Roman Culture and Society handout Dr.V.Rimell

Lecture 2: Desiring Rome: Ovidian Elegy

1) Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 10.1.93:

‘In elegy, too, we challenge the Greeks. The most refined and elegant author seems to me to be Tibullus. Some prefer Propertius. Ovid is more lascivious (lascivior) than these two; Gallus is stiffer (durior).’

Latin love elegy timeline (+ key dates in Roman history):

Gallus – [Catullus] -Tibullus – Propertius - Ovid

- c.84BCE, Catullus born

- 69-68BCE, Cornelius Gallus born (friend of Virgil + author of 4 books of Amores).

- 60BCE: first triumvirate (Pompey, Caesar and Crassus)

- 54BCE Catullus’ book (liber) of poetry published; he dies

- 55-50BCE, Tibullus born

- 49BC: Caesar crosses the Rubicon: start of civil war

- 49-47BCE, Propertius born

- 44BCE: Caesar killed. Antony is Caesar’s moral heir; Caesar’s adopted son Octavian appears on the scene.

- 43BCE, Ovid born

- 43BCE: second triumvirate (Antony, Octavian, Lepidus)

- 31BCE: Battle of Actium

- 29BCE: triumph of Octavian (in 27BCE he takes on the name Augustus)

- 28BCE, Propertius publishes his monobiblos (book 1 of elegies)

- 26BCE, Cornelius Gallus kills himself after being exiled by Augustus

- 26-25BCE, Tibullus publishes 1st book of elegies.

- 25-22BCE, Propertius publishes Elegies books 2-3

- after 20BCE, Ovid writes first ed. of the Amores (5 books: only the 2nd ed. survives)

- 19-18BCE, Tibullus dies

- 16BCE, Propertius publishes Elegies book 4 (also dies in this year or thereabouts)

- c.15-10BCE, Ovid publishes Heroides 1-15

- c.1BCE, Ovid publishes 2nd edition of Amores

- 1BCE-1CE: Ovid publishes the Ars Amatoria book 1-2

- 1-2CE: Ovid publishes Ars Amatoria 3, Remedia Amoris and Medicamina

- 4-8CE: Ovid publishes Heroides 16-21

- 8 CE, Ovid exiled

- 14CE: Augustus dies

- 17-18CE, Ovid dies in exile

2) Elegy (vs. epic)


  • Space
  • Time
  • Scale
  • Politics
  • Ethics
  • Gender


3) Militia amoris (the lover’s ‘military service’)

a) Tibullus 1.1.53ff. (cf.1.3)

‘It is right for you, Messala, to campaign by land and sea so that the front of your house may display the spoils of enemies. But I am a captive, held fast in the bonds of a lovely girl. I sit, a janitor, before her stubborn doors. I care not for military glory, dear Delia…’

b) Propertius 2.7.13ff.

‘How will be provide sons for our country’s triumphs, dear Cynthia? No soldier shall ever be born of my blood. But if I were following the real military encampment, that of my mistress, then Castor’s horse would not be grand enough for me. It is through service to her that renown has brought glory to my name, fame that has travelled all the way to the furthest northern lands. You are my only joy: be I your only joy, Cynthia. This love means more to me than the name of the father (hic erit et patrio nomine pluris amor).’

c) Ovid Amores 1.9.1ff.

‘Every lover is a soldier, and Cupid has a military camp of his own…The age that is suitable for fighting wars is also suited to Venus. It is pathetic for the old man to be a soldier, just as it is for the old man to be a lover. The spirit that captains seek in the valiant soldier is the same that the pretty girl seeks in the man she goes to bed with. Both are awake through the night; both rest on the hard ground – one guards his mistress’ door, the other his captain’s. The soldier’s duty takes him on a long road; if only his beloved is sent ahead, the active lover, too will follow her endlessly.’

d) Ovid Amores 1.5.13ff.

‘I tore away the tunic – not that it hid much; but still she struggled to have the tunic cover her. Even while she struggled, as someone who did not want to be conquered, she was overcome easily by her own betrayal.’

e) Ovid Amores 1.7.49ff.

‘I could endure cruelly tearing her hair from her brow, and marking her free-born cheeks with my nails. She stood there, stunned, her face bloodless and as white as marble hewn from Parian cliffs. I saw her limbs all lifeless and her body trembling…. But so that the signs of my crime may be erased, rearrange your disordered hair.’ (Compare what we would call the domestic/sexual violence at e.g. Tibullus 1.10.55ff., Propertius 2.5 and 2.15).

e) Ovid Amores 2.8.21ff.

‘In return for these favours, dark Cypassis, pay me today the sweet price of your embrace. Why do you shake your head and refuse, ungrateful girl, and why do you make up new fears? It will suffice to have earned the favour of only one of your masters. But if you stupidly say no, I shall turn informer and confess all we have done before.’

f) Ovid Ars Amatoria* 1.664-6, 697-700

‘If she will not kiss you, take the kisses she will not give. Perhaps she wills struggle at first and cry ‘You bastard!’, but she will want to be beaten in the struggle’. [On Achilles and Deidamia]… ‘The virgin princess happened to be in the same bed chamber; by her rape she found him to be a man, By force she was conquered, so one must believe; yet by force she wished to be conquered all the same.’

* In the Ars Amatoria, compare also the programmatic scene at 1.89-134, where Ovid rewrites the foundation of (elegy’s) Rome in the ritual rape of the Sabine women in Romulus’ amphitheatre.

4) Love elegy and the life of leisure (otium/skole)

Catullus 51.12-15 (‘translation’ of Sappho 31)

otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est:

otio exsultas nimiumque gestis:

otium et reges prius et beatas

perdidit urbes

(Idleness, Catullus, does you harm, you revel and roll in idleness; idleness has ruined former kings and great cities.)

Ovid Amores 1.15.1-8:

‘Why, gnawing Envy, do you charge me with indolent years, and call my song the work of a lazy mind? Why do you complain that while vigorous age gives me strength I do not pursue the dusty prizes of a soldier’s life, after the tradition of our fathers, that I do not learn verbose laws either, or prostitute my voice (vocem prostituisse) in the ungrateful forum? The work you ask of me is merely mortal, but my ambition is to achieve eternal glory, to be known for my song the whole world over.’

5) servitium amoris (the lover’s ‘slavery’)

a. Tibullus 1.5.61-6: ‘Oh Delia, your poor man is prepared to offer service always, the first to attend to your need, always at your side. Your poor man, trusty comrade in the pressure of a crowd, will use his hands to good effect and find a way. Your poor man will escort you unobserved to secret friends, slipping the sandal from your snow-white foot himself.’

b. Propertius 1.4.1-4: ‘Why, Bassus, by praising so many other girls, do you press me to change and abandon my mistress (domina)? Why do you not rather let me spend whatever time I have left in the servitude (servitio) to which I have grown accustomed?’ cf. 1.5.19-20, 1.12.18.

***What is different about the following examples?

(i.e. what changes when the theme is amor servae, ‘love for a slavegirl’?)

c. Ovid, Amores 2.7.27ff. : ‘And now look, a fresh accusation! Cypassis, that able girl who styles your hair, is accused of wronging her mistress’ bed! Oh may the gods help me, should I be in the mind to sin, if I find my pleasure in some low-class drudge! What gentleman would willingly copulate with a slave, and embrace a back scarred by the lash?’

d. Amores 2.8.1-4: ‘O Cypassis, expert in creating a thousand hairstyles, worthy to have none but goddesses form your clientele, and (as I know from our stolen pleasure) no rustic amateur: just right for your mistress, but even more right for me…’ (nb: at lines 11ff., Ovid compares his lust for Cypassis to Achilles’ love of his prisoner of war slave Briseis in the Iliad)

e. Ars Amatoria 1.351ff: ‘Take care first to know the slavegirl of the woman you would like to capture’

6) Ovidian ambition: Love without end

  • Amores 2.4.47-8: ‘Ultimately, whatever girls anyone could praise in the whole city, my love is ambitious enough (ambitiosus amor) to want to win them all’
  • Ars Amatoria 1.755-6: ‘I was about to end, but the hearts of women are so many: use a thousand methods to win a thousand hearts (mille animos excipe mille modis).’

7) Arms and a man I sing: Amores 1.1

Qui modo Nasonis fueramus quinque libelli, cf. the epigram prefacing the Aeneid (see below*)

tres sumus; hoc illi praetulit auctor opus.

ut iam nulla tibi nos sit legisse voluptas,

at levior demptis poena duobus erit.

(We who just now were five books of Naso are now three; the author has put this before the previous edition. Though even now you may take no pleasure in reading us, the pain will be lighter with two books removed.)

* Compare Ovid’s prefatory epigram to this epigram prefacing the Aeneid (probably added to some mss. in the first decades of the first century):

Ille ego qui quondam gracili modulatus avena

carmen, et egressus silvis vicina coegi

ut quamvis avido parerent arva colono,

gratum opus agricolis, at nunc horrentia Martis

(arma virumque cano…)

(‘I am he who once tuned my song on a tender reed, then, leaving the woodland, compelled the neighbouring fields to serve the husbandsman, however grasping – a work welcome to farmers. But now of Mars’ bristling arms and of the man I sing…)

Amores 1.1

Arma gravi numero violentaque bella parabam cf. Aen.1.1 arma virumque cano

edere, materia conveniente modis. and Aen.6. 86, bella, horrida bella…cerno

par erat inferior versus—risisse Cupido

dicitur atque unum surripuisse pedem.

'quis tibi, saeve puer, dedit hoc in carmina iuris? 5

Pieridum vates, non tua turba sumus.

quid, si praeripiat flavae Venus arma Minervae,

ventilet accensas flava Minerva faces?

quis probet in silvis Cererem regnare iugosis,

lege pharetratae Virginis arva coli? 10

crinibus insignem quis acuta cuspide Phoebum

instruat, Aoniam Marte movente lyram?

sunt tibi magna, puer, nimiumque potentia regna;

cur opus adfectas, ambitiose, novum?

an, quod ubique, tuum est? tua sunt Heliconia tempe? 15

vix etiam Phoebo iam lyra tuta sua est?

cum bene surrexit versu nova pagina primo,

attenuat nervos proximus ille meos;

nec mihi materia est numeris levioribus apta,

aut puer aut longas compta puella comas.' 20

questus eram, pharetra cum protinus ille soluta

legit in exitium spicula facta meum,

lunavitque genu sinuosum fortiter arcum,

'quod' que 'canas, vates, accipe' dixit 'opus!'

me miserum! certas habuit puer ille sagittas. 25

uror, et in vacuo pectore regnat Amor.

sex mihi surgat opus numeris, in quinque residat:

ferrea cum vestris bella valete modis!

cingere litorea flaventia tempora myrto,

Musa, per undenos emodulanda pedes! 30

(Arms and the violent deeds of war, I was making ready to sound forth – in weighty numbers, with matter suited to the measure. The second verse was equal to the first, but Cupid, they say, laughed and stole one foot away. “Who gave you, cruel boy, this right over poetry? We poets belong to the Muses; we are no company of yours. What if Venus were to seize the arms of golden-haired Minerva, or if golden-haired Minerva should fan into flame the kindled torch of love? Who would approve of Ceres reigning on the woodland ridges, and of fields tilled under the law of the quiver-bearing maid [i.e. Diana]. Who would deck out Apollo of the beautiful locks with a sharp-pointed spear, or let Mars stir the Aonian lyre? You have an empire of your own – great, yes, all too powerful. Why do you lay claim to new powers, ambitious boy? Or is everything, everywhere, yours? Are the vales of Helicon yours? Is even the lyre of Apollo safely his own? My new page of son rose well with first verse in lofty strain, when that next one – of your making – diminishes the vigour (nervos) of my work; and yet I have no matter suited to a lighter beat – neither a boy, nor a girl with long and well-styled hair.” Such was my complaint, when immediately he loosened his quiver, and chose from it arrows that were made for my undoing Against his knee, he showed off his strength in bending the sinuous bow into a moon-shape, and said “Singer, take that! This will be the material for your song!” Ah poor me! They were sure, those arrows that the boy had. I am on fire, and in my still vacant heart, love reigns. Let my work rise in six measures, and sink again in five. Farewell iron wars, with your distinctive beat! Crown with myrtle that loves the shore the golden locks on your temples, O muse, you who are to be sung to the lyre in elevens!)

8) Passage for discussion: Ovid Amores 1.7, domestic violence and epic furor


Adde manus in vincla meas—meruere catenas—

dum furor omnis abit, siquis amicus ades!

nam furor in dominam temeraria bracchia movit;

flet mea vaesana laesa puella manu.

tunc ego vel caros potui violare parentes 5

saeva vel in sanctos verbera ferre deos!

quid? non et clipei dominus septemplicis Aiax

stravit deprensos lata per arva greges,

et, vindex in matre patris, malus ultor, Orestes

ausus in arcanas poscere tela deas? 10

ergo ego digestos potui laniare capillos?

nec dominam motae dedecuere comae.

(O dear friend, if there is any friend near, shackle my hands – they have deserved the chains – until my madness abates! For it was madness that made me raise reckless arms against my mistress; my girl weeps, wounded by my crazy hand. So I had it in me even to attack the parents I love, or to rain cruel blows even on the holy gods! Well? Did Ajax, master of the shield of seven layers, not seize and lay low that flock over the broad fields? Didn’t Orestes, evil avenger who punished his mother for the sake of his father, dare to demand weapons to use against the mystic goddesses? Did I therefore have the right to tear my girl’s well-styled hair? And yet, those roughed-up tresses did look rather lovely on her….)

Aeneid 12.919-26

cunctanti telum Aeneas fatale coruscat, also nb. Aen.12.946: furiis accensus, ‘red hot with fury’

sortitus fortunam oculis, et corpore toto 920

eminus intorquet. murali concita numquam

tormento sic saxa fremunt nec fulmine tanti

dissultant crepitus. volat atri turbinis instar

exitium dirum hasta ferens orasque recludit

loricae et clipei extremos septemplicis orbis;

per medium stridens transit femur. …

(As he wavers, Aeneas brandishes the fateful spear, seeing his chance, then hurls it from a distance with all his might. Never do stones shot from a siege engine roar so loud, never do such great crashes burst from a thunderbolt. Like a black tornado, the spear flies on, carrying terrible destruction, and pierces the edge of the corselet and the outermost circle of the shield of seven layers: whizzing, it passes right through the thigh…)

Consolidatory bibliography:

Hardie, P. (ed.) (2002) The Cambridge Companion to Ovid. Cambridge. [PA


Fulkerson, L. (2005) The Ovidian Heroine as Author: Reading, Writing and

Community in the Heroides. Cambridge.

Kennedy, D.F. (1993) The Arts of Love. Five Studies in the Discourse of

Roman Love Elegy. Cambridge.

Miller, P.A. (2004) Subjecting Verses: Latin Love Elegy and the Emergence of the Real.