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The Identity of Catullus the Mimographer

John D. Morgan

University of Delaware

     A mimographer named Catullus is mentioned by Martial (5.30, 12.83), by Juvenal (8.185-188, 13.110-111) and the scholiasts on these verses, and by Tertullian (Adv. Valentinianos 14). The mimes of Catullus included one entitled Phasma (`Ghost'), and another entitled Laureolus, featuring the capture and crucifixion of a bandit chieftain. The Laureolus and a pantomime on Myrrha's incestuous liaison with her father Cinyras (the subject of the Smyrna, the epic by Catullus' sodalis C. Helvius Cinna) were performed at the Ludi Palatini just hours before Caligula was murdered (Suetonius, Gaius 57.4; Josephus, Ant. Iud. 19.94-95). Since Suetonius states that the pantomime on Myrrha and Cinyras had earlier been performed on the day that Alexander's father Philip II was murdered, it is quite possible that the Laureolus too was a revival performance of a `classic' mime which had been written several generations earlier.

      In 1985, reviving a long-neglected idea traceable back to Achilles Statius' commentary on Catullus (1566), T.P. Wiseman argued that the author of the Phasma and Laureolus was none other than the famous late-Republican poet. Wiseman's argumentation was in some respects rather strained and unconvincing; e.g., it is very unlikely that Carm. 116, in which Catullus announces that he will cease trying to mollify Gellius by sending him his translations of carmina Battiadae and will now reply in kind to his attacks, should be interpreted as announcing a transition by Catullus from writing graceful elegies and abusive epigrams to attacking Gellius in a mime performed on stage. Hence it is not surprising that Wiseman's identification of Catullus the mimographer with the famous poet has had a mixed reception by other classical scholars.

   In considering whether Catullus the mimographer should be identified with the famous poet, inadequate attention has been paid to Martial's reference to the mimographer in Epigr. 5.30:

Varro, Sophocleo non infitiande cothurno
      nec minus in Calabra suspiciende lyra,
differ opus, nec te facundi scaena Catulli
      detineat cultis aut elegia comis;
sed lege fumoso non aspernanda Decembri
     carmina, mittuntur quae tibi mense suo:
commodius nisi forte tibi potiusque uidetur
     Saturnalicias perdere, Varro, nuces.

Verses 1-4 surely indicate that Martial thought that Catullus the mimographer was an outstanding poet, worthy of mention in the company of Sophocles and Horace. Moreover, it seems likely that the phrase facundi . . . Catulli modifies not only scaena but also elegia; otherwise we would have the unbalanced and anticlimactic sequence of Sophocles' buskin, Horace's lyre, Catullus' stage, and the elegy of some unnamed poet(s). Furthermore, cultis . . . elegia comis seems to be a pointed reference to the prototypical Latin elegy, Catullus' translation of Callimachus' Coma Berenices: `abiunctae paulo ante comae mea fata sorores / lugebant' (Carm. 66.51-52).

     Hence it seems clear that Martial thought the scenic poet Catullus was identical to the translator of the Coma Berenices. Since it is highly unlikely that Martial would have confused a relatively minor scenic poet with the famous Catullus, whose hendecasyllabic and elegiac epigrams Martial sedulously imitated throughout his own 12 books of epigrams, we should recognize that the extraordinarily versatile poet who composed not only numerous short epigrams in hendecasyllabic, iambic, choliambic, elegiac, and other meters, but also several extended elegies, a short epic, two epithalamia, a hymn to Diana, and galliambics on Attis, also composed at least two mimes.

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