Boltsi, Christina, Classics - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Myers, Karen, AS-Classics, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines Catullus’ relationship with Lesbia through the lens of metapoetics. I analyze the Lesbia poems and argue that a way to resolve the inconsistencies in how Catullus portrays Lesbia is to approach her as a composite metaphor. In different poems, I suggest, Lesbia fulfills different metapoetic roles: she is Catullus’ Muse, the embodiment of Catullan poetics, as well as Catullus’ poetic work. In the first chapter, I examine Catullus 1 as a programmatic poem that introduces themes that play a significant role in my discussion of the Lesbia poems: the conflation of erotics and poetics, literary polemics, and the reception of poetry. In chapter 2, I examine poems 51, 68b, and 107. I argue that in these poems Lesbia is depicted as a Muse and source of poetic inspiration, an inspiration activated through her epiphanic appearance to the poet. In chapter 3, I focus on the various qualities that Lesbia has as Catullus’ Muse and how these qualities reflect different aspects of Catullus’ work: uenustas (2, 3, 13, 86), eclecticism (86, 68b), invective and literary polemics (86, 36). In chapter 4, I analyze poems that describe the relationship between Catullus and Lesbia using marital and political imagery (68b, 5, 7, 87, 109, 70, 72). I suggest that these poems bind together the language of marriage, family, and politics to promote the poet’s desire for an exclusive relationship with the Muse. This relationship leads to the production of erudite poetry. At the same time, however, the elusive nature of poetic and amatory diction exemplified in the words of Lesbia as Muse and lover (c. 109, 70, 72) problematizes Catullus’ desire: an exclusive relationship with the Muse is called into question opening up the possibility of erotic rivalry for the attention of Lesbia. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with the allegations of infidelity and the lack of exclusivity in the relationship between Catullus and Lesbia. I argue that in these poems Lesbia becomes a metaphor for Catullus’ work itself. In Chapter 5, I examine the conflation of sexual and textual polemics in the poems against Rufus, Gellius, and Lesbius, men who have been traditionally read as Catullus’ erotic rivals for Lesbia’s attention. Finally, in Chapter 6, I focus on the theme of Lesbia’s “prostitution” exemplified in poems 37, 58, 8, and 11. In these poems, I read the motif of prostitution as a metaphor for the circulation of the poetic work, and I interpret Catullus’ reactions as a way for the poet to navigate the feelings of empowerment or anxiety that he experiences upon separation from his work.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Catullus, Lesbia, metapoetics
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