This article describes how cc. 39 and 37 create distinct tones of voice and use them to preclude the social pretensions of Egnatius in different spheres. The style of c. 39, markedly oratorical——and non-Catullan——in the syntax of its opening lines, develops into the voice of a respectable senex by way of archaisms of vocabulary and syntax and is capped by a figure of humor otherwise absent from the polymetrics, the apologus. The style thus creates a voice perfectly suited to chastise Egnatius' social ineptitudes and, more importantly, constitutes on the verbal level an embodiment of the standards of the urban elite. Catullus thus illustrates to Egnatius that a subtle system of social gestures can be learned - something which Egnatius, for all his apparent pretensions to social prominence, manifestly has not grasped, marred as he is by the habit of grinning inappropriately. C. 37, which ends with an attack on the same Egnatius, is far different in tone, commingling tokens of artfulness with vulgarity and forcefulness. That mixed style exercises ironic decorum towards Lesbia's lovers, who are themselves an oddly mixed group, well-off on the one hand, but "backstreet adulterers" on the other. But the two tones of voice, and indeed the two groups of lovers, also embody the paradoxes of the Roman construction of stylish behavior, which could be represented as elegant dalliance or reprehensible vice. Inasmuch as Egnatius' fashion affectations, ridiculed at the poem's end, fail to qualify him for the ranks of Lesbia's lovers, he is represented as outside sophisticated society, however it be constructed. In concert the two poems utterly derail Egnatius' social pretensions: c. 39 as it were outflanks him on the "right," barring him from respectable society, and c. 37 outflanks him on the "left," barring him from the "jet set."
- ©© Regents of the University of California