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Holzberg, Niklas (22. October 2018): From Priapus to Cytherea. A sequential reading of the Catalepton. In: Classical Quarterly, Vol. 68, No. 2: pp. 557-565 [PDF, 99kB]

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In an article published thirteen years ago, I tried to break new ground by showing that the texts transmitted under the title Catalepton as the work of Virgil can be seen to form an elaborately arranged and highly allusive book of verse written by a single author. This latter, I argued, was identical with the anonymous poet who, in an epilogue, represents the preceding poems as the juvenilia of the author later known for his Bucolics, Georgics and Aeneid and, consequently, is himself speaking in the alleged early works as Virgil impersonator. This anonymous poet, however, cannot rightly be labelled a literary forger, since he repeatedly and quite unmistakably recalls each of Virgil's three opera as well as other texts written after the year 19 b.c. Evidently, then, he is inviting his readers to take part in a literary lusus, one in which they are expected to be familiar not only with the texts of Bucolics, Georgics and Aeneid but also with the life of the man who wrote them. The fiction of a young Virgil is created, one who wrote his first poems—the verses referred to in the epilogue as elementa and rudis Calliope (Catal. 18[15])—primarily under the influence of Catullus, the said poems being, with the exception of Catal. 12(9) and 16(13), epigrams. My interpretation has borne fruit, with Irene Peirano and Markus Stachon each devoting, in 2012 and 2014 respectively, a monograph to this approach and offering what are often very thorough analytical readings of the poems as the creations of a Virgil impersonator. However, neither of these two Latinists has considered one particular interpretative aspect, which I myself had only been able to introduce very briefly into my paper: the recognition that, as many more recent studies have now further corroborated, Roman poetry books were designed for linear, sequential reading, that they have, as it were, a story to tell. Peirano, moreover, disregards in her study the three Priapea positioned in editions before the other fifteen epigrams and shown there with their own separate numbering. In the manuscripts, however, the title Catalepton refers without exception to a unit comprising the three Priapea and the fifteen epigrams. The title Priapea, found in the catalogue of the Murbach manuscripts and in some codices (for example the Graz fragment), is always attached solely to the poem Quid hoc noui est? In the Vita Suetoniana-Donatiana (VSD), the terms Catalepton, Priapea and Epigrammata were evidently used as three different titles; the author (or his source) may not have seen that Catalepton is the title of all the poems. Furthermore, I should like to point out that, counted together, ‘Virgil's’ Priapea and epigrams come to a total of seventeen poems and so match precisely both the total of seventeen books in the real Virgil's three works and the total number of Horace's epodes, of the poems, that is, which the not-so-real Virgil quite conspicuously evokes in his own penultimate poem (Catal. 16[13]). More significantly, however, a sequential reading of the Priapea et Epigrammata can in fact build a watertight case for taking the texts to be, as it were, a composite whole, and that is what I intend to argue in the rest of the article.

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