BMCR 1999.08.12

Amor: Roma.Love and Latin Literature

, , Studies in Heliodorus. Supplementary volume ; no. 21. Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society, 1998. 232 pages : illustrations, facsimiles ; 22 cm.. ISBN 9780906014196

The title is rather misleading. This book is not what I hoped it was — a detailed and systematic analysis of love in Latin literature. Instead, together with an aptly learned genethliacon composed by J.C. McKeown, there are eleven essays by former research students of Professor E.J. Kenney (and a bibliography of Kenney’s writings) presented to him on his seventy-fifth birthday. One of those essays is only vaguely connected with love, and another has nothing at all to do with love, while the remaining nine investigate independently various amatory topics and texts. All of this must have given the recipient great pleasure, and there is much to divert the general reader here, but the essays do not come together to form an in-depth study of the treatment of love by Roman writers.

John Barsby’s chapter on love in Terence (pp. 4-29) is a thoughtful, judicious and properly cautious treatment of the subject. First he considers whether Terence had a view of love that differed from the views of Menander and Plautus, and shrewdly bases his investigation not on apparently original passages for which a Greek model may yet turn up but on lines for which the original in Menander is still extant ( Eunuchus 77f.). He sees a significant difference in the fact that there Menander represents love as an external divine force (as he does elsewhere, and as Plautus often does), whereas Terence treats it as a purely human condition (and nowhere else ascribes it to divine influence). Next he discusses whether Catullus and the Roman elegists derived inspiration from Terence. Here he is a little too prone to swallow dubious claims by earlier scholars: e.g. he accepts that Eunuchus 70ff. ( o indignum facinus! nunc ego/ et illam scelestam esse et me miserum sentio;/ et taedet et amore ardeo) had a significant influence on Catullus’ poetry in view of verbal similarities such as nunc (Cat. 72.5), miserum (Cat. 8.1) and ardeo (cf. uror at Cat. 72.5). His own suggestions do not always convince either, and he is under the mistaken impression that militia amoris was probably Roman in inspiration (but see Sappho 1.28 and Anacreon 398 Campbell, Sophocles Antigone 781, A.P. 5.199, 12.50, 120 and various other Greek instances in my article on the image in Latomus 1975). The bulk of the chapter consists of an interesting and useful survey of love in each of the plays of Terence. Barsby shows that there is more variety and realism in this connection than might have been expected in a genre with so many stock situations and characters. He also points to romantic lovers and romantic elements (following the six features in Rudd’s definition of romantic love). But here some delicate and tricky questions arise with which Barsby does not really grapple — how many of these features do you need to qualify as a romantic lover (as few as three?); how many non-romantic features can you have and still qualify as a romantic lover; and. more broadly, how accurate or helpful are such definitive labels, especially given the irregularity and inconsistency of so many lovers in Classical literature?

In a chapter on analogies, relationships and Catullus 68 (pp. 30-43), D.F. Kennedy devotes nearly fourteen pages to similes and other comparisons (and also heuristic tools, ongoing dialectic, polysemy etc.), without actually saying very much, I am afraid. People who find theory sexy will no doubt be stimulated by all this; for me the biggest revelation was the sudden realization that, neatly enough, this chapter itself is a metaphor in action (coughing in ink).

In his chapter (pp. 44-59) T.D. Papanghelis considers whether there is such a thing as a purely pastoral love experience, looks at Eclogues 2, 8 and 10 in particular and reaches no very clear conclusions: e.g. ‘love, passion and desire can be seen to be a function of the pastoral lover’s metaliterary reflection … Virgil’s pastoral discourse is neither mimetic nor expressive but simply performative. Further, the metaliterary density, generic self-consciousness and the drawing of attention to the texture of the signifier itself lure the reader away from the referent towards materialist gratification … the rhetoric of passion has no meaning except as part of the phenomenology of pastoral song‘. Unfortunately this kind of opaque expression is combined with fanciful interpretations: for example, the varied produce at Ecl. 2.45ff. is supposed to constitute a literary garland of song composed by Corydon, something which seems improbable in itself (especially right after the gift of actual, not metaphorical, kids at 40ff.), has escaped all previous critics and overlooks the contribution of the nymphs in 46ff. In addition, Papanghelis ignores the obvious allegory in Ecl. 10 and the gentle humour in Ecl. 2 (so he takes at face value Corydon’s complaint at 12f. about how he is retracing Alexis’ steps beneath the burning sun amid screaming cicadas, although 3f. show that Corydon is at that point under the shade of a dense clump of beech trees).

In a closely argued and generally convincing chapter (pp. 60-70) entitled ‘Seeing things: ancient commentary on the Iliad at the end of the Aeneid’ W.R. Barnes suggests that Virgil’s presentation of the final duel between Aeneas and Turnus may reflect ideas in the Homeric scholia in connection with Achilles’ killing of Hector. He maintains that sortitus fortunam oculis (of Aeneas aiming at Turnus in Aen. 12.920), which brings out the effect of chance in the aiming, may have been influenced by Homeric commentators’ remarks on chance in connection with the wound inflicted on Hector by Achilles at Iliad 22.317ff. (Virgil’s model). Following up on that, he goes on to propose that when Aeneas, inclined to spare Turnus, changes his mind because he is provoked by the sight of Pallas’ belt, that change of mind may look to an idea in the scholia in connection with the encounter between Achilles and Hector (at Iliad 22.111f. before the dual Hector contemplates taking off his armour and negotiating for peace with Achilles, and the explanation in the ancient commentators for the removal of the armour was that it was done so that Achilles might not be provoked by the sight of the armour taken from Patroclus). Barnes’s proposals alert us to the intriguing possibility of further complexity and further doctrina in the conclusion of the Aeneid.

At pp. 71-93 S.J. Heyworth contributes some notes on the text of Propertius 4.3, 4.4 and 4.5. He covers 26 problematical lines/passages in those poems, and his sharp eye and incisive mind are constantly in evidence. For example, he raises shrewd objections to putria at 4.5.24, quod non vis at 4.5.2 and illa tui partem vindicat una tori (4.3.56), and in the latter two cases he offers elegant solutions ( perpetuam and illa tori partem vindicat una tuam). His remarks often have an important bearing on literary criticism too, as when on p. 72 he points perceptively to the way in which Arethusa in 4.3 casts herself as a Dido-like figure (to his parallels can be added the complete silence in Prop. 53 omnia surda tacent and Aen. 4. 523ff., especially cum tacet omnis ager (525), and the hooting owls on the rooftops at Prop. 59 and Aen. 4. 462f.). Inevitably one is not always in agreement. So at 4.3.17 his anxia vota seems colourless in comparison with noxia vota. In connection with 4.3.54 he claims that puella can hardly refer to a slave-girl ‘given the word’s usage’ (which I take to mean that it is used in elegy not of slaves but of females such as the mistress); but at Tibullus 1.3.87 circa gravibus pensis adfixa puella the word clearly does denote slave-girls. And with reference to 4.3.49ff. he can see no connection in thought between 51f. and 49f.; but I would suggest that a link is clear if one takes the point of 51f. to be that even great riches are worthless in Arethusa’s eyes now that she has problems in love, i.e. is deprived of her beloved husband (cf. especially Prop. 1.14.15ff. and also Tibullus 1.2.75ff.). Despite such quibbles, overall these are valuable notes that repay careful scrutiny.

Textual criticism also occupies the next chapter (pp. 94-103), in which J.B. Hall offers emendations of twenty-eight passages in Ovid’s amatory works. In general Hall shows his usual acuity as he takes a fresh and searching look at Ovid’s text (particularly sensitive is his objection on grounds of logic to tamen at Ars 2.591). However, I was not always persuaded that emendation is necessary. At Ars 2.27-8 et, quoniam in patria fatis agitatus iniquis/ vivere non potui, da mihi posse mori I myself see no problem with the force of quoniam : as someone who loves his native land and wants a link with it, Daedalus is saying, ‘since I haven’t been able to live there, allow me to die there.’ In connection with Am. 1.7.1 adde manus in vincla meas (meruere catenas) Hall points out correctly that without modern punctuation the reference in meas is not immediately clear (and so he substitutes meas … manus), but it is quite possible that Ovid was being deliberately ambiguous there to intrigue readers and draw them in (before revealing the reference at 5f.). So too with regard to Ars 2.731f. (on having sex with your girlfriend) cum mora non tuta est, totis incumbere remis/ utile et admisso subdere calcar equo Hall suggests nervis at the end of 731 to get rid of the combination of nautical and equestrian imagery, but nervis seems limp here, and sexual sailing had already been frivolously combined with erotic horse-riding at Aristophanes Lysistrata 671ff.

At pp. 104-122 A. Griffin argues for the influence of Callimachus and Theocritus on Ovid Metamorphoses 1.668-723 and 11. 146-179. Griffin does have a case, and in its support he proffers a large number of alleged Theocritean and Callimachean features, but some of his claims are more persuasive than others. For example, his suggestion that pingue at Met. 11.148 has a Callimachean flavour (= pachys) seems quite possible (cf. Virgil Ecl. 6.4), and he perceptively points out that at Met. 1. 683ff. by making Mercury the first to play the syrinx in the poem but ascribe its invention to Pan Ovid is deftly harmonizing the two traditions about the inventor of the pipe (Hermes in one, Pan in the other) in an aition worthy of the learned Callimachus. However, too often, rather like Clytaemnestra, Griffin is guilty of over-enthusiastic axe-grinding. So, for instance, on p.105 he maintains that Mercury compliments Diana at Met. 1. 689ff. and that this amounts to an allusive aition reflecting the belief that the bucolic genre originated from singing competitions in honour of Artemis; but there is no singing competition in Ovid and no overt flattery of Diana either (to say that a nymph looked like her hardly amounts to praise of the goddess). On p. 107 he describes Met. 1.720f. as a splendid funerary epigram on Argus which can stand alongside the best funerary epigrams of Callimachus; but Ovid’s lines are not actually a funerary epigram, and Callimachus was by no means the only one to compose such epigrams anyway. And on p. 118 he opines that at Met. 11.165 Apollo’s golden hair echoes Callimachus’ references to gold in connection with the god at Hymn 2.32ff.; but Ovid describes the Apollo’s head as flavum (blond, a very common attribute) not aureum, and Callimachus had described as golden just about everything but the god’s head.

The next chapter (pp. 123-142), by S. Hinds, concerns Ovid Tristia 1.6 and the traditions of ‘exemplary’ catalogue. There is much that is illuminating here about exempla and catalogue poetry, and there are many subtle and ingenious observations that really get one thinking (even if not all of them will be accepted by readers). To cite just one instance, I was particularly taken with the suggestion that when Ovid says to his wife at 19f. nec probitate tua prior est … / … comes extincto Laodamia viro there is an etymological irony in Ovid’s denial of priority to the wife of Protesi-laos, ‘first of the host’, and the first Greek to disembark (and die) at Troy. However, I also came away from this chapter disappointed, because Hinds opens with an intriguing and exciting claim but does not really follow up on it. On pp. 123f. he states that Tristia 1.6 ‘read without foreknowledge of Ovid’s later books from exile, could have been prolegomenal to a sustained elegiac exploration of the poet’s marital relationship, and it constructs itself as such’ ; he talks of Ovid’s ‘commitment to the new sub-genre of spousal love elegy’; he maintains that ‘the collection’s final poem redescribes the Tristia as, precisely, the fulfilment of that commitment’; and he describes 1.6 as ‘an elegy which could have been, and in a certain sense was, programmatic for a new departure in Augustan personal poetry.’ But, for all the subsequent discussion of intertextuality and comparisons, Hinds does not establish the case for 1.6 being programmatic like this, nor does it seem likely to me (and in any case he admits that Ovid did not properly fulfil this alleged commitment). I see no clear indication in 1.6 that Ovid’s wife and their relationship will be explored at length in his exilic poetry. What he does say there is that he will make her immortally famous, and in Tristia 5.14 that he has made her immortally famous (which he had, by means of those poems and the others in the collection that mention her).

In a thought-provoking essay on pp. 143-157 R. Mayer demonstrates how writers such as Persius, Lucan, Juvenal and Tibullus who were much admired in the ancient world have since the Renaissance been denigrated by critics and marginalized by being excluded from syllabi and research. He argues cogently that since we do not know the language or the culture anything like as well as the ancient critics, our reassessments are either incompetent or irrelevant. He urges that to reform our attitude we should pay greater attention to the Romans’ estimates of their authors, to find out what pleased them, so that we can then ask why it pleased them and become more sympathetically disposed to the Latin writers. And he concludes: ‘If we, as teachers, fail to do this and persist in vilifying what the Romans admired and achieved, we only justify our students’ already considerable lack of interest in Latin literature.’ There is much common sense here, much worth pondering, and various important insights. However, while I would agree that modern value-judgments are not more valid than ancient ones, I would question the validity of ancient value-judgments themselves. And I would have thought that why works of literature pleased Roman critics is a very complicated question. How representative of Roman opinion in general are the assessments which have survived? Were there not changes in literary fashions among the Romans themselves? To what extent were the people whose views have survived influenced by subjective and highly individual considerations such as envy, rivalry, personal like and dislike, shared literary outlook etc.? In addition, if we want to increase interest in Latin literature among our students, surely we have to take into account their modern tastes and prejudices rather than those of the ancients. None the less this is a stimulating essay which should be read attentively by all those who teach and do research in Latin literature.

In a chapter entitled ‘The Defeat of Love’ (pp. 158-173) D.W.T. Vessey presents some rather discursive but often diverting reflections on love in pagan and especially Christian writers. I much enjoyed the arch suggestion on p. 165 that Catullus 85 ( odi et amo) might be about polenta; and when reading pp. 167f. I was intrigued to spot striking and piquant similarities to Ovid’s Ars Amatoria in Bishop Orientius’ elegiacs enjoining chastity ( praecipue, ergo age, multiple analogies with anaphora taken from nature, mythological exempla, didactic imperatives etc.).

In the final chapter (pp. 174-198) S.M. Braund takes us on a charming and interesting ramble through ‘moments of love’ (still points when ‘two lovers are entirely wrapped up with one another to the exclusion of all externals, including time’). Taking into account the honorand’s interests, she considers Mars in Venus’ lap at Lucretius 1.31ff., Psyche falling for Love in Apuleius Met. 5.22-3, the final duet of L’Incoronazione di Poppaea by Monteverdi (?) and the first and last duets between Sophie and Octavian in Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. I am not qualified to comment on opera (but was much taken with Braund’s remarks in this connection). In her discussions of the Latin she has penetrating observations on the way in which complex grammatical structure (in Lucretius) and ‘swooning language’ (in Apuleius) can be used to slow a narrative in line with a feeling of stillness during the moment of love. She analyses well the sound and style in the description of Cupid at Met. 5.22.2 (she might have added the extensive homoeoteleuton there, which contributes to the remarkable elegance that suits the singular character being described). So too she points out at length the sensuousness that cries out to be savoured at leisure in the description of the god at 5.22.5-7. There she might have considered also the slowing effect of the dense epithets and of unusual and challenging expression such as genialem, ambrosia temulentam and roscidae (similarly formonse cubantem in the earlier depiction of Cupid); and something else that contributes to the sensuousness at 5-7 is the appeal to every faculty except hearing (a significant absence, conjuring up a picture of Psyche silently gazing at the silently sleeping figure of Cupid).