Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.04.24

Carlo Santini, Francesco Santucci, Properzio tra storia arte mito.   Assisi:  Accademia Properziana del Subasio, 2004.  Pp. 271.  ISBN 88-88661-05-0.  €35.00.  

Contributors: Giorgio Bonamente, Francis Cairns, Filippo Coarelli, Angusto Fraschetti, Carlo Pellegrino, Carlo Santini, Dario Del Corno, Irma Ciccarelli, Maurizio Bettini, Paolo Fedeli


Reviewed by Frédéric Nau, Université Lille 3 (trystero@wanadoo.fr)
Word count: 2250 words

This book is the result of a conference held in Assisi in 2002, the ninth devoted to Propertius by the Accademia del Subasio and the fourth organized by the Centro Studi Poesia Latina in Distici Elegiaci. It brings together articles by Italian scholars, but for the contribution by Francis Cairns, which has nonetheless been translated into Italian.

Although the papers in the volume are not united in a homogeneous theoretical perspective, they could all subscribe to the basic idea that a poet cannot be interpreted without his background being explored. This statement is on several occasions reassessed in the course of the book and may account for the wide range of interests shown by the contributors to the volume. The reader will find therein political, social and historical, as well as literary and artistic, or even anthropological elements concerning Propertius' life and work.

Of this intention to connect Propertius and his poetry with his times, the first article, by Giorgio Bonamente, is highly representative. The author proposes a closes examination of a great number of sources on the Propertii and on political life in Etruria and Umbria in the beginning of the principate; he considers the links between the two regiones, the role of the main gentes in them, and the traces of different conflicts, from the war between Marius' and Sulla's partisans to the Perusine war, which affected the relationship between the municipal aristocracies and Rome. He then returns to Propertius' text in order to show his progressive rallying to the new regime. All this information should help us to understand Propertius in his social and geographical context, and Bonamente provides as an appendix a note explaining why the epigraphs in the so-called house of Propertius are still unpublished. Nevertheless Bonamente seems to characterize the poet too hastily as a man representative of his social stock. Indeed, he fails to draw a strong link between Propertius' origin and his poetry: the poems taken into account in the second part of his article have long been disputed in Propertian scholarship in regard to their political meaning, and in this field Bonamente's historical erudition brings no new solution (1.1; 1.6; 1.21-22; 2.1; 2.7; 2.12; 3.9; 3, 11; 3.18; and the whole fourth book, especially, 4.6 and 4.11). On some points the reader could wish the author had used some more specific bibliography on Propertius' poetry: for instance Cairns' paper on Tullus and Gallus ("Propertius 1,4 and 1,5 and the 'Gallus' of the Monobiblos", Papers of the Liverpool Latin Seminar 4, 1983, 61-103) would have been useful for 1.6; Badian's famous article on 2.7 ("A Phantom Marriage Law", Philologus 129, 1985, 82-98) is surprisingly not mentioned; and the relationship between poetry and politics would perhaps have been more clearly defined, if the author had better taken into account the remarks by von Albrecht in the article mentioned in note 137 ("Properzio, poeta augusto" in Bimillenario della morte di Properzio, Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi Properziani, Catanzaro et Santucci ed., Assise: 1986, 59-73), as well as the book by Rosa Maria Lucifora (Voci politiche in Properzio 'erotico', Bari: Edipuglia, 1999) for a different perspective, and the theoretical position of New Historicists (even if he had disagreed with them). So this is a rich and enlightening article for the municipal historiography of the late Republic and the Empire but a disappointing one concerning Propertius' poetry and its links with politics.

The article by Francis Cairns concentrates on poem 1.20, where Propertius develops the story of Hylas' death. Cairns agrees with David Ross that this elegy has been largely imitated from Gallus and adds new possible textual allusions to Ross' own list. He also tries to find which Hellenistic poet has been the source of Gallus' treatment, in addition to Theocritus and Apollonius, and argues for Parthenius of Nicaea. The hypothesis is founded on many references, and the article as a whole is very convincing, showing once again that the strong links between Propertius and Hellenistic poetry are not limited to Callimachus and Philitas.

Filippo Coarelli's paper deals with the places evoked by Propertius in his poetry, especially Umbria, where he is generally supposed to come from, Rome, with the location of his house on the Esquiline and of Cynthia's on the Capitoline, and finally Tivoli, where Cynthia must have had a uilla, which he identifies as the traditional Villa di Cinzia. Coarelli combines textual references with archaeological and epigraphical evidence to make his point, displaying great knowledge in both fields and thus drawing convincing conclusions. Some of his starting-points, however, might be contested. In the beginning of his article, Coarelli underlines the need for contextualization, which any scholar in Classics cannot but agree with, but this does not imply that poetry straightforwardly reflects life, as he eventually puts it without really arguing for this case. It may, for instance, seem hazardous to identify the house mentioned in 1.16 as Cynthia's house, when the lovers in this elegy have no name and the last distich might indicate the poem does not refer to a specific situation.

The following article, by Augusto Fraschetti, is about 4.4 and the status of Tarpeia in Propertius' poem, comparing it with other treatments of the legend and other sources on the cult of Vesta in Rome. The author insists upon the variety of the features attributed by tradition to the virgin, whose only constant characteristic is her death caused by Tatius' soldiers. Whereas the cult of Vesta may not have been instituted in Rome before Numa, Propertius introduces without ambiguity his character as a priestess in Romulus' Rome and has her punished by the goddess' will, as, in ancient religion, gods would themselves take revenge on mortals for their faults. This confers on Tarpeia's story a highly pathetic dimension, all the more so as she has been driven to treachery by love. In this article, the comparison between Propertius' poems about Rome's past and historical sources proves to be very fruitful, as it allows us to appreciate the originality and the meaning of the poet's choices.

In his contribution, Carlo Pellegrino also is interested in examining the historical and anthropological meaning of some Propertian passages which evoke funeral rituals. He mainly concentrates on 1.17.21, 1.17.22 and 2.13.33 (which he relates to 4.7.79-80). The first two passages are extracted from the funerals the shipwrecked Propertius imagines would have taken place in Rome after his death, had he not perished far away. Pellegrino shows that the dedication of a lock and the spreading of roses on the grave of the deceased (both acts Cynthia is supposed to perform in Propertius' fantasy) belong to ancient rituals. On the contrary, in the last two funeral passages, the presence of the bay, otherwise extraneous to such rituals, is interpreted as the expression of Apollonian poetic symbolism. In all cases, the author relates his fine anthropological analyses to the literary significance of the elegies he considers and the Propertian will for poetic immortality. One minor bibliographic remark, however: one might be surprised that the author has not cited John Warden's book (Fallax opus: Poet and Reader in the Elegies of Propertius, Buffalo, Toronto, Londres: Phoenix Tome Supplémentaire 14, Toronto UP, 1980) on 4.7.79-80: indeed, Warden, like Pellegrino, defends the manuscripts' version pelle instead of Sandbach's pone, and proposes a similar interpretation of the text.

Carlo Santini starts from Heinze's 1919 book on elegiac narrative and intends to develop Heinze's hypothesis that Propertius' book 4 was a model for Ovid when he wrote the Fasti. In addition to new parallels drawn by Santini between Propertian and Ovidian narratives of some mythological episodes, the (great) interest of this paper lies in two series of remarks. First, Santini shows the importance of the Virgilian intertext for Propertius as well as for Ovid, especially in their treatments of the character of Evander (who is evoked in particular in Aeneid 8) and of the story of Hercules and Cacus (which appears in Aeneid 9). Secondly, Santini explores the possibility that Ovid may have used other Propertian mythological developments than those in book 4. This article therefore illustrates in a very stimulating way the importance of intertextual exchanges in Augustan poetry, especially in mythological narratives.

The contribution by Dario Del Corno concerns myth also, but only in Propertius, and tries to explain the function of the famous mythological exempla. According to Del Corno, the myths in Propertian elegies are generally intended to create a poetic alternative reality and to replace real life and history. Greek myths thus form an absolute reality, frozen in an eternal and felicitous present. This interpretation reveals a true poetic insight into Propertius' own representational system but suffers especially from an important lack of examples: there are only a few passages (briefly) quoted, without the context being mentioned. The result is that not all potentialities of the mythological example in Propertius are explored. It is doubtful whether all examples refer to an ideal world, even if it this can be true of some of them. It is still more doubtful whether this is their only goal; rather, they have numerous and subtle links with the rest of the elegy and with each other, as Fedeli's paper in the end of the same volume brilliantly shows. Del Corno considers the myths as if they merely offered an ancient version of Baudelaire's "anywhere out of the world", a vanishing line which remained extraneous to the core of the elegist's work. They are rather assimilated into Propertius' poetic world: they have been made Propertian, and as such cannot be interpreted when disconnected from their contexts. In addition, bibliographical references are surprisingly few: the reader would have expected the author to cite at least the article by Boyancé ("Properce" in Entretiens sur l'Antiquité Classique II, Genève: Vandoeuvres, 1953, 169-220), whose analysis is not far from his, and Gazich's monograph on exemplum in Propertius ('Exemplum' ed esemplarità in Properzio, Milan: 1999), mentioned by Fedeli in his own article (note 233).

Irma Ciccarelli, like Carlo Pelligrini, considers the intertextual phenomena between Propertius and Ovid: she compares the tempest in Propertius 1.17 and in Ovid Tristia 1.2, which are both to be related to the epic tempests in Homer and in Virgil. According to Ciccarelli, the tempest in both poets symbolizes a crisis, between Propertius and Cynthia and between Ovid and Augustus. But, whereas the former wants to return to Rome and have his lifestyle of inertia restored, the latter's prayers express his desire to come safe to his place of exile and adopts the posture of a hero. This would show a different relation to epic: Propertius confines himself to the circle of elegiac life, Ovid heroicizes his elegiac character. This article relevantly contributes to the study of elegy, underlining the diversity of the corpus and the dynamic relation between elegy and epic.

The article by Maurizio Bettini begins with an interpretation of fabor in the first distich of 4.4. The choice of this particular verb indicates a sacerdotal posture: the poet wants his word to be considered as sacred. But this is only the starting-point for a more complete analysis of the meaning of the root fa. Bettini demonstrates it denotes a performative or predictive speech act, which must be referred to two speakers: the actual present speaker, and the (often divine) authority on whom the truth of the speech depends (because the fulfilment of the predicted fact only depends on his/her might). The credibility of such a speech depends on the audience's trust in this second, hidden speaker's existence and reliability: that is why such words as fama or fabula have an ambiguous meaning. Bettini's linguistic and anthropological inquiry is very interesting and subtle. It should be noted however that it does not really concern Propertius, whose verse appears as a mere pretext to develop an analysis otherwise unrelated to his work.

The last contribution is by Paolo Fedeli, a distinguished Propertian scholar. It does not propose an overall analysis of the poet's work, but examines many passages where Propertius develops a series of mythological exempla. Fedeli questions the relevance of these examples to the rhetorical principle that an exemplum is supposed to illustrate the idea previously expressed. Many passages are enumerated, from the most representative of this paradigmatic function to the least representative. Fedeli thus shows that the examples are connected not only to the main narrative, but also to each other, and they may, in some cases, be developed for pleasure's sake. The association of exempla is hence very fluid and does not necessarily obey one single idea in each series. These (always enlightening) interpretations are intended to warn the editors of the text that they should not heavily correct the manuscripts unless they have thoroughly studied Propertius' art of composition. This article provides the reader with many rich and subtly detailed interpretations, as well as with a stimulating general perspective.

In conclusion, this volume is composed of quite various papers: many of the contributors are not specialized in Propertius, and not even in Augustan poetry, thus the topics explored range from linguistics to poetics and comprise history as well as anthropology. Significantly, the final words, written by Loriano Zurli, are not aimed at concluding the conference, but rather at summing up the interest of each contribution, and there is neither a general bibliography nor a general index. As a consequence, each reader will concentrate on the article(s) s/he will judge the most convenient to his own interests. On this basis, s/he will be able to find interesting material.

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