Go to Arachnion nr. 4 - contents or to Arachnion - home page

Arachnion n. 2.1, May 1996

Catullus 16. 5-6


nam castum esse decet pium poetam
ipsum, uersiculos nihil necesse est

These verses stated a view of poetry which defied ancient convention. Euripides would not have been the only stage writer accused of holding himself a view stated in a play or of possessing himself the moral character attributed to a personage. The ancient biographers considered the lyric and iambic poems of the sixth and fifth centuries a straightforward source of information about the authors of these works. A succession of poets accused over the content of their poetry took up and applied to themselves Catullus' dictum (Ovid, Trist. 2. 353-6, Martial 1. 4. 7-8, Pliny, Epist. 4. 14. 4-5, Hadrian ap. Apul. Apol. 11, Apuleius, Apol. 11, Ausonius, Epigr. 25 [9]). There can be no doubt about the general sense of the dictum. I should like, however, to question the particular interpretation currently given to it.

George Goold (1983) englishes the two Latin hendecasyllables with:

for the dedicated poet has to be decent,
though there's no need for his verses to be so.

Guy Lee (1990) with:

for the true poet should be chaste
himself, his verses need not be.

pium is seen as an attribute of poetam, castum as part of the predicate. Robinson Ellis compared the use of impius at 14. 7 and translated pium poetam as 'the godly poet'. He referred to the uates pii inhabiting the Elysium of Virgil (Aen. 6. 662) and Ovid (Am. 3. 9. 66), to Ovid's uates sacri (Am. 3. 9. 17), and to the way that Horace (Carm. 3. 1. 1-4), Propertius (2.10. 23-4, 3.1.1-4, 4. 6. 1-10) and Ovid (Trist. 4. 10. 19-20, Pont. 2. 10. 17) represented themselves as priests performing holy rites. Emil Baehrens interpreted pium poetum as 'bonum poetam' and added to Ellis's material Virgil's description of himself at Georg. 2. 475-6 (. . . Musae quarum sacra fero) and Persius's talk of the sacra uatum at Prol. 7. Wilhelm Kroll made a selection from the material accumulated by Ellis and Baehrens and declared that the notion of the uates pius underlay both 14. 7 and 16. 5. C.J. Fordyce found poem 16 too gross to be set before the university students of the Britain of 1961 but dismissed as over serious the notion that impiorum at 14. 7 'is meant to suggest by contrast the notion of the pius uates'.

The noun poetam of the first colon no more needs an attribute than the uersiculos of the second does. One adjective would suffice for the predicate, but a second would not be altogether otiose. In his Phalaecian epigrams Catullus likes to pair adjectives off (e.g. at 1. 1, 1. 7, 6. 2 [predicate], 10. 4, 10. 33, 12.5 [predicate] 13. 3, 13. 10 [predicate], 14. 8, 14. 12, 15. 4, 15. 10, 16. 8 [predicate]), frequently without worry about possible redundancy. I suggest, therefore, that pium join castum in the predicate at 16. 5.

At Aen. 6. 662 and Am. 3. 9. 66 pius has to do with the behaviour of the poets in life. It is an alleged crime against a human being which raises a doubt about Gallus's presence among the pii. The adjective notoriously covered relations with parents, patrons and friends as well as with divinities. There are in fact no grounds for associating the concept of pietas either with divine inspiration or with technical competence.

If pium is interpreted as part of the subject of castum esse . . . pium poetam and castum as part of the predicate, and if the adjective has to do, as elsewhere in Latin, with moral behaviour or ritual purity, we have an absurdly tautologous affirmation. Someone who is pius can hardly be other than castus. If on the other hand pium is put with castum in the predicate, we have no more than stylistic redundancy. Where the sphere of relations with the gods are concerned, Cicero combines the concepts of pietas and castitas at Fam. 14. 7. 1 cui quidem tu deo . . . pie et caste satis facies, Leg. 2. 19. ad diuos adeunto caste, pietatem adhibento, and Nat. deor. 2. 71 cultus . . . deorum est optimus, idemque castissimus atque sanctissimus plenissimusque pietatis, ut eos semper pura . . . et mente et uoce ueneremur. Nothing so exact can be proposed in regard to relations with human beings, but pudicus is not far distant in sense from castus (cf. Catull. 16. 4, 8), and Plautus has a description of a wife who has been accused of disloyalty to her husband and turns out to be innocent, a description which combines pius and pudicus: Amph. 1086 piam et pudicam esse tuam uxorem ut scias.

It has been thought by some that the poem attacked by Furius and Aurelius was one like 5 or 7, by others that it was one like 48. In the first case Catullus could have been guilty of impietas where the woman's partner was concerned. In the second the supposed impietas could have been against the boy's father or even against another of his lovers. For Catullus (cf. 73. 2 if not 76. 2 and 26), as for other men of his time (cf. Cicero, Fam. 1. 1. 1, 1. 8. 2, 1. 9. 1, Att. 9. 11 a. 3, Balbus, Cic. Att. 9. 7 b. 1, 2), impietas certainly covered ingratitude to a benefactor.

Catullus' Phalaecian epigrams have three other asyndetic pairs of proximate adjectives and participles (1. 1, 32. 10, 46. 11), his elegiac epigrams one (115. 8), his Galliambic poem on Attis one (63. 3). The styleme was more common in the verse of the previous two centuries. From Plautus' comedies there may be cited oratione uinnula uenustula (Asin. 223), hominem diuitem factiosum (Aul. 226-227), rebus in dubiis egenis (Capt. 406), ponderosas crassas . . . compedes (Capt. 722), status condictus . . . dies (Curc. 5), porci . . . sacres sinceri (Men. 289-290), condiciones . . . tortas confragosas (Men. 591), ignauis improbis uiris (Men. 973), aduocato tristi iracundo (Mil. 663), plagipatidae ferritribaces uiri (Most. 356), piscatu probo electili (Most. 730), nummi . . . probi numerati (Persa 438), duplicis triplicis dolos (Pseud. 580), hominem strenuom beneuolentem (Pseud. 697-698), purus putus . . . sycophanta (Pseud. 1200), insperato opportuno modo (Stich. 304), sarta tecta . . . praecepta (Trin. 317). Afranius has diem scelerosum indignum (Tog. 66). There are many cases in the surviving record where the two adjectives are disjoined by one or two other elements of the colon. Sebastiano Timpanaro discusses the matter fairly exhaustively at Nuovi contributi di filologia e storia della lingua latina, Bologna 1994, 1-74. From comedy he cites Plaut. Amph 268 itaque me malum esse oportet callidum astutum admodum, Capt. 718 recens captum hominem nuperum nouicium, Persa 707 longa nomina contorplicata habemus, Rud. 907 qui salsis locis incolit pisculentis, Trin. 297 nil ego moror faeceos mores turbidos; from the poems of Catullus 63. 70 ego uiridis algida Idae niue amicta loca colam, where Idae intervenes between algida and niue amicta, and 116. 1 studioso animo uenante requirens. To the latter I should add 61. 54-5 te timens cupida nouos captat aure maritus, where cupida splits timens and nouos, and the passage in question, 16. 5-6 nam castum esse decet pium poetam ipsum, where, in my view, esse oportet splits castum and pium much in the way that esse oportet splits malum and callidum at Plaut. Amph. 268. The archaic arrangement of the two adjectives which I am postulating for 16. 5-6 would suit the momentary sollemnity that the poet adopts at this juncture of his epigram.

Go to Arachnion nr. 4 - contents or to Arachnion - home page

Last technical revision April, 29, 1996.

This document (http://www.cisi.unito.it/arachne/num4/jocelyn.html ) is part of «Arachnion - A Journal of Ancient Literature and History on the Web», issue 2.1 (http://www.cisi.unito.it/arachne/arachne.html). The editors are Maurizio Lana and Emanuele Narducci. The journal is distributed by the host of CISI - Università degli Studi di Torino, Via Sant'Ottavio 20, I-10124 Torino.
Quoting this document, please remember to mention the original paper edition, if any, and the electronic edition of Arachnion ( «Arachnion. A Journal of Ancient Literature and History on the Web», issue n. 2.1, http://www.cisi.unito.it/arachne/num4/jocelyn.html ). If you like to access this document through a WWW page, please create a link to it, not to a local copy.