Subjecting Verses: Latin Love Elegy and the Emergence of the Real [NOOK Book]


The elegy flared into existence, commanded the cultural stage for several decades, then went extinct. This book accounts for the swift rise and sudden decline of a genre whose life span was incredibly brief relative to its impact. Examining every major poet from Catullus to Ovid, Subjecting Verses presents the first comprehensive history of Latin erotic elegy since Georg Luck's.

Paul Allen Miller harmoniously weds close readings of the poetry with insights from theoreticians as ...

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Subjecting Verses: Latin Love Elegy and the Emergence of the Real

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The elegy flared into existence, commanded the cultural stage for several decades, then went extinct. This book accounts for the swift rise and sudden decline of a genre whose life span was incredibly brief relative to its impact. Examining every major poet from Catullus to Ovid, Subjecting Verses presents the first comprehensive history of Latin erotic elegy since Georg Luck's.

Paul Allen Miller harmoniously weds close readings of the poetry with insights from theoreticians as diverse as Jameson, Foucault, Lacan, and Zizek. In welcome contrast to previous, thematic studies of elegy--efforts that have become bogged down in determining whether particular themes and poets were pro- or anti-Augustan--Miller offers a new, "symptomatic" history. He asks two obvious but rarely posed questions: what historical conditions were necessary to produce elegy, and what provoked its decline? Ultimately, he argues that elegiac poetry arose from a fundamental split in the nature of subjectivity that occurred in the late first century--a split symptomatic of the historical changes taking place at the time.

Subjecting Verses is a major interpretive feat whose influence will reach across classics and literary studies. Linking the rise of elegy with changes in how Romans imagined themselves within a rapidly changing society, it offers a new model of literary theory that neither reduces the poems to a reflection of their context nor examines them in a vacuum.

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What People Are Saying

This work offers a panoramic analysis of a major literary genre, important for historic as well as aesthetic reasons, and of the scholarship produced on it over the past century. It applies a range of sophisticated contemporary theoretical perspectives to illuminate the genre as a whole and specific texts within it. Its close readings abound with new insights.
Judith P. Hallett, University of Maryland, College Park
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400825936
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 1/10/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Course Book
  • Pages: 336
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Paul Allen Miller is Director of Comparative Literature and Professor of Classics at the University of South Carolina. The author of "Lyric Texts and Lyric Consciousness and Latin Erotic Elegy", he has edited ten volumes, including "Rethinking Sexuality," (Princeton).
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Read an Excerpt

Subjecting Verses

Latin Love Elegy and the Emergence of the Real
By Paul Allen Miller

Princeton University Press

Paul Allen Miller
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0691096740

Chapter One


It seems to me rather that we have to look at failures of form, the impossibility of certain kinds of representation in a certain context, the flaws, limits, obstacles, which become the clue to the social truth or social meaning.
-Jameson 1998: 361

It can often be the emphasis on the impossibility of representation that gives the clue and organizes things.
-Jameson 1998: 369

THE PURPOSE of this book is to provide a history or genealogy of the Latin love elegy. That history is problematic and demands a more comprehensive explanation in part because it is so short. Many books have already treated the form, and in recent years several have offered exciting and sophisticated readings of its rhetoric and modes of characterization (Greene 1998; Kennedy 1993; Veyne 1988), but none has offered a convincing exegesis of this subgenre's sudden flaring into existence and its just as sudden extinction. Indeed, most treatments have largely eschewed historical modes of reading, except for now outdated forays into the uncertain terrain of biographical criticism.

Latin love elegy first comes to light in the last years of Catullus's life, around 56 B.C.E. It effectively disappears with Ovid's death in exile in 17 C.E.1 Seventy-three years may not seem short by the standards of popular culture, but it is only a blink of the eye compared with the life-spans enjoyed by genres such as epic (Ennius to Statius)2 and verse satire (Lucilius to Juvenal)3 in the Roman world, or the sonnet sequence (Petrarch to Shakespeare and beyond)4 and the novel (Cervantes to the present)5 in modern times. Nonetheless, even this rather limited chronology is over-generous. Catullus is generally considered a precursor of elegy rather than an elegist in his own right. Ovid's exilic poetry shares with erotic elegy only meter, subject position, and allusions to the conventions defining the form. His beloved in exile is Rome, not some coy mistress. If we limit ourselves to the period between the appearance of Gallus's first book of elegies, generally considered the first complete exemplar of the genre, circa 50 B.C.E., and Ovid's publication of the definitive edition of the Amores, circa 7 B.C.E. to 1 C.E.,6 the last collection of love elegy to have any observable influence on subsequent literary history, then the entire genre, as an effective and authentic form of literary expression, can be said to have bloomed and died in a mere fifty years (Lee-Stecum 1998: 16-18; Albrecht 1997: 744; Elia 1981: 74-75; Boucher 1980: 34).

Of course, this does not mean that elegies ceased to be written. We continue to have references to occasional practitioners of elegiac verse later in the imperial period, but none of them merits appearance in Quintilian's canonical list of the Roman elegists (10.1) or Diomedes the Grammarian's fifth-century compilation (1.484) or had any recognizable influence on the literature of his day (Ross 1975: 101; Boucher 1980: 164). Thus, Pliny the younger mentions a nephew of Propertius (Epistles 6.15.1, 9.22.1-2),7 and Statius a certain Stella (Silvae 1.2),8 but neither of them left either any substantial record of his work. The genre's moment, it seems, had passed. The extreme tensions, which I argue constitute the elegiac subject position, no longer assumed the same forms. Erotic elegy's extraordinary public dramatization of a private sphere that both engages socially constituted norms of individual conduct and insistently calls them into question-the vital contradictions at the heart of its being-were no longer able to find a place from which they could be directly spoken. Those tensions were not so much resolved as displaced. The Ovid of the Tristia, as we shall see in chapter 8, could only continue the discourse of elegy by speaking from the realm of the dead. What we see in him and those who come after is the specter of elegy rather than elegy proper. No longer possible is the overtly contradictory position of a Tibullus, who accepts a life of traditional martial virtue for his patron Messalla but rejects it for himself (1.1; see chapter 4); of a Propertius, who casts his love for Cynthia in terms recalling Antony's for Cleopatra while praising Caesar's victory at Actium (2.15, 2.16; see chapter 5), or of an Ovid, who simultaneously invokes the power of ius while proposing stratagems of adultery (Amores 1.4; see chapter 6). The ideological space required for this type of openly split subject is no longer available (Boucher 1980: 34-35).

Instead, we see a new model emerge in which the subject is always already absent from view, speaking from nowhere, from a place beyond the contingencies of the here and now (Newman 1989: 1501). Persius under Nero digs a grave (scrobis) in which to tell the truth and bury it (1.119-20).9 Juvenal under Trajan dares only speak of (and thus effectively from) the dead (1.170-71). The position of the speaking subject has changed in a fundamental way (Auerbach 1965: 247-48; Foucault 1984: 105; Henderson 1993: 130; Edwards 1993: 32). As Shadi Bartsch demonstrates in her reading of Tacitus's Dialogus de Oratoribus, the place that was once the republican orator's, addressing the people in propria persona, could now only be occupied by the poet Maternus whose tragedy, Cato, by virtue of the dramatic form's remove from the first-person speaking subject, paradoxically became the heir to republican eloquence. Yet even this distance was not sufficient: for, as Tacitus intimates, Maternus paid with his life for the boldness of writing a historical drama implicitly critical of the regime (Bartsch 1994: 101-25). Only silence, it seems, could with candor address the present. Thus, the imperial period, as Pliny himself notes (Panegyricus 2.1-2), was one in which the seamless whole of public and private life that had constituted the arena of traditional republican virtus-a space whose increasingly contradictory and tense nature was the place of elegiac passion-had been definitively rent asunder (Bartsch 1994: 149-50). Propertius's nephew, Lucius Arruntius Stella, and others may have continued to produce elegies, and even to write about love, though we shall never know exactly what they said. But the subject position that constituted Roman erotic elegy, as the vital and authentic genre that is object of this study, had closed, and Ovid's Tristia was its obituary. This book offers not so much a chronology of names and dates related to the genre as a genealogy of that lack.

The question this study answers then is, Why? Why elegy? How can we explain both the sudden appearance and rapid disappearance of this subgenre that today constitutes one of antiquity's most widely studied forms of poetry and that exercised such a profound influence on the history of Western lyric verse?10 Indeed, as Stapleton (1996) has recently shown, neither medieval nor renaissance love poetry is comprehensible outside the light of Ovid's Amores, the last and fullest flowering of the genre.11 The Roman state lasted more than a thousand years, but one of its most conspicuous contributions to European culture survived less than fifty. What characterized this unique moment in time in which both the Roman state underwent the most profound reorganization of its recorded existence, the violent transformation from an oligarchic republic into a multinational empire, and in which one of the unique and lasting contributions to European culture was created?

To begin to answer to this question, this chapter examines two areas. First, how is genre history possible? How can we conceive of the relation between a given literary type and the world that produced it, without succumbing to the illusion that one of these terms possesses an ontological priority over the other so that either literature is an epiphenomenon of history or history the illusion projected by literature? To respond to these demands requires us to advance a theory of the relation of text to context that, while owing much to its predecessors, presents a new synthesis of Marxist, historicist, dialogic, and psychoanalytic ideas and relates them to first-century Rome. Second, why have previous studies of love elegy failed to come to terms with the history of the genre? Here, it is argued that this failure can be attributed to an inadequate conceptualization of literary history itself, thereby demonstrating the necessity of a theoretical model such as we are elaborating.

Finally, in the following chapters, we move on to a series of case studies, starting in chapter 2 with the earliest precursor of the distinctively Roman genre of first-person erotic elegy, Catullus, in whose carmina we find for the first time a collection of poems devoted to a single mistress (Kennedy 1993: 88-89; Hinds 1998: 29).12 The Greek models for elegy, while important, are all partial at best. Although Antimachus's Lyde possessed an erotic subjective frame for a series of traditional narrative elegies, and Callimachus had presented an interventionist and opinionated narrator for the mythological tales told in the Aitia,13 no precedent for Catullus 68's combination of "autobiographical" narrative and mythological exempla, nor for 76's agonized internal dialogue can be found in Hellenistic poetry. Likewise, the poet's complete subjection (servitium amoris) to a single mistress (domina, era) is unprecedented in ancient Greek poetry of any era.14 Indeed, as I (1994) have argued before, Catullus represents the beginning of that uniquely interiorized voice that I term lyric consciousness and of which erotic elegy can be seen as a subgenre. What Hellenistic literature offered at the end of the first century B.C.E. was not a model to be slavishly copied but an alternative value system to the Roman Republic's traditional mos maiorum (Gutzwiller and Michelini 1991: 75).15 Catullus and the elegists would exploit this resource, but from the unique subject positions offered by a Roman ideological system in the process of collapse and restructuration (Fredrick 1997: 179; Albrecht 1997: 751). The themes and dramatic situations exploited in the elegist's relation to his domina may have already been explored by the figure of comedy's iuvenis in his subjection to the meretrix and his conflict with the senex. Nonetheless, the unique position of the first-person speaking subject in elegy, its constitution as the site of contradiction and aporia, of temporal complexity and personal depth, remain unprecedented. What this book wants to explore is not the thematics or plot of elegy-which differs substantially from comedy with its emphasis on final reconciliation and consummation (Cutolo 1995: 93)-but the historical conditions of possibility for elegy's specific instantiation of what I (1994) call lyric consciousness.

After this second chapter, in the next four we examine the subgenre's full flowering in Tibullus and the early works of Propertius and Ovid and their elaboration of the contradictory and schizoid discourse that lies at the heart of erotic elegy. The final chapters examine the afterlife of Roman erotic elegy in Propertius's book 4 and Ovid's exilic poetry. In each case, we ask what is the nature of the elegiac subject projected in a given collection and how can we understand its relation to history in both its immediate and broadest sense. In short, we shall pose the question of what is the relation of elegy and its subject to the protean nature of the Real.

Before beginning our detailed theoretical argument, it is helpful to introduce three terms originating from Lacanian psychoanalysis but now used by a range of critics. They are the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. These terms are conventionally capitalized in English usage to indicate that they are being used in a specialized sense, although Lacan himself never followed this practice. The Imaginary is a term derived from the Freudian concept of the Imago. Although there are many subtleties to Lacan's theorization of it, on the most basic level it refers to the image of ourselves that we project upon the world. The Symbolic in contrast is the world of rules and codes. It includes language and all other shared semiotic systems. It is based on the concept of langue in Saussurean linguistics and represents the shared communal grid of intelligibility that defines a community. We are recognized as subjects by others only through assuming a position in the Symbolic. That position may correspond either more or less well to the vision we have formed of ourselves in the Imaginary. Poetry as a linguistic practice takes place in the Symbolic, but clearly-especially in a genre such as elegy-it always includes substantial material from the Imaginary. The Real is that which falls outside of either of the two preceding categories. It is not "reality" because it is precisely what escapes linguistic expression and Imaginary appropriation. Thus the Real cannot be the object of conscious experience. It is important to note that the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real do not denote mutually exclusive realms but intepenetrating registers of existence. Our Imaginary projections are bathed in the codes and norms of the Symbolic, and the Symbolic offers rules, codes, and forms for processing the work of the Imaginary. The Real represents not so much a world outside these two as their necessary limitations.

The advantages of this triad are many. It allows us to theorize the relation of self to community without ever permitting either one to collapse into a simple opposition to the other, and without rendering one term a mere secondary reflection of the other. This triadic structure itself cannot be reduced to an essentialism, because each of the terms always relativizes and recontextualizes the others. There is no one Imaginary, no one Symbolic, but only specific examples that relate to one another in different ways. There is even no one Real. The Real marks the limits of any self-projection and any communal system of norms and codes. In doing so, it also marks the space of historical change, the space where any given ideological system or personal projection comes up against its own finitude and hence the necessity of change.

What follows in the first section is a detailed theoretical argument for the advantages of this intellectual framework when confronting problems of literary history. For those who find such abstract discussions distasteful or opaque, they may leave the theoretical subtleties aside and move directly to the more historically grounded argument that begins in the second section.


Excerpted from Subjecting Verses by Paul Allen Miller Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Toward a New History of Genre:Elegy and the Real 1
The Catullan Sublime,Elegy, and the Emergence of the Real 31
Cynthia as Symptom: Propertius, Gallus, and the Boys 60
"He Do the Police in Different Voices": The Tibullan Dream Text 95
Why Propertius Is a Woman 130
Deconstructing the Vir: Lawand the Other in the Amores 160
Displacing the Subject, Saving the Text 184
Between the Two Deaths: Technologies of the Self in Ovid's Exilic Poetry 210
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"This work offers a panoramic analysis of a major literary genre, important for historic as well as aesthetic reasons, and of the scholarship produced on it over the past century. It applies a range of sophisticated contemporary theoretical perspectives to illuminate the genre as a whole and specific texts within it. Its close readings abound with new insights."—Judith P. Hallett, University of Maryland, College Park

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