BMCR 2009.09.24

Latin Elegy and Narratology: Fragments of Story

, , Latin Elegy and Narratology: Fragments of Story. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2008. x, 285. ISBN 9780814204061. $69.95 ($9.95 CD).

This sparky international collection arises from a 2004 conference at Princeton. The editors do not say so, but Michèle Lowrie’s “Horace’s Narrative Odes” must be the project’s most important proximate influence and intertext, for lyric is the obvious rival for elegy as the major Latin poetic genre most antipathetic to narrative (and her contribution here does not disappoint). The volume is, naturally, steeped in to-the-minute narratology, and the chapters move up and down the scale between scrutiny of particular framing and “inset” narratives and radical probing of criteria for registering as narrative.

The focus is “primarily” (p.2, n.2) on the classic poems written in couplets ‘between 30 BCE and 30 CE’: no Catullus, no Gallus, and nothing beyond Sulpicia; cultural matrices such as Roman Comedy go missing — but in an ancient “reception” section, Ch.12 moves on to take some Prudentius to pieces before Ch.13 returns us to the Tibullan corpus, as processed in modern translation.

Range, variety, quality and production rate high (rate of errata low: below). Topics you’d anticipate go unsung, but this is one collection I’d like, and hope, to see in paperback.


The editrices neatly rehearse the story of elegiac scholarship’s denials and recuperations of narrativity (weirdly instancing Propertius Book 4 and the fragments of Sulpicia as “evidently the products of later editors and their efforts to arrange a collection of poems into a coherent sequence”, pp.4/5). They content themselves with a march-past of the contributions, which are grouped into a pentad of “Parts”, starting, cutely, with not the end, nor the beginning, but the beginning of the beginning of the end, the epiphany of Corinna in Amores 1.5. The claim is that this is a fine place, between Naso’s sheets, to introduce “both the practices and the neophyte narratologist” to the subject. It turns out right away that this starts us straight into plurilogical, or at least dialogical, reception of narrative, as the first two — twin — pieces interface psychoanalytical dynamics with formal definition of ‘snapshot’ storying. The final Part contains the brace of “reception” papers already mentioned, so that the volume’s own narrative markedly gestures “beyond”, open-endedly, to upset teleology, not least by itself staging problematic chronological succession. And compositional complexity here pairs odd-man-out theoretical engagement with classical narratology “rather than Bal and Genette” (p.13) with creative emplotment in neoclassical reception, to achieve closure in ring-structure with Ch.1’s entrée in a fanfare of erotics (or so the exit-line to the Introduction would have it, p.13). The sandwich filling consists in three Parts, in triplicate: Part 2 homes in on temporality; Part 4 on subjectivity, so that the centrepiece features the core topic, elegiac story-telling. Read as a “static” elegy book, then, the volume irradiates (= highlights/pivots around) Ch.7, on (precisely) “Narration in” (read: “at”) “a standstill”. This is, then, an artful story of how a dreaded baker’s dozen of a(ny) sackful miscellany can make over into a geometrically perfect pyramid fashioned from a run of semi-detached and (after the opening double-act) self-standing episodes: a parable of Latin/ist literariness.

1. Kennedy builds discussion of the erotics of narration and erotic narrativity around Amores 1.5 with a masterly sketch of literary critical and psychoanalytical strands in the development of theorization bearing on the seduction of the reader. He wants us to unpack the brazen mix of “carnal knowledge” that passes off the narration of the tryst as consummation in fulfilment of the deeply axiomatic story of sex, even while motivating the scenario as “anticipation” of more to come in future, i.e. enacting the scene as deferral into ever-recessive desire. The split between narrated siesta and verse narration replays the assignation by playing into the self-advertised and -promoted graphic attraction of poetic design. As narration yields to exclamatory presencing and teasing of the reader, the lines tell us they/to long to come on over and again, any john with any Goddess-Whore, pressurizing “the reader to respond to the erotics of form”, i.e. “enabling the reader to enjoy” Amores/amores. The basic lesson here, to attend to the to-and-fro tease between textual rhetoric and imagined scenario, earns the paper its prime position; K. expertly rubs in how elegy can turn the apparent comfort zone of conventional sexology into incitement to turn-on to poetry ( quam apta premi, indeed). One trick unturned here is the poem’s “medi(t)ation”, on the half-shuttered half-light of the “as if” reverie choreographed around Corinna’s dividualized missing “midriff”, her semisupine half of a whole, which primes readers to come again and try it out, in every shade and shimmer of nuance they can manage, because “next time” mustn’t go off half-cocked the way the last, like the next, did …

2. Salzman-Mitchell arrives right on cue, energetically leading the charge to fill that gap, and prove the productivity of Ovid’s same primal scene of/for jouissance as paradigmatic of “emic” construal of narrative: just as any definable unit of event must link, bridge, leap or hop onto the next state in order to achieve succession inside a composition, while in the process conscripting the reader to supply “missing” circumstantialities required to make it work, flesh it out, and get us there, so with any sequence of such compositions: shortfall or blockage or non-sequitur increases demand on us to write in our own story of what just has be missing if the show is to cross the divides; and mocks us with the spectre of irresistibly uncrossable chasms leapt by the lover in every hot slave of elegy. (The ultimate Siren of a chasm, from Propertius 4.7 to 4.8, is a glaring absentee.) Her own examples of hypertexts elicited from us include 1.1.1 (but ignoring the epigramma ipsius), 2.13 (somehow sure that “Corinna has made the choice to end her pregnancy”, when “after” contraception may be the postulate rather than conception), 1.12, plus the gaps between 1.6 and 1.7, 1.13 and 1.15. S-M suggestively opens up 1.5’s fifteen-minute skit to lay bare our active complicity in telling it for the coupling couple: “she seems to struggle but then surrenders …” (show us that in the text!). There’s no knock and no door (does she come through that aperture?). She stands still (she must not move, she’s a perfect all-rounder of a Cnidian Venus). Those boobs: ” apta premi leads us to imagine this is not the first time he has seen her naked and touched her papillae” (p.42): but one — verbal — person’s euphemism deflects unmentionables, where another reader turns aside precisely to conjure up her bare-of-epithet latus as mimetic fetish (and his too, latus lateri ?); that is, the climax kit of objectivising description oscillates between serving up anti-narrative and conducting foreplay.

The detail given between these double-header chapters freshens up this well-worn elegiac snatchshot a treat, but if you erect 1.5 as the “in” glamour model for narrative technique in her genre, then you erase the iconoclasm of joining lovers in coverlet couplets (right at the start, the re-start, of the poet’s oeuvre (in the second edition’s narrated retrospection). We are bound to wonder what jumping in bed/medias res here does for the volume’s storyline: Propertius 2.15 or no (p.24), this scene is supremely untypical of elegiac technique, whether narrative or erotic, so it’s hard to see how 1.5 can typify anything specific. S-M closes by moving out to oppose Amores Books 1-3 as a holed suite of poems to its other, the wholesale epic, by hitting on Elegy in 3.1. She holds something in her hand (your guess what, till Ovid waves her his sexy wand, vv.33-4, and plugs/purges your mind): here is an author-ized retrospect sealing the verses into a serial collection whose “educative” story connects back to Corinna’s arrival as 1.5’s stripogram (vv.49-52). In particular, you will be surprised to find that the much-trampled bedside-itself narrative of elegiac “fail-lure”, Propertius 1.3, is almost entirely missing (whereas its diptychal/polar pairing with 1.2 begins the beginning of most people’s dutifully time-bound stories of Roman elegiac representation, as the straight “original” parodied/f*cked by Ovid).

The Monobiblos will be our date for Ch.7, but nothing half so red-blooded lies up ahead until Prudentius arrives. Does starting so s(t)eamy makes this tale a potboiler?

3. But, next, love Ovid to death. Departing from the departure for the end, Tola “does” Tristia Book 1 (esp. 1, 2, 4, 11), showing how the envoi orders or re-orders but also complicates and re-cycles the one-way cruise to a re-invented elegy, re-registered as definitively metaphoric “internal tracking” of a mind burst at the seams and shipping an ocean of woe. T traces the fracturing of the narrativity between the writing and the suffering (though she might have made more of world-imperial tele-epistolarity: a sender knew that letters from the edge were bound to arrive in batches, perhaps jumbled, cf. Ad Q. fr. 3.1). I don’t see that “1.10 insists on the terrestrial section” (p.55): it functions much more like those shutters, splitting the wake through past the Isthmus between polarized ships of poetic stylistics. But T. presses on with Tristia Book 3, crossing into the poetics of repetition-compulsion, and hitching — somehow — to a postmark of “cyclical temporality” (after Calame on ritual). No time to go into the Gothicization narrative, let alone its presumable rider, Gothicizing narration; the essay closes eloquently on the it(in)erability of elegiac narration, which does not talk about or with segmentation, but instead “does” it.

4. The Remedia get Gardner onto the theme of impetus, trajectory, sublation, as Ovid, like Propertius before him, finds elegy bidding to rise higher and really go Somewhere, against the drag of generic mora/amor. Here the star poet wants out and away, leaving his playmate(s) stuck back there on the duvet, still doing things he gave up years ago, while Woman blanks as the hors-texte without coordinates. In Ars Calypso was ditched and beached by the guy in a hurry, inside or on shore; in Remedia isolation insulates Phyllis in her cut-off no-place (vv.591-608). Much graphically bleak detection of, and with, the pre-semiotic Kristevan “chora” can’t stop me wondering still quite how these antaphrodisiac paradigms from myth are meant to relate, and to un-relate, to the elegiac women they outrank: Ovid’s points, along the line projected through and from Ars 3, surely include love of woman-loathing in with the posed hatred(,) and hatred of such love (see Ch.8).

5. Lively impresses on us that and how all the — single — Heroides (can only) tell the same story (see Ch.4), while at the same time the freeze-frame rendering of each particular story into epistoliterarity permits the women to re-write them, and themselves, differently (after Kennedy, et al.). The focalizing femailing writers change the story, and above/after all, they truncate as they re-focus, hard, on what-is-to-happen-next. None of it makes a blind bit of difference, but it matters vitally whether this matters: bringing in Gary Morson’s term “paraquel”, to stand for the foregrounding of “side-stories” that could’ve happened, and could’ve stolen the attention, and, it may be, now get their chance to have a chance to, L. lands us in and with a poetic of uncertainty, forced (she owns) “to imagine that all the things which might happen, have happened. … Or might yet” (p.102). Heroides 1 and 10 are the favoured side-stories grabbing salience here. (The boys who write back on the double aren’t in the picture.) 6. The celebrated compositional hendiadys of the Nasonian diptych is dissected by Pappaioannou through strict concentration on Amores 1.11 + 12. (Her one adversion to 2.7 + 2.8 swallows the bait when she accepts as “fact that Cypassis has clearly slept with Ovid”, p.109 n.14; the point is that he might well be presumed to have, and can use that pre-justified prejudice as leverage, and try to turn it into fact.) The essay amounts to a fine and original metapoetic decoding, working toward the punchline “Ovid coverts his repudiated erotic advance into a diachronic metaphor for the process of composing a multilayered and multivocal elegiac narrative” (p.122). If the Bagpuss of Amores 2.2 + 3 pose/s more insistent dilemmas of successiveness, then internal turnarounds, such as 3.5, and, still more insistently, the infamous Ovidian “coda” poems (1.7, 14, etc.), belong in with Nape as key struts in this very narrative (and, lo!, we have just slipped into the volume’s triad devoted to “Story”). Indeed Ch.2’s moment with 3.1 is all we’re given on the narrativity of Amores as unitary triptych, let alone its co-respondence with the sex romp through Rome of Ars 1-2: in particular, the “gods’ gift to groupies” anti-elegiac phallic brag of Amores 2 entirely misses the cut.

7. Back to where we didn’t come in: (Solmsen’s) mini-sequencé-tableau triad of poems of empty/inane loss in the “fall” section of Monobiblos’ “year” of frustration, 1.16-18 (as, much-disputedly, programmed at Propertius 1.1.7, toto … anno, the famous coding of the collection as a complex unum,). This is forever (since Otis) the prime book-length case of opus perfectum composition supporting strong pro- and anti- attitudinizing towards elegiac ?narrativity?, but Walde’s piece instead tunes into the particular sub-set, or panel, furcating through the double doors out along the seashore, into the grove, and round and round the island full of poetic noises and mythic voices, to take in Catullus 67, 76, Eclogue 10, the Odyssean Calypso, Sappho, et tout le mondologue. Intertextual soliloquy is open-door host as much as deadly hostile to narration, and produces a multi-persona primed to perform within an implied narrative in suspension. These elegies triangulate their set of equipollent critical moments characteristic of the decomposing ?phase? of amor. These “images and situations in a standstill” are “situated in the interstices of a longer narrative process”, and block out “a literary theory of love elegy as the Monobiblos rehearses and narrates small epics of the self” (p.141). This is an expertly articulated analysis, selling us short only, it may be, on elegiac self-mockery and send-up (and so passim, I must say).

8. What does Remedia do to the Ars ? Retexit, “unravel” (v.12, in denial: p.150); but also “weave again”. Kenaan explores the prequel/sequel reciprocity between these works by boldly contextualizing them within the nexus of therapeutic discourses headed by the Platonic tradition of philosophical consolation. Invoking Barthesian mapping of erotic grammar, she sets out the Love Story as a unified/pluralized field which enfolds mutually exclusive positionalities, so that obsession and inoculation circle around each other in dependence and perpetual oscillation. K. speaks of “a cycle” looping Remedia to Ars to Remedia to infinitude (p.161). We could reasonably expect her to accommodate such particular Ovidian varieties of pharmaco-logic as the palinode, but she prefers to close by vindicating through appeal to the rejected line Remedia 392 a pattern of “affirmation” as the oeuvre moves on, stepping up the genres as one literary infatuation after another tells of (new) “love beginning again” (pp.161-2). Holy metamorphoses: in this Ovid-loaded collection, the ultimate heresy of jumping ship to epic compounded when our desultor swaps horses back into elegy will somehow scarcely figure. Can this be?

9. Lowrie chooses to devote her incisive piece to her current stamping ground of exemplarity and to Propertius 4.11 (the only representative from that most stumping of book units, spliced/zipped between Horus and Assisi, Apollo and Rome). Pursuing overlay and dissonance between ideology and form, she wants to trouble with Death what she accepts (but why?) as “the first” narratological “task in reading lyric or elegy … to figure out what occasion … would allow the utterance to take place” (p.167). This allows her to tease out, then re-combine, the social/literary/cultural positions from which Cornelia speaks and speaks for Propertius: her arraignment in the underworld, funeral oration, epitaph, his writing, his poem, elegy book, and oeuvre’s peroratory … As this queen of hearts always gets put on a pedestal or pulled down from one, the rhetorical question to press is: “Can exemplum ever escape its own moral weight to become pure form?” (p.174) L advocates a “performative pragmatics” style answer which unravels intertwined facets of reading from fixed written genres, and speech act mimesis where ethos lends persuasive force to argument. The productivity of the text beats death’s door by harnessing the staying power of the composition (~ her lineage/poet’s verse) to the evocative presencing of its utterance (~ matronal loving and beloved, as multi-dynastic-descendant-daughter-wife-mother/elegiac pathos). As we go through the writing-mirror, we’re as if with them, to listen and respond. Here then is a way to hear, through first-person voicing, both author and character trade on their other. But Tarpeia, Arethusa, Acanthis, and Cynthia …— can we afford not to hear them all through this one, one for all, storybook ending? I for one just can’t bear it. (But then I was sure the book would recount the grand récit of Propertius’ metamorphosis: dodging the “Book 2” swamp is one thing, but skipping the shuffle forth and back through and between Books 3 and 4, fading out Her for Classics, is an obligatory vault for anyone reading Latin elegy together to confront (work-in-progress by Jonathan Wallis).

10. Who speaks? Ovid returns, this time as “homodiegetic (and at times autodiegetic) speaker of the Fasti“, in Green’s radical study of January’s first panel (1.1-288), shared by “Ovid” (starting his new career as novice interviewer-researcher, destined to blossom in Book 5) with Germanicus (hence exilic overtones to every line of now post-Augustus poetry re-creating Rome), Janus (as latest in a line of elegiac door-/gate-keepers, from Amores 1.6 on), and you the addressee/s (piecing together the story, and stories, of the former lover, love-teacher, and current exile). Revisionism attaches to all these partners in parallel (as the re-edition of the Amores imprint replays some more). Imagining the feat of imagination involved in imagining Ovid writing Roman time while serving out his life-sentence the other side of the world is henceforth a Fasti story we’ll all need to try telling. (It makes quite a difference to Caesar’s calendar).

11. Dreamboat Tibullus gets a look-in. Lee goes for the heart of his poetic, elegy’s pilot version of withdrawal into profiled subjectivity, the optative mood, and valorization of mental/emotional life over against situatedness in history, in the face of brute reality, and in despite of civic-imperial obligation. The narratological story told here (after Paul Miller, on this dreamwork of desire) is an unresolvable telling of what is telling in a world shorn of the indicative. Here, in particular, first-person verbs in -am flicker between future indicative, freighted with decision, and present subjunctive, with suspended upshot — but presenced self-commitment and -disclosure (esp. despiciam, 1.1.77, 78; p.200). L. narrates in detail the story of “the Delia cycle” (1.1-3, 1.5-6) as “a rhetoric of subjectivity, which functions to represent and retain internal narratives amidst external ones” (p.214). In skipping to 2.6 because “at 1.6 the Delia narrative is simply dropped” (ibid.), both the first publication “ten-poem libellus” promise, after Virgil and Horace, is slighted (Delia is sous rature absent presence through 1.10, at least), and the hinge between projected first and second books, after Horace’s Satires, is discountenanced (parallelism in opposition brings on chiasmus as “Delia” declines from full hopes to personal desolation/deracination while “Nemesis” crashes the opening erotic unattachment to rob our hero of mind, farm, and everything. (Perhaps over-influenced by numerical match of 1.6 to 2.6, L. sees Book 2 as plausibly complete, “with the same lack of resolution”, p.217). This essay puts its finger bang on the “poetic” quality often sensed in this brand of elegy, as public script plays second fiddle to the pre-realized, even pre-conceptualized, mind-track of vulnerable longing/emotive lunging. But, no Marathus dream, no “loss” of Marathus, no calibration of that with “loss” of Delia, and no regressive story of degradation, no integrated first book-unit, no bisexual coupling of gender narrative/s (see Lee-Stecum’s book).

12. The story of the dismemberment of Prudentius’ Hippolytus as Crown number 11 disremembers earlier bearers of the name (the name for dismemberment) in favour of poetological re-fashioning of elegiac lop-footedness in the tradition and wake of Ovid’s programme for the genre in Amores 1.1.1-2. Pursuit of textual fracture by design assembles Prudentius’ choice of metre, body imagery for the tearaway schismatic, ekphrastic slivers of torture topoi, and surviving shards of his inscriptional elogium, into Kaesser’s coherently told tale of a coherently told tale of disintegration. So it “fits in” with classical somatic metaphorics but misfits in/with the collection, like a martyr in a narrativity play. So?

13. Skoie knows all about knowing about Sulpicia. Here she deftly explores readerly desire for narrative satisfaction through three early translations of [Tibullus] 3.8.-18, by Grainger (1759), Höegh-Guldberg (1803), and Voss (1810). Of course, they stand in for the selves we all long to disrecognize, as if critics of any hue can operate this side of creative. let’s watch others shape up these bite-sized elegiac clumps, filling in epistolary or diarist or novelistic tales to bridge between epigrams from “Amicus” (8-12) and then make some leap to “Sulpicia” (13-18) — as if any moves are uncompromised in advance by Tibullan incorporation/appendage as postlude (obtruded in the traditional double-billing as [4.2-6 + 7-12]). Watch how watching these translators bodily shuffle the poemettes to emplot their preferred narratives, then shift this operation aside into scholarly supplementation with paratextual notage, makes S. narratrix of the story of the volume’s story of terms, parameters, and motives for reading (and so re-playing) “back” the tale of Roman elegiac narrativity. For answering back, in fact and post factum, differently.

Introduction Genevieve Liveley and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell, ‘Narrating in Couplets’: 1-13

1 Duncan Kennedy, ‘Elegy and the Erotics of Narratology’: 19-33

2 Patricia Salzman-Mitchell, ‘Snapshots of a Love Affair: Amores 1.5 and the Program of Elegiac Narrative’: 34-50

3 Eleonora Tola, ‘Chronological Segmentation in Ovid’s Tristia : The Implicit Narrative of Elegy’: 51-67

4 Hunter H. Gardner, ‘Women’s Time in the Remedia Amoris‘: 68-85

5 Genevieve Liveley, ‘Paraquel Lines: Time and Narrative in Ovid’s Heroides‘: 86-104

6 Sophia Papaioannou, ‘Self-Reflections on Elegy Writing, in Two Parts: The Metapoetics of Diptych Elegies in Ovid, Amores 1.11 + 12′: 105-122

7 Christine Walde, ‘Narration in a Standstill: Propertius 1.16-18’: 123-141

8 Vered Lev Kenaan, ‘Platonic Strategies in Ovid’s Tales of Love’: 142-164

9 Michèle Lowrie, ‘Cornelia’s Exemplum : Form and Ideology in Propertius 4.11′: 165-179

10 Steven Green, ‘The Expert, the Novice, and the Exile: A Narrative Tale of Three Ovids in Fasti‘: 180-195

11 Benjamin Todd Lee, ‘The Potentials of Narrative: The Rhetoric of the Subjective in Tibullus’: 196-222

12 Christian A. Kaesser, ‘Narrating Disiecta Corpora: The Rhetoric of Bodily Dismemberment in Prudentius Peristephanon 11′: 223-240

13 Mathilde Skoie, ‘Telling Sulpicia’s Joys: Narrativity at the Receiving End’: 241-256

Errata: ix renown: renowned
2 ‘aisma: ‘aeisma
3 Eduard Fränkel: Hermann F.
5 Sulpica: Sulpicia
7 psychonalysis: psychoanalysis
17 ‘lovely’ in translation, but 16 ‘famosa’ in text
22 passion.: passion,
29 and n.29 Roman Jakobsen: R. Jakobson
45 the climatic event: the climactic event
proueniat: proueniant
materiam: material
pars erat: par e.
46 altera si … : insert ref. to 3.1.33-34
57 findimus aequor: f. a. | sponte
61 that with that: than w. t.
62 polyptote: polyptoton
66 this dynamics: t. dynamic
127 poem 77: p. 67
134 n.24 Pithys: Pitys
136 and 139 Alcyonae: Alcyones
139 Due to: Because of
146 an ignorant: ignorant or an ignoramus
156 alter orbs: a. orbis
165 Idelology: Ideology (or retain)
215 magnificae; magnifice
‘scatters’ translating excutiunt ?
250 discrete warning: discreet w.
277 Lucilius Satires 1.4.62 refers to Horace Satires 1.4.62