Document Type

Honors Project


The Catullan corpus is filled with widely varying and often incompatible constructions of gender. These contradictions reveal latent tensions between the poet’s masculine persona and personal pleasure, the latter of which often results in feminine modes of expression. Catullus’ poetic voice frequently transgresses traditional Roman boundaries between gender spheres, emphasizing the nebulous nature of ancient sexuality. Through an analysis of the gendered paradigms that inform the Catullan corpus, this paper examines these tensions between traditional masculine and feminine roles and ways in which these roles are reversed, especially in Catullus’ relationship with Lesbia. This paper analyzes Sapphic influences in Catullus (carmina 51 and 11), arguing that Catullus both embraces more feminine imagery in following with Sapphic tradition and within the same poems diverges from this tradition in favor of more masculine modes of expression. Catullus also transgresses Roman gender boundaries in carmen 76 by introducing the homosocial concept of pietas into his personal romantic relationships. Other poems exhibit more masculine traits (carmina 16 and 37), employing hypermasculinity and invective in order to reestablish the sexual dominance and masculine status that has been partially lost through gendered role reversals between Catullus and Lesbia in other poems. Transgressions of gender boundaries are also explored in carmen 63 which describes Attis’ aborted transition from ephebe to man. Overall, Catullus’ ever-changing voice emphasizes the ambiguity of ancient gender and sexuality as well as his own tensions regarding his place in both the masculine sphere and his personal relationships.



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