“Every Time I Write a Rhyme / These People Think It’s a Crime”: Persona Problems in Catullus and Eminem

Jesse Weiner
Hamilton College
Clinton, NY, USA


This essay interprets Eminem’s song, “Criminal” (2000, The Marshall Mathers LP, Track 18), as a Catullan project in establishing distance between the poet and poetic persona, accomplished through Catullan invective. Drawing upon pedagogical experience, I argue that Catullus (a Roman poet of the 1st Century BCE) and Eminem use analogous rhetorical tactics and structures to challenge accusations (real or imagined) of poor character stemming from their poetry. Catullus and Eminem vociferously articulate a separation of art from artist, using common transgressive poetics. Each poet disavows his own self-constructed stance of authenticity with similar threats of violence and postures of hyper-masculine dominance. In so doing, Catullus and Eminem challenge interpretative practices they elsewhere seem to assume and even encourage. Finally, I suggest that the programmatic poems of Catullus and Eminem construct similar readerly personae and that, ultimately, this confluence suggests not only a common poetics but also common discursive strategies in ancient and modern audiences.

Keywords: Catullus, Eminem, hip hop, sexuality and gender studies, transgressive poetry, poetic personae, classical reception studies, poetics

Author Bio

Jesse Weiner is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hamilton College. He publishes broadly in Greek and Latin literature and their receptions in modernity and popular culture. He is co-editor of Frankenstein and Its Classics: The Modern Prometheus from Antiquity to Science Fiction (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018). He has previously received a Women’s Classical Caucus Award for his work in sexuality and gender studies. In public humanities, he has served as a program scholar for Ancient Greeks / Modern Lives, and his work has appeared in History Today and The Atlantic.

Suggested Citation

Weiner, J. (2019). “Every time I write a rhyme / These people think it’s a crime”: Persona problems in Catullus and Eminem. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 6(1). http://journaldialogue.org/uncategorized/every-time-i-write-a-rhyme-these-people-think-its-a-crime-persona-problems-in-catullus-and-eminem/

Weiner, Jesse. “Every Time I Write A Rhyme / These People Think It’s A Crime”: Persona Problems In Catullus And Eminem. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 2019, vol 6, no. 1. http://journaldialogue.org/uncategorized/every-time-i-write-a-rhyme-these-people-think-its-a-crime-persona-problems-in-catullus-and-eminem/

Download as PDF

Tags: , , , , , , ,