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.