Catullus' Carmen 64 unfurls a narrative tapestry rich in meaning and allusion. Its account of the marriage of Thetis and Peleus recalls the Trojan cycle, the Iliad and the Cypria in particular, and offers a response to and program for epic. Although Catullus' Alexandrian poem revels in its own retrospection and nostalgia, Carmen 64 expresses the futility of attempting to achieve any true νόστος (‘return’) to the dominating yet foreclosed world of Homeric epic. Carmen 64 reveals new perspectives in which traditional epic elements are reversed, reordered or juxtaposed in unexpected ways; these challenge received notions such as the admissible constituents of epic background, foreground, narrative and digression; the definitions of heroic deeds; and the implications of speech and writing.
In the course of this revisionary project Carmen 64 avails itself of a systematic imagery involving cloths, clothes and textiles that are viewed and accessed by the poem's characters throughout to convey or receive knowledge: messages that are ‘written’ or ‘read’ or even ‘missed’ (as in the case of Aegeus seeing the forgetful Theseus' sails) in a variety of textile mediums: the uestis uariata of the central ekphrasis, Ariadne's clothes, her thread in the labyrinth, Theseus' sails, the threads of the Parcae, the thread to measure the neck of the newlywed Thetis—all these inform a text that is unified from Carmen 64's textiles. Recollection and representation are central to much fiction—μνῆσαι (‘remember’) is Priam's first word to Achilles at Iliad 24.486—and Carmen 64 reaches far back into memory to cull myths from the epic repertoire to weave into its fabric.