- Catullus, Cicero, and a Society of Patrons: The Generation of the Text
This is a book about the textualization of performance and the materialization of the text in the late Republic. It is less concerned with literature than with the sociotextual lives of writers in this period, with special attention given to two big C’s in the first century: Catullus and Cicero. The particular social matrix in which Stroup embeds the works of these writers is patronage, the workings and influence of the audience that inspires, receives and molds these texts. While much has been written on the topic of patronage, both literary and sociopolitical, Stroup offers a view here of a different kind of patronage: a “Society of Patrons,” an isometric rather than hierarchical system in which the authors and their “patrons” are of roughly equal social status and participate in a reciprocal sharing of textual, not monetary gifts.
Stroup defines this Society of Patrons as “a group of approximate social equals who participated, to varying degrees, in a form of indubitably ‘horizontal’ —isonomic—sociotextual reciprocity,” (19) and she proposes to reconstruct this group through an examination of Catullus and Cicero. She stresses that she is not writing about patronage (literary or social) but about the textual habits of patronal-class men, habits that bespeak a pervasive cultural praxis.
Stroup examines two types of intersections between Catullus and Cicero: terminology and social code (part 1), and rhetorical and socio-practical function (parts 2 and 3, where she discusses elite performance and textual materiality). She wants to discover what people wrote, how people wrote, and what texts “do” or how texts “speak” in the real world. The main terms that she uses in her discovery (the “textual argot” of the late Republic, 16) are otium, munus, and libellus, terms that evolve and take on new meaning as the Republic ends and the Principate begins.
It is in this study of the texts qua texts, and not as repositories of information about the intellectual world of Cicero or poetic world of Catullus that Stroup makes her greatest contribution. Much of what she uses as fodder has been thoroughly mined by other scholars (textual materiality, elite performance, fetishized objects), but in her focus on how texts are invested in their own textuality, she brings to light new aspects of Catullus (e.g., poems 1, 50, 68b) and Cicero (e.g., De Oratore, Brutus). She has also included a useful appendix containing a “prosopography of the players,” a catalogue raisonné of the possible [End Page 141] participants in the Society of Patrons and those with whom they interacted in their work and lives.
There are some puzzles or weaknesses in this book. First, Catullus often has to play second fiddle to Cicero, and there are more differences than similarities between them; indeed Stroup refers to this as a problem often enough to make us wonder why she decided to focus her book on these two writers. So, although “Catullus and Cicero intersect in their textual materialisms, they express these materialisms in tellingly different ways” (208); Catullus and Cicero are “asymmetric” (209 and elsewhere); Cicero’s texts move into the outside world and negotiate social relations, while Catullus restricts his use of the dedicated text to matters of the textual world (although “even he recognized that the text had the ability to move out of the sphere of textual interactions and ‘do things’ in the world at large,” 270–71). This difference between the two men makes sense given Cicero’s intense political involvement and close association with the forum versus Catullus’ relative lack of political involvement. “The study will seem, at times,” Stroup says, “like more of a study on Cicero than anything else” (26), and indeed, it does.
Second, although it is illuminating to consider relations between men of the same social class (or “patronal relations”) and the effects of such relationships on the texts embedded in them, I did not think that Stroup necessarily...