Catullus 41: Is the Line-Order as Screwed Up as the Subject?

    I quote the whole poem, since it is so short, with Mynors’ apparatus, which is conveniently sized for my purposes:(1)

Anneiana puella defututa,
tota milia me decem poposcit,
ista turpiculo puella naso,
decoctoris amica Formiani.
propinqui, quibus est puella curae,
amicos medicosque conuocate:
non est sana puella, nec rogare
qualis sit solet aes imaginosum.
 
 
 
 
5

1 A me an a V, uix sanabile defutura R | 4 formani V corr. rmg 5 puelle V : corr. δ | 6 conuocare V : corr. 1473 | 8 aes Froehlich : et V

Once Froehlich had brilliantly emended the last line, the poem presented no urgent textual problems. The proper name is highly doubtful and hardly matters, and I print the conjecture which Goold in the Loeb attributed to Schwabe, but Kiss (note 1) reassigns to Fay. However, I still have some doubts about line 2, though my first two suggestions are incompatible, and all three are tentative:

1. It seems to me that it might be rhetorically more effective if line 2 came after 3-4:

Anneiana puella defututa,
ista turpiculo puella naso,
decoctoris amica Formiani,
tota milia me decem poposcit.
propinqui, . . .
1
3
4
2
5

The first three lines now identify Anneiana (or whatever her name was) with an insulting detail in each line, while the fourth tells of the action that has (presumably) elicited the poem, immediately followed by Catullus’ equally insulting reaction, couched as advice.

2. On the other hand, there is one advantage to keeping the manuscript order that I do not recall having seen in commentaries. It allows us to take tota as feminine singular with puella defututa, rather than (or in addition to) accusative plural with milia. Adjectival tota works very well, and adds a layer of insult: she is ‘exhausted by sensuality’ (as Lewis and Short discreetly put it) ‘entirely’ or better ‘all over’, like Theodora in Procopius’ most notorious passage, or Thais in Martial 4.12:

Nulli, Thai, negas; sed si te non pudet istud,
    hoc saltem pudeat, Thai, negare nihil.

Examples could no doubt be multiplied. What worries me is one question: can tota be taken equally with puella and milia? That seems difficult. Or can it be taken primarily with one (presumably milia) with a sly pun involving the other? I hope my readers will be able to help me decide. This would mean removing the comma at the end of line 1, but no change in the text or line-order.

3. While writing the preceding pararagraphs, it occurred to me that a different transposition would allow us to keep the rhetorical climax and the cruel pun. Transpose lines 1-2 after 3-4:

Ista turpiculo puella naso,
decoctoris amica Formiani,
Anneiana puella defututa,
tota milia me decem poposcit.
propinqui, . . .
3
4
1
2
5

I like the new line order, which not only puts the outrageous demand fourth (point 1 above), and keeps puella defututa / tota together (point 2), but puts the preceding descriptions in a dramatically plausible order. Catullus is apparently chatting with a friend on the street: Ista suggests that he’s answering someone’s question, presumably ‘Who’s that girl?’. The first line (3) identifies her as the girl with the imperfect nose, the second (4) as the lover of Mamurra, the third (1) by name and reputation. Each identification is more specific: most of the girls on the street would have had imperfect noses, and Mamurra might have had more than one girlfriend,(2) but the name would clinch it. If the implied friend had thought she was someone else’s lover, quite likely she was last time he saw her. As with my first suggestion, the fourth line (2) turns from her identity to her action, followed immediately by the poet-narrator’s reaction.


(1) Dániel Kiss’s Catullus Online (http://catullusonline.org) is essential for anyone wanting to know more about manuscript readings and conjectures.

(2) If the implied friend had thought she was someone else’s lover, quite likely she was last time he saw her, to judge by defututa.

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