Meter in Catullan invective: expectations and innovation
Wheeler, Michael Ian Hulin
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This dissertation examines the place of Catullus' poetry in the iambic tradition and its innovation within that tradition. By the Classical period, the genre iambos had been distilled down to invective content in iambic meters, despite the much greater variety of features found in the canonical Archaic iambographers (particularly Archilochus and Hipponax, 7th-6th C BCE). Catullus, familiar with these poets not only in their own right but also through the lens of Hellenistic authors such as Callimachus, partakes in and expands this tradition in novel ways. Catullus affirms the connection between invective and iambic meters in some of his poems (25, 29, 37, 39, 52, 59, 60). In others, he subverts his readers' expectations, creating mismatches between meter and content. He employs iambic meters without invective content once in iambic trimeters (4) and in half of his choliambic poems (8, 22, 31, 44). Conversely, he uses unaccustomed meters for invective, including hendecasyllables and elegiac couplets. Scholarly efforts to explain the mismatch of meter and content in Catullus' invective-free iambic poems and in his invective poems in other meters have largely been piecemeal; this study represents a more sustained approach to the problem. I argue in Chapter One that the speed of the skiff in poem 4 enables it to outpace obstacles representing iambos' traditionally dominant feature, invective; against generic expectations, Catullus introduces speed as a pointed alternative to abusive content. Chapter Two demonstrates that Catullus employs his non-abusive choliambic poems in the diagnosis of literary-critical and medical problems, tapping into a strain of aesthetic criticism and complaint found in Callimachus' Iamboi and in Hipponax himself. Chapter Three presents Catullus' hendecasyllables as a flexible meter without a strong ethos, allowing Catullus to link it to both the iambic tradition and love poetry. Finally, Chapter Four explores Catullus' use of elegiac epigram as an open form primarily for invective, matching the longstanding but uneasy coupling of hexameter and pentameter to vignettes of unbalanced relationships. With carefully considered mismatches of form and content, Catullus extends iambos beyond tradition.
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