Catullus 64 Analysis

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In this article, Roger Rees addresses the senses in Poem 64 and Catullus’ use of the senses in an occasionally nonsensical fashion. Sight and the eye motif are woven throughout the poem in the arrival of the wedding guests, the song of the Parcae, the ekphrasis describing Ariadne and Theseus, and in the conclusion of the poem. Vision is often juxtaposed with hearing in the ekphrasis and in the song of the Parcae. Smell is also involved, and linked to both sight and sound. Rees argues the paradoxical nature of the use of the sense in Catullus 64, as synesthesia is rampant in the poem. I generally agree with Rees’ argument as there are many points in Poem 64 where the senses mix and are used to describe one another.
Rees’ first points are about
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Aegeus and Ariadne both are grief-stricken by what they see, which Rees argues marks how core vision is to the ekphrasis. He also talks about how the eye is used metaphorically, which I don’t find tremendously convincing. I think his examples of the eyes used as a metaphor are quite weak, and could easily be interpreted as merely vision based. He also argues that the eye is used “as a gauge of emotional despair” (78), for which his examples are more convincing, as in each one an adjective linked with emotion is used to describe the eyes. Running counter to the eye motif is one of blindness representing confusion, as vision can be deceived. Vision and the eye persist in the poem, with Achilles’ representation in the song of the Parcae, as his life is highly defined by visual images. The poem then closes with another eye related image, “lumine claro” (408). Rees argues that in saying that the “gods no longer touch the ‘clear light’ of day” (82), Catullus shows how light and sight cannot be trusted. I think that the untrustworthiness of sight is shown with the story of Ariadne and Aegeus’ visions, but I think Catullus uses too much visual imagery in the entirety of the poem for him to imply in the final line that the eye should be avoided, as Rees

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