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Roman Elegy Remixed: Gender and Genre in Catalepton 4

Nicole Taynton

UC Santa Barbara

Before all our modern efforts to explain how friendship and politics fit into elegiac “love” poetry, the author of Catalepton 4 of the Appendix Vergiliana had already suggested that elegy’s talk of love is an excuse to explore the lover-poet’s relationships with other men. Catalepton 4, an elegaic poem addressed to Virgil’s friend, Octavius Musa, implies that amici in elegy are the underlying inspiration for elegiac poetry, rather than simply fellow lovers (cf. Gallus in Prop. 1.5, 1.10) or  people pursuing goals opposed to the life of love (cf. Messalla in Tib. 1.1). Catalepton 4 provides us with the opportunity to explore new examples of the reception of elegy in ancient Rome and also invites us to reevaluate our approaches to the more canonical elegiac poems.

The Catalepton contains fifteen short poems from the first or second century CE, which are now a part of the pseudepigraphical Appendix Vergiliana. My paper builds upon recent work on the Catalepton, which has moved beyond questions of authenticity to questions of style, content, and intertextuality (Holzberg 2004, Peirano 2012, Young 2015). Young has shown how productive it can be to consider the poetry of the Catalepton in its own right with her in-depth analysis of Catalepton 10 and its reception of Catullus 4. Building on this progress, I suggest that Catalepton 4 is a fruitful place to consider the early reception of Augustan elegy.

In the late 1980s, Maria Wyke initiated a dramatic shift in elegy studies away from the search for a literal, historical puella towards a more metaphorical reading of the puella’s character (later re-published, Wyke 2002). In the years following Wyke’s publications, many scholars have built upon her arguments that elegy is primarily a space in which men negotiate social, political, and poetic ideas, using the puella as the site of this exchange (see esp. Kennedy 1993, Oliensis 1997, Miller 2004, Keith 2008). I suggest that the author of the Catalepton anticipated what modern scholars noticed 2000 years later.

In the poetry of Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid, the lover-poet’s puella serves as his Musa, or “Muse,” the one who allegedly inspires his poetic production and even serves as a condition of his ability to write poetry. In Catalepton 4, the author, posing as the young Virgil, writes an elegy for his own “Musa,” his friend Octavius Musa. Although the earlier elegists sometimes use erotic language to describe their friendships, they never explicitly represent a vir as the beloved (Miller 2004, Oliensis 1997). The author of Catalepton 4 does not shy away from referring to Musa as his beloved, using adjectives linked with puellae (doctus, iucundus) and direct declarations of love that the amatores make to their girlfriends (esp. quare illud satis est, sit te permittis amari: cf. Ovid Amores 1.3.3, 3.2.57). Yet the lover-poet also represents Musa as a typical elegiac amicus, who is distinguished by his penchant for traveling (cf. Prop. 1.6, Tib. 1.7) and his interest in poetry (cf. Prop. 1.9, 2.1).

I show how the overlap between Musa’s role as amicus and puella in Catalepton 4 creates a multi-layered reflection on the role played by amici in elegy in general. Although elegy is ostensibly intended to seduce a puella (or puer), Catalepton 4 proposes that it also functions to attract men. The poem culminates in line 12, nam contra, ut sit amor mutuus, unde mihi?, "For otherwise, how will there be mutual love? From where will it be mine?," implying that male friendships in elegy are the ideal source of the reciprocal love that the lover-poet seeks from his beloveds. Catalepton 4 suggests that we should continue to search for approaches to elegy that can integrate the seemingly disparate relationships of the lover-poet and challenges us to consider just how deeply friendship and erotic love intertwine in elegiac poetry.

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Elegiac Desires

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