Classical Quarterly 47 (02):482- (1997)

To the extent that one subscribes to the proposition, by now a virtual principle of criticism , that literary texts constitute sites for the negotiation, often vigorous, of power relations within a society, the reader of Catullus can hardly avoid some consideration of the poet's attitude toward contemporary political matters. It is a subject on which two principal lines of thought can be traced. Mommsen argued that Catullus responded to the enormities that followed the reinvigoration of the First Triumvirate at the conference of Luca in 56 by occupying a thoroughly optimate position. Wilamowitz, on the other hand, insisted that Catullus' lyrics reflect only moments of the author's individual experience, amongst which expressions of personal distaste for certain public figures naturally appear but nothing which can appropriately be taken as indications of a political stance. The approach of Wilamowitz has proved more influential, followed in spirit if not in specifics by numerous commentators. To the degree that Catullus has been assimilated to the Augustan elegists, whose poems have been deemed by a scholar of the stature of Veyne to be anti-political in nature, it has been all the easier to reject the idea that Catullus adopts a political position, an assessment strongly maintained in a recent study by Paul Allen Miller, for whom the rejection of all political engagement is the sine qua non of true lyric poetry. Mommsen's optimate Catullus has lately found his champion, however, in a careful article by H. P. Syndikus. Although Miller and Syndikus, like Wilamowitz and Mommsen, draw diametrically opposed conclusions concerning politics in Catullus' poetry, they are agreed nevertheless that politics can be regarded as a relatively straightforward term: it refers to statecraft, matters of government, and party strife. Other readers, however, have been more self-conscious in their theoretical concerns, a salutary consequence of which has been a shift by some to a less narrow conception of the field of reference appropriate to discussions of ‘the political’ in Latin literature
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DOI 10.1093/cq/47.2.482
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