'Unstable by Design': The Programmatic Use of Perspective in Catullus 64.

  • Timothy Kenny

Student thesis: Master of Philosophy


'Unstable by Design': The Programmatic Use of Perspective in Catullus 64.The complex structuring and discordant material of Catullus 64 have long posed its critics difficulties of interpretation. Various attempts have been made to impose some form of thematic unity, whether moralising or aesthetic. This investigation will not attempt to engage directly in that debate for definitives, nor will the interpretations offered here form a cohesive whole. My intention is to explore the mechanism through which perspectives are created that provoke (and hinder) interpretations, to answer through a close examination of the text: 'How does all this work?' The methodology employed is a hybrid. Firstly, a narratological distinction will be maintained between the poet, the author of the poem, and the voice of the narrator. The characters of the poem who have a speaking role will likewise be considered as separate internal narrators. In conjunction with this, passages of the poem will be selected and read intertextually. Consideration will be given to the contexts of the intertexts chosen for discussion and the same narratological demarcation of narrators applied to their 'voices'. Additionally, the passages selected for discussion will be arranged so as to consider their intratextual negotiations. The investigation then is concerned with the interactions of the voices of the poem both with one another and with the voices echoed in them. I will argue that the poem, in repeatedly posing the reader problems of authorship and of audience, is encouraging us to read in this manner and that the questions asked, 'Who is speaking? Who do you see? Who is looking? Who is listening?' reveal a programmatic design: the creation of multiple readings made simultaneously available. In accordance with the methodology outlined, I will be making interpretations throughout the investigation, interpretations which though they are themselves often singular in perspective are intended, in the process through which they are made, to make plain the range of possible perspectives attainable through reading within the framework of voice and allusion. The approach shall not be applied in the same manner in all areas, in order to underline the flexible (or unstable) nature of the relationships. Thus in chapter five I will posit a collaborative relationship between the primary narrator and the internal narrator Ariadne in an investigation of perspectives of love, whereas in chapter four she will adopt a more contrary stance in her indictment of Theseus. Finally, I will argue the possibility that the allusive language and ambiguous testimonies of 64 provide more than an example of poetry written in accordance with an aesthetic, namely that 64 is itself structured so as to be a model, a contained demonstration of layered narratives.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAndrew Morrison (Supervisor) & Roy Gibson (Supervisor)


  • Catullus
  • Latin Poetry

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