Friday, June 20, 2008

Catullus and Seinfeld

The other day while marking some year 12 essays I had a revelation. It struck me that Catullus’ poetry is a lot like the TV show Seinfeld, while Horace’s is more like Sex and the City. Let me explain.

Seinfeld was a show which claimed to be about nothing, but in fact was about lots of stuff- based around the everyday lives and relationships of four friends. Sex and the City on the over hand claimed to be revolutionary television, but when you stripped away the rhetoric it too was about the everyday lives and relationships of four friends.

Catullus claims in his introductory poem that his poetry is also about nothing when he calls his poems mere trifles (‘nugas’). What I think he means is that his poetry doesn’t deal with any of the subjects which were considered in his time to be serious and important; subjects like mythology, gods, heroes, wars, history and even philosophy. Rather his poems are (generally) about his everyday life and relationships. Catullus was not the first to write this kind of poetry, he was heavily influenced by the Alexandrian poets of 200 or so years before (especially Callimachus)

On the other hand, Horace (in Ode III.30, a kind of epilogue, reflecting on his own poetic achievements) claims to have completed in his poetry a monument more lasting than bronze (‘aere perennius’) which will ensure his immortality as long as Rome exists. His boast rests on the assertion that he was the first (‘princeps’) to bring Greek poetry to Rome – though this is not strictly accurate. Catullus and the other poetae novi (whose work is for the most part sadly lost) also experimented with Greek themes, forms, meters and conventions in the same way that Horace did.

So, like Seinfeld, Catullus claims that his poems are nothing, when really they are something, and Horace, like Sex and the City, claims that his poems are revolutionary, when really they are heavily indebted to what has gone before.

[Disclaimer: I have never actually watched an episode of Sex and the City - this is just the impression I get of the show]


Anonymous said...

its an interesting theory but somehow i cant see markers, especially hsc markers going for it

not to mention, from mymeager knowledge of catullus and horace [much to my own latin extnesion teacher's chagrin] wouldn't it be fair tosay he is a little more liek sex and the city? i mean like the show catullus dealt a whole lot more with the same theames presented in sex and the city than horace

plus, there's the obvious catullus/carrie connection:

they both start with c and have duoble letters framed by vowels

it's fate i tell you

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic entry! If you had compared Livy and Virgil to two of the greatest tv shows in the world last year, I bet I would not have come last in the state. Or maybe I still would have, actually. Either way, I really like this entry. BTW I am coming to school soon so plz tell Rebecca Stockbridge she will get her book back.

PS: You are pretty much right about Sex and the City - it's about the everyday lives and relationships of four friends who get a lot of action and like to talk about it over yummy cosmopolitans (note to students: these are delicious but don't drink them until you are 18; you should be studying, not wrecking your livers).