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Catullus Poem 68 Notes

Classics Notes > Latin Literature of the 1st Century AD Notes

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Discuss the mythological references, their function and rhetorical effects in Catullus 68. In Catullus 68 there are several important mythological references; to marriages of the gods, to Agamemnon and to the story of Laodamia and Protesilaus. The poet uses these to pass comment on his true feelings towards his unusual relatonship with his lover Lesbia and how this was affected by the sad death of his brother. The frst mythological reference which is dealt with in Catullus 68 is to the gods; partcularly the marriages of Hercules and Zeus. The frst reference to Hercules is quite obscure, as is typical of the mythological references in Catullus 68, and is only fully apparent once the reader has progressed further in the poem and found the more explicit reference to the god later on. He says that Allius gave him relief when he was burning as hotly as the water at Thermopylae because of his love for Lesbia just as a cool stream springs up to bring relief to a weary traveller or a gentle breeze comes to a storm-tossed sailor. This simile has an underlying reference to the River Duras which sprung up while Heracles was on the funeral pyre to bring him relief; shortly aferwards he gained immortality and eternal marriage with the goddess Hebe. The stories of Heracles and Catullus are roughly paralleled in the poem but with a biter twist; both men burn (fguratvely in the case of Catullus and literally in the case of Heracles), both are soothed and both are received by a goddess for eternal marital bliss, or so Catullus may have wished. He does refer to his lover as a "candida dea", but it transpires that only Heracles has the good fortune to be married to such a being; Lesbia, in reality, is a quite different prospect altogether. Catullus has fallen for a false goddess who he can never possibly marry, since she is already married to another man, and who has essentally denied him the only path to immortality which is open to mankind, children. He tells the reader the true nature of his relatonship with Lesbia in a very revealing autobiographical passage, which he starts with a descripton of her as he frst saw her and then moves into the reality of her nature and their relatonship. "Even so kind, or but litle less, was she, my bright one, who came into my arms; and ofen around her fitng hither and thither Cupid shone fair in vest of saffron hue. And though she is not content with Catullus alone, I will bear the faults, for few they are, of my modest mistress, lest we become as tresome as jealous fools" (135-140). The cases of Heracles and Catullus, although they at frst seem to have many parallels, are in fact opposite in their results and this serves to highlight the biterness of the situaton Catullus fnds himself in. He does say that he can accept his peculiar situaton and be grateful for it but the reader cannot help but think that Catullus looks with a certain degree of envy at their divine and blissful union. This is perhaps also the case when he makes reference to the marriage of Jove and Juno; he says that Juno is content to be silent when her husband betrays her with other men, mortal and divine. She, however, famously pursues and destroys many of Jove's lovers so it is unclear why Catullus says this here; perhaps he is speaking in more general terms and means that she keeps down her anger from progressing to the point that she leaves her husband. This is

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