The man and the mask : persona, character, and technique in the poems of Catullus

Nappa, Christopher John, Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Cantor, Paul, Department of English, University of Virginia

This dissertation begins as an examination of the idea of persona in poem 16 of Catullus and continues by looking at several other, largely neglected, poems (cc. 1, 5, 7, 10, 12, 13, 16, 22, 28, 37, 39, 42, 47, 69, 71, and 77). In the course of these readings, persona takes on a double significance: (1) the abstract concept of a division between the author and his work, and (2) the specific literary character which appears to be the author. The first of these is analogous to the common ancient notion that external signs such as clothing or literary style accurately reflect one's character. Catullus' work challenges this notion.

An analysis of the second of these aspects of persona, the character "Catullus" specifically, focuses on self-characterization in which the poet constructs a persona at odds with the Roman ideal of aristocratic manhood (for instance in cc. 5, 7, 10, 16, 28, 37, 39, and 47). He does so chiefly by employing graphic language (especially related to passive homosexual acts) which calls into sexual question the virility of the Catullan persona. This study, therefore, often embraces questions of Roman morality and character.

Other issues in the poems under consideration are treated as well. Of particular importance is the use of the token, that is, the use of a significant object to emphasize the manipulation of important themes. In poem 12, for instance, the napkin represents the bond of friendship, and its theft represents a threat to that friendship. Another such technique is the use of the figure of the Rival to refine self-characterization; it functions by juxtaposing the figure of the persona with a similar but subtly contrasting figure.

These seven essays do not constitute a complete interpretation of Catullus' work or even a definitive treatise on the idea of persona. Rather they are preliminary to such a work. This study ends with a brief overview of the kind of work necessary to a complete reinterpretation of the poetry of Catullus. For My Parents si natura iuberet a certis annis aeuum remeare peractum atque alios legere ad fastum quoscumque parentis, optaret sibi quisque, meis contentus . . . Horace, Serm. 1. 6.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
persona, Catallus, poems

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:33:07.

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