Ovid’s Heroides were often dismissed as indulgent exercises in empty rhetoric until scholars such as Farrell, Barchiesi, Hinds, Lindheim, and Spentzou reconsidered the voice of Ovid’s heroines. The literary value of the Heroides is now established thanks to the rise of intertextuality and gender studies in interpreting Latin poetry. Those theoretical trends breathed new life into texts that had previously been the focus of traditional philology. And yet, the work of experts in textual criticism is far from over in the case of the Heroides, a problematic collection which still lacks a solid critical edition.
The work of Andreas Michalopoulos has contributed over the years to this growing scholarly interest in the Heroides by providing some of the tools necessary for critics and advanced students of Latin poetry. The current volume, an introduction, text, translation, and commentary on Heroides 20-1 (the correspondence between Acontius and Cydippe) comes after his English commentary on Heroides 16-17 (published in 2006). The book builds on Kenney’s 1996 edition and commentary on the paired Heroides, an exemplary work for its insight, rigor, and succinctness, but not particularly up-to-date with literary criticism. Michalopoulos’ work is ambitious as he sets out to cover a wide range of issues, from textual criticism to literary theory.
The book is nicely produced and full of excellent points that shed new light on Ovid’s text or summarize the critical insights of modern scholarship. Discussions of textual problems are mostly informative and helpfully address the numerous textual difficulties of these letters, even though they rarely solve them. The text is accompanied by an elegant and accurate prose translation that will be helpful to students of Latin. One of the book’s strengths is Michalopoulos’ good command of secondary literature in at least five languages and the way he draws attention to it both in regard to specific ideas about passages under discussion and to broader motifs of the elegiac genre and its literary tradition.
The introduction begins with an outline of Ovid’s life and his works, before focusing on the Heroides overall and then on the letters of Acontius and Cydippe. The biographical information is useful, but I would like to have seen at least a word of caution about taking at face value all the stories that Ovid tells us about himself. Ovid’s burning of his supposedly unfinished Metamorphoses (see Tristia 1.7), for instance — a version of Vergil’s deathbed scene — is too carefully constructed simply to be summarized as historical fact (see page 24). A more nuanced approach to the ways in which Ovid’s life inspired his work and vice versa would have also set up closer links between the summaries of Ovid’s poetry (p. 22-9) and the elegiac letters under discussion. A Roman poet’s autobiographical information was not simply a record of facts, but a form of literary criticism.
The sections on the originality of the double Heroides and the literary and rhetorical background are excellent. Discussion of the Callimachean influence is particularly compelling. While I agree that the double Heroides are a well-organized collection, I found the list of parallels (p. 49-56) sound but not particularly insightful. Parallels that are not followed by an explanation of their significance do not necessarily establish meaningful connections. The metaphor of love as fire, for instance, used by Paris and Acontius, is too common a trope to constitute a noteworthy link (see p. 55-6).
Much better is the section on the relationship between the paired letters and Roman elegy. Discussion of mythological examples is very good, though it also at times lists a number of parallels whose significance is unclear. Michalopoulos’ treatment of the correspondence’s legal aspects and the section on language, style, and word order are some of the highlights of the introduction. Less successful is the analysis of the meter since it is restricted mostly to dry technical observations about Ovid’s choice of certain forms allegedly for metrical convenience. A section on Ovid’s elegiac couplet is what I missed the most from the introduction. Michalopoulos’ introductory remarks conclude with a note on the Latin text, which is based on Kenney 1996. Even though no manuscripts have been consulted, Michalopoulos produces his version of the text with a rather idiosyncratic critical apparatus, lists the lines where he differs from Kenney, and includes discussions on textual issues in the commentary.
The translation is fine and there are only a couple of minor quibbles; 21.113 gremio does not mean ‘knees’ (γόνατα); some words are not translated (e.g. 21.46 acerba, 21.158 fugit, 21.234 uocis); at 20.86 seruabor firmo uinctus amore tui, the verb is translated as θα σε υπηρετώ (“I shall serve you”), but the line means “I shall be kept bound by firm love for you” (so something like θα φυλάσσομαι/κρατούμαι δεμένος με ακλόνητο έρωτα για σένα).
The commentary is detailed and addresses a variety of issues: textual criticism, style, wordplay, intertexts, and epistolarity. Continuing the pioneering work of Kenney on Ovid’s legalisms, Michalopoulos adds some astute and original observations of his own. The legal color of merere (20.95), salua fide (20.112), si ualet hoc (21.146) are some of the highlights. The commentary would have benefitted even more from recent work on law in Ovid (e.g. Videau 2004; 2009; Gebhardt 2009).1 Videau in particular has interesting arguments about Acontius and the legal concept of dolus bonus and rightly challenges the view that a woman had no say about her marriage in Augustan Rome. The ius uocationis? at 20.79, in particular, refers to Cydippe as a woman sui iuris.
Michalopoulos is well-known for his work on Ovidian etymologizing and his expertise in this field is evident throughout his commentary. See, for instance, the note on the etymological relation between dea and dare at 20.96 redde deae or the etymological wordplay between uerbum, uerber, and uereor at 20.75-7 or sol and solitos at 21.86-7. The pun on mālum (‘apple’) and malum (‘evil’) is also convincing, though a note about the difference in length would have been welcome. The comment on Planudes’ attempt to maintain the wordplay on 20.6 ingenuas genas in his translation (εὐγενεῖς γένυς) is excellent. One wishes that Michalopoulos had tried to incorporate the results of such observations into his own translation.
Despite the many fine remarks on etymology, at times their significance is unclear. Does the fact that Cydippe is etymologically related to ἵππος, for instance, mean that every mention of horses in her letter evokes this connection? What is the point in mentioning the etymology of Cydippe’s name at 21.86, which describes the horses of the Sun? Unless an interpretative suggestion is added to the etymological observation, the connection seems coincidental or trivial. At times, due to the focus on stylistic and formalistic minutiae, we miss some more significant motifs in the context. For instance, Michalopoulos gives two explanations for Acontius’ address to Cydippe as a fearful virgin at 20.179 siste metum, uirgo: either because Diana, a virgin goddess, is mentioned in the previous couplet or because of the elevated style of this line. Probably more relevant is Acontius’ manipulation of the traditionally common fear that virgins feel before marriage and his appropriation of the future husband’s patronizing rhetoric of reassurance. In any case, the mention of the so-called stylistic difference between metus and timor, which is noted here and throughout the commentary whenever these words occur, sheds little, if any, light on the text.
A similar problem applies to several comments on elisions and prodelisions that are repeated throughout the commentary. I cannot see the point in noting them without explaining their significance. At 21.25, Michalopoulos notes (citing Kenney 1996) that the elision uerba imperfecta conveys the meaning of an incomplete epistle. This is a welcome attempt at interpreting rather than simply acknowledging an elision. Yet, the majority of notes on elisions is not followed by any interpretation and should have been edited out. Similarly puzzling are several notes on meter. A number of common forms are attributed to metrical reasons (e.g. 20.56 fuere, instead of fuerunt; 20.65 cogare, instead of cogaris; 20.121 nostra, instead of mea; 20.178 tunc ). Metrical causes are invented to explain idiomatic phrases, such as dicere uerum at 20.107. The pluperfect indicative with a potential sense at 21.125 fuerat melius is regular in Latin (see Hofmann and Szantyr 1965: 327-8)2 and has nothing to do with the meter. At times there are even notes that a choice of a word is not dictated by the meter (see on 21.205 foret). Such notes might be helpful to students of Latin verse composition, but they give the wrong impression about Ovid’s mastery of the elegiac couplet.
Still, the commentary is not limited to dry technical notes of dubious value. It is actually full of subtle interpretations. The notes on Cydippe’s vulnerability in the temple of Diana in view of Ovid’s advice in the Ars amatoria or the myth of Actaeon’s error are brilliant. Yet, many of Michalopoulos’ comments could have been improved by more systematic references to primary sources and a closer attention to the diction under discussion. At 20.53 nata esses formosa minus, Michalopoulos notes that this recalls the common motif of the curse of beauty, but gives no examples from the motif’s rich tradition. At 20.47-8, he notes the possibility of a sexual meaning in arma and refers to Adams 1982:213. It would have been more to the point had he cited Ovid’s other uses of this double entendre (e.g., Amores 1.9.26, 2.3.7; Tristia 2.543). Several comments include digressions that have little to do with the text under discussion. At 20.208, Michalopoulos rightly notes that Acontius’ reaction to Cydippe’s beauty recalls Paris’ at the sight of Helen (Heroides 16.253). He then proceeds to document the tradition of Menelaus being disarmed at the sight of Helen’s breast, but the relevance of this digression to the line under discussion is never made clear. Similarly, the etymology of Virbius is superfluous to the comment on 21.10 Hippolyto… suo. Likewise, discussion of the relationship between the Arcadian Atalanta (the huntress) and Artemis is only remotely pertinent to a comment on 21.123 Schoeneida, the Boeotian Atalanta (the runner). Michalopoulos is prone to giving mythological summaries and etymological origins that are loosely related to his main text. Some of them should have been cut down, others cut out.
The target audience is defined as scholars and anyone who wants to enjoy and learn about Latin literature. Advanced students of Latin are curiously not mentioned, though it seems to me that they are the ones who can benefit the most from this book. Michalopoulos does not explain syntactically and grammatically challenging lines, a common practice in commentaries and one that would have added value to his book and helped students and (dare I say) scholars.
The book is carefully produced and congratulations are due to the editor and author. I noticed only a few very minor issues: p. 32-3, the pentameters are not indented; Heath 1992 is cited (p. 196), but not listed in the bibliography; μέσης φωνής (“middle voice,” p. 166) should be “passive voice.”
None of the criticism above should distract readers from the value of this book. I have certainly learned a lot from it. on the back cover, we read that, unfortunately, Latin literature has been misunderstood in Greece. It is thanks to Greek Latinists like Michalopoulos that this is no longer the case.
1. Videau, A. 2004. “L’écriture juridique d’Ovide des élégies amoureuses (Amours et Héroïdes) aux Tristes de l’exil”, Ars Scribendi 2. (Published online); 2010. La poétique d’Ovide, de l’élégie à l’épopée des Métamorphoses. Essai sur un style dans l’Histoire. Paris; 19. Gebhardt, U. 2009. Sermo Iuris: Rechtssprache und Recht in der augusteischen Dichtung. Leiden.
2. Hofmann, J.B. and Szantyr, A. 1965. Lateinische Syntax und Stilistik. Munich.
3. Adams. J.N. 1982.The Latin Sexual Vocabulary. Baltimore.