Deciding whether Catullus 64 was a neoretic poem and to see whether there are any differences or aspects that the poet shared with other neoteric writers, first we should look at neoretic poetry and its characteristics.
The term neoteroi comes from Cicero, who dubbed a group of poets with this Greek label. Cicero, in fact, was parodying this group of poets when he called them neoteric, or ‘newer epic’ poets. The term referred to latin poets that lived around the first century BC. Cicero’s statement presupposes that they shared some common characteristics in their style, the content of their writings and the genres they used. It is believed that most probably they were a coherent group of writers. Cicero states that these group of writers despised the grandiose style of Ennius.
Neoretic poets though shouldn’t be defined as a school of poetry but as a group of poets. They most probably shared ideas amongst them and it is believed that no leaders where followed at the time. They seem to have continued a tradition started by Callimachus, whereby literary activity did not focus towards epic and tragedy anymore, but towards lyric and a personal poetry, which was introverted and focussed on expressing the small events of private life.
These poets were interested in the extraordinariness also. Writers’ literature showed extraordinary and deviously convey stories with more or less fictional incidents. They adopted an alternative narrative as a reaction to the conventional heroical epic tradition, exploring Callimachean byways of myth or probing corners of well-known myths. Poems focused on heroes sex lives, introducing erotic stories and heroines.
Poets cultivated a grecizing fancy, using literatures from Hesiod or Homer. At the same time, they focussed on the unconventional and unexpected, usually confronting the parameters established by Greek literature and introducing provocative themes.
This generation of poets produced complex Greek verse forms but in Latin language. They explored their interrelationships and common poetic forms and themes, such as the epyllion. These particular poets had an interest in Greek literature. These were times when drama and epic had been mastered and satire was a more recent genre. This time was when neoteric poets started using epyllion, or short epic writing. This new form of writing was inherited from the Greeks, who invented the epic genre as such. This category though is genuine of writers such as Calvus or Cinna.
These authors derived their styles from Alexandrian writers such as Apollonius, Aratus, Nicander and especially Callimachus’ Hecale, which according to some scholars such as David Constan, had a especial position on what evolved to become the epyllion and the neoteric poetry.
Neoteric writers shared idiosyncratic interests in style and content. They imitated genres that imposed both interests, recreating genres that evolved from Callimachus, to suit both new emphases in subject matter and a concentration on exquisite style.
Their epyllion concentrated on unheroic incidents in the sagas of the heroes and they focussed on heroines rather than on heroes, taking them from ancient greek mythology and transforming them into the new heroes of the era. All of this was done while largely maintaining epic language, metre and style.
The type of poems produced by them were polymetric versicles and epigrams of insulting, humorous and erotic nature. Neither Catullus or his audience took seriously the heroic age and understood it as mere light entertainment. His portray of Achilles, as the awful hero, who uses violence to pursuit glory. Glory portrayed as an archaic virtue which is not virtue anymore. Catullus undermines glory and contrasts it with Ariadne’s love.
The writer presents the traditional virtues and heroic ideals as negative and presents love as the new virtue. The poet tells his audience that epic shouldn’t be admired so much as genre as victimises one of the most basic human emotions: love.
Catullus 64 is also a dense and abbreviated epic poem, as if it contains a lot in a small piece of writing. It is therefore an epyllion, which is the genre used by neoteric poets.
The latin poet created a precious, artful composition with mastering usage of allusions and self-conscious tricks in his epyllion. He supported his writings on ancient greek authors such as Homer or Hesiod, just as other neoteric writers did. However, he took archaic Greek myths and mixed them with Alexandrian literature from authors such as Apollonius and Callimachus to create a new style of writing that even though was grouped as neoteric, contributed to his particular style by the usage of ecphrasis, space and time, myth and heroines.
Catullus contributed greatly to the transition to elegiac poems and the subject of love in literature. Davis Constan states that at the level of genre, Catullus 64 incorporates “epic, tragic, lyric and didactic elements in a mixture that defies neat classification”. The poem is of Hellenistic style as it takes characteristic devices and uses them in a fantastic manner. The poem deals ostensibly with an incident, unlike other poets’ subjects which were dealing more with stories. Catullus 64 deals with the incident of a marriage between a mortal and an immortal and uses the story to provide a number of allusions to archaic Greek and Alexandrian myths, questioning conventional heroes and orthodox virtues.
Neoteric poets used Callimachean forms evolved from Callimachus and the like-minded poets, which produced provocative and alternative poetry. They imitated genres used by Callimachus, concentrating on stylistic exquisiteness and coming up with a new emphasis in subject matter. Catullus also used exquisite style and focussed in subject matter. However, there is one characteristic that is particular from Catullus poetry, the theme of Lesbia, the poetry to and about the commanding, agonising, wonderful mistress. This theme is a highly distinctive part of his poetry. Before this time, no single ancient poet had written a piece of or a series of poems that dealt in depth with a relationship with a single lover. This poetry, which is characteristic of Catullus, is not characteristic of other neoteric writers. Catullus reinvents literature by bringing the subject of love.
The writer has put neoteric narrative at his service. The result is something original and fascinating, a neoteric form consciously adapted to a particular and untypical end. He achieves this by showing how myth not only has the ability to be recreated but at times can be one-sided. Catullus 64 takes Greek myth as a spectacle to be enjoyed by the belated Romans. He brings up subjects that must have been forgotten by his contemporaries.
The poem is political as it compares the archaic Greek heroism with the Callimachean exquisiteness and unconventional tendency to ecphrasis with the theme of love and the heroines characters at the forefront of the poem. Catullus 64 is not an imitation of Alexandrian poetry, but an invitation for Roman elite to enter into the archaic Greek world, seeing it in part through Alexandrian eyes.
The poem’s labyrinthine temporality is also connected to the author’s identification with the Greek past, just as the neoteric poets are. The poem does not produce a sense of present or past, Romanness or Greekness. Instead, it offers an ironic perspective of archaic mythological stories, all intersecting with each other. The author draws an imaginative literature in which love and heroism, subject-hood and object-hood, the personal and the political, intersect with each other. This is the consequence of seeing the past as an erotic object.
We can conclude that Catullus 64 is defined as neoteric poetry as it is an epyllion that reflects on Callimachean exquisiteness and deals with unconventional and fantastic subject matter. The poem shows Grecizing fancy also and breaks with the conventional Greek heroic style. However, the author introduces ecphrasis and entertains himself by portraying a heroine that is praised by her virtue of love in contrast to the conventional virtue of glory personified on Achilles. The author recreates himself with a labyrinthian time and space game in which the Argonautica is present but as a disordered story, not reflecting the Apollonian story. This apparent time disorder is intentional and focusses on portraying a time which cannot be shared between Ariadne and Medea as the new heroine’s virtue wasn’t part of the old Greek and Alexandrian’s era.
Catullus adopted the neoteric style and reinvented it to propose a new era of writing in which literature does not focus anymore on heroical glory stories but focuses on private lives and loving heroines. This is the beginning of a new model of writing which eventually gave birth to puellae and elegiac poetry.
Imagine taken from: http://users.wfu.edu/ulery/catullus/Title_Page.htm
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