Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Passer, Deliciae Meae Puellae

If there's one effect that taking Latin in high school has had on me, it's that whenever I read a piece of literature I find connections between whatever it may be and something written by Ovid, Vergil, or one of those other old Romans.

In this case, it was Catullus of whom I was reminded. In Roman society, animals were obviously valued because of their economic worth and their spiritual importance (sacrifices, etc). However, in most cases, whenever an animal served a significant role in a work, it was almost always actually a god in animal form. For instance, when Jupiter took on his numerous forms in order to get with a bunch of women while (unsuccessfully) hiding from his wife. Catullus was sort of a weirdo, though, and often broke convention.

In two separate poems about Catullus' love interest, Lesbia, he envied her pet sparrow (and mourned it, in the second one). While he didn't it them as if it had a soul like in the poems we're reading, it's still always a significant event when an animal in its own form is put at the center of events. Whether it's being jealous of a sparrow or pitying and missing the soul of a deceased pet, the convention of personifying an animal has always indicated an emotional and important event for the author.

Quick side note: Did anyone besides myself think of Where the Wild Things Are after seeing an image of the "beasts" from Part 4 of Gulliver's Travels alongside the description?

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