Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Franco Bellandi, Lepos e pathos. Studi su Catullo. Testi e manuali per l’insegnamento universitario del latino 101. Bologna: Pa\tron Editore, 2007. 502 p. €36.00 (pb). ISBN 9788855529730.
Reviewed by Julia Gaisser, Bryn Mawr College (jgaisser@brynmawr.edu)

Catullus' stock is high these days, to judge from the number of books on his poetry published in the last year or so. The topics and approaches vary--from collections like Skinner's encyclopedic Companion to Catullus (2007) and Gaisser's Oxford Readings in Catullus (2007), to studies of individual poems like Nauta and Harder's edition of essays on 63 (Catullus' Poem on Attis, 2005) and Agnesini's edition and commentary on poem 62 (Il carme 62 di Catullo, 2007). The list (which may not be complete) also includes a new English translation (Green, The Poems of Catullus, 2005), a textual study (Trappes-Lomax, Catullus. A Textual Reappraisal, 2007), a general introduction (Godwin, Reading Catullus, 2008), and a study of Catullan intertexts in Horace (Putnam, Poetic Interplay: Catullus and Horace, 2006).

Franco Bellandi's Lepos e pathos is a worthy and interesting addition to this roster. Bellandi's book is the product of a long engagement with Catullus' poetry, as he notes in the first line of his preface. This longus amor, as he calls it, is evident on every page of his very detailed and densely argued study, which includes both new and previously published work (see below for details). The book hangs together better than many volumes of collected papers because Bellandi has not only updated and added to his earlier studies but also written entirely new chapters to provide a unifying general argument for the whole. The argument has to do with Catullan poetics, which Bellandi sees in terms of the words of his title: lepos and pathos--the one Callimachean in inspiration, the other linked more to Sappho. Lepos is the constellation of qualities that Catullus values in both his social interactions and his light poetry (sal, venustas, urbanitas, etc.). It can and does include obscenity, but never pathos, or deep and painful emotion. In Bellandi's view Catullus never provides a fully articulated poetics, only pieces here and there that hint at his literary taste. The hints that he does provide are all associated with lepos. Pathos, by contrast, is not subject to statements of poetics: "il pathos non puo\ presentarsi come ligio ad alcuna direttiva di poetica, esponendosi al rischio di distruggere l'efficacia dell'espressione di se/" (pp. 39-40). (I would put it a little differently, that self-conscious statements of poetics might break the illusion that a poem is a spontaneous expression of feeling.) The details of Bellandi's argument fit some parts of his book more snugly than others, but his rubrics of lepos and pathos provide a good and not overly constricting unifying thread that leaves room for some fine close readings of individual passages and poems.

The book contains six chapters (chapters 1-3 are new; the discussions of poems 95, 11, 101 and 96 in chapters 4-6 have appeared earlier in some form) : 1. "Poesia e scrittura: tabellae, codicilli, palimpsesti, libelli e libri"; 2. "Ethos e pathos: qualche considerazione sulla 'poetica' di Catullo"; 3. "Struttura e composizione del Liber catulliano"; 4. "Lettura dei carmi 1, 16, 36, 95"; 5. "Lesbia o l'amour-passion; i carmi 51 e 11"; 6. "Catullo e la morte: i carmi 101 and 96." In addition, there are two appendices: "Su Catullo e l'oratoria" and "Il carme 10 e il problema esegetico-testuale dei versi 9-13." The volume includes an exhaustive bibliography and three indices (nominum, locorum, and rerum).

Although Bellandi's book appears in the series "Testi e manuali per l'insegnamento universitario del latino," I think that it would be very hard going for university students anywhere. Its best audience would be scholars like Bellandi himself, readers who already know the poems well and have thought long and deeply about the problems they present. The book is very long (well over 400 pages, not counting the bibliography and indices), and it is often repetitious. The discussions are thorough--often too thorough, since the author examines every side of a question in detail before stating his own argument. Exhaustive footnotes fill a third to a half of every page. The volume would have benefited greatly from ruthless editing and pruning. Bellandi is a subtle and perceptive critic, and his ideas would have appeared to better advantage (and made better reading) without the repetitions and irrelevancies that often blur their focus.

In chapter 1 Bellandi uses poems 50, 42, 22, and 1 to discuss the stages of production of Catullus' poetry from tabellae to final libellus. Tabellae would be used for drafts and ephemera like the trifles "now in this meter, now in that" in the poetic game with Calvus that Catullus recalls in poem 50. The tablets might be erased and reused or circulated among close friends. Bellandi sees 42 as a demonstration of such limited circulation; he believes that Catullus is so eager for the girl to return his verses because he has no other copy (p. 19). Poem 22 illustrates what Bellandi believes is the next step, reworking and revising--now not on wax tablets, but on palimpsest--a step that the egregious Suffenus foolishly omits, entrusting his unrevised effusions to the best papyrus. I know of no evidence for this step in the process, and Bellandi cites none, but the idea is inherently plausible and makes excellent sense of the poem: on this view, Catullus' point is that most poets revise, but not Suffenus. The next step after revision, Bellandi argues, would be the preparation of a fair copy to be duplicated and sold by the librarius or bookseller (see especially pp. 31-2). Poem 1, of course, gives us the final stage, the completed libellus. Much of this ground has been covered before.[[1]] Bellandi goes over it again because he is interested in the different ways and forms in which Catullus' poetry circulated and because he will argue in chapter 3 for a posthumous editor who had to gather poems from several disparate sources. So much is clear, but I do not understand his insistence on the use of a librarius, a point that he asserts but does not document and one that seems to me unimportant to his argument. Booksellers existed in Catullus' day as poem 14 and probably poem 55[[2]] attest, but their role in the circulation of books by elite authors seems to have been small (see Starr, cited in note 1 above).

In chapter 2 Bellandi develops his thesis about the poetics of lepos and the "negative poetics" of pathos. He confines Catullan poetics to the sphere of Callimachean lepos: "La poetica catulliana e\ tutta callimachea, all'insegna non solo dell'ars formale . . . ma anche di un tono di lusus" (p. 61). The realm of pathos (which is not to be understood as a "poetics") is under the influence of Sappho; it is a break with Callimachean ars and ingenium, which are routed by a kind of possession of the poet by irresistible emotion (pp. 41-2). The importance of Sappho is explored more fully in chapter 5. For Bellandi lepos and pathos are so incompatible that he thinks it would be astonishing for poems like 8, 11, 51, 58, and 60 to have been included in the libellus to Nepos that Catullus describes in 1.1 as lepidus (p. 38, n. 67).

In chapter 3 Bellandi argues against the idea that Catullus is responsible for the arrangement of the poems. He would agree that there are some "purposed sequences" (p. 64) reflecting traces of an original arrangement either by Catullus or his editor, but rejects the architectural principles set out by many modern critics. This is the most contentious part of the book. I also find it the least satisfactory--not because I disagree with him (I do not), but because his argument is largely subjective and tendentious. His chief point is that the present arrangement cannot be by Catullus because there is so much wrong with it: 51 appears after 11, for example, and the long poems are placed in the middle rather than at the beginning of the collection. Rather surprisingly, given his interest in the physical form of books in chapter 1, Bellandi is not concerned with the length or likely capacity of the papyrus roll. Objections and disagreements with other scholars take up twenty of the chapter's thirty pages. Only in the last ten pages does he come to the most interesting part of the discussion. Building on the idea developed in chapter 1 that Catullus' poetry circulated in several forms, he suggests the problems of collection and organization that such circulation would have posed for a posthumous editor and tries to explain the factors that the editor would have taken into account in ordering the poems. Butrica’s important discussion of the early transmission of the poetry would have provided good support for this argument; unfortunately, however, it appeared too late to be useful.[[3]]

Chapters 4 through 6 are devoted to the discussion of individual poems, often framed in the form of a running commentary. For me this was the most interesting and valuable part of the book. Bellandi is a perceptive and knowledgeable reader, and these pages are full of important insights. I will list a few of the points that I found of particular interest.

In chapter 4 Bellandi uses both the internal logic of poem 1 and its Callimachean intertext to support the reading patrona virgo in line 9. Catullus presents his work to Nepos because of his past support; the future, by contrast, is the province of the Muse. The intertext is Callimachus' request to the Graces at Aet. 1.7.13 ff. Pf .: "Come now and wipe your shining hands on my elegies so that they may last for me for many a year." On 16.10 (non dico pueris, sed his pilosis), he points out that the contrast is not between youths and old men, but between boys and over-age ("hairy") pathics (pp. 126-7).

In chapter 5 Bellandi compares 51 with Sappho fragment 13 and provides commentary and interpretation of both, making the important point that Catullus' purposes are not the same as Sappho's: what is a poem of "performance" in Sappho becomes a poem of self-analysis in Catullus (pp. 222-3). For Bellandi, 51 does not belong to the beginning of the Lesbia affair, but reflects the moment in which Catullus must acknowledge that his love is a sickness and in which he moves from the Callimachean mode of lusus and lepos to the Sapphic mode of pathos and into a poetry of total and destructive passion. In this reading, the otium stanza reflects Catullus' resistance to the Sapphic mode: "Nello stesso momento in cui egli ci dice 'Sappho c'est moi!', Catullo tiene anche a farci sapere che si considera una 'Sappho malgré lui'" (p. 186).

In chapter 6 Bellandi brings together his important recent papers on poems 101 and 96 under the rubric "Catullo e la morte."[[4]] Both discussions are essential reading for anyone interested in Catullus. On 101 I found two observations particularly valuable: that it invokes a funeral ritual, but with all its conventional elements stripped away (p. 283), and that it is a consolation not for the living but for the dead--yet a consolation in vain since the brother is beyond reach (pp. 311-12). In 96 Bellandi takes lines 3-4 as pivotal, distributing the dolor for Quintilia's death between Catullus and Calvus. Catullus' role is lament (l. 4), Calvus' memory (l.3), by which he keeps Quintilia alive (p. 383).

To sum up. Lepor e pathos is too long, and it is often repetitious and tendentious. Nevertheless, it is valuable for its many insights into individual passages and for the subtlety and perception with which Bellandi illuminates whole poems. Readers without the patience to work through the whole will be helped to find discussion of specific points by Bellandi’s detailed index locorum.


[[1]] For a fine account see Raymond Starr, "The Circulation of Literary Texts in the Roman World," CR 37 (1987) 213-33.

[[2]] T. P. Wiseman, "Looking for Camerius: The Topography of Catullus 55," PBSR 48 (1980) 6-16. Reprinted in Wiseman, Roman Studies, Liverpool, 1987, 176-86.

[[3]] James Butrica, "History and Transmission of the Text." In Marilyn B. Skinner, ed. A Companion to Catullus. Malden, Mass., Oxford, and Carlton, Victoria, Australia. 2007. 13-34.

[[4]] Franco Bellandi, "Il carme 101 di Catullo fra Meleagro e Foscolo," MD 51 (2003) 65-134; idem, "Calvo e Quintilia e l’esegesi del c. 96 di Catull," MD 55 (2005)123-42.

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