I’m salvaging some posts from a little blog I ran on and off on the side while I strayed from the Campvs, and first up is this post from last August on Paulinus and Catullus:
I’ve maintained for some time that Paulinus of Nola knew Catullus better than we do. Consider the following:
- qualecumque quod, <o> patrona virgo,
- plus uno maneat perenne saeclo.
- Quis precor hunc docuit, quem casto viscere virgo
- Contineat, quantus maneat nova secula partus?
Now, where people always go wrong at points like this is trying to figure out what Paulinus meant by this reference. What’s it all mean?
Well, it means that Paulinus knew his Catullus, and as he was working out his own verse, he heard a familiar jingle in his head and decided to use it. That’s what allusions usually are, despite the volumes of useless pleading that pass for academic papers in the classics.
Turning for a moment to Catullus, a little general explication is in order. The reflection of the phrases omne aevum and uno saeclo is clear. The reference in the first is to the lost Chronica of Cornelius Nepos, a universal history of Greek and Roman antiquity (which is why he is singled out as daring “alone of the Italians to explicate all time”). The contrast of Catullus’ polished libellum of trifling verses with his friend’s weighty and learned chartae on history is obvious.
After dedicating the work and explaining the dedication, he turns to the muse with a humble prayer inspired by his friend’s work: “And this thing, such as it is, patron maid [i.e., the Muse of lyric poetry], let it survive continually beyond [my] one lifetime.”
The real significance of the Paulinus passage for us is that it should remove whatever hold Bergk’s conjecture (“patronei ut ergo”) still has. It has reared its head, modified, as recently as 2002 when A.S. Gratwick wanted to read “qualecumqe aliquid, patrocini ergo” (C.Q. n.s. 52.1, p. 306). But you may choose to believe that Paulinus had a corrupt manuscript, in which case you’re a hopeless partisan of novel readings.