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Silence in Catullus

Benjamin Eldon Stevens

Publication Year: 2013

Both passionate and artful, learned and bawdy, Catullus is one of the best-known and critically significant poets from classical antiquity. An intriguing aspect of his poetry that has been neglected by scholars is his interest in silence, from the pauses that shape everyday conversation to linguistic taboos and cultural suppressions and the absolute silence of death.
            In Silence in Catullus, Benjamin Eldon Stevens offers fresh readings of this Roman poet's most important works, focusing on his purposeful evocations of silence. This deep and varied "poetics of silence" takes on many forms in Catullus's poetic corpus: underscoring the lyricism of his poetry; highlighting themes of desire, immortality-in-culture, and decay; accenting its structures and rhythms; and, Stevens suggests, even articulating underlying philosophies. Combining classical philological methods, contemporary approaches to silence in modern literature, and the most recent Catullan scholarship, this imaginative examination of Catullus offers a new interpretation of one of the ancient world's most influential and inimitable voices.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Silence in Catullus argues that the first- century BCE Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus shows a deep and varied interest in silence as it may play important roles in poetry and as it relates to human being- inlanguage more generally. In particular I argue that Catullus’s interest in silence is an intentional and significant...

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Introduction: Toward a Poetics of Silence in Catullus

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pp. 3-17

The topic of “silence in literature” has received special scholarly attention following the First and Second World Wars.1 Perhaps naturally a focus has been on the literature of those periods and later.2 This may give an impression that silence in literature is a particularly modern phenomenon...

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1. Natural and Sociocultural Silence in C. 6

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pp. 19-46

In this chapter I aim to give a first impression of what we stand to gain by reading poems for their silences. In particular I wish to illustrate the basic difference, discussed in the introduction, between natural and sociocultural silences: between what cannot be said, or what goes unsaid in fact...

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2. Orality and Sexualized Silence in Cc. 5, 7, 74, 80, 88, 116, and 16

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pp. 47-81

In the first chapter, an approach to reading Catullus with an ear to his silences was exemplifi ed mainly by c. 6. With silence taking its place among various modalities of speech, c. 6’s self- consciously outrageous violation of traditional linguistic taboo—it does say what one can say but, traditionally...

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3. Poets, Poems, and Poetry: Cc. 22 and 36 (plus 50)

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pp. 82-122

The sexualized silence discussed in chapter 2 served to illustrate how natural and sociocultural silences may be made to interact in a poem. Oral sexuality in particular, as exemplifi ed in Catullus by kissing and irrumatio, results in silence naturally through preclusion or occlusion of the mouth...

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4. The Natural Silence of Death, Part 1: Cc. 65 and 68 (a)

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pp. 123-160

In the poems considered in the preceding chapters, we have seen Catullus responding to silences that are primarily sociocultural. As they take place between or among members of a given society, such silences are open to manipulation and representation by a skillful practitioner of cultural tradition...

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5. The Natural Silence of Death, Part 2: Cc. 65 and 101 (with 96, 100, and 102)

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pp. 161-202

Reading c. 68(a) in the context of c. 65, we have seen Catullus confront a situation that is intolerable in light of his poetics of silence: whereas the poet seeks to produce charming or witty poetry in response to the sorts of sociocultural silences that characterize ordinary social interaction, he is, like any ordinary...

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6. “Feminized” Voices and Their Silences, Part 1: C. 64

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pp. 203-236

In the preceding chapters we have seen how the poems’ impression of being overheard comes in part from the attention Catullus pays to various silences. When he seems to speak aloud, it is in the context of at least one other potential speaker’s silence. Examples of this basic situation have ranged from the pauses...

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7. “Feminized” Voices and Their Silences, Part 2: Cc. 63 and 51

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pp. 237-256

The figure of Attis in c. 63 confi rms our impression that, in the context of Catullus’s poetics of silence, feminized figures are subjected to an overpowering silence.1 Like Ariadne in c. 64 and Catullus himself at several points, including c. 51 as discussed later, Attis is heard into being in ways that deviate from his desires...

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pp. 257-262

Despite the general consensus that Catullus’s poems are not likely to represent the historical poet accurately, in reading the poems we may nevertheless be left with a feeling of contact with another person’s mind. Such is our awareness, albeit unconscious, of the pervasive erasure of becoming by nothing...


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pp. 263-311

Works Cited

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pp. 313-326


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pp. 327-338

E-ISBN-13: 9780299296636
E-ISBN-10: 0299296636
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299296643
Print-ISBN-10: 0299296644

Page Count: 354
Publication Year: 2013