Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.06.01

Markus Janka, Ovid Ars Amatoria Buch 2: Kommentar.   Heidelberg:  Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1997.  Pp. 514.  ISBN 3-8253-0593-7.  

Reviewed by Roy K. Gibson, University of Manchester (
Word count: 2725 words

There are three major commentaries on the Ars Amatoria (in addition to a good number of selections with commentary and translations with notes). There are two single-volume commentaries on all three books, by P. Brandt (published in 1902 and still in print) and E. Pianezzola, G. Baldo and L. Cristante (1991), plus A.S. Hollis' economic but marvellously suggestive and learned commentary on book 1 (1977). To these ranks should now be added the first ever detailed commentary devoted to book 2 of the Ars alone. There are just 7 pages of introduction, no text and over 470 pages of commentary. (This works out at just under a generous two-thirds of a page per line. However it should be said that the print is somewhat bigger than in Bömer's Heidelberg commentaries on the Metamorphoses). J. expresses the hope that success will attend his attempt to walk the tightrope between 'sprachlich-sachlicher Erläuterung' and 'ästhetischer Kommentierung' (p. 37) -- an ambition which he surely fulfils. As for the methodology of his commentary J. explains (p. 37) its 'concentric' structure -- consisting of three rings. The narrowest circle is that of the explanation of individual couplets. The second is that of groups of 'inhaltlich zusammenhängenden Distichen'. The outer circle deals with extended passages which show 'einen umfassenden inhaltlichen oder formalen Zussamenhang'. J.'s explanation of this structure and his consistency with it contribute much to the success of the book. It is a very easy commentary in which to find one's way around.

In his introduction (p. 36), J. notes that most progress on the Ars has been made in recent years through monographs. J. singles out three: M. Weber's 1983 Die mythologische Erzählung in Ovids Liebeskunst (poorly received in the English-speaking world at least; see e.g. E.J. Kenney's review in CR 35 (1985) 389f.); M. Steudel's 1992 Die Literaturparodie in Ovids Ars Amatoria; and A.R. Sharrock's 1994 Seduction and repetition in Ovid's Ars Amatoria 2. This choice reflects the focus of J.'s interpretative interest in his commentary, and he himself singles out three areas for special attention: myth, parody (broadly understood) and intertextual relationships with fellow Augustan poets. These are all familiar areas of concern in the context of the Ars, and one perhaps misses a new argument or set of new arguments and concerns to unify the commentary and sustain the reader's interest. That said, plenty of new things are generated at the level of the individual lemmata.

By way of illustration of J.'s focus, note that whereas the myth of Daedalus and Icarus receives roughly 50 pp. of commentary, a comparable chunk of lines on the lover's indulgentia (145-222) receives roughly 40 pp. This reflects the absence of M. Labate's 1984 monograph, L' arte di farsi amare from J.'s list of favoured books. Subjects such as the lover's indulgentia are Labate's speciality, and Labate's monograph, in the mind of the present reviewer, marks the single biggest leap forward in understanding the Ars in recent decades. Indeed this book, never reviewed at any length in the UK, ought to be required reading for everyone interested in Augustan poetry after the death of Vergil. (M. Myerowitz's 1985 book, Ovid's Games of Love, is also missing from the list of favoured books, but it may be that this work was too far from the traditions of continental-European scholarship to make an impression there. Pianezzola, Baldo and Cristante, for example, omit it from their bibliography altogether.)

I will start off the review of the commentary proper with some general comments, before passing onto a more detailed consideration of J.'s commentary on some representative passages.

J. evinces a fruitful concern with the building of the argument -- e.g. the relationship and forward movement between couplets. He also likes to explain what is actually going on in a couplet, and to relate it to its context and likes to point out the relationship between texts and cited intertexts -- rather than contenting himself with 'vgl. etwa'. (In the latter case, particularly relevant passages are usefully printed in bold type.) This will make the commentary seem too leisurely to some, and may discourage reading the commentary from end to end. But in the long term this will only benefit our understanding of the Ars, simply because it makes one think about what each couplet has to say and the meaning of individual words and phrases within it. (See for example J.'s note on 196 artis ... cautae, a key phrase which might otherwise never catch the attention.) This will allow detailed readings to be generated in the future from the text itself (and the individual comments J. makes on it). J.'s full explanations will also be a welcome feature to readers who are not primarily concerned with the Ars itself, but are dipping into the commentary to find explanations for single couplets or passages.

J.'s concern with structure may make his commentary easy to use, but it has some less positive aspects too. For example, 177-232 (discussed further below) represents a division made in Kenney's 1994 OCT. J. divides this section up rather into 145-96 ('indulgentia als Kern der ars cauta'), 197-208 ('Harmonie durch assentatio und Gewinnenlassen beim Speil'), 209-22 ('indulgentia als patientia im servitium amoris) and 223-50 ('militiat omnis amans': indulgentia als patientia im militia amoris). This is all joined together under the larger division of 145-336 ('Indulgentia als Erfolgsrezept: der Klügere gewinnt durch Nachgeben'). It could be argued that while some structural divisions are, at one end of the spectrum, indisputably present in a text through being explicitly marked therein (e.g. Ars 1.35-40, 263-68), others, at the further end of the spectrum, may be a product rather of the commentator's warming to particular themes. I emphasize 'commentator', as structural divisions are usually of concern less to the ordinary reader and more to commentators, who must isolate convenient chunks of text on which to write their notes. As a result, many of the chosen divisions of commentators may in effect be interventions in a text. In practical terms, a recognition of this possibility may often mean nothing more than not getting too obsessed with structure. But that is surely preferable and truer to the history of scholarship on the Ars than getting involved, as J. does in his note on e.g. 177f. in arguments with Kling and Brandt on exactly who has got the correct line divisions at this point. (The argument continues in the notes on 185-92 and 193-6, although in the former Kling is there at least criticised as too schematic.) Still, the very clarity and consistent promulgation of J.'s scheme does at least provoke one into articulating one's own alternative schemes.

As J.'s introduction implicitly promises, Ars 2 is read very much within the context of Augustan poetry, particularly love-elegy and the rest of the Ars. Such a narrowing of the focus has its rewards, but in other respects may lead to some odd conclusions. For example, in his note on 198 J notes that imperative forms of facere often accompany directives on simulatio in Ars 2 and suggests that such forms act as a marker for the introduction of teaching on this subject. But a look outside elegy and indeed outside Augustan poetry will show that fac vel sim. is a standard modifier of imperativals in polite speech. Would a native Latin speaker have made the connection that J. has made? The focus on Augustan literature does mean also that one sometimes misses comparative material from thought-provoking further-flung sources -- but no commentary should be expected to cover everything.That said J. does display a properly-controlled interest in Realien; see for example his clear and informative notes on boardgames at 2.203-8 (no mean achievement in this difficult subject area) or on the exact role of the censor mentioned at 663f. This is partly a legacy of the poem's first modern commentator Paul Brandt, whose interests were astonishingly wide. But to my mind it is a useful interest, as is often this kind of information which the casual reader, who remembers (e.g.) that boardgames are mentioned in the Ars, will be looking for.

Lines 21-98: Daedalus and Icarus

It is in passages of this type (i.e. myth) that J. evidently feels most comfortable. He confidently sets out the sources of the myth and its development through the Hellenistic poets into the Roman period, and wisely does not spend too much time on the question of the generic differences between Ovid's version of Daedalus and Icarus in the Ars and his version in Metamorphoses 8. (This type of generic questioning seems to work more fruitfully for some pairs of myths than others.) The question of the meaning of the myth is an old problem. Ovid introduces it as an illustration of how difficult it is to keep hold of winged characters -- whether Daedalus and Icarus on the one hand or Love on the other ('keeping love' is the subject of the book). But the length and detailed development of the myth appear to invite further interpretation. J. firmly approves a common interpretation which sees the relationship between Daedalus and Icarus as a model for the relationship between Ovid and his pupil, with the obvious implication of disaster for the pupil who fails to heed Ovid's instructions. J. also resolutely tackles readings of the myth which he sees as based on misinterpretation. As he himself points out, this is precisely where line by line commentaries help, as they can show where critics under-read certain parts of a text and over-interpret others. J.'s particular target here is Sharrock's 1994 reading, which suggested the myth was a reflection on the artistic process and on the composition of the Ars. Sharrock's reading of the Daedalus and Icarus myth will not convince everybody (myself included), but hardly needs to be the target of J.'s criticism so consistently -- sometimes three times on a single page. Eventually one begins to feel that responses to Sharrock are a substitute for J. evolving his own response to the myth. Certainly J.'s own sustained reading would have been more welcome, no matter how conventional the interpretation.

Lines 177-232: obsequium

The neglect of Labate does lead to some impoverishment of the commentary here. In this passage Ovid asks his young male addressees to give in to their beloveds, agree with them constantly, let them win at board games and perform various tasks for them normally associated with slaves. The lover is clearly asked to imitate the familiar ancient character of the kolax or flatterer when Ovid instructs his pupils to echo the sentiments and moods of the beloved at 197ff. J. recognises this and refers to Labate in his note on 197-208 (although one misses any development of the insight in the notes on the individual couplets in this section). Elsewhere in the passage, however, J. uses the familiar elegiac concept of servitium amoris to explain the instructions being given to the lover (179-84, 185-92, 193f, 209-22 nn.). That concept is rather too blunt here (and judging from its virtual absence in the Amores, servitium amoris was not one of Ovid's favourite conceits in any case). Rather, as Labate shows, the whole passage is united by the stereotype of the flatterer. One of the distinguishing marks of the flatterer was his willingness to perform for his 'patron' the tasks normally performed by a slave. So an opportunity has been missed to unite the passage and further develop an original insight. (The kolax also imitated the friend, and recognition of this might have enriched J.'s notes on 177 comis and 186 merita.) Even if J. had been correct about servitium amoris, one would have liked a comment on how the young male addressees of the book are supposed to react to being told to debase themselves in this fashion. (A concern with the addressee is an important feature of Sharrock's book.)

Lines 599f.: the disclaimer

In his introduction (p. 32) J. wisely refuses to reopen the fruitless discussion of Ovid's exile. (Discussion of what exactly the error was, clearly the more important of the two charges, should, I think, cease until or unless a new piece of evidence turns up.) Ovid's disclaimers about the status of the intended female prey of the Ars do however require comment, such as for example at 599f. en iterum testor: nihil nisi lege remissum / luditur; in nostris instita nulla iocis. J. has nothing major that is new to say about these and similar passages of disclaimers in his note, although he does analyse the vocabulary well (esp. luditur). Otherwise he is heavily dependent on Stroh's 1979 Gymnasium article, which is certainly the most substantial contribution to the debate on these passages so far. But progress may be made if, as hoped, Thomas McGinn's new book on the lex Iulia has something relevant to say. J. does recognise the irony of many of Ovid's disclaimers, but fails to comment on the supreme irony of the appearance of one at this point. Lines 599f. appear immediately after Ovid's idiosyncratic version of the most famous tale of adultery of them all, the liaison of Venus and Mars. As such Ovid's disclaimer may help to highlight, rather than downplay, the adulterous implications of Ovid's didactic tale (as Sharrock in her 1994 MD article makes clear).

2.663-72: older women and sex

If Ars 2 is famous for anything, it is famous for this passage. From the 1920s-60s the Ars used regularly to be translated and marketed, at least in the English-speaking world, as a sex-manual for those wishing to liberate themselves, with the polite assurance of high culture, from Victorian attitudes to sex. Readers, however, had to wade through almost 2 books of the conventions of Roman love poetry before reaching this passage -- which was then often left untranslated or replaced with the impenetrable 'Dryden' version. Readers may turn to J.'s commentary on this passage with similarly high expectations. Most of the expected comparative material from Greek and Latin love poetry is here, and in general J. deals with it well. One could have wished, however, for comparative material from the rich resources of Greek and Roman medical writing, which has much to say on one of Ovid's main subjects, the female orgasm. Similarly one would have liked to hear more about the sex manuals attributed to Philaenis and co. Philaenis is mentioned in the note on 679f., but more use could have been made of the huge bibliography on her. She seems to attract an article most years, despite the fact that only the tiniest scrap of her work survives. In particular Parker's very comprehensive article in Richlin's Pornography and Representation could have been used (J. knows Myerowitz's article on pornographic art in the same book). J. does recognise the startling nature of Ovid's insistence in this passage on mutual pleasure for men and women from sex (see e.g. the notes on 682 and 683). This feature perhaps could have been used to question, albeit briefly, the orthodoxy that Greeks and Romans always constructed their sexual acts in terms of active and passive, winners and losers (although this may be less of an issue in German scholarship than it is in the Anglo-American world). In his note on 683-92 J. rightly cautions readers against taking Ovid's expressed distaste for homosexual acts as a statement ex cathedra. But again more could have been said on Ovid's startling -- for Latin poetry -- assertion of greater sexual responsiveness in women over the age of 35 (2.693f.) and his quite remarkable advice on 'manually' pleasing women (2.706-8). Some literary parallels may be found for the latter, but they are often satirical in nature. Just how eccentric is Ovid's advice here, and what cultural context is there for his assertion about sexually mature women? While these questions could hardly be answered very fully, it might have been useful to see them framed.

J.'s commentary has been produced to a very high standard by Carl Winter. It is easy to read, well set-out and generously spaced. There is a detailed bibliography and an index of passages where textual problems are discussed (although no general index). The present reviewer may have liked to see different emphases, but does recognise that quot homines, tot artes. It can be confidently predicted that J.'s commentary will become a standard work of reference for scholarship on the Ars.

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