Catullus' Bedspread: The Life of Rome's Most Erotic Poet by Daisy Dunn

Catullus' Bedspread: The Life of Rome's Most Erotic Poet by Daisy Dunn

Author:Daisy Dunn [Dunn, Daisy]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Literature, Poetry, Classical World, A863, A864, Culture and Society, Biography
ISBN: 9780062317025
Google: Kty1CgAAQBAJ
Amazon: 0062317024
Publisher: Harper
Published: 2016-07-04T23:00:00+00:00

Murder, adultery, injustice, and careless disregard for the gods were rife. Near the beginning of the poem, in contrast, Catullus praised the Heroic Age: ‘Heroes, born in the moment most admired beyond measure of all Ages, godly race, offspring of a noble mother.’ But he did not complete this work before he had experienced some second thoughts on the relative merits of each age.

Jupiter, Catullus remembered in his poem, had once desired Thetis, the alluring sea nymph, for himself. But as the playwright Aeschylus had revealed in a trilogy of tragedies put on in fifth-century BC Athens, Prometheus warned Zeus (Jupiter) of a prophecy that said that any son the nymph should bear him would be greater than him, and therefore capable of toppling his throne. In this family, sons had succeeded many times in usurping their god king fathers. Jupiter’s father had castrated his father to snatch his throne. Venus was among the offspring born when his semen spilt in the sea. Saturn, after succeeding his father, swallowed most of his children whole so that none could usurp him. Jupiter, who was fortunate to survive when his mother concealed him in the cave, grew up to usurp his father Saturn. Against the backdrop of such a bloody family history, Jupiter was right to heed Prometheus’ warning against coupling with Thetis. As it was, he had to swallow one wife and deliver their daughter Minerva from his head. Marrying Thetis off to a mortal was the only way he could ensure that history did not repeat itself.

The last time the divine order was overturned, with Jupiter’s usurpation of Saturn, the Golden Age had segued to Silver. In Poem 64, Catullus flirted with the idea of what might have happened if Thetis the nymph had not married the Argonaut Peleus. Had Thetis had a child by Jupiter instead of Peleus, might another new age have taken root? The lavish wedding ceremony was taking place at a royal palace in Pharsalus, in Greece. Outside its grand walls, something close to a new Golden Age was beginning to unfurl:

Cieros was deserted, Phthian Tempe left behind,

The houses of Crannon, the walls of Larisa, empty;

They convened at Pharsalus, to Pharsalus and its homes

They flocked. No one tended the fields. The necks

Of bullocks grew soft through inactivity,

No curved scythe cleansed the soil beneath the vine,

No bull stooped beneath the yoke to cleave the earth,

No hook pruned the shade from the leaves of the trees,

Decay and rust overran the abandoned ploughshares.

(Poem 64, lines 35–42)


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