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Catullus Poem 64 Notes

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

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Discuss the figure of Ariadne in Catullus 64 In Catullus 64 the figure of Ariadne represents an echo of other heroines, particularly Medea and Dido, who have been badly treated by their male lovers and ultimately begin to wish terrible vengeance be brought down upon their respective heroes. All three heroines are socially isolated from their families and communities and at that point are abandoned by their men with the result that they are unable to return; in each case the women seek different salvations from their calamity but the notion that they cannot return to the human society from which they came is common to all. The fact that Ariadne, in this poem, is rescued by Dionysus represents another aspect of her figure, that of a girl torn apart by grief and frenzy to Bacchic proportions. The similarities between the story of Ariadne and the story of Medea as found in the Argonautica of Apollonius are very close and there are certainly many allusions to this epic in Catullus 64. Firstly the essential plot which governs the two stories is very similar indeed; there is a dangerous sea voyage to a foreign land to accomplish a near impossible task, to complete which the hero enlists the help of the local princess who falls in love with him, they then elope and the hero subsequently abandons her, as punishment for which he loses a close member of his family. The introduction to the poem highlights this allusion, "the flower of Argive strength, desiring to bear away from the Colchians the Golden Fleece, dared to course over the salt seas with swift ship, sweeping the blue expanse with fir-wood blades" (64.4-7). It seems like the poem will be entirely concerned with an allusion to the Argonautica but when the wedding of Peleus and Thetis is introduced this seems to be disappointed, however it is returned to slightly later when their wedding shroud is examined and the story of Ariadne unfolds. When the figure of Ariadne is first introduced she has already been abandoned by Theseus and her plight is immediately obvious but it is more useful to follow her story chronologically rather than as it appears in the poem so that the comparisons to Medea's character in the Argonautica can be drawn more clearly. Perhaps the most important comparison is the powerful and all-consuming love which the women develop for their respective heroes which leads them to betray their families in order to help them and then subsequently abandon everything altogether and run off with them. In both cases the figure of Cupid as a cruel and unrelenting god is very important; in neither case is the love viewed as a positive thing even for a moment by the omniscient narrator. Clearly the women who feel this burning and destructive love think differently but this is all part of its damaging and deceptive influence. For example in Catullus' poem the effect is so bad it leads the narrator to cry out in anguish on behalf of the girl, "Ah! You that stirs cruel madness with ruthless heart, divine boy, who mingles the joys of men with cares" (64.94-95). The imagery associated with love is one of a fire that burns deep within the very marrow of the person enraptured by it; this is a powerfully negative association and one that appears in the Argonautica as well. The portrayal of Cupid is even more sinister and he is shown actually taking joy as he shoots his love arrows into Medea; "But the god himself

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