Learned Girls and Male Persuasion: Gender and Reading in Roman Love Elegy

Learned Girls and Male Persuasion: Gender and Reading in Roman Love Elegy

Sharon Lynn James

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: B01N8XR57L

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This study transforms our understanding of Roman love elegy, an important and complex corpus of poetry that flourished in the late first century b.c.e. Sharon L. James reads key poems by Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid for the first time from the perspective of the woman to whom they are addressed—the docta puella, or learned girl, the poet's beloved. By interpreting the poetry not, as has always been done, from the stance of the elite male writers—as plaint and confession—but rather from the viewpoint of the women—thus as persuasion and attempted manipulation—James reveals strategies and substance that no one has listened for before.

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sheer fiction, with a recognizable correlation to the genre of elegy itself.9 Perhaps the most notable detail about the elegiac puella is that she is a Men, Women, Poetry, and Money / 37 woman who can, at least sometimes, say no; she can also choose from among her lovers. In addition, she appears, according to her male chroniclers, to be constantly extorting gifts and to prefer expensive clothing, jewelry, and makeup. She seems most of the time to run her own household: she owns various

enjoy it, and the activity itself is joint.54 But elegy nowhere establishes that the puella seeks lovers, at least not in her youth; rather, they seek her, as the docta puella knows. Thus the lover-poet, again on shaky grounds (as after 21–24), must change strategies. He turns to other examples, continually characterizing payment—in any sort of circumstance—as contemptible and disgraceful (37–42), arguing that the intangible benefits of gratia accrue only when a favor has been done for free

ignorant, but Catullus’s certainly was not, or she could not possibly have understood the poetry directed at her. And without the ink-borne labor of the learned heads, neither could any reader after the fall of Rome. In fact, given that we have lost so many of the ancient materials to which Catullus had access, it is fair to say that no postclassical reader has fully plumbed any Roman poetry, for it is deeply learned, sometimes to the point of obscurity, and many of its sources are missing. I

fact, its editorial history demonstrates that the elegiac propempticon has been poorly understood for generations.86 The manuscripts reproduce a single poem of forty-six lines, but editors have long divided it into two linked poems: 8a, a propempticon of twenty-six lines, and 8b, a celebration of the first poem’s success. This is not the place to discuss the poem’s textual and editorial tradition (I read it with Fedeli 1984 as a single poem); our purpose here is to revisit it from the docta

whole; it further fails to establish why satirizing a genre is necessarily a bad thing or why literary satire should indicate an author’s inadequate understanding or appreciation of the genre. This type of criticism rests on the romantic misreading of elegy and the sincerity requirement (on which, see chapter 1).2 In this chapter, I take the view that Ovid knows what he is doing in his Amores and Ars amatoria—and here it is relevant to note that he worked persistently in the genre of love elegy

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