Galliambics and Catullus 63: An Audio-Parody of Epic?

H. Wakefield Foster

University of Missouri, Columbia

I suggest that the Latin galliambic meter as employed by Catullus in carmen 63, the Attis, parodies traditional Homeric oral epic phraseology.  Because the Attis is not "oral poetry," Catullus' aural imitative devices provide parodic epic features in line, perhaps, with what Newman (1990) posits as the poem's "tragic pantomime" quality. 

I demonstrate that Catullus uses prosodic elements of galliambic verse (at least in the way that he uses the galliambic) to create an audio-parody of epic poetry.

Scholars have noted the placement of names in the same metrical position—at the midline caesura (Means 1927, Elder 1947):  Attis, lines 1, 27, 32, 45; Attin, 42, 88; Gallae, 12; Cybebe, 9, 84, 91; Cybebes, 20, 35.  Others (Elder 1947, Ross 1969) cite extensive use of phrasal repetitions such as quiete molli (38, 44), itaque ut / itaque, ut (6, 35), -antibus oculis (39, 48), forms of nemus (12, 52, 58, 72, 79, 89), and the overwhelming tendency of participles and verbs in c. 63 to appear just before or after the caesura, at the beginning of the verse, or after the first longum (Ross 1969):  citato, 2; furenti, 4; relicta sensit, 6; citata cepit 8; adiitque . . . redimita, 3; devolsit, 5; quatiensque, 10; agite, 12; petentes, 14; exsecutae duce, 15; cecinit, 27.

Not remarked upon, however, is that these phenomena are features also of Homeric formulaic phraseology (Foley 1990).  "Formulaic" describes (epic) phraseology that is influenced by traditional rules governing metrical position or word-type location—participles and verbs occupy "most favored positions."  Patterned placement of names and noun-epithets against the end-line boundary or the principal caesura is a manifestation of "right justification," the tendency in hexameters for syllabic momentum to increase from left to right, accumulating at strong caesurae or at line end.

The galliambic is well suited to propel an audio-parody of epic verse.  Like hexameters, galliambics are composed not as part of a stanza but line by line—kata; stivcon—and display an undeviating midline caesura, something that the hexameter is careful to avoid.  Scholars have noted that a majority (70 percent) of c. 63's galliambics show coincidence of word accent and (apparent) metrical ictus in the first hemistich and a divergence therein in the second; the reverse situation prevails in hexameters.

I demonstrate how these phenomena support my view that the galliambic meter in Catullus' hands becomes a highly crafted vehicle for parodic-epic treatment of the Attis myth with regard to prosody, phraseology, and diction.  I will perform relevant excerpts in support of my claims.

c. 63 may be seen to parody epic in several ways. Catullus uses words and phrases from traditional epic vocabulary, both Homeric and Ennian (marmora pelagi, a{la marmarehvn [Il.14.273], mare marmore flavo [Ann. 377], ratis, sonipes, vada, vi iaciunt, miseriter, stabula), word clusters to unify verses (             ), anaphora (lines 21-25), archaic forms (typanum, tetulit, gyminasiis, columinibus), alliteration and assonance (28-30), repetition of words (forms of nemus, vagus, ferus), compound epithets in the epic style (hederigerae, sonipedibus, nemorivagus, properipedem, erifugae). Parodic treatments of theme, loss of virtus, sexual inversion, animal imagery and dehumanization of Attis, absence of divine mediation.

c. 63 is a parody of epic style—features of epic poetry and inversions thereof propelled by galliambics provide audio-parody of traditional epic.

features of trad. epic are inverted.

list epic filiations and inversions.

galliambics' parody of hexameter:

                        kata; stivcon

                        undeviating caesura

            E. S. Thompson (1893:146-47) cites two basic facts about the galliambic:  In a majority of verses (64 out of a total of 94) word accent and metrical ictus coincide in the first hemistich and conflict in the second

            Catullus recasts the Attis myth and treats it in terms that illuminate the tragic consequences of Attis' religious fanaticism—castration and slavery—while violently subverting epic's sensibilities.  As an anti-epic hero, the self-emasculated Attis—notha mulier (counterfeit woman)—becomes the female slave of the Great Mother goddess Cybele.  Attis' mad obsession for becoming a worshipper of Cybele echoes the self-destructive desire of Odysseus to enjoy the Sirens' song, and Attis' resulting enslavement provides a scenario for Odysseus' fate had he succumbed to their wiles.

Self-emasculation not only destroys Attis' male sexual identity but also degrades his humanity, demoting him to the level of a beast.  Animal imagery recalls Circe's enchantment of Odysseus' men, though without the divine mediation which repeatedly rescued that Homeric hero.  Castration, the irrevocable emblem and price of membership in Cybele's band of worshippers, recalls Odysseus' fear of bedding down with Calypso.


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