BMCR 2023.04.15

Intertextualität und Parodie in Ovids Remedia Amoris

, Intertextualität und Parodie in Ovids Remedia Amoris. Classica Monacensia, 58. Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto, 2022. Pp. 320. ISBN 9783823385264



The Remedia Amoris functions as the fourth and final book of the Ars Amatoria sequence. It shows Ovid as a poet able to build on what has gone before and invert almost all of it to totally different ends, subverting his own work with astonishing verve and intertextual skill, as this remarkable book demonstrates. After the seductio ad absurdum of Ars Amatoria 1-3, the reader is like Telephus, wounded with the lance of love engendered by the Ars, and now in need of the same lance to heal him, as Oberlinner suggests (p. 33). All Roman poetry displays doctrina, but Ovid is in every sense a poets’ poet whose material is drawn from literature at least as much as from life. What one might call the textual intercourse between elegy, satire, didactic and the Remedia make for a fascinating case-study of the ways in which doctrina, parody and pastiche can be brought together to fashion a work which even today can startle and shock.

After a brisk introduction outlining the shape of the book, Oberlinner analyses the structure of the Remedia, which falls into two main sections: a) how to stop love (ars agendi) and (b) how to avoid reinfection (ars vitandi) once the love has been ‘cured’. There follows a useful chapter on the terminology, looking at the concepts of intertextuality and parody in both the ancient and modern worlds and seeking to find an ‘ancient-compatible’ working concept of both. She accepts the sensible definition of parody as ‘the comic refunctioning of pre-formed linguistic or artistic material’[1] and points out that parody is a comic extension of intertextuality, which (unlike other forms of intertextuality) only works if the reader picks it up and also only works if one discerns authorial intention. Oberlinner makes full use of an effective way of delineating the intertextuality under discussion using pyramid diagrams to form inverted stemmata of intertextual links, with the Remedia at the top of the pyramid and its referential texts at corners of the base below, linked by lines. This device neatly summarises and clarifies the surrounding arguments.

Given that the Remedia Amoris is a spoof didactic dealing with love, the reader will not be surprised that it makes abundant use of Lucretius. De Rerum Natura IV concerns itself with the senses and homes in on the ways in which they deceive us even though in strict Epicurean theory all perceptions are true. We ‘see’ straight oars bend when they are submerged in water, we ‘see’ buildings dance before our eyes when we are dizzy—and we ‘see’ perfection in the imperfect person with whom we are in love. The diatribe against romantic love is the perfect ending to this book (as with the diatribe against the fear of death in book 3), as it builds on the epistemological conclusions already established in the earlier sections of the book to give us a lively and dramatic display of how this affects our ethical attitudes. Romantic love, for Lucretius, is a delusion and a refusal to see the truth: he also mocks the romantic lover for restricting his love to the one (usually unavailable) person when the world is full of potential sexual partners—like the diner who would starve rather than eat anything other than expensive lobster—and urges men to seek out promiscuous sex to distract the mind from the ‘beloved’. This is good grist for Ovid’s mill and he can take a single word (alio) from Lucretius (4.1064) and expand it to a whole range of activities which might take the mind off love (for example courts, military service, and hunting) since otium is the root cause of deluded love—a point made by Catullus 51.13-16 and by Phaedra at Euripides Hippolytus 384. Lucretius debunks the soi-disant ‘Venuses’ who hide their flaws behind cosmetic fakery (4.1185-7) and mocks the doting lover for euphemising their obvious flaws as assets, while Ovid urges his lover to do all he can to see the worst side of the girl (315-356) and makes Lucretius’ account of the cosmetic fakery very much his own at 347-356.

There are differences however, as Oberlinner points out. Truth (derived from the perception of simulacra) is for Lucretius all-important, but for Ovid is almost irrelevant: all that matters is results, however achieved, and ‘pretending’ (simulare) will do the trick—‘pretend to be indifferent towards her and you will end up being so’ (Rem. 503). In both poems the speaker is setting himself up as the teacher, but in Ovid’s case the protreptic is (as Oberlinner states well) more literary than ethical. The purpose of the Remedia Amoris is ‘not only parody of individual works… but (to put it generally) the ‘witty entertainment’ of the reading public’ (p.85) and intertextuality is key to this.

Ovid’s literary work is not merely word-play, however witty. Oberlinner well argues that the ‘alloy of basic characteristics of two literary genres’ involved in this didactic-elegiac synthesis—combining ‘didactic objectivity and elegiac subjectivity’—involves the ‘dismantling of elegy in the form of the didactic poem’ (pp.96-101). The elegiac lover craves otium—Ovid rejects it. Foreign military service was a huge problem for the elegiac lover but is recommended by Ovid, with metaphorical militia amoris becoming (Rem. 153-8) real military service (p.97) to dispose of love. One passage which makes modern readers wince is what Oberlinner describes as the ‘ugly sex’ passage (Rem. 429-40) where the poet urges the lover to examine the post-coital bed for evidence of disgusting bodily secretions. This passage—which amounts to aversion therapy—also amounts to Swiftian levels of disgust and nastiness, breaking all generic bounds of elegy with the disgusting level of detail and looking forward to the vomiting and urinating women in Juvenal Satire 6. The first part of chapter four of this book examines the links between the Remedia Amoris and Horace as seen in his Satires and Epodes.

The Remedia Amoris is not published as satire but it obvously has abundant satirical force—as does the diatribe against romantic love in Lucretius 4—and Ovid the magpie is happy to pick up ideas from satire as well as didactic and elegy. The famous passage on lovers’ euphemisms (Lucretius 4.1153-1170) is itself used in Horace Satires 1.3.38-62 as part of his advice on how we ought to view the faults of others, and is turned into vicious anti-erotic satire in Ovid (325-30) where it is developed into full-blown humiliation of the girl in 331ff (‘if she has bad teeth make her laugh’ etc). Whereas Horace is positive and congenial, Ovid is destructive and harsh. Another example, well discussed by Oberlinner, is the notion of the ‘slavery of love’ as seen in the metaphor of the ‘yoke’ and the phenomenon of the locked-out lover serenading his heartless mistress outside her door: she adduces Horace’s treatment of these issues in his Epodes, showing how Horace himself uses elegiac material in a non-elegiac genre but how the speaker shows himself ripe for Ovid’s conversion therapy and so soon becomes a target for the poet of Remedia Amoris. In Epodes 11 and 15 the speaker is caught in an ‘emotional vicious circle’ in that he is still bound to his beloved despite his better judgement. The closing lines of Epode 11.27-8 (‘I need a new love to displace the one which is consuming me’) fool nobody in the poet’s cycle of failed infatuations but are nonetheless taken up by Ovid (in a cynical twist at 441-86) as sound advice if the new loves are simultaneous and not sequential: Ovid is (as it were) talking sharply to the moody romantic Horace of the Epodes. More disturbing to the modern reader are the misogynistic Epodes 8 and 12 and Oberlinner sees these as ‘speech acts’ which are comparable to the attacks on women contained in the Remedia Amoris with their account of female greed (p. 150) and cosmetic female trickery which is here exposed in what she calls ‘excremental voyeurism’ (p.172): all this is designed to inject the sort of macho hardness which Horace (Epodes 15.12) lacks but which can allow the Ovidian male to walk straight past that locked-out door (785-6). Horace’s inventive use of the Epode as a genre is (she argues) productive and expansive, whereas Ovid is shutting down the genre of elegy by means of elegy (p.174), killing not only love but the poetic form which celebrates it.

Love-poetry did not begin with the elegists, of course, and Ovid also alludes to Catullus a good deal, as we see in the spoof on Catullus’ sparrow in Corinna’s parrot (Amores 2.6) or the description of Ariadne in Ars Am. 1.527-64 (drawing on Catullus 64). Catullus the hapless helpless lover in poem 76 begs the gods for healing from the pestis of love—and the Remedia supplies the very poetic medicine he needs.

Catullus’s famous concatenation of love and hate (85) and his assurance that Lesbia’s non-stop talking about him proves her love both feed into Ovid’s quest to avoid the lover’s ‘reinfection’ after his breakup with the mistress, as part of his aim that ‘the student might come totally into the safe harbour of healing’ (p.194). Catullus offers negative prototypes for the recovering lover and reveals himself as the incurable specimen who needs to listen and to remove all feelings (including jealousy of rivals) ‘to avoid getting entangled in a vicious circle of love and pain as an unrequited lover’ (p.196). Oberlinner even tentatively suggests that Juventius might be seen as the ‘new love’ being used to distract the Lesbia-lover Catullus from Lesbia herself (p.225). The key element here (ironically for this most loquacious of poets) is silence. If talking about love is a sign of love then the goal must be one of disinterested indifference: the Remedia Amoris is the ars desinendi et tacendi, leaving us to assume that the end of the poem marks the end of the love.

In a final short chapter Oberlinner summarises her thesis and reminds us that to miss the intertextual elements here would be to miss the point of the poem. She also looks in a modest spirit of self-criticism at what else should have been looked at—such as the figure of Propertius, and also the whole genre of ‘consolation literature’ which is very much below the surface in Lucretius (nempe hac sine viximus ante (4.1173) etc). I would also add that Ovid was a man of the theatre and so it is surprising that this book makes so little use of the comic theatrical characters such as the young obsessed lover and the waggish slave who can see right through everyone else on stage. There is a good short passage on this at pp. 130-1 n. 472, but more could have been done with it.

The book has an extensive bibliography and index locorum but no general index. Errata are vanishingly rare and I spotted only three (p. 54 should read Quintilian 6.4.97 and not 6.3.97, on p. 85 she prints Markostruktur for Macrostruktur and on p.129 warzunehmen for wahrzunehmen). This book is a reworking of the author’s doctoral dissertation (presented in 2021) and the level of scholarship and meticulous detail is exemplary. It is a huge credit to its author who has successfully argued beyond doubt that the literary texture of this most playful of poets can sustain a rigorous and stimulating reading which goes to the heart of poetry and love itself.



[1] M.A. Rose Parody: Ancient, Modern and Post-modern (Cambridge 1993) 52.