The Poetry of Immoral Anxiety – Weekend

The Poetry of Immoral Anxiety – Weekend

By 60 B.C. e. in the civil unrest that had tormented the Roman Republic for an unbearably long time, there was a break: the three most powerful politicians Caesar, Pompey and Crassus agreed to simply share power in the state among themselves. It was at this time that a group of young poets appeared, called "neoterics" - a word that, to make it eloquently understandable, is often translated as "modernists". We know well from neoteriks one and only author. But on the other hand, this is an author who for many centuries has been on the list of the most relevant lyricists in all of European literature, the one whom Fet, and after him Blok, called the “Roman Pushkin”. This is Valerius Catullus.

Text: Sergey Khodnev

November 26, 50 B.C. e. Cicero writes to his publisher Pomponius Atticus: “We arrived in Brundisium six days before the December calends, using the same happy voyage as you; so beautiful for me "the lightest Onchesmites blew from Epirus." This spondeic [стих; spondeiazonta]if you want, sell as yours to one of the newest [ton neoteron]".

The letter is written, of course, in Latin, but with insertions of two Greek words and one Greekism (Onchesmites is a deliberately pretentious name for the wind). Inserts in this case are sarcastic, grouchy. What would it be compared to? Well, here Catherine II in her comedy makes fun of the newly-minted domestic petimeters: “I lay down my coucher at the sixth hour apres minuit. I got up at one o'clock today, and now I have such a migraine, and it's so sad in my nose that I can't say. Would you like to smell the eau de luce?”

Roughly the same here. Cicero makes it clear that the “recent” are poets, that they have a passion for artificial refinement and that they are drawn to everything Greek. And he does not approve of this fashion at all.

Not that poetry itself as an occupation was something bad for him - by no means. It was an amazing time, poetry was written at leisure by almost all self-respecting people, even respectable and busy ones. Caesar wrote several poems (large, real poems, in hexameters - unfortunately they have not been preserved), his murderer Brutus too, so Cicero did not lag behind. But the whole question is what kind of poetry they had, the "adults".

First, epic: the sweeping form was good form. Secondly, with an eye to very specific national models, primarily to Quintus Ennius, who introduced the hexameter into Latin versification a little over a century before, and at the same time a somewhat statuary reverence for Homeric style and Homeric tone. Ennius did not differ in particular sophistication of poetic means, in the forms of expressiveness he resorted to such methods, for example: “At tuba terribili sonitu "taratantara" dixit" ("The trumpet of" taratantara "sternly said with an alarming sound"); his dilettantes-followers cared no more about fine finishes, because that was not the point. To a large extent, as far as we can judge, all these were somehow versified treatises on the fate of the fatherland, on native valor and a little bit on the political moment, even, plentiful and rhetorical.

Neoteriks were attracted by something completely different, not by Homer, but by the poetry of Hellenistic Alexandria, led by Callimachus. Not an epic, but an "epillion", a fundamentally small "poem". Not civil pathos, but private sophistication. If a mythological plot, then it would be nice if it were rare and spectacular, and it should be presented in carefully polished verses, colors, allusions and epithets should be boldly selected to the point of recklessness, but skillfully. So that we get a precious toy, all the charm of which will be appreciated only by a deeply bookish person, a reader with a delicate taste and education of the broadest and cosmopolitan.

The amazing thing is that, contrary to this snobbish creed, the neotherics were apparently not at all biscuits locked in an ivory tower. True, it is difficult to judge them en masse simply because little is left of their texts: almost all of them are known to us in a pinch of scattered fragments (sometimes half a verse). But one of them was incredibly lucky - in a single medieval manuscript that survived until the 14th century, a large collection (113 poems) by Valerius Catullus was preserved.

In these verses, as is known, there is neither a "cursed poet" nor a muslin youth shutting himself up from the crowd (and Catullus did not live long, about 30 years). There is somehow even a frighteningly this-worldly young man, superbly educated and inconceivably talented; by origin a deep provincial, true (from Verona), but excellently settled. Villa on Lake Garda - a wonderful, you know, corner; my father also bought a villa near Rome, in fashionable Tibur, out of the way, it is true, but all the same; For decency, I had to get bored in the civil service and go on a business trip to the provinces of Asia Minor - green melancholy, the head of Memmius turned out to be a goat, no profit came up, well, to hell with him. As well as cupids, the drunken bitterness of Falernos, glorious friends, literary-bohemian squabbles, also like hot blood, and poetic leisure, of course.

At the same time, of course, no one can guarantee that all this is a documentary biographical truth. It happens that Catullus loudly complains about the cobwebs in his purse, although the rest of the verses by no means get the image of a poor unfortunate person. It happens that he defiantly calls his works “trifles”, “trinkets” (remember the software games in our literature: Karamzin publishes “My trinkets”, Dmitriev answers with the collection “And my trinkets”) - although here and there the busyness of these same “trifles” is blatantly obvious .

There are many masks - this is a fact, and a fact also innovative: for the same Cicero in poetry, the conditional pose of a noble man would be appropriate, somewhat theatrical, but that's all. And still, in the case of Catullus, one cannot distance oneself from the feeling of unfeigned speech, something that is said here and now - and from that extremely lively image that we see in this speech. We see, the modernists have seen, the romantics, the sentimentalists, the Renaissance scribes have seen everything.

Only - as it happens with people of flesh and blood - all these readers loved and love the poetic person of Catullus for different things. Not every experiment and not every modernism, if it is already two thousand years old, is by definition recognized today as such, especially if the general reader encounters it in translation. The poetry of Catullus is rather fortunate in this sense.

Translations, of course, rob the reader, you can’t get anywhere, and still, don’t stumble over the strangeness of the famous poem 51 (in the translation of Sergei Shervinsky - “He seems to have become equal with the gods ...”), where the poet first freely translates the great Sappho's text, and then suddenly lapses into bewildered self-reproach: "otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est", "idleness, my Catullus, is harmful to you."

On the one hand, the sonorous feeling of love and all these “give me a thousand hundred kisses”, on the other hand, its spontaneity, which, it seems, explodes scientific forms from within, interruptions of this feeling, sometimes radiant, sometimes terrible, ugly. It is this that hypnotizes most of all, for this Catullus was idolized by innumerable lyric poets, who, to the best of taste and social decency, referred to the Catullus corpus of poems to Lesbia. But this is not all Catullus.

There are those same mythological poems in the Alexandrian way - but they were treated rather indifferently in modern and recent times (although for the poet himself they were certainly manifestos and a matter of honor). Well, Blok has already touched on the really strange Catullus Attis with modernist optics - however, at least in our context, this is an eloquent, but isolated thing.

And there are dozens of other poems - amazingly evil or at least cynical, where a subtle and learned lyricist swears cheerfully literally like a loader. A cruel lover turns into a girl who gives right and left. The poem of an old-fashioned, albeit popular, author is "shit sheets." Some enemies, who, as one can safely assume, did nothing so savage to Catullus, are condemned in every way: this one steals clothes in baths and sells his son's ass, this incest, this rinses his teeth with urine. The head of Memmius did not justify the hopes of Catullus - this is formulated as "he fucked me in the mouth" (and this is, believe me, a softened transmission). Julius Caesar and his entourage Mamurra (whom Catullus affectionately calls Mentula, that is, let's say, "dick"), who did not please the poet for some unknown reason, are "shameful faggots."

That is, here are the lyrics, according to which the new European consciousness learned to love, here are the inspired formal experiments, here are the complex and refined mythological poems in the Alexandrian spirit - and then there is the cursing to the amazement of the tavern. With intricate turns on the part of the bodily bottom, which, as everyone knows, happens with swearing.

Poem 16 is probably the most famous item in the Catullus heritage in this sense. Yes, I'll fuck you in the mouth and in the ass. The motivation is somewhat nebulous, and in the most apt translation, it appears at best to be a reference to the Roman notion of what sexual roles a man should and should not play. But in fact, the complexity here is much more significant than the areal vocabulary suggests, and Catullus is not addressing only one "top-bottom".

The generally accepted ethos, a convenient fusion of old values, both Roman and Greek, suggested that a person of position, not a clown, suits moderation, civic sanity, restraint in speeches about his personal. “To do shamelessly, to speak obscenely” - this is how Cicero seems to have printed the carnal deeds. Obscenity, obscenity is not only some kind of public outrage and a sin against sexual ethics. It is also the restless loss of one's own valiant self, preoccupation with passion, softening of the soul, private love torment without regard to any moral authority - things that do not suit a worthy member of society.

The right to all this, if not for himself, then for his poems, Catullus is trying to defend with shouting and abuse. In general, it’s successful - not only his love seems to be something understandable and modern, this has always happened for the last two hundred years. The very vehemence of the “newest” in a situation where the state is bursting at the seams, and the “oldest” talk about the “public good” is also a comforting thing.

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