catull.us

“Catullus Revealed: New Approaches to the Novi Poetae”. Jonathan Feigenbaum, Classical Review, Jan 2014, Vol 3(2)45-47

Subscription access only. Excerpt retrieved on 3/16/2014 by A–, D—–.

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Though mere papyrus can hardly claim to be aere perennius - pace Horace – and regrettably little of the once-great Latin corpus has come down to us intact, we are fortunate to be in possession of the extant works, a slim catalog that nonetheless reflects sea change and seismic scandal in the Roman polity. Time has been especially kind to Gaius Valerius Catullus, that well-loved vanguard of the Novi Poetae movement whose poems are just as vital and shocking to us as they must have been to the Augustan elite. But even among the works of Catullus, there remain a number of fragments that have defied analysis. Best known is the famous first fragment, “at non effugies meos iambos“. Many have delighted in Catullus’s relish of the scrap, his willingness to hurl threats and insults that remain eyewateringly prurient even by today’s standards. Yet here we can only guess at which eminent Roman Catullus intended to skewer in this fragment. And the papyri from the recently-discovered Mercalli cache, published in this issue of the Classical Review, have only deepened the mystery. At least we are now in possession of the complete couplet, now numbered poem 117, from which fragment 1 arises:

at non effugies meos iambos

oubleble oubleble oubleble

 

What are we to make of this oubleble, a word that appears nowhere else in the classical corpus and yet is here repeated three times? Coku et al gloss it as a name in the vocative form, but can only guess as to the identity of the unlucky Oubleblus or what he might have done to arouse Catullus’s ire. As a name, Oubleblus is curious in form, related perhaps to the proto-Celtic root *blVdV, thought to indicate a wolf or other large predator.

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