chapter  5
22 Pages

A Poet’S Place: Sappho And The Melic Discourse Of Archaic Greece

Of course, there is more to Catullus’ poetry than just his affair with Lesbia. There are the poems of political invective, social commentary, and literary criticism, the Alexandrian set pieces, the epithalamia and the mythical narratives. All of these different types of poems reflect upon one another, so that the poems which deal directly with the affair both qualify and are qualified by those which do not. Thus the epithalamia, for example, as well as those political poems which inveigh against the sexual excesses of Caesar’s henchmen, form a commentary on the poems of the affair, describing both the sexual mores of the time

and Catullus’ relation to them. The precise way in which these different levels of meaning interact with one another, as well as their social and historical significance, will be taken up in Chapters 6 and 7. For the moment, though, what is of primary importance is to contrast this outline of the interdependent nature of the Catullan collection with the relative autonomy that characterizes poems written for oral performance, such as the poems of Sappho.