n Acta Classica : Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa - Devotion, delusion and epic parody : masks of in Catallus 63

Supplement 3
  • ISSN : 0065-1141
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Catullus 63, the poem, examines madness from two very different viewpoints : from that of myth, where chronological distance and artistic representation render Attis's behaviour palatable in the guise of religious devotion, and from that of contemporary Greco-Roman reality, from which perspective his insane actions must have threatened even the most psychologically durable Roman males. 63's power derives in large part from its juxtaposition of myth and reality, religious zeal and insanity. Features of traditional epic serve to highlight the strong contrast between a potentially heroic figure of epic and the epicene Attis of myth and religious cult. Initially, Catullus's Attis, presumably the religious fanatic of eastern legend, castrates himself as an offering to the goddess Cybele. However, midway through the poem, he suddenly reveals himself as a Greek youth (58-60 and 64), a boy who inexplicably has left home and homeland for the wilderness of Phrygian Asia Minor, willingly exchanging a comfortable upper-class lifestyle for a physical and psychological nightmare. This revelation casts a terrifying light on the predicament of the mythic Attis, the Attises of Roman cult, and perhaps of any Greek or, by implication, Roman youth on the threshold of adulthood. Catullus restructures, adds and omits elements from the mythic tradition to create a poem of extraordinary vitality and energy. This paper discusses how the poet incorporates features of traditional Homeric-style epic in order to parody the Attis of myth, juxtaposing the epic caricature with a realistic image of any Greek or Roman youth.

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