Scholia ns 9 (2000) 33.

Kenneth Quinn, The Catullan Revolution. London: Bristol Classical Press, 1999[2]. Pp. xl + 119, incl. a foreword and bibliography by Charles Martindale. ISBN 185399600-9. UKú11.95.

Rudolph Masciantonio
429 S. 20th St. #A, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19146

This welcome reprint of Quinn's now classic literary study of Catullus includes a lengthy and stimulating foreword by Charles Martindale that places Quinn's original work in the context of the New Criticism and seeks to summarize the substantial amount of work on Catullus that has been done since 1959 when Quinn was first published. Martindale groups recent scholarship under four headings: historical context, Callimacheanism, obscenity, and sexuality/gender. Under historical context Martindale cites Peter Wiseman's hypotheses on the identity of Lesbia and Catullus.[[1]] Under Callimacheanism Martindale cites the vast ('perhaps an excessive', p. xxii) amount of work on the influence of Callimachus and other Alexandrian writers. Martindale states that the emphasis on Callimacheanism 'has often led to a neglect of Roman elements in Catullus' and sees the need for a balanced synthesis (p. xxiii). Under obscenity Martindale mentions the often-cited omission of 32 poems in the 1961 edition of Catullus by C. J. Fordyce (who said they did not lend themselves to comment in English, p. xxiii) and refers to investigations of obscene terminology done by J. N. Adams and Amy Richlin.[[2]] Martindale says that recent work done on sexuality and gender tends to be historical and sociological with the important exception of Micaela Janan's psychoanalytic analysis of the poems.[[3]] In the foreword Martindale does not hesitate to disagree with Quinn even on fundamental matters, e.g., Catullus' literary greatness. He says (p. xxiv): 'My view, unlike Quinn's, is that, in the end, Catullus is not one of the world's greatest poets (though I would happily be persuaded otherwise.)' But not wishing to end his foreword on a negative note he offers an analysis of Carm. 4 (Furi et Aureli, comites Catulli), a poem that does 'attain excellence', in the tradition of New Criticism as a tribute to Quinn and his work. The foreword ends with a four-page bibliography of recent work in English on Catullus.

Quinn's own treatment 'deals mainly with literary criticism' (p. xxvii). The discussion of the Hellenistic and Roman background in the first chapter cautions against exaggerating the influence of background. Quinn says that we run the risk of blurring matters if we do not keep three factors separate in our minds, viz., the contribution of Roman tradition, the contribution of poets of the Catullan revolution from their own resources of genius, environment, and outlook, and then the extent to which these factors were enriched by borrowings from the Hellenistic poetic tradition (p. 18). The brilliant critiquing of individual Catullan poems is one of Quinn's many strengths. Conveniently he provides the Latin text and translation in each case. He brings to bear on the texts fresh perspectives and insights, e.g., applying material from T. S. Eliot and Robert Graves to Carm. 8 (pp. 91-94). Another strength is the important generalizing he does about Catullus. For example, 'we have to remember how maddeningly scrappy after all Catullus' little book is, especially when we start to strip off the poems written at the lower level of intent. Among those that are left there are many about whose whole tone and intention we must remain unsure' (p. 99). Relating Catullus to his successors is yet another strong point of Quinn. For example Quinn speaks of the 'tyranny that the Catullan revolution imposed' on Propertius and other Latin elegiac poets (p. 100).

This book is a 'must have' for students, teachers and readers of Catullus at all levels.


[[1]] Peter Wiseman, Catullus and his World: A Reappraisal (Cambridge 1985).

[[2]] J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (London 1982).

[[3]] Micaela Janan, When the lamp is shattered: desire and narrative in Catullus (Carbondale, Ill. 1994). Reviewed in Scholia and archived at: 14jan.html.