(BEING CONTINUED FROM 14/12/13)
Born in Narbonese Gaul about 69. A follower of Augustus, he was made prefect of Egypt in 29, but spoke against the emperor and committed suicide in 26. Was a friend of Virgil (who dedicated the thenth eclogue to him), and also the Greek Parthenius (who influenced the neoterics) He wrote four books of Elegies called Amores, which had a strong erotic element but must have had some myth too. They also showed influence of Euphorion of Chalcis. A papyrus preserves ten verses which show many themes of elegy in embryonic form – beloved as a source of inspiration, the servitium amoris, the poet’s guilty conscience for his life outside of
traditional values. Gallus was thus the mediator between the neoterics and the full Augustan elegy.
We don’t know much about him, he died after Virgil in 19. His patron was Messalla Corvinus. Three books of poetry have come down under his name, only the first two and a few poems from the end of the third are considered authentic. The elegies of
the first book describe Delia, the inconstand and capricious woman who is fond of luxury, the relationship is tormented. There are several elegies on a young man,Marathus, written in a more playful and less tormented tone. Three of the six elegies in the second book are about Nemesis, a greedy and unscrupulous courtesan.
Tibullus is regularly set in the city, which serves as the backdrop for everything amorous. The world of myth is absent, and instead its idealizing function is performed by the countryside. The Tibullan countryside is an idyllic world, full of nature and ancestral rustic religion. There is a strong need for a peaceful refuge where he can cultivate his feelings. He has an ideal world to counter that of civil war, a bucolic one.
Tibullus wrote with extreme care and extraordinary regularity. Expression is smooth and limpid, and restrained. Words are distributed evenly and the sound of the second half of a verse echoes the first. Very terse and elegant. He was very
popular among his contemporaries, and Quintilian thought highly of him. Many preferred his elegant balance to the rough frenetic Propertius. But Ovid overshadowed him later.
This is the third book of Tibullus, actually it was divided into two books itself. Six poems are the work of one Lygdamus, which is clearly a pseudonym. The real name is disputed. His poems center on his painful separation from his beloved and are
obsessed with death. Next comes a long Panygyric of Messalla, which praises the patron. The thirteen poems of 4 include some of Tibullus himself concerning the love for Sulpicia, while the rest are by Sulpicia herself.
Born around 48. His family suffered in the civil war, but by 29 he was part of a fashionable literary circle and having an affair with an unscrupulous woman he called Cynthia. Came into contact with Maecenas as a result of his first book of elegies. Probably died shortly after 16. We have four books of elegies, published separately beginning in 28. The elegies are probably in the order written, not some other order as in Horace. Book 1 is concerned almost entirely with Cynthia, while starting in Book 2 we see the influence of Maecenas, a rejection of epic poetry, and some homage to the princeps. Book 3 is still dominated by Cynthia, but there are signs of a break. Book 4 has only two poems for Cynthia, in another she appears as an aggressive ghost.
The Alexandrian poets gave collections of poems the name of the woman celebrated within. And so the first book was published as Cynthia. Propertius is presented as a prisoner of his passion and being doomed on her account. Cynthia was a highly refined courtesan and for Propertius to take up with her compromised his social status. But he glories in this degradation and takes pleasure in the suffering. He makes love the absolute center of his life and Cynthia becomes the only reason for his existence. This rejection of the mos maiorum, begun in Catullus, is carried to an extreme here.
An existence devoted to otium and servitium becomes one with the poet’s existence,since he makes his life the material of poetry and uses poetry to court the woman.
Poetry is the only tool the poor elegist has in comparison to wealthier suitors. The slender Callimachean poetry is preferred as more suitable for courtship. For himself and Cynthia, Propertius dreams of the great loves of myth, and imagines
traditional models for her, with a traditional foedus and castitast and pudor and fides. Of course, reality is different and the poet is attracted to a fashionably elegant woman. From this tension is born the escape into pure myth, with pure love.
The first book was immediately successful and caused Maecenas to court Propertius. The second book opens with an elegant recusatio to doing epic poetry.
But his attitude in 2 is more complex than in one, as his relationship grows more painful, and his existence seems more incomplete. By book 3 he is embracing themes less closely associated with Cynthia. Love elegy is less frequent and the poems are wittier and more detached. The book ends with a final break with Cynthia.
In the fourth book, Propertius uncouples elegy from eros and makes it independent.
He wants to be the Roman Callimachus, a master of style, who will carefully investigate causes in the manner of the Aetia, the very origins of the names, myths and cults of Rome. This foreshadows the Fasti of Ovid. But in contrast to other poetry, Propertius’s is still light and elegant, in the style of Callimachus. And there are still elegies with noteworthy pathos and romantic themes. There is even a move towards chastity, domestic virtues, and family life.
In constrat to the crystalline elegance of Tibullus, Propertius is concentrated, dense,metaphor-laden. He is constantly experimenting. The Callimachean influence is clear, with sophisticated myths and complex syntax. This has left a very poor
manuscript tradition. Its elegance is harsh, and its psychology complex. He remained quite popular in antiquity.
Born in 43. Studied in Rome and Greece. Joined the literary circle of Messalla Corvinus, but was exiled to the Black Sea in AD 8. Died late 17 or early 18. His earliest work seems to have been the Amores, around 15, in five books – we have a revised edition in 3 books from AD 1 or so. The first 15 Heroides also date to around 15, while the second set (16-21) date to 4-8 AD. The Medea was written between 12-8 BC. The Ars Amatoria and the Remedia date to about 1 AD. The Metamophoses, in 15 books, were written from 2-8 AD, as were the six books (out of 12 projected) of Fasti. From the exile period we have the five books of Tristia from 9, and four books of Epistulae ex Ponto. The first three date to 13, the last was probably posthumous.
A Modern Poetry
In writing elegy, Ovid did not adhere to a life centered on love. For Ovid, the practice of poetry itself was the center of his life, and it made extensive experimentation possible. Because of this literary self-consciousness, Ovid was able to analyze reality while excluding nothing. Ovid opposed absolute choices, and can follow what seems more in accord with his taste or what is more accord with the tendencies of his age. This explains the most significant feature of his poetry, his acceptance of the new forms of life in Rome, but also an open attitude to the values of tradition. By the time he comes onto the scene the Civil Wars were fading into
the past and people in general were full of growing aspirations of ease and refinement, and less severe morality. Ovid became the interpreter of these aspirations. This is equally true with regard to content and form. Ovid is strongly innovative compared to the classical line represented by Horace. He has a terse,elegant style, with a rich, bold expression and a finely musical verse. Literature
was for him an ornament of life.
While these are traditional love elegies in many ways, and owe much to Propertius,the features of Ovidian elegy are already visible. The poetry lacks a central female figure around whom the poet’s life revolves. The only woman evoked, Corinna, is
tenuous and may never have existed. Ovid even declares that he cannot be satisfied with one love. The heavy pathos and drama of Catullus and Propertius is gone too,for Ovid it is lusus. Love is examined with irony and detachment. Servitium Amoris is almost totally absent. And the poet shows a high literary consciousness.
Ovidian elegy is not subordinate to life, but central to it.
The Didactic Love Poetry
There are several didactic Amores, which help pave the way for the Ars and Remedia. Amores 1.8 had a lena (procuress) giving advice, it was a short step from there to the poet. In the Ars, the poet is no longer himself a protaganist. Once love lost its devastating passion, the love relation is an intellectual game with its own rules. The roles, situations, and behaviors are already codified in literature, all that remained was for Ovid to draw up a textbook.
The Ars is in three books, in elegies. The first two tell men how to conquer a women, the third, added later, provides women with instruction on conquering men.
It describes the fashionable meeting places and haunts, pastimes, urban life, and everything the lover is to do in the campaign of seduction. Ovid wittily draws on the Georgics and Lucretius, and there are occassional historic or mythic narratives inserted for illustrative purposes. The pefect lover for Ovid is devoid of scruples and impatient with traditional morality. This was a delicate sphere as Augustus made it a center of reform. But Ovid doesn’t advocate love as a complete life choice like earlier elegy. Rather he just wants a certain degree of tolerance for it. By decentralizing love, Ovid attempts to reconcile elegy with the society it sprang from.
Ovid borrows from the values of modernity, from the lifestyle of Augustan Rome.
Finally, there is the Remedia. Earlier elegists had asserted there was no cure from love, but now Ovid, in the best Stoic and Epicurean traditions, attacks that and says it is obligatory to free oneself from love if it brings suffering. And with that,
the brief period of Latin elegy ends.
Love and myth are the great sources of Ovid’s early poetry. Before the Metamorphoses, the most mythological work is the Heroides, a collection of verse letters. 1-15 are letters written by famous women of myth (mostly Greek, though Dido and the historic Sappho are present) to their distant lovers or husbands. 16-21 consists of three letters from the lovers and the replies from their respective women.
The two groups were composed separately, and 15 (to Sappho) actually has its own tradition. Substantial doubts have been raised about the authenticity of many letters, including 15, but these are probably too much.
Ovid proclaims this to be a new genre, and he seems to be right. A single poem of Propertius has a love letter. The literary tradition is drawn mainly from Greek tragedy and epic. but Callimachus, Catullus, and Virgil are present too. The characters and situations may belong to myth, but they are characterized with common elements of elegy. For example, in the letter of Phaedra to Hippolytus,Phaedra comes across as an unscrupulous woman of amorous society rather than a tragic heroine.
Elegy is thus a filter for the narrative material of myth. It acts as a perspective that reduces every possible theme to its own language. Ovid’s heroines, in imposing an elegiac shape on epic narrative, distory and reinterpret. In letter 7 Dido selects
from Virgil the contents useful for persuading Aeneas not to go, while Deianira contradicts everything in Sophocles in her letter to Heracles. Ovid manages to introduce a new literary universe, neither ancient nor modern, but based on their coexistence.
The letters are presented as monologues, and are mostly based on the abandoned woman theme (Catullus 64). The structure of the letter form did not allow for much variety and the heroines monologue is only occassionally broken by a flashback.
Each letter is set at a very specific point. The heroine is aware of the past, but not the future, and Ovid exploits this irony. The reader is of course required to have full knowledge of the myth to understant the letter fully. The double epistle opens more possibilities. There can be a clash of different points of view and a wider narrative field. The letter form becomes a critical part of the narration.
The Heroides are poems of lament. Usually this is for abandonment, but there are other causes as well. In the Heroides, elegy returns to its origins as poetry of grief and lament. More space is given over to Pathos and there is less playfulness. Most
notable is a Euripidean exploration of female psychology.
The outer form was epic, but the model was Hesiod, a collective poem of independent stories linked by a single theme. The Aetia of Callimachus is the major Hellenistic model, as well as a lost work by Nicander. But Ovid makes it clear that he is writing an epic poem, something Callimachus disposed of. Ovid wants a universal work that goes beyond the limits of various types of poetry. It
would start with creation. Even the new regime could get a brief moment in the poem.
Between these two ends about 250 different myths are told. They are arranged chronologically near the beginning and end, but in the middle it is the timeless period of myth. The stories can be linked any number of ways – geography,
thematic parallels, or the type of metamorphosis.
The dimensions of the stories vary widely, from simple allusion to several hundred lines in the style of an epyllion. Ovid is careful to pace everything and to juxtapose different types of stories. He does not strive for homogeneity so much as variety.
The chronological order is continually disturbed by the insertion of prior narratives,
via the embedded tale, an Alexandrian technique. Different characters themselves become narrators, allowing the poet to adapt characteristics to them and giving the whole work the quality of an endless fugue.
Metamorphosis was a favorite theme of Hellenistic poets, which satisfied a taste for aetiology, the origin of causes. Metamorphosis gives unity to Ovid’s work, and he attempts to give it philosophical dignity as well by inserting a speech of Pythagoras
near the end, but this does not bear the stamp of conviction. The central subject is love, no longer in contemporary Rome but now in the world of myth. But Ovid does not have the heroic aspect of Virgil, rather, like the Hellenistic poets, he uses myth
is a decorative backdrop. The poem is above all a world of poetic fictions, and a concise summary of a vast literary inheritance from Homer to the Latin tragedians and the vast literature of the Hellenistic period. It is proud of its intertextual
nature and is often self-content or self-ironic with its material.
The fundamental characteristic of the world of the Metamorphosis is its ambiguous and deceptive nature. The boundary between reality and appearance is a foggy one.
Disguises, shadows, reflections, echoes and other things give the poem an insidious nature, where humans are the playthings of gods. The characters act as thought they had grasped reality, and the poet, who has the true point of view, follows them
down their path to change and often comments on the course of the events,involving the reader still more. The narrative is especially noteworthy for its strong visual qualities. Ovid dwells on the boundaries between old and new. With its
visual nature and its fondness for the paradoxes of reality and a love of spectacle, it anticipates the poetry of the Empire.
Like Propertius, Ovid devotes himself to writing “Roman Elegies” The Fasti,illustrating the myths of the Roman Calendar, only go as far as June. The work owes much to the Aitia of Callimachus. Ovid wanted to be the Roman Callimachus,
a poet who created a whole new genre. He undertook a careful study of antiquarian sources to illustrate the beliefs, rites, usages, and place names – all part of the rediscovery of ancient origins that took place under Augustus. Into this background
he inserts Greek myth, or anecdotal references to contemporary events. This allows him to overcome the limits imposed by a calendar form and makes room for all his playfulness.
This interpretation tends to free the Fasti from Augustan ideology. Frazer looked to Ovid as a transmitter of traditional stories and ignored the poet’s stance towards that tradition. But caution is in order. Ovid plays with his duty as an antiquarian,
just as Callimachus had. When he puts in doubt the relationship between past and present, the game of Augustan ideology becomes serious. The gap in the poem is not that Ovid doesn’t take Augustus seriously, but that he doesn’t take Romulus
The Works of Exile
Ovid’s first work composed from exile and sent to Rome with hesitation was five books of Tristia. The common theme is lament over the exiled poet’s condition. He appeals to his wife and friends to get him moved someplace else and laments the
primitive conditions he is in. The first book recounts his long journey, while the second is a gigantic plea towards Augustus.
The other collection of exile poems is in epistolary form, called the Epistulae ex Ponto. These use regular formulae from letters and all their addressees are named.
Themes common to letters are mentioned frequently, such as the distance between friends, etc. There is an interesting parallel with the Heroides, letters of abandoned women, and the Epistulae, letters of the abandoned poet. But the Epistulae mark a
return to elegy as the form of lament. He defends himself as a poet and calls on mythological parallels to show how strange his own exile was. Ovid puts all his remaining hope into his poetry.
One other poem came from exile, the Ibis, which consists of a long series of invectives against a detractor of Ovid’s. The scheme is borrowed from an Ibis of Callimachus, directed against Apollonius (or so they say).
( TO BE CONTINUED )
BY GIAN BIAGIO CONTE
PROFESSOR OF LATIN LITERATURE (1941)