The Bean Pod and the Argo:
Mock-Heroic References in Catullus 4

Tate L. Hemingson

University of Wisconsin-Madison

In poem 4, Catullus personifies the phaselus in epigrammatic fashion, cataloguing its unsurpassable speed, noble origins, and heroic travels through menacing seas.  While various aspects of this poem and the nature of the ship—factual or fanciful—have been well discussed in modern scholarship (Holzberg, N. 1999. Bibliographie zu Catull. Munich; Edward, C. 1996-1997. "Catullus' Yacht (Or Was it?)." CJ 92 (2): 113-122; Fitzgerald, W. 1995. Catullan Provocations: Lyric Poetry and the Drama of Position. Berkeley: 104-110), significant words and ideas that connect this poem to another in the Catullan corpus have not been noted.  Several instances of distinctive diction in poem 4 clearly seem to reference the depiction of the maiden voyage of the Argo that introduces poem 64, Catullus' deftly wrought and sophisticated epyllion

This paper not only demonstrates the linguistic connections that link poems 4 and 64, but also shows how critically important this self-referentiality is to the interpretation of poem 4, and furthermore suggests something about its placement within the Catullan corpus.  By understanding this allusion, the mock-epic nature of the phaselus poem—already quite boasting and bombastic—is raised to another level through the reference to the Argo in 64.  Catullus, then, is comparing his little bean-pod ship to the princeps of ships, the legendary Argo.

This allusion enhances the already humorous tone of the depiction of the phaselus and further supports the mock-heroic tone of poem 4, when compared with the grand epicizing style of poem 64.  In a broader context, this allusion strongly argues for a particular ordering of these poems in relation to one another, since necessarily the reader needed to be familiar with poem 64 before the allusion in poem 4 could be referenced and a successful reading could then be made.

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