Friday, October 3, 2008

Inquisitio Prima

Ok, carissimi, here is your first formal assessment of the year. You must post a response to the following prompt by midnight on Sunday. I am looking for an AP-style essay, so do your best to give an answer that shows an analytical interpretation of the text, using the poems themselves to back up what you say, with a proper mix of content to commentary (1:2 is a good ratio). i will grade according to the AP rubric, so don't worry so much about stylistic purity as intellectual clarity.

Catullus Prompt 1:

In Poem 22, Catullus makes light of his friend Suffenus' limited poetic abilities and, moreover, his blindness to his own limitations. Such teasing is quintessentially Catullan. However, Catullus ends his poem with a poignant reflection on the limitations of all human egos where their frailities are concerned. Citing significant passages from the text, outline what you believe to be Catullus' larger moral from the example Suffenus.

3 comments:

Brock said...

Catullus 22

Catullus’ reasons for revealing the flaws inherent in Suffenus’ poetry is to introduce the moral when somebody loves something they disregard the imperfection lying underneath the surface.
Lines 12-17 state that the poems written by Suffenus are sometimes sophisticated and sometimes duller than a farmer, but that Suffenus is the happiest when he writes. Suffenus’ love for poetry does not cause him to make masterpieces of all his works, rather Suffenus writes for the pleasure of writing itself. Sometimes he writes a good poem and at other times he butchers the poem, but these defect do not matter; he finds joy in his love for poetry.
Lines 4-8 show how Suffenus makes all his poems look pretty on smooth, new rolls fit for kings. Suffenus thinks that an aesthetic poem is one pleasing to the eye. On the other hand, Catullus hints that true beauty is in clever meter. The choppiness of line 4 hints at this with multiple examples of elision. It is as if Catullus was saying “A poem may look pretty, but if the content is bad then what is it’s worth?”.
Lines 18-20 reveals that people are unable to see imperfection in what they love. Catullus stats that people create a delusion and that what is hidden cannot be seen. Suffenus has created a fantasy that his poems are awesome, but because he thinks they are awesome he is unable to make them better. This line of thought blinds Suffenus from looking deeper at his poems and finding the subtle flaws.
In conclusion, what somebody loves is loved because of its perfection in the eye of the beholder which causes the beholder to judge it in a light of perfection and not in a light of something needing improvement. According to Catullus, this prejudice is blinding.

puella_verenda said...

When Catullus writes of being deceived, he is trying to tell his audience that everyone has flaws, and no one wants to recognize their own. Everyone is like Suffenus, trying to do something they simply are not able or skilled enough to do. Because they can not or will not recognize their weaknesses and move on, they either consciously or unconsciously cover up their failures by overcompensating. For example, in lines 5-8, Catullus writes that Suffenus doesn’t write down his poems in “the usual way”, but instead copies them onto “expensive sheets of papyrus, new papyrus rolls, new knobs, red straps for the wrapper, all straightened with lead and smoothed with a pumice stone”. Suffenus, who subconsciously knows his poetry is bad, tries to overcompensate by presenting the poems in a fancy manner. Upon first glance, the poems are assumed to be amazing because who would bother conveying a bad poem through such an expensive modem? But in lines 9-11, Catullus reveals that when the poem is actually read, Suffenus “is seen to be a goatherd or ditch-digger”, someone so common they are not worthy of mention. This is expanded in lines 12-17. Suffenus, “the same man who” seemed witty and intelligent, is exposed as a fraud, but Suffenus refuses to believe it. He deceives himself, and in line 18 Catullus reasons that “without a doubt we make the same mistake”. People who are bad at poetry keep writing poetry, as if writing on expensive paper will improve their verse. People who are bad at their jobs refuse to quit as if determination will make up for nescience. People who are bad at singing still sing loudly in church as if volume will make up for tone quality. Everyone has been “allotted one’s own imperfection”, yet people refuse to acknowledge it.

vdgmrpro said...

Catullus' meaning in this poem are actually twofold. The first being that which appears to be attractive, witty, or charming may in fact be dull and banal and a second glance. When Catullus writes that Suffenus writes "ten thousand or many thousand" verses and that they are all written on "parchment fit for kings" and smoothed by pumice stone, instead as the "palimpsest (scraps of paper)" as is customary. (3-7) Throughout the poem, Catullus often brings up the duality of Suffenus' poems such as when he states that "at one moment (Suffenus) is seen to be lovely and sophisticated and at another Suffenus is seen to be an ordinary goatherder or ditchdigger"(9-10) Catullus is saying that while the writing may seem to be intelligent and charming, it actually becomes boring and witless under closer scrutiny.
The second moral that Catullus is trying to convey is that one is often not capable of seeing one's own flaws or defects. When he says that "anyone who in some situations can see a Suffenus"(18-19) he means that everyone in some part of themselves have a problem that they are not aware of. Perhaps Catullus is suggesting that Suffenus' "defect" in addition to his apparently massive ego, is that he does not realize that he doesn't have anything to back up his self-idolatry. In any case, Catullus makes the fact that we don't see our own defects clear in the statement "we do not see the part of the knapsack hangs on the back."(21) Obviously what one must take from this is that one would do well to find the Suffenus is oneself and once found, do one's best to overcome that defect.