CRIMINA DISERTA (CAT. C. 53)

In his c. 53 Catullus tells an episode about an unknown man who after having heard C. Licinius Calvus speaking against Caesar’s myrmidon C. Vatinius could not help crying out: “salapu(t)tium disertum”! The gloss salapu(t)tium has produced much discussion but of a limited success — it is clear only, that the expression points at a person of not especially mighty physical frame (such was indeed the case with Calvus). More interesting for the understanding of the little poem in whole is (from the author’s viewpoint) the adjective disertus, which sets off explicasset two verses earlier: explicare means ‘to outline distinctly and clearly’ (so Cat., c. 1, 6). This brings us to the point: relying on the expressiveness of the picture given by Calvus, a naïve listener thinks that the tiny orator showed a gigantic eloquence, which is understood as a plenty of phrases in florid style. For the reader of Catullus it is clear, however, that the style of Calvus was the opposite of the eloquence of the Ciceronian kind with its amplifications and ornaments. So if the picture of the crimes of the Caesar’s accomplice seemed to be so eloquent, it was not due to the art of Calvus as disertus, but rather to the crimina Vatiniana themselves, q. e. d.

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