A unique social hierarchy, based on a pyramid structure, characterized ancient Roman society. While elite men stood at the top, youth and upstanding women were in the middle, and slaves were at the bottom. In “Invading the Roman Body: Manliness and Impenetrability in Roman Thought,” Jonathan Walters argues that sexual roles were instrumental in producing this hierarchy and shows how an impenetrable “shield” protected the men of the upper class from the sexual acts and beatings they themselves imposed upon the lower classes, women, and slaves, who were at risk for both sexual penetrations and beatings.
This paper explores the ways in which the first century BCE poet Catullus utilizes the sexually based social hierarchy of his time in order to diminish the status of his enemies while raising both his own social standing and his friends’. Catullus exacts revenge upon his enemies by assigning them sexually submissive roles in his poetry, thereby unmanning them according to the traditional Roman gender roles outlined in Jonathan Walters’ article. By doing so he manages to establish power and control over them, thus elevating him to the top of the social pyramid.
Catullus utilizes this hierarchy for his friends’ benefit as well, however. He portrays his friends throughout his poetry in sexually dominant roles, thereby elevating their social standing and rendering them impenetrable\
Maggie Ryan, ’13
Oak Park, IL
Major: English and Creative Writing
Sponsor: John Gruber-Miller