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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 October 2017

Boris Kayachev
Trinity College, Dublin
E-mail address:


The subject of this article was suggested by the question of whether the present tense form uĕnit in Catull. 64.85 should be considered anomalous. My analysis will result in a positive answer, and I shall conclude by proposing a way to eliminate this anomaly. However, a study of Catullus' use of the historical present may also be of some relevance for the interpretation of poem 64 as a whole.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2017 

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I should like to thank CQ’s anonymous reviewer and CQ’s editor, Bruce Gibson, for their suggestions and criticisms.


1 See e.g. Serbat, G., ‘Das Präsens im lateinischen Tempussystem’, Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung 90 (1976), 200–21Google Scholar.

2 von Albrecht, M., Roman Epic: An Interpretative Introduction (Leiden, 1999), 134 Google Scholar; cf. id., Zu Vergils Erzähltechnik: Beobachtungen zum Tempusgebrauch in der Aeneis’, Glotta 48 (1970), 219–29, at 220Google Scholar.

3 Pinkster, H., ‘The present tense in Virgil's Aeneid ’, Mnemosyne 52 (1999), 705–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar; id., Is the Latin present tense the unmarked, neutral tense in the system?’, in Risselada, R. (ed.), Latin in Use: Amsterdam Studies in the Pragmatics of Latin (Amsterdam, 1998), 6383 Google Scholar.

4 Pinkster (n. 3 [1998]), 80.

5 407 dignantur, 408 patiuntur. For the text of Catullus 64, I follow the edition by Goold, G.P., Catullus (London, 1983), 140–62Google Scholar.

6 386 solebant, 388 uenissent, 389 conspexit, 391 egit, 393 acciperent, 396 esthortata, 397 est imbuta, 398 fugarunt, 399 perfudere, 400 destitit, 401 optauit, 402 poteretur, 404 uerita est, 406 auertere.

7 27 concessit, 28 tenuit, 29 concessit; 71 externauit, 75 attigit; 97 iactastis, 99 tulit, 100 expalluit, 102 appeteret; 119 lamentata est [Conington: leta V], 120 praeoptarit, 122 uenerit [add. Lachmann], 123 liquerit.

8 6 ausi sunt, 9 fecit, 11 imbuit, 12 proscidit, 13 incanuit, 14 emersere, 16 uiderunt, 20 despexit, 21 sensit, [apostrophe: 27 concessit, 28 tenuit, 29 concessit,] 32 aduenere.

9 Cf. Gaisser, J.H., ‘Threads in the labyrinth: competing views and voices in Catullus 64’, AJPh 116 (1995), 579616, at 601Google Scholar, observing that such a reference ‘places a formal distance or barrier before the events it introduces’ (cf. also 582, 585).

10 32 frequentat, 33 oppletur, 34 ferunt, declarant, 35 deseritur, linquunt, 37 coeunt, frequentant, 38 colit, mollescunt, 39 purgatur, 40 conuellit, 41 attenuat, 42 infertur, 44 splendent, 45 candet, collucent, 46 gaudet, 47 locatur, 49 tegit, 51 indicat. The only exception that confirms the rule is the perfect form recessit in 43–4 quacumque opulenta recessit | regia: this is a true perfect with a present force (‘it extends backwards’), cf. e.g. Plin. Ep. 3.6.2–3 pendent lacerti, papillae iacent, uenter recessit, Quint. Inst. 2.17.21 ut quaedam eminere in opere, quaedam recessisse credamus. I should like to thank CQ’s anonymous reviewer for suggesting this interpretation of recessit.

11 266 uelabat, 268 expleta est, coepit, 277 discedebant (note esp. the imperfect forms).

12 279 aduēnit, 283 tulit, 284 risit, 288 tulit, 292 locauit, 299 aduēnit, 301 aspernata est, 302 uoluit.

13 285 adest, 294 consequitur.

14 On these two different uses of the historical present, cf. Pinkster (n. 3 [1999]), 705: ‘whereas in Caesar, Cicero, and others the historic present is mainly used in clauses in which a perfect might be appropriate, that is for successive events constituting the main storyline, Virgil uses it freely in clauses where the imperfect could have been used instead, for example for background information and for simultaneous events and states’. Cf. further Pinkster, H., ‘Tempus, aspect and Aktionsart in Latin (recent trends 1961–1981)’, ANRW II.29.1 (1983), 270319, at 313–14Google Scholar.

15 303 flexerunt, 304 constructae sunt, 306 coeperunt, 308 incinxerat, 309 residebant, 310 carpebant, 311 retinebat, 313 formabat, 314 uersabat, 315 aequabat, 316 haerebant, 317 fuerant, 319 custodibant, 321 fuderunt, 383 cecinerunt. A natural exception is the simple future arguet at 322.

16 53 tuetur, 55 uisit [Vossius: sui t- V], credit, 57 cernat, 58 pellit, 61 prospicit, 62 prospicit, fluctuat.

17 67 alludebant, 70 pendebat.

18 250 uoluebat, 251 uolitabat, 254 furebant, 256 quatiebant, 257 iactabant, 258 incingebant, 259 celebrabant, 261 plangebant, 262 ciebant, 263 efflabant, 264 stridebat.

19 Traill, D.A., ‘Ring-composition in Catullus 64’, CJ 76 (1981), 232–41, at 232–5Google Scholar. Cf. Gaisser (n. 9), 600: ‘The scenes in the flashback [76–115] have been narrated to us, but there is no sign that they were pictured on the coverlet at all. Indeed, if we could look to the end of the Ariadne story (264), we would see that of all its scenes or episodes, only two, Ariadne on the shore (52–70) and the arrival of Bacchus (251–64), are said to appear on the coverlet. The rest, as we shall find, are introduced with the authority formula and other narrative expressions and, like the flashback, belong to another medium.’ Cf. also G. Trimble, ‘A commentary on Catullus 64, lines 1–201’ (Diss., Oxford, 2010), 85.

20 [Apostrophe: 71 externauit, 75 attigit,] 80 uexarentur, 82 optauit, 83 portarentur, 86 conspexit, 88 alebat, 91 declinauit, 92 concepit, 93 exarsit, [apostrophe: 97 iactastis, 99 tulit, 100 expalluit, 102 appeteret,] 104 suscepit, 110 prostrauit, 112 reflexit, [praeteritio: 115 frustraretur, 119 lamentata est, 120 praeoptarit, 122 uenerit, 123 liquerit,] 202 profudit, 204 adnuit, 205 contremuerunt, 206 concussit, 208 dimisit, 209 tenebat, 211 ostendit (surely perfect rather than present), 213 concrederet, 240 liquere, 241 petebat, 243 conspexit, 244 iecit, 248 obtulerat, recepit.

21 See especially Sebesta, J.L., ‘Mantles of the gods and Catullus 64’, SyllClass 5 (1994), 3541 Google Scholar.

22 Cf. Trimble (n. 19), 173. It may be interesting to add that the climactic conclusion of Ariadne's speech (200–1 sed quali solam Theseus me mente reliquit, | tali mente, deae, funestet seque suosque) and that of the digression in general (247–8 Theseus, qualem Minoidi luctum | obtulerat mente immemori, talem ipse recepit) allude to Theocr. 2.45–6 (τόσσον ἔχοι λάθας ὅσσον ποκὰ Θησέα φαντί | ἐν Δίᾳ λασθῆμεν ἐυπλοκάμω Ἀριάδνας), another Theocritean intertext that suggests (note φαντί) a verbal rather than visual medium as the source for this section of the Ariadne and Theseus narrative.

23 Cf. Adema, S., ‘The tense of speech indications in Vergil's Aeneid ’, Journal of Latin Linguistics 9 (2005), 419–31, at 426CrossRefGoogle Scholar, distinguishing between the ‘immediate mode’ (‘the discourse of the observer’), associated with the present tense, and the ‘detached mode’ (‘the discourse of the knower’), associated with the perfect tense.

24 The present form uĕnit at 85 has apparently never been considered a problem. For instance, neither Trimble (n. 19) nor Trappes-Lomax, J.M., Catullus: A Textual Reappraisal (Swansea, 2007)Google Scholar question the transmitted text. Likewise, D. Kiss's online repertory of conjectures ( registers no attempts at emendation. The only publication to feature Minon in the Catullan passage I have been able to find is an edition of Nicolas Nomexy's Parnassus poeticus (Milan, 1623), 2.121; but this is probably just a misprint, since other editions, both before and after 1623, duly have Minoa.

25 Though in itself this is not a strong objection. For instance, in the Aeneid Virgil uses the accusative Daren (5.456), unattested elsewhere in either Latin or Greek, along with the more regular form Dareta (5.460, 5.463, 5.476), which corresponds to the Homeric genitive Δάρητος (Il. 5.27); for a discussion, see McGowan, M.M., ‘On the etymology and inflection of Dares in Vergil's boxing match, Aeneid 5.362–484’, CPh 97 (2002), 80–8, at 85–7Google Scholar.

26 On the idea that Homer was an Athenian, shared by Aristarchus, cf. Pontani, F., ‘ Ex Homero grammatica ’, in Matthaios, S., Montanari, F. and Rengakos, A. (edd.), Ancient Scholarship and Grammar: Archetypes, Concepts and Contexts (Berlin, 2011), 87103, at 91–2Google Scholar; Nünlist, R., ‘A chapter in the history of linguistics: Aristarchus' interest in language development’, RhM 155 (2012), 152–65, at 161–3Google Scholar.

27 In a comparable way, when speaking of an Actaeo texta de uimine cista (Met. 2.554), Ovid may be parading his knowledge of Homeric scholarship, which considered κίστη an Attic gloss (the E scholia to Od. 6.76: οὕτω γὰρ οἱ Ἀττικοὶ καλοῦσι τὸ σκεῦος, εἰς ὃ βάλλουσι τὰ ἐδέσματα).

28 Bücheler, F., ‘Coniectanea’, RhM 57 (1902), 321–7, at 321–2Google Scholar. Lachmann, C., In T. Lucretii Cari De rerum natura libros commentarius (Berlin, 1882 4), 162 Google Scholar.

29 Bücheler (n. 28), 322 found the elision inelegant. It could perhaps be objected, in connection with both Ciris 367 and Catull. 64.85, that a Greek form like Minoa is unlikely to originate by way of mechanical corruption. Yet, this form would not have been completely unfamiliar to a late antique or medieval scribe (it is transmitted e.g. at Ov. Met. 9.441 and at Hyg. Astr. 2.5.1, 2.5.3, 2.35.1: both texts were very popular and survive in numerous manuscripts). The alternative Latin form (Minoem) is hardly any better attested. Accordingly, it does not seem inconceivable that Minoa originated as a gloss on the rarer Minon, or that a scribe took Minon to be a corruption for Minoa.

30 Bücheler (n. 28), 322. It is worth stressing that the two contexts appear to be directly related, as both speak of a girl falling in love at first sight (cf. Ciris 132, quoted above, and Catull. 64.86 cupido conspexit lumine).

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