Lost voices in the poetry of Catullus: a study in persona and politics

Hammond, Kate (2007). Lost voices in the poetry of Catullus: a study in persona and politics. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e985


This thesis aims at recovering aspects of the poetry of Catullus often denied or ignored by critics: the roles of the poet himself, and of politics in his poetry. These I call the 'lost voices'. The first voice is that of the poet as opposed to a fictional persona called 'Catullus'. Taking the poet's I to refer back to himself re-establishes the poet's role in understanding the meaning of the poems, and also raises the related question of how we should interpret the numerous biographical references Catullus makes. In exploring the history of the intrusion of poets into their verses I demonstrate the likelihood that Catullus wrote for an audience who would take his poetry as referring to his own life, unless he directed them otherwise.

I then argue for Catullus' strong political involvement as being a key feature of a considerable number of his poems. I explore first the particularly personal nature of Roman politics and how for many elite Roman men politics was a way of life not a career choice. In examining what we can discover of Catullus' own status and position in society, I show how he should be considered very much part of the Roman elite. As such, politics is a factor that cannot be dismissed in his relationship with Lesbia (Clodia), particularly in his use of the concept of amicitia, and I re-examine the traditional identification of Lesbia with Clodia Metelli, arguing that such a partnership adds another dimension to Catullus' poems as well as his political involvement. I conclude with examining the numerous poems that reflect Catullus' explicit political activity, focusing on his relationship with the key political protagonists of his day, Caesar and Pompey, as well as other major figures, such as Clodius, Cicero, Vatinius, Piso, and Memmius.

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