Catullus the Ventriloquist

Physical Appropriations of the Mouth and Voice of the Roman Reader

ELIZABETH HAYNES (University of Cambridge)

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Abstract: Catullan readers can feel as though their mouths have been used without their permission. Catullus uses his readers’ mouths in two ways: to voice his views through someone else’s mouth, and to suggestively ‘fill’ his readers’ mouths with his poetic penis. Within his poems, Catullus demonstrates his control over the mouth, an all-important orifice. He plays with the sexual and performative implications of the mouth with poems which attack and control other people’s mouths. Catullus plays with the sexual implications of the (especially male) mouth by inserting the topic of irrumatio in his readers’ mouths with his poetic ‘tool.’ Catullus also uses the performative implications of using someone else’s mouth to his advantage. Catullus seems very aware that the reader must cede control over the discourse to the writer to enjoy the poetry, and abuses this trust between reader and writer to validate his own power and opinions. Catullus’ use of readers’ physical mouths to read his poetry aloud serves to control readers sexually and performatively, appropriating their physical bodies and their literary opinions to stay in control of his written words and force his readers to enjoy bodily poetic debasement.


About the Author: Elizabeth Haynes is currently studying for a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education in Latin with Classics at the University of Cambridge. Her undergraduate studies at University College London focused on literary theory and rhetoric, especially in Catullus. Her future research interests include comparing the effectiveness of using self-deprecation and self-vaunting as persuasive techniques for first-person narrators to convince their readers to believe in their authority.