Friday, 22 August 2014

Ideas re Satires

Salve! I have chosen three Satires which we could focus on. They are I, III and X. I will be posting on some of the other Satires, in particular the ones that until recently were left out of many versions, namely II, VI and IX. I thought that, rather than focus on these, I would nonetheless draw some attention to them and their significance by posting about them.

In general, I hope to do a post on the transmission and survival of Juvenal's text down to our times.

If you have any other Satires that you would like to zoom in on, please post your candidates or let me know how you feel by leaving a comment.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Stephen Fry as Juvenal

00/385 02 Laughter and Loathing - The Satires of Juvenal

This might provide some amusement but apart from the redemptive feature of Fry's witty delivery, Hislop comes across as slightly out of his element and Auberon Waugh's comments are in my opinion way off the mark. Clearly a man who doesn't really have too much time for Juvenal. Its not a hugely perceptive piece but worth a look. Vale! Link details below.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Catullus 64 - Riding epyllion with the Gods

Salve! Evoe! Evoe!

I have been quite struck by one of the longer pieces in Catullus’ carmina, that of the mini epic or epyllion of poem 64. I don’t recall this being on the Latin syllabus all those years ago and I would probably have neglected it in favour of the racier or more pithy shorter pieces in the collection – essentially the poems that everyone knows and loves and are the most quoted ‘Vivemus mia Lesbia etc..’. But upon a closer reading this mini epic has a lot to offer, every line seems to bear traces of exquisite and careful craftsmanship and many flashes of brilliance. Catullus brings all of the tricks of the neoteroi out of the box, transforming the Alexandrian model into something altogether brilliant, action packed, passionate and even philosophical.

This is apparent right from the start with the opening lines focussing right in on the pines on the lofty mountain peak. A micro image in the sharpest detail, sweeping the poetic eye from the height of Pelion right into the translucent sea, speeding past us as we speed away to adventure with the Argive lads on a quest for the Golden Fleece! You can practically smell the salt and feel the spray on your face!

‘peliaco quondam prognatae vertice pinus
Dicuntur liquidas Neptuni nasse per undas
Phasidos ad fluctus et fines Aeetos,
Cum lecti iuvenes, Argivae robora pubis,
Auratam optantes Colchis avertere pellem
Ausi sunt vada salsa cita decurre puppi,
Caerula verrentes abniegis aequora palmis;’ L.1-7

Ancient pines, born on the peak of Pelion
Are said to have swum through the limpid
Waters of Neptune as far as the Phasian shore
And the outer limits of Aeetes, when the
Select youths, the young oaks of Argive manhood
Hoping to steal from the Cholchians the Golden Fleece
Dared to speed over the salty deep with swift keels
As they swept the blue expanse with fir-branch oars;

Most if not all of the standard Alexandrine Epyllion poems (or at least those that are considered by convention to meet those criteria – which to be honest are quite broad bordering on the meaningless!) tend to start ‘wide angle’ with an invocation or hymn type section to a god which tends to set the tone of a high epic, grandiloquent phrasing, abstraction and over ornate almost pedantic wordsmithery. With the exception of Callimachus and a few other contemporaries, the fragments we have display a tendency to erudition and allusion as opposed to genuine poetic genius– a regrettable case of the triumph of form over content.

The metre, dactylic hexameter, which is the standard for Greek and Latin epic, in Catullus’ hands frees itself somewhat as he plays with word and line breaks running against the natural rhythm of the meter. Alexandrine works can often run with the metre and create a slightly foot heavy effect.

Of course, in some epic poetry contexts this ponderous spondee heavy style works excellently well - I am thinking of the constant 6th and 5th string Metallica-esque power chord riffing of Lucan’s  De Bello Civile as he relentlessly punches home in the manner of a hobnailed marching rhythm that ‘War is Hell’ and Civil war is well.. even more hell!– But this is not characteristic of Catullus 64 which dances along with real brilliance, no less in term of its sonics than its imagery and word architecture and interplay.

A line sequence I find particularly attractive for its shape and contrasting imagery is 41-3 which describes beautifully the rusting abandoned ploughs of the country folk who flock to the palace and compares with the glittering palace of Peleus which they have left the countryside to see:-

'Non glaebam prono convellit vomere taurus,
Squalida desertis rubigo infertur aratris.
Ipsius at sedes, quaecumque opulenta recessit
Regia, fulgenti splendent auro atque argento.'

Catullus 64 reveals a structure of two parts, the marriage feast of Peleus and Thetis and the story of Ariadne and Theseus – a tale of two marriages if you will. The latter is contained as a clever piece of ecphrasis (itself a Homeric descriptive device – as in the description of Achilles shield) and is a digression from the opening section, where the meeting of Peleus and Thetis is vividly described. The sub-story which in fact is far longer than the framing narrative is cleverly introduced as the moving camera of the description moves through the dazzling gold drenched halls and gilded chambers of Peleus’ palace to rest upon the marriage bed.

‘pulvinar vero divae geniale locatur
Sedibus in mediis, Indo quod dente politum
Tincta tegit roseo conchyli purpura fuco.’ L.47-9

‘But look, the royal marriage bed is set for the goddess
In the heart of the palace,
Smoothly worked in Indian ivory
And covered with purple steeped in the rosy hue
Of the shell’

The ecphrasis continues to describe the ‘other’ marriage or relationship which in stark contrast to the marriage out there in the ‘real world’ (itself an ancient fictional scene of the Homeric past) has gone badly pear shaped. It is here where the flashing movement so characteristic of the rest of the poem changes down gear and I feel that this must be intentional of Catullus (what wouldn’t be in this tightly embroidered work?) and gets very emotional. Here we are confronted with the full emotional turmoil and pain of love betrayed; the desperate loneliness and abandonment of the spurned lover Ariadne. It is also a vehicle where Catullus gets to identify his own feelings of loss and desperation, even of accusation. The two relationships couldn’t be more different. The section takes up Ariadne’s voice and rises to a crescendo of suffering and denial of the horrible reality that Theseus has left her to wander in disarray on the lonely shore. It’s a timeless and powerful expostulation of heartbreak.

It’s a section chock a block with negatives, non, nulla, nil,nec and so mirroring the relentless crash of cruel breakers on the desolate shore on which she finds herself so hopelessly abandoned.

‘sicine me patriis avectam, perfide, ab aris,
Perfide, deserto liquisti in litore, Theseu?
Sicine discedens neglecto numine divum
Immemor a, devote domum periuria portas?
Nullane res potuit crudelis flectere mentis
Consilium? Tibi nulla fuit clementia praesto,
Immite ut nostri vellet miserescere pectus?’L.132-8

‘So, having taken me from my homeland
Far from my father’s home you leave me like this,
Faithless, faithless Theseus, on the lonely shore?
And thus departing, forgetful of the will of the gods,
Ah! are you forgetful of the curse you carry
for these lies to your home? Can nothing deflect the
purpose of your cruel mind? Was there no mercy in you
to bid your hard heart to pity me?’

But all is not lost it seems, who is that we hear crashing through the bushes? Its Bacchus and co…the Dionysian revellers come to whisk Ariadne away to a life of orgiastic intoxication and frenzied sexual abandon!  Obviously the best cure for lovesick heartache and most serious emotional problems. They cut a fine scene as the following extract attests:

‘Harum pars tecta quatiebant cuspide thyrsus
Pars e divulso iactabant membra iuvenco
Pars sese tortis serpentibus incingebant,
Pars obscura cavis celebrant orgia cistis;
Orgia, quae frustra cupiunt audire profane;
Plangebant aliae proceris tympana palmis
Aut tereti tennes tinnitus aere ciebant.’ L.256-262

‘Some of them were waving thyrsi with shrouded tips,
Some were juggling with the disarticulate limbs of a calf,
Yet others ’wrapped themselves in writhing snakes'

Others still worshipped obscure mysteries in hidden caskets,
Mysteries which the profane desire in vain to witness,
Others beat tympani with upraised palms
Or noisily beat rounded bronze cymbals with piercing clashes’

Note the repetition of pars and the onomatopoeia of t sounds in line 262.
The scene telescopes back out to the frame narrative where we have the end of the nuptials attended by divers gods and goddesses and the Fates predict the glorious but eventually doomed future for the son of Peleus. The refrain of their song cycle echoes the physical nature of the coverlet we have been staring at so fixedly in the previous two hundred or so lines – that the past, present and future all flying in and out of psychedelic perspective are linked by the spinning thread of fate – a very neat and multivalent association running through the epillyon like..a golden thread:

‘currite ducentes subtegmina, currite fusi’

‘Run on spindles, run on
drawing out the woof-threads’

The mini epic brings us up to the present day with a moral invective section at the end…an explanation for the why the Gods have abandoned us in these evil times.

‘sed postquam tellus scelerest imbuta nefando
Iustitiamque omnes cupida de mente fugarunt,
Perfudere manus fraterno sanguine fratres,
Destitit extinctos natus lugere parentes,
Optavit genitor primaevi funera nati,
Liber ut innuptae poteretur flore novercae,
Ignaro mater substernens se impia nato
Impia non veritast divos scelerare parentes:
Omnia fanda nefanda malo permixta furore
Iustificam nobis mentem avertere deorum.
Quare nec tales dignantur visere coetus,
Nec se contingi patiuntur lumine claro.’ L.397-408

‘But once the earth had become stained with horrible crime,
And all men banished justice from their avaricious minds
And brothers drenched their hands in brother’s blood,
The son left off mourning his parent’s death,
The father wished for an early funeral for his son
So he undisturbed could enjoy deflowering the virgin bride,
The unnatural mother thrusting herself under her unconscious son,
Unafraid to commit iniquity before the household gods,
Then all right and wrong thoroughly mixed up in an evil madness
Turned us away from the righteous will of the gods,
So that they do not stoop to join with such company
Nor put up with the touch of clear daylight.’

There is so much in this poem that this brief foray has really only served to give you a few glimpses of its sheer delights. What was Catullus doing by juxtaposing the two marriages/relationships? How much or what exactly can we say with regard to Catullus own love affair with Lesbia (aka Clodia), who after all was herself a married woman? Is the moral tone at the end of the poem to be taken seriously or just as a device of invective common to Callimachan poetry which Catullus did so much to imitate and expand upon? For that matter how far can we take any of it as a mirror of the poet’s emotional state of mind at all? Is it just a Homeric flight of fancy? Or could it be an embittered riff on the lies that lovers tell and the moral decay that seems more visible to those spurned or in a heightened and disturbed emotional state? I think it does go deeper than that as a result of the neoteric inventions and highly charged personal tone of the speech sections, in particular Ariadne and Theseus’ father.
It’s worth further investigation and continued study that is for sure.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Augustus by John Williams

Bronze head of Augustus with glass and alabaster eyes; from Meroë, Sudan, 27–25 BC
The bronze head of Augustus with glass and alabaster eyes; from Meroë, Sudan, ca. 27–25 BC. Photo: British Museum

Below is a link to an essay on a novel from 1972 by John Williams about and called Augustus. It's an interesting piece and sounds like an interesting novel written in the epistolatory style principally from the perspective of people around Augustus. The book is just being republished by the New York Review of Books imprint.

Perhaps we should look as this or another modern take on Rome for one of our sessions.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Will the real Catullus step forward? Towards a definitive text


To follow up a suggestion I made at the last Legendum meeting I have decided where possible to take a brief look at how the ancient text we happen to be dealing with have come down to from antiquity. In the case of  Gaius Valerius Catullus (84-54 BCE) the background story appears to be quite interesting and even a compelling case has been made for a new attempt at creating a more accurate critical text. Just how intact a text has come down us perhaps we will never know but each successive generation of scholarship chips away a little more at the mystery in the hope of getting closer to the text as it was first composed or at the very least its first copies.

I managed to get hold of the Loeb 1962 revised reprint of the Francis Ware Cornish translation. Francis Ware Cornish was the one time Vice-Provost of Eton and a fellow of King's College Cambridge. His translation dates back to 1913 and is based to a great extent on the scholarly work of Professor Postgate (P.J.P. Postgate: Gai Valerii Catulli Carmina, London 1889, and in successive editions of Corpus Poetarum Latinorum and various papers in philological reviews) and seems to have stood the test of time at least up until the end of the 20th Century.

The principal manuscripts of Catullus are listed in at the start of the Cornish translation as follows:

V. Codex Veronensis, from which all others (except T) are derived; no longer extant.
O. Codex Oxoniensis, in the Bodleian Library. Oxford.
G. Codex Sangermanuensis or Parisiensis, in the National Library, Paris.
R. Codex Romanus, in the Vatican Library, Rome.
d. Codex Datanus, at Berlin.
M. Codex Venetus, in the Library of St. Mark at Venice.
T. Codex Thuaneus, in the National Library, Paris; contains only Carm. LXII.

Cornish goes on to explain that, with the exception of T from the 9th Century CE, the extant MSS. of Catullus are derived from V, known to have been at Verona in the late 13th Century. Verona by the way is by a peculiar or not so peculiar coincidence Catullus birthplace. V disappears sometime before the 15th Century and in Cornish's time it was assumed that O and a lost manuscript designated as X both derived from this Veronian manuscript. In turn is was believed that X was the source of G, the Paris manuscript which contains a date, October 29th, 1375, and also of a corrupt MS known as the Codex Vaticanus Ottobonianus or R in our list above. There are several other later MS, many of them 15th Century Italian copies but all appear to derive from the O, G and R codices. Cornish notes that there were the early tremors of scholarly disagreements in the wings and refers the interested reader to several philological reviews where the various arguments as to which MS was the source of which and which was the least/most corrupt and so on. Anyway V stands at the top of Cornish's list at the chief and least corrupt source and consequently the basis for the critical editions and Teubner texts upon which most modern translations are made.

However there are voices that call for a new critical text of Catullus. It has furthermore recently been argued that MSS O, G and R as mentioned above derive from a single lode source and that, due to textual proximity evident between G and R, that they derived from an intermediate copy referred to conventionally as X. This is in contrast to Cornish and most of the scholarship up until the last couple of decades which as we have seen assume the common root MS of O, G and R to be the lost manuscript known as V (codex Veronensis in the list above). MacKie's scholarship has made it clear that O and X, the common source of GR, were not copied directly from V but must have together derived from a lost intermediate source (denoted as A according to current convention). MacKie based his findings by comparing the titles and divisions in the various MSS. It is clear also that the common ancestor of O,G and R, whether it was V or A, was replete with corruption. There is a scribal or copyist addition in one of the manuscript G which alludes to the hopelessness of the condition of the MSS and the difficulties of the copyist:

'Tu lector quicumque ad cuius manus hic libellus obvenerit Scriptori da veniam si tibi cor[r]uptus videtur. Quoniam a corruptissimo exemplari transcripsit. Non enim quodpiam aliud extabat, unde posset libelli huius habere copiam exemplandi. Et ut ex ipso salebroso aliquid tamen sugge[r]ret decrevit pocius tamen cor[r]uptum habere quam omnino carere. Sperans adhuc ab aliquo alio fortuito emergente hunc posse cor[r]igere. Valebis si ei imprecatus non fueris.'

'You reader, whoever you are to whose hands this book may find its way, grant pardon to the scribe if you think it corrupt. For he transcribed it from an exemplar which was itself very corrupt. Indeed, there was nothing else available, from which he could have the opportunity of copying this book; and in order to assemble something from this rough and ready source, he decided that it was better to have it in a corrupt state than not to have it at all, while hoping still to be able to correct it from another copy which might happen to emerge. Fare thee well, if you do not curse him.' (subscriptio MacKie 1977 and Thomson 1997)

This scribal request for indulgence tends to lend emphasis to the sad fact that the textual tradition of Catullus is based upon a late and very corrupt copy. Catullus stands in disadvantageous contrast to the extant MSS of Lucretius (preserved in two excellent condition 9th C MSS) and Vergil with its array of excellent condition MSS from the 5th and 6th Centuries.

Scholarly activity on the late corrupt source text has been going on since the 14th Century, with such notable figures as the humanist scholar Coluccio Salutati, the chancellor of Florence making several important marginal readings. Such emendations continued at the hands of divers scholars through the renaissance until a first printed edition appeared in Venice in 1472 under the auspices of Wendelin Von Speyer. The text of Catullus now became more widely available throughout Europe and as a result the critical apparatus developed considerably. Its seems that there were two main MSS that were used at this time to arrive at a printed text but humanist scholars (Politianus and Scaliger amongst others) must have been looking at other MSS on our list to provide a basis for their suggestions for the more corrupt passages throughout.

Even modern day apparatus criticus still bear some of the traces of this excellent initial textual work. The divisions of the poems in modern editions for example derive from the work of Scaliger (1577) and although it’s difficult to agree whether or not these are close to the original format, they have come to define the shape of the text and hence any translation we now use.

Scholarship in the 19th and 20th Centuries has tended more to the conservative and reluctant to question the text as the humanists did. The result is that a lot of the obvious anomalies of the text have survived unchallenged. It seems that it was considered safer not to posit corruption and to leave the text undecided. This position is slowly changing and scholars are looking again at the textual tradition, especially in the light of the 1896 rediscovery of R in a corner of the Vatican Library by the American scholar W.G.Hale. The textual variants are there in all of the earlier conjectural comments and suggested readings of these MSS and with a bolder approach perhaps we can reconsider the earlier conjectures of scholars before the conservative era, possibly even to revive them. Perhaps the very least we could do would be to have a full criticus apparatus with all of the conjectures rather than the rather limited 'best and most conservative option' in order to arrive at a higher quality edition of Catullus.  The level of corruption in his text would not be tolerated in that of the better preserved Latin poets and we owe it to future scholarship to provide as much material as possible to enable bolder and braver analysis of such a timeless work of art.