Poem 61 (O, Haunter of the Heliconian Mount) Summary



(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

At 230 lines, this is, for Catullus, a long poem. In composing it, Catullus made certain modifications to the glyconic meter, giving it a lightness well suited to this joyful epithalamium, or wedding poem. Most epithalamia were meant to be sung, not spoken, and the meter lent itself to a stately but energetic processional dance. Catullus could have intended this poem to be sung, or he could have presented it privately as a gift to the wedding couple, Junia Aurunculeia and Manlius Torquatus.

By turns serious and ribald, Poem 61 provides readers with insight into the Roman moral view of marriage. Early on, he acknowledges the weeping bride’s reluctance to leave her mother’s side, but he reminds her that the dictates of Venus (goddess of love) cannot be fulfilled without her willing participation, and, moreover, “No house without thee can/ give children, no parent rest/ on his offspring; but all is well/ if thou art willing . . . ” Then, lest Aurunculeia fear that she will not please her new husband, Catullus reassures her that there is no fairer woman around, and he later reassures the groom that he is handsome.

Thus the poet addresses the significance not only of the wedding night but also of the entire institution of marriage. He goes on to describe the roles that both wife and husband are expected to play throughout married life. The chief expectation in a marriage was the birth of children. Catullus notes that marital fidelity is required to ensure honor and the continuation of the family line. Lest the reader conclude that all of that responsibility is imposed on the wife, Catullus exhorts the husband at length to give up any former liaisons—including homosexual relations, which were evidently common among unmarried men of the upper classes—and cleave only to his bride.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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