The Laodamia Simile in Catullus 68: Reflections on Love and Loss

de Villiers, A. (2008)

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Journal Article

In Catullus’ poem 68 he compares his beloved, generally identified as Lesbia, to the mythological figure of Laodamia in a long simile covering 57 lines. Laodamia epitomises the ideal wife, both passionate and loyal and so much in love with her new husband Protesilaus, that she cannot bear to live without him. Therefore she appears to be the perfect comparison for a beloved woman as seen through the eyes of her infatuated lover. But at a closer reading of the poem the interpretation of the simile turns out to be much more complex than that. Lesbia is not loyal and she is not Catullus’ wife. He admits both these facts near the end of the poem. Furthermore, Laodamia turns out to have two referents: Lesbia and the poet himself. In this paper I will be looking at various interpretations of the Laodamia simile as well as adding my own thoughts on this complex and beautiful poem.

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