Sheffield Classical Association
LEGAL LANGUAGE, AMBIGUITY AND CATULLUS POEM 87.
nulla potest mulier tantum se dicere amatam
vere quantum a me Lesbia amata mea est.
nulla fides ullo fuit umquam foedere tanta
quanta in amore tuo ex parte reperta mea
No woman can say she's been loved as much,
truly, as my Lesbia's been loved by me:
there was never a guarantee so strong in any contract
as that found, on my part, in my love for you.
‘In the first couplet, Catullus protests that his amor for Lesbia was uniquely true or real (vere). The second couplet, with vigorous echoes of the first, indicates the nature of this verus amor: it is a bond or pact (foedus) resting upon fides. On this reading of the poem, however, the final verse seems decidedly awkward and redundant. The clumsy phrase, in amore tuo ex parte mea, means nothing more than ''my love" and, more important, why reperta, ''found" or "discovered"? By whom?’
Thus, an ‘earlyish’ commentator on this poem, making some good points but perhaps missing
the full meaning of some of the quasi-legal language that Catullus uses to bind himself even more tightly to his beloved Lesbia. As Konstan says, Catullus actually compares his love to a contract or treaty (foedus) and, like a legal document, his poem allows no loophole, straining to have the last, definitive word. Catullus may or may not be taking himself very seriously here - lawyers and their use of opaque phraseology (often in Latin!) have been made fun of before now- but he calls on some very serious concepts, deeply engrained in Roman tradition, most notably the crucial fides (trustworthiness, cf. fidelity) from which the word foedus (contract, cf. federal) is derived. It is also possible that a legal overtone is contained in Catullus’ final ‘ex parte reperta mea’, described above as ‘redundant and awkward’. In current legal parlance ex parte means a legal proceeding brought by one person in the absence of and without representation or notification of other parties. This usage goes back to the Digesta Iustiniani and probably beyond. A database search on the Digesta here, reveals very similar language to that used by Catullus. Our poet appears to be saying that however ambiguous the state of his love affair with Lesbia may be, on his part (in amore tuo might mean ‘your love for me’ just as much as ‘my love for you’ (ex parte . . . mea-playing the mock lawyer), it’s as firm as a binding legal document drawn up by a lawyer.
 D. Konstan, ‘Two Kinds of Love in Catullus’ The Classical Journal, No. 2 (Dec., 1972 - Jan., 1973), 102-106, at 105.
 For fides and foedus in the context of a real treaty cf. Liv. 220.127.116.11-4 . . . ea condicione ut
foedus extemplo aequis legibus fieret in urbem acceperunt. cuius rei prope non servata fides deditis est and on the importance of the foedus amicitiae in Roman society in general see B. Gladhill Rethinking Roman Alliance: A Study in Poetics and Society (Cambridge, 2016 and accessible here ) 113- ‘perhaps concurrent with Catullus' usage of foedus amicitiae (elsewhere at poem 109) is the marked usage of the concept by Cicero in a letter he wrote to Marcus Licinius Crassus (dated to 54 BC): has litteras velim existimes foederis habituras esse vim, non epistulae, meque ea quae tibi promitto ac recipio sanctissime esse observaturum diligentissimequc esse facturum. (Epistulae ad Familiares 5.8.5), ‘please, consider that this letter will have the force of a treaty, not of an epistle, and that I will most piously observe and most diligently perform the things I am promising to and receiving from you’. Cicero writes that he wishes his litterae to have the force of a foedus, rather than of an epistle-obviously a significant and substantial point.
 For a possible echo of legal language in ‘reperta’ cf. Digesta Iustiniani 2.15.1 cum transactio propter fideicommissum facta esset et postea codicilli reperti sunt and also perhaps Plaut. Captiv. 927 quomque huius reperta est fides firma nobis.
Sheffield branch of the Classical Association, founded in 1920