Non inter nota sepulcra: Catullus 101 and Roman funerary ritual

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Abstract

According to many recent interpretations of Catullus 101, the ritual performance it describes serves primarily as a foil, highlighting the greater expressiveness and communicative power of the poem itself. I argue instead for using the complexities of Roman funerary ritual as a model for understanding the poem's ambiguities. As funerary offerings at once establish a bond between family members and the dead and affirm a distinction between them that allows the survivors to rejoin the society of the living, so the poem articulates a tension between assertions of the brother's absence and intimations of his presence as addressee, even as speaker. Similarly, the split between the poem's fictional context as a one-time-only farewell to the brother and its existence as a repeatable literary artifact further accentuates the double allegiance of the poet. In the second section I consider how the poem, without being an epitaph itself, fulfills the functions of an epitaph, by allowing for the re-performance of the ritual, constructing the opposition between permanence and temporality present in the epitaph/monument complex, "inscribing" the brother's death at the prominent literary "crossroads" of the beginning of the Odyssey, and finally making the commemoration of the brother performed through each reading of the poem a sacrum that builds its audience into a community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-231+205
JournalClassical Antiquity
Volume19
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Classics

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