Late in the fifties Munro's long-standing and influential verdict on the Acme and Septimius poem (‘the most charming picture in any language of a light and happy love’) suddenly came under fire. A flurry of scholarly reaction arose, and strangely enough, almost as quickly subsided, to support, then condemn, and finally to modify beyond recognition S. Baker's proposition that Catullus ‘never wrote about love without some irony’. A rehearsal of the various responses to Baker's assessment is especially illustrative both of the particular difficulties in this poem and, more importantly, of the misconceptions which have for years plagued interpretations of the love poetry of Horace as well as Catullus. Indeed, it is fortunate that the frequently observed relationship between Odes 3.9 and its predecessor enables us to examine comprehensively what is symptomatic of general critical approaches to both poets.
Baker's doubt of the idyllic proportions of the love portrait presented in Carmen 45 is certainly not unfounded. However, his arguments in favor of an overriding ironic tension result, if correctly understood, from his conviction that, since elsewhere Catullus cannot ‘speak of love directly and simply for many lines running’, the lovers' bliss is therefore immediately suspect. The poems used in corroboration of this view are nearly all drawn from the so-called Lesbia cycle (2, 5, 7, 51, together with the two epithalamia, 61-62). While in a very restricted sense Catullus' ofttimes exaggerated declaration of passionate love for Lesbia may seem a unifying feature of these pieces, it is incorrect to assume that any single modulation of the love experience is an automatic cipher for all others.