In poem 42, Catullus marshals his army of hendecasyllables against “Dogface” (catuli ore Gallicani, 42.9; canis…ore,42.23), the moecha who has stolen his writing tablets. Putnam (2006: 86-87) has noted the intertextual connection between the canine epithets in Catullus 42 and Helen’s famous autocriticism κυνá¿¶πις ("dog-faced," i.e., “shameless”) at Iliad 3.180 and Odyssey 4.145. In this paper, I suggest that Catullus’ two Latin adaptations of κυνá¿¶πις, paired with a novel feminine form of the Comic insult moechus (a transliteration of μοιχÏŒς), connect the moecha to Helen-qua-infamous-Greek-adulteress in a sophisticated allusion to Stesichorus’ palinode, fr. 192: οá½κ á¼”στ' á¼”τυμος λÏŒγος οá½—τος·/οá½δ' á¼”βας á¼ν νηυσá½¶ν εá½σÎλμοις/οá½δ' á¼µκεο πÎργαμα ΤροÎ¯ας. Accordingto tradition, Stesichorus composed the palinode in order to regain his sight after the Dioscuri had blinded him for maligning Helen in a previous poem. Just as Stesichorus had regained his vision by recanting his slanders, Catullus reverses his insults (mutandast ratio, 42.20) in a last-ditch attempt to win back his tablets, calling the woman withholding them pudica et proba (42.24) instead of moecha. Catullus, in a sense, "one-ups" Stesichorus by combining ode and palinode into the same poem. Moreover, within this composite Catullus uses Sappho as a via-point for his allusion to Stesichorus by inverting her characterization of Anactoria, an absent woman whom she connects to Helen. Catullus’ description of the moecha “strutting foully” (turpe incedere, 42.8) is an inversion of Sappho’s recollection of Anactoria’s “lovely way of walking” (á¼”ρατÏŒν τε βá¾¶μα,16.17). Where Sappho highlights the charms of Anactoria’s face (λÎ¬μπρον á¼´δην προσÏŽπω, 16.18), Catullus fixates on the unsightliness of the moecha’s “face of a Gallic dog” (catuli ore Gallicani, 42.9). Catullus signposts his reference to Sappho by mediating the two perverse allusions with mimice ac moleste ridentem, a distortion of the phrase dulce ridentem from line 5 poem 51, his own adaptation of the first three stanzas of Sappho 31; the connection is particularly strong because these are the only instances of the present participle of rideo in Catullus’ libellus. Within poem 42, then, Catullus insults the moecha using inverted terms of praise, while at the end of the poem he reverses his earlier slights to her chastity.
As I shall argue, Catullus’ change of tactic effects the return of his tablets, which is signified by the departure of his hendecasyllables, i.e., the end of the poem. Thus, Catullus presents praise and blame as two sides of the same coin: both serve a persuasive function. In a broader sense, the degree of rhetorical efficacy in Catullus’ hendecasyllables represents the potency of his own authority as a lyric poet. Poem 42 is part of a larger conceit wherein, via his odi-et-amo complex towards his emasculating mistress Lesbia, Catullus playfully expresses anxiety about the effeminizing poetic influences of his predecessor Sappho of Lesbos. The insult moecha, which appears elsewhere in Catullus’ oeuvre only at 68.103, where it refers to Helen as the cause of the Trojan War and its attendant calamities, aligns Catullus with the invective strains of Alcaeus fr. 283, a negative take on the theme of Sappho fr. 16, stanzas 2-4. Yet even as Catullus attempts to adhere to his invective model, he slides into emulation of Sappho’s erotic poetry by inverting her diction; thus, Sappho has figuratively wrested his poetry tablets from his grasp. Faced with the intrusion of Sappho’s poetry of praise into an invective mode modeled on Alcaeus, Catullus adopts Stesichorus’ palinode form in order to construct his own poetics of
praise, synthesizing and surpassing all three lyric models.