poet and writes many poems about his contemporaries and other aspects of the average Roman citizen life, compared to other poets of his past and present who wrote epics of great detail and length. In comparison, the poems of Catullus are succinct (but no less potent) and are of a more familiar content. His poems can be thought of as observations and are a glimpse of his life-philosophies; to do what pleasures you, reject those who anger you, be a good citizen, and express your feelings. Some of this comes out in his poems describing the landscape and Roman way of life, such as XXXI about Sirimo, “O what more blissful than to have no worries”. (30.7) Just like in current times, The Roman citizen felt pressures of living in the city and enjoyed the ocean or countryside for relaxation when not in times of war or too many business concerns or other kinds of strife. Other poems, are scenes from regular city life such as, “O best of thieves in public baths...” (33.1). More formal writing or historical texts may gloss over thieves or slave activity or dinner parties with friends. Catullus, writes less about the political activities of aristocrats and more on the encounters of an average citizens’ life. This is what sets Catullus apart from other epic poets and essayists of the time: the honest reactions to realistic events. Poems in the theme, Observations, are best read first to get a sense of context of the world in which Catullus lived and wrote.
Epics were a common poetry style of the era, often spanning several papyri and chronicling long detailed stories in a Greek style. Even Catullus could not escape this genre of poetry. However, the length is more manageable and the stories he chooses to tell are of relationships between people, compared to the more traditional epics, which may focus on war, creation of a kingdom, or gods’ influence over mortals. For example, in LXIV, a story of lost love is told in duplicate as a warning to all newly wed couples. “But once the longing of their lustful mind is slaked/They don’t recall their words or balk at perjury.” (64.147) Although fantastical characters are mentioned, the main theme of the story is forlorn love. The stories are best read after Catullus’ general observations because they are narratives from his point of view. The mini-epics are longer than his other poems and can include many themes based on his observations. Catullus’ narrative voice can be easier defined in the longer poems and are like an over view for the tone of his other shorter poems.
Returning to the more concrete realm of Catullus’ life, the topic of politics can be enjoyed after general observations and stories. Politics are poems that describe the social strata of ancient Rome; not just politicians but also the aristocratic or low-life commoners and their interaction with the rest of the society. More specifically, many poems seem to be about public perverts. This salacious gossip is entertaining without using direct language- many metaphors are used to allude to the lewd acts performed. From the content of Catullus, as well as other known authors of old Rome (such as Suetonius), it would seem that perverts were rampant in the city despite being frowned upon by society. Fortunately for readers, perverts lend themselves as quality material for Catullus’ witty poetry. “Seeing an auctioneer with a pretty boy/ One can’t but think he wants to sell himself.” (106) and “TOOL tries to scale the Mount of Pipla: Muses with pitchforks throw him down.” (105) speak humorously of playboys in just a few clever lines. These social interactions are also observations but are a more specific category of poems that help describe the society in which Catullus lived.
The following categories of love, hate, and friends are overlapping realms. While they are contradicting themes, it is not uncommon to find people who occupy more than one of these realms. One particular person Catullus names is his love, Lesbia, who occupies all three realms.
“Friend” is a general term used here to represent associates of Catullus. Some are more familiar to the author and are mentioned more often while some characters in the poems are Roman citizens known by name. Friend is also a descriptor used ironically; while often referring to people on good terms with each other, Catullus also attacks some associates on account of promiscuous behavior, or more comically, bad body odor. “You feed a fierce goat down in Arm-Pit Valley.” (69.6) Based on Catullus’ other poems, it does not seem like the attacks are on enemies, but are rather sarcasm or criticism of friends. Catullus obviously knew these subjects well enough to judge their character. One example is in XLIV, of a dinner party of a writer whose works are so dry they gave Catullus a cough. “For while I wanted to be Sestius’ guest I read his Speech packed with poison and with pestilence, Whereat a feverish cold and chronic cough Kept shaking me…” (44.10) Attacks on enemies, are listed strictly under the category of hate, as they only convey feelings and are not directed toward a specific person, “I’ll bugger you and stuff your gobs… For thinking me, because my verses Are rather sissy, not quite decent.” (16.1) speaks out violently against critics of the author’s works. Other poems of romance, such as XXXII, not involving Lesbia, are categorized under love. “Please, my love, sweet Ipsitilla, My darling, my own clever girl, Command my presence at siesta…” (32.1)
The pinnacle of Catullus’ poems are the ones featuring Lesbia. The author had conflicting feelings for Lesbia and the inner torment this caused him is reflected in his poetry. Love is a complicated emotion that cannot be described in a single sentence, let alone a single poem. Catullus’ observations of humanity are layered to create a complex description of his feelings toward Lesbia. Thus, it is only appropriate to read the poems concerning her after reading through Catullus’ other works to see where he draws inspiration. His general feelings toward Lesbia is of lust- a combination of love and perversion. However, one can elucidate Lesbia does not reciprocate feelings of love completely and is in fact an adulteress, based on the poems. “Lesbia’s always abusing me… I’m just the same- forever praying to be rid of her, but I’m damned if I don’t love her.” (92.1) Perhaps one of Catullus’ most infamous poems, LXXXV, is a self reflection on love. Although Lesbia is not explicitly mentioned, she is likely the subject of this poem due to her actions and history with Catullus. Lesbia’s actions are despicable yet Catullus cannot help but fall for her charm and beauty. “For many Quintia’s beautiful; for me she’s fair… Now Lesbia’s beautiful, wholly most lovely, and alone She has robbed them all of all their charms.” (86.1) His hyperbolic descriptions of her is an indication of infatuation, but to continue loving her even knowing of her promiscuous activities is more than just shallow admiration of her beauty, it is love.
Catullus was not only a clever wordsmith but an idealistic observer of humanity. He was self aware, recognizing his own contradicting feelings toward Lesbia. He is a great poet because he is able to combine his observations with complex feelings and express them in enjoyable diction and meter. While some may consider a genius to be the man who comprehends complex ideas, it is useless information if it cannot be communicated. Catullus is a hero of Roman literature because he found the timeless complexities of everyday life and presented them to readers in the form of clever poetry that can be comprehended and enjoyed for many generations. The proposed rearrangement of his poems into themes will create a revised collection that better describes Catullus’ world and superbly displays his genius insights into humanity.