Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
“The flippant humor characteristic of Propertian elegy masks a serious attack on traditional Roman Values”

“The flippant humor characteristic of Propertian elegy masks a serious attack on traditional Roman Values”

Ratings: (0)|Views: 22|Likes:
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Venina Kalistratova. Originally submitted for Classics at Trinity College Dublin, with lecturer Monica Gale in the category of Ancient & Classical Studies
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Venina Kalistratova. Originally submitted for Classics at Trinity College Dublin, with lecturer Monica Gale in the category of Ancient & Classical Studies

More info:

Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
See more
See less


“The flippant
humor characteristic of Propertian elegy masks a seriousattack on traditional Roman Values
If we accept the theory of Historical Materialism formulated by Karl Marx in the XIXth century,which postulates that societies are constituted entirely by the combination and expression of different economic factors, we will be making the same mistake generations of scholars andintellectuals trying to interpret art and the society that generates it as a product of something
else. It was Max Weber’s challenge to mentioned theory that changed not only our view of 
culture as an independent and equally important constituent of a society but also cleared theway for generations of intellectuals on their quest for cultural independence or as the artistswould express with elegance:
l’art pour l’art 
.Classical scholars often tend to give preeminence to the background of a determined piece of art, doubtlessly spurred by eagerness to comprehend the full picture, thus forgetting the mostimportant factor: the art itself. Thus the theories of intellectuals like Wyke, Hallet or Cairns canbe interpreted as somehow superfluous as they seem to lack understanding of the nature of 
Propertius’ connection
with poetry and his self-fashioning as an independent and original poet.Many have been tempted to interpret his amatory ideals as the expression of a subtle socialand even political criticism, thus tying his art too closely to its background, denying allindependence of creativity.The aim of this paper is to demonstrate that Propertian elegy did not attempt any serious socialor political criticism but was set on achieving a singular artistic revolution. We should bear inmind that elegy was competing w
ith the more “serious” and “prestigious” epic poetry. Thus Iinterpret Propertius’ poetry and its sardonic attacks on other genres as
an attempt to give elegyits deserved place amongst the Muses by setting it apart, for the elegiac poet is as his art,unique, special and interesting.
In 1917 Marcel Duchamp exhibited in the Society of Independent Artists of New York hisgroundbreaking work:
. This piece was the first urinal to be presented in a museum
and to be called “art”, becoming thus one of t
he most influential expressions of the Dadaisticmovement. The Dadaists were famous by their constantly trying to provoke a reaction amongtheir contemporaries and break with the notion of art depending on background factors, anidea nourished by previous movements such as the Realism. Even though Dadaism developedduring a century of wars and bloodshed, it can hardly be seen as an attempt to change thesociopolitical situation, rather their objective was the reformation of their artistic milieu.
Propertius’ background is somehow similar. He produced his
between 27
and 26BC,four years after the battle of Actium, the last of the frequent in the past century civil conflicts. Ithas been suggested that it was precisely the loss of manpower during the successive Civil Warsand the absence of the previous generation, campaigning for a long time, which produced amoral vacuum. Thus elegy and its topsy-turvy interpretation of social and amorous interactionswas entirely the product of social and political evolution, the idle and rich nobility was totallyuninvolved and unconcerned with warfare and concentrated on luxury and indulgence. How
does that theory explain Propertius’ attack on the pursuit of excess and extravagance in poem
2, where he defines his ideal lover as someone who has no chrematistic interests
, or in poem8B, in which love defeats gold and pearls. The elegiac poet cannot be inserted in an entirelymaterialistic or self-indulgent society, for love flees comfort and endures hardships.
Wyke is on the right track when she points out towards the poet slighting “
the duties of being acitizen and a soldier of the Augustan patria in favor of being a faithful lover and a slave to his
Nevertheless he does not criticize citizens who do not follow his way but evenexpresses his admiration towards his friend Tullus, who has chosen rather the opposite path, as
the poet says in 6.21: “
tu patrui meritas conre anteire securis,/et vetera oblitis iura refer sociis.” 
 Propertius does not question following the traditional
cursus honorum
for it is noble for a malecitizen to serve his country, he sets himself apart from the rest of contemporary males by hisunconventional practices which he tries to legitimise. There is indeed an inversion of roles in
Propertius, Book I.
2.31 “
His tu semper eris nostrae gratissima vitae/taedia dum miserae sint tibi luxuriae
Wyke (2002) P171
Propertian elegy which makes it unique; the poet is a slave in a
servitium amoris
imposed bythe gods
, subjected to a cruel and whimsical woman.
Propertius’ relationship with his lover and muse, Cynthia, is a complex one. She pl
ays thedominant role and is committed to no man, which was partly the cause of her sex appeal, but atthe same time, whenever she is given the chance to speak with her own voice, she appears as afaithful lover. He is subjected to her but at the same time we see him in poem 3 transformed in
a dominant soldier laying siege on a fortress while its inhabitant (Cynthia) sleeps: “
admota sumere et arma manu” 
. Propertius is thus ambiguous and ironic, endowing his literarypersona with colliding qualities: rendering his
to his mistress and trying to conquer
her as if she was a military exploit. Thus it is hard to accept Hallett’
s interpretation of Romanelegy assuming a feminist point of view or even as she puts it:
“I refer to Latin love elegy 
 , a formof revelation and indirect social criticism created and developed by members of the dissident 
equestrian class.” 
 Rather I would suggest that it is comprehensible that in a society in which marriage was seen asa civil duty performed to produce offspring and
as Lyne pointed, “
to secure or strengthen the
 position of great or advancing families: socially, politically, and financially” 
that the elegiacpoet who has no interest in any of the above mentioned will choose the advantages offered byan impossible yet intense romance sentenced to failure. This does not indicate that Propertiuswas claiming an inversion of roles in the real world or even the emancipation of women, forscholars tend to forget that poetry might be based on personal experiences but it is fiction afterall. Why if Plautus can recreate a topsy-turvy world on stage in which the relationshipmaster/slave is questioned only as long as the fiction lasts, we do not interpret his irony andhumor as serious criticism but these techniques pose manifold questions when employed byPropertius?
Propertius Book I
Poem 1.7: “
Et mihi iam toto furor hic non deficit anno,/cum tamen adversos cogor haberedeos
Id. Book I Poem 3.16
Hallett (1984) P333
Lyne (1980) P5

You're Reading a Free Preview

/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->