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Love and death: Laodamia and Protesilaus in Catullus, Propertius, and others1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

R. O. A. M. Lyne
Balliol College, Oxford


In one form or another an elevated, pleasure-transcending view of love is common, we might say natural. For readers of Latin poetry Catullus is perhaps the most impressive spokesman. In many respects, of course, Catullus is special. His particular values and choice of terminology, in his time and situation, mark him out from his crowd; in the Roman world indeed, ‘whole love’, perhaps rather its utterance, is hard to document before him. But a belief that love is powerful and profound, an important if not the most important thing in life, this is not a rarity. Roman tombstones attest to love and devotion, and myths inherited from Greece enshrine love's power, endurance, and transcendence.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1998

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2 For the definition of the quoted phrase, see Lyne, R. O. A. M., The Latin Love Poets (Oxford, 1980, reprinted with updated introduction, etc., 1996), pp. viii–ix. The claim made in this sentence is supported in chs 1 and 2; see especially pp. 17–18.Google Scholar

3 Griffin, J., Latin Poets and Roman Life (London, 1985), pp. 157f. Griffin quotes CIL 6.11252 domine Oppi marite, ne doleas mei quodpraecessi: sustineo in aeterno tow aduentum tuum, ‘Oppius, lord, husband, do not grieve for me that I have gone before you: I endure (wait for) your arrival on an eternal bed’, CE 1325 Iulius cum Trebia bene uixit multosqueper annos.l coniugio aeterno hie quoque nunc remanet, ‘Julius lived with Trebia well and for many years: in eternal marriage he also now continues’, and others; and he refers to R. Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (Urbana, 1942), pp. 247ff. Cf. too K.Hopkins, Death and Renewal (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 226–229.Google Scholar

4 Before Vergil, Orpheus was traditionally successful in his quest for the return of his beloved. Hermesianax calls this beloved Argiope. For the introduction of the name Eurydice, and for more information on the myth, see Mynors, R. A. B. (Oxford, 1990) on Georg. 4.453–4.527. Plato's Phaedrus has an amusing variant, Symp. 179d: the gods of the Underworld did not restore to Orpheus the actual woman, ‘merely showing him a wraith of the woman for whom he had come’, since they regarded him as a mere musician and softy, a trickster and manipulator who did not dare actually to die for love as Alcestis had done (on whom, see above).Google Scholar

5 Euripides in Alcestis offers a different version. Struck by the nobility of what Alcestis has done, Heracles canvasses the option of going to the Underworld to beg for her restoration, but in the event secures her return more immediately and physically, by fighting Death: Ale. 843–860, 1140–1142. Cf. Lucian, Dialogues of the Dead's for the rejected option. Euripides' choice of version may rest on Satyric influence; see A. M. Dale's edition of Alcestis (Oxford, 1954), p. xi.

6 The scholia propose among other explanations of the ‘half-complete’ house: its childlessness, that it was deprived of (the masculine) one of the , that it was physically unfinished (which I favour). For this last, they suggest that Protesilaus was still in the process of building his wedding-chamber when he sailed away to war, which, in view of the parallels I cite, is interesting. See below for what Catullus and/or a predecessor make(s) of it.

7 Cf. too how Menelaus was said to have made Hyperenor's wife a widow Horn. Iliad 17.36.

8 Horn. Iliad 2.701f. reads , which Lattimore translates 'A Dardanian man had killed him/ as he leapt from his ship, far the first of all the Achaians'. As evidence in court, this could not be forced to mean more than that Protesilaus was the first to be killed. But there is certainly ambiguity in the reference of . J. O'Hara (True Names: Vergil and the Alexandrian Tradition of Etymological Wordplay [Ann Arbor, 1996], p. 10) thinks that Homer is alluding to an etymology in Protesilaus' name, 'the first to leap' . I doubt this particular explanation, but would accept that Homer is etymologizing his name: is surely picking out , and may be pointing to the surely true etymological component . For Homer's etymologizing in general, see O'Hara, pp. 7ff. (with bibliography).

9 Davies, M., The Epic Cycle (Bristol, 1989), p. 47. Davies cites the version found in Apollodorus, epit. 3.29: ‘Thetis charged Achilles not to be the first to land from the ships, because the first to land would be the first to die.’Google Scholar

10 We may infer from Dio Chrysostomus, who preserves Euripides fr. 655N2, that Euripides named his heroine Hyginus too, who is assumed to be dependent on Euripides (see below), names her Laodamia, and so do Apollodorus and Philostratus. Lucian, Dialogues of the Dead 28 gives her no name. Eustathius also refers to Protesilaus' wife as in his note on Iliad2. 101 mentioned below n. 29.1 have no example of the name of Laodamia, as the wife of Protesilaus and daughter of Acastus, actually written in Greek before the imperial writers cited; but another was (for example) daughter of Bellerophon and mother of Sarpedon (Horn. Iliad 6.196–6.205), and another was nurse of Orestes according to Stesichorus (PMG 218 Page). Protesilaus' wife is Laodamia in Latin as least as early as Laevius, for whom see below. I doubt she was ever called Laudamia: see below n. 20.

11 Nauck, A., Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta (2nd edn with supplement by Snell, Hildesheim, 1964), p. 563Google Scholar: ‘Euripidem potissimum sequi videtur Hyginus fab. 103 et 104.’ Webster, Cf. too T. B. L., The Tragedies of Euripides (London, 1967), pp. 97–98 for a reconstruction of the play.Google Scholar

12 Hyg.fab. 103 Protesilaus Achiuis fuit responsum, qui primus litora Troianorum attigisset periturum. cum Achiui classes applicuissent, ceteris cunctantibus Iolaus Iphicli et Diomedeae filius primus e naui prosiluit, qui ab Hectare confestim est interfectus; quern cuncti appellarunt Protesilaum, quoniam primus ex omnibus perierat. quod uxor Laodamia Acasti filia cum audisset eum perisse, flens petit a diis ut sibi cum eo tres horas colloqui liceret. quo impetrato a Mercurio reductus tres horas cum eo collocuta est; quod iterum cum obisset Protesilaus, dolorem pati non potuit Laodamia. fab. 104 Laodamia Laodamia Acasti filia amisso coniuge cum tres horas consumpsisset quas a diis petierat, fletum et dolorem pati non potuit. itaque fecit simulacrum cereum simile Protesilai coniugis et in thalamis posuit sub simulatione sacrorum, et eum colere coepit. quod cum famulus matutino tempore poma ei attulisset ad sacrificium, per rimam aspexit uiditque earn ab amplexu Protesilai simulacrum tenentem atque osculantem; aestimans earn adulterum habere Acasto patri nuntiauit. qui cum uenisset et in thalamos irrupisset, uidit effigiem Protesilai; quae ne diutius torqueretur, iussit signum et sacra pyra facta comburi, quo se Laodamia dolorem non sustinens immisit atque usta est.

13 Cf. too fr. 656N2: Laodamia debates her method of suicide. Nauck and Webster seek to place other fragments.

14 This interpretation of fr. 646a follows Snell who however places an obelus before Webster (n. 11), p. 97, accepting , thinks that the fragment ‘is perhaps more likely to be said by Hermes when he takes Protesilaos back again to Hades’

15 Photius' entry is:

16 Eur. Ale. 1008ff., climax 1097ff. It is worth noticing that there is already contact between the two plays: Ale. 348–353 alludes to the substitute image of Protesilaus: cf Dale (n.5), citing I Wilamowitz. It is hard to believe that Euripides resisted the drama of Protesilaus' entrance, led by t Hermes. (Hermes speaks the prologue of Euripides' Ion.)

17 ‘...his wife Laodamia loved him even after his death, and she made an image very like Protesilaus and consorted with it . The gods had pity on her, and Hermes brought up Protesilaus from Hades. When she saw him, Laodamia thought it was himself I returned from Troy, and she rejoiced; but when he was again carried back to Hades, she killed herself.’

18 Indeed reference to the scholia is sometimes made which does not suggest acute inspection of them and their lemma. Articles' lemma is: ‘Protesilaus is a drama written by Euripides. He says that Protesilaus, having married and having been with his wife for one day only, was compelled to go with the Greeks to Troy; and having been the first to go on Trojan soil died; and they say [he says] that he asked the gods below, and was released for one day, and was together with his wife. We have BDOxon versions of this scholion; it is only D which gives Up to ‘...on Trojan soil died’, it seems fair to assume that the note is drawing on knowledge of Euripides. But Aristides himself referred to the restoration to life of Protesilaus, in order to lay the scene for an imagined restoration of ‘the four’, to plead their case with Plato: ‘just as they say Protesilaus, having pleaded with the gods; of the underworld, came among the living...’. It looks to me as if the commentators may simply i be expanding Aristides' reference to Protestilaus' return with their own information. It is hard to prove otherwise. The D reading seems produced by a desire conscious or unconscious to attribute the information on the return to Euripides. We should finally note Oxon reads ; and there are other more minor variations.

19 I use the phrase ‘beyond compare’ advisedly, enlightened by D. C. Feeney's article ‘Shall I compare thee... ?: Catullus 68B and the limits of analogy’, in Woodman, T. and Powell, J. (edd.), Author and Audience in Latin Literature (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 3344CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The explosion of simile, the sequence of comparison within comparison, makes the point that what Catullus is talking about (Lesbia's imagined love, and so on) is beyond description and satisfactory comparison. In what follows I discuss only part of the significance of Catullus' use of the Protesilaus-Laodamia story, the part relevant to my present subject. There is more in Lyne (n. 2), pp. 52–60, 87. Syndikus, Cf. too H. P., Catull. Eine Interpretation. Zweiter Teil (Darmstadt, 1990), pp. 275280,283–287Google Scholar; Macleod, C., Collected Essays (Oxford, 1982), pp. 159165Google Scholar; Williams, G., Figures of Thought in Roman Poetry (New Haven and London, 1980), pp. 5061. Macleod (pp. 161f.) and Williams (p. 59) well bring out the way the Protesilaus myth also conveys the tragic effect on Catullus of his brother's death.Google Scholar

20 Like Goold and Lee I cannot accept that Catullus wrote Laudamia, an orthography inspired by V; the influential Mynors prints Laudamia, though his note on line 74 reveals clear doubt. The etymology of Laodamia's name protected the spelling Lao for those who, like Catullus, knew Greek (there are also metrical difficulties with -au-). It is worth noting that what OGR actually show in 74, 80, and 105 is laudomia. It is a habit of this manuscript tradition simply to find and write Latin words which it recognizes, regardless of the sense of the context (e.g. sed michi ante at 61.213), and what V is finding at 68.74, 80 and 105 is laudo. This habit of the tradition has encouraged editors, in particular Mynors, to find interesting but perhaps unwarranted orthographies elsewhere. E.g., at 63.47 Mynors (and Lee) print Victorius' rusum; Mynors bases himself on V and appeals to Lucretian spelling. What V actually transmits is usum; it has simply found a word in a jumble of letters which it recognizes; Goold is rightly sceptical, and prints rursus (we might prefer rursum). It is worth noting that Laevius' title Protesilaodamia clearly played on etymology, and Catullus may well allude to that title in 68.74.

21 Surely Catullus, not only knowledgeable of Greek, but sensitive to aspiration (poem 84), wrote Rhamnusia (Pafi.vovaia), as Goold prints. Mynors printed Ramnusia . When Catullus wrote Rhamnusia at 66.71, as again he surely did, he was actually translating Callimachus, although that portion of the Callimachus papyrus does not survive. Cf. the previous note.

22 On which see Syndikus (n. 19), pp. 283–285. See too C. J. Tuplin, CQ 75 (1981), 119ff. The story that Hercules built a drainage sink-hole at Pheneus is recorded by Pausanias 8.14. If; Tuplin conjectures it figured in Euphorion. Tuplin has suggestive comment on the negative implications of the barathrum lines as an image of love (pp. 131f), suggestive comment too on Hercules and Hebe as figures which contrast with the other lovers in the poem (133–136).

23 Catullus gives his comparison Roman colouring, but the simile derives from Pindar, Ol. 10.86–10.90: cf. Syndikus (n. 19), p. 286

24 For the dove as an illustration of passion (as well as devotion) see Syndikus (n. 19), pp. 286–287.

25 Cf. Macleod (n. 19), p. 160, though in my opinion he draws this conclusion prematurely, making late amends 163–164; Lyne (n. 2), p. 58.

26 Lyne (n. 2), pp. 57f.; Macleod (n. 19), pp. 162–164 amplifies contrasts between Lesbia and Laodamia

27 Such interesting and suggestive sex role-reversal happens elsewhere in poem 68 and in other poems of Catullus: 68.137–68.139, 11.21–11.23, 65.19–65.24. Cf. Macleod (n. 19), pp. 160–161, who also cites poem 70 as an example, correctly I think. An important expressive device for Catullus, it has other but less devoted users: Propertius, for example, at 1.11.23–24, playing Andromache to Cynthia's Hector (noted by J. C. McKeown, PCPhS 25 [1979], 75).

28 Details showing similarity between Catullan love and the love of Laodamia: (i) The simile suggesting Laodamia's non-physical love (119ff.) has a similar provenance, the area of Roman family bonds (but cf. n. 23 above), to Catullus's expression of his own non-physical devotion to Lesbia in 72.3–72.4. (ii) The comparison suggesting Laodamia's passion (125ff., the dove's mate quae multo dicitur improbiusl oscula mordenti semper decerpere rostrol quam quae praecipue multiuola est mulier) might remind us of Catullus' own kisses poems, 5 and 7 and indeed 8 (8.18 cui lobelia mordebis). And see further Macleod (n. 19), pp. 163–164. Details forbidding an assumption of complete identity: (i) Catullus, poem 7 in fact proclaims insatiability; in Laodamia's case Catullus admits (a perhaps surprising detail) that her love might eventually have been sated (83). (ii) Observe the fine wedge which careful wording in poem 68 itself puts between Laodamia and Catullus. Life without love for Laodamia is impossible and she does commit suicide: the narrator takes us to the imminence of that very event (84, 106f.). For Catullus himself, Lesbia is dearer to him than himself, life is sweet if the light of his life lives (159–160). But if she doesn't? He dies? Or life is unsweet? Catullus' devotion is virtually the same as Laodamia's. But we cannot say that the two descriptions are exactly the same. (The question of death for love emerges again in Catullus' own poetical biography at 76.17–76.20: another time, another mood.)

29 Thus Sickle, J. Van, HSCP 84 (1980), 9195, following one of the paths offered by Ellis's commentary, and responding to another interesting, but not finally convincing, interpretation offered byGoogle ScholarThomas, R. F. at HSCP 82 (1978), 175178 (the sacrifice at Aulis is in mind). A pre-building sacrificial offering is the simplest inference from the wording domum inceptam frustra, nondum cum....The disproportion between the relative triviality of the sin and the devastating consequences smacks convincingly of the tragic tradition (Aristotelian ), and contributes to Catullus' overall message (see text). Other ideas: Eustathius' note on Horn. Iliad 2.701 (1.507.1ff. in the edition of van der Valk) includes stories which refer to anger on Aphrodite's part. Syndikus (n. 19), p. 278 with n. 164 infers some sort of sacrificial omission in the pre-Catullan tradition (but not to do with building), of which he thinks Eustathius preserves relics. But it is to later events in the story, to (i) Protesilaus' continuing love for his wife after death and (ii) Laodamia's love for her dead husband, to which the wrath of Aphrodite is tied by Eustathius (‘P. even after death loving his wife in accordance with of Aphrodite...’ ‘others say that L. even when P. had died burnt with love because of the of A.’), and Macleod (n. 19), p. 164, thinks these stories are irrelevant to the domus sacrifice in Catullus's text. He thinks (as others e.g. Kroll on 75 [with useful information], and Ellis in his note on hostia in line 76 do) that the couple in Catullus neglected to placate the gods before their wedding (the customary to which Clytemnestra refers in Eur. I. A. 718), and Macleod concludes that ‘this detail is, on the evidence as we have it, Catullus' invention’.Google Scholar

30 Cf. in n. 29, LSJ 6 ‘services or offerings due to the gods’, III.3 ‘also of sacred rites, perform, ’, the Homeric (e.g. Iliad 1.315); and the LSJ entry for opens ‘perfect, of victims,’ and we find e.g. Thuc. 5.47.8 .

31 O'Hara (n. 8) is most concerned with the etymologizing of proper names, but pp. 38ff. deals with Hellenistic poets' etymologizing of common words. The quotation in the text above comes from p. 38. O'Hara has extensive bibliography of course, and his book is now a most useful entry into the whole topic of etymologizing in antiquity. For Callimachus' enjoyment of effects in between pun and etymology, see too e.g. the indexes to Hopkinson's, N.Callimachus Hymn to Demeter (Cambridge, 1984)Google Scholar and Hellenistic, A.Anthology (Cambridge, 1988) under ‘etymologis(z)ing’.Google Scholar

32 Ellis, Cf. R., A Commentary on Catullus (2nd edn, Oxford, 1889), p. 416; contrast Kroil's note (Stuttgart, 41960) on 68.70–88, conjecturing that Catullus draws on a Hellenistic source dependent on Euripides.Google Scholar

33 Syndikus (n. 19) passes by the fact in a footnote: p. 277, n. 163. Hutchinson, G. O. gives it more weight, Hellenistic Poetry (Oxford, 1988), p. 316 ‘Catullus suppresses entirely the supernatural events of the myth (such as the brief resurrection of Protesilaus)’, but without further commentGoogle Scholar

34 See n. 3.

35 Lyne (n. 2), pp. 100–102,140–145. Propertius' treatment of love and death is brilliantly discussed by Papanghelis, T. D. in his book Propertius: A Hellenistic Poet on Love and Death (Cambridge, 1987), but he gives his most fruitful attention to poems in Book 2. I have considerable disagreement with Papanghelis (pp. 10–19) on Prop. 1.19; and he has no inkling of a dialogue with Catullus.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

36 ‘You grudge your maidenhood. What does it profit you? When, girl, you go to Hades you will find no lover there. The delights of Aphrodite are among the living. In Acheron, maiden, we shall lie as bones and ashes.’

37 Goold here adopts Thessalis of some recc. I would resist this. According to the inherited myth, Protesilaus did return a full man (a Thessalus therefore). Propertius' conviction of the truth of this myth falters in, so to speak, the telling, as I describe below. It is effective therefore that the final revelation of inadequacy (umbra) should be delayed until the last moment; it fits in with the strategy of the rest of the poem.

38 But cf. somewhat similar versions in Lucian and the scholia on Aristides, referred to above p. 203

39 This and other points made in this paragraph are unpacked in Lyne (n. 2), p. 101. Of course, other considerations may contribute to the 'wherefore' conclusion, as I grudgingly allow (loc. cit.); the other considerations are stressed by Jacoby, Kleine philologische Schriften (ed. H. J. Mette, Berlin, 1961), vol. II. p. 163. But the fact of death and the end that it brings is by far the the most important.

40 One of the best is 2.15: this poem clearly picks up 1.19 and its themes, and engages not only with that poem but directly again with Catullus 5, 7, and 68. But it does so in an apparently much lighter manner. 2.27.15–2027.16 challenge the victory of death in Catullus 3.