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Dismembering Cominius: Political Violence and Iambic Aggression in Catullus 108

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2022

Robert Cowan*
The University of Sydney Email:


Carmen 108 is one of the most neglected and unloved in the Catullan corpus. When it is mentioned in scholarship, it is either as a distastefully extreme instance of iambic invective or the object of a prosopographical exercise in identifying the addressee, Cominius. Gnilka alone has tried to situate it in the context of late Republican political violence, in particularly public lynching. Instead of isolating these two aspects of the poem from each other, this article argues that c. 108 is a self-conscious exploration of the interaction between poetic form and hors-texte. The terms of the invective situate it firmly within the tradition of Archilochean and Hipponactean iambos and it may even allude directly to a fragment of the latter. Yet the threats of violence are transformed when recontextualized within the world of the late Republic, where such literary violence was very much a reality. The poem performs a symbolic dismemberment of Cominius’ body, but one that cannot be safely separated from acts of mob violence in the period. The pragmatics of Catullan iambos explores the limits of verbal violence as speech-act and the point at which hate-speech becomes indistinguishable from the violence it incites.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Australasian Society for Classical Studies

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