CUP (2019) h/b 202pp £75 (ISBN 9781108482301)
O. intends her work to be a complement to the prevailing scholarly focus on the literary tradition. Of course she does not neglect that tradition in its entirety—while she is not inclined to ‘leap into the intertextual vortex’, her attempt to ignore the literary tradition and explore the collection from within is tempered by the recognition that ‘intertextuality is at the centre of Ovid’s authorial practice’. Indeed, she concludes her prelude with the gnomic observation that ‘secondariness (sic) has its own authenticity’. By p.18 ‘the goal of the book is to explore the interpretive difference it makes to consider the poet-lover as one person.’ ‘Naso’ will be his name and O. will flag up the lack of ‘connection with the extra-textual author’. O. points out that as Naso’s world is populated by unreal individuals with names such as Cupid, Dipsas and Corinna, Naso can avoid ever ‘stubbing a toe on the facticity of a Messala or a Maecenas’. Nape surely inspired this image (Amores 1.12.4 ad limen digitos restitit icta Nape).
What about Amores 3.9 on the death of Tibullus? Isn’t this a poem of Ovid’s ‘real’ world, by Ovid “himself” as O puts it? She confronts the ‘obsessive citationality’ (sic) of the poem, a tribute of one elegist to another. In fact it is treated early on by O. to exemplify the ‘derealizing tendency’ with no ‘sense of personal loss’ apparent in the poem. In a ‘Yes, But’ section O. confronts the problem for her approach in two poems where the ego and author seem to have a shared identity: Amores 2.18 deals with Naso’s literary output and 3.13 Naso’s journey to Falerii (not Lanuvium as on p.39) with his wife for the festival of Juno.
In chapter 2 her treatment of 2.6 (Psittacus, Eois imitatrix ales ab Indis, | occidit) exemplifies her approach to reading poems in sequence. The funeral dirge for his girlfriend’s pet parrot parodies the genre, but her ‘Naso-centred’ account approaches the poem in situ, between 2.5, 2.7 and 2.8), not as a suite , but to ‘supply his readers with the pleasures of variety’. Nevertheless links are explored: for example ‘the parrot elegy appears to respond to Naso’s need to reclaim his self-possession after the sordid excitements of the dinner party’ (2.5). The parrot becomes the answer to the question quis fuit inter nos sociati corporis index? (2.8.5). O. imagines the bird’s guilt and even suggests that Corinna strangles the poor parrot, though she retracts the thought almost immediately.
In chapter 3 ‘The Lover’s Art’ O. turns her attention to Naso as lover, in particular the elegiac lover caught in the situation where he wants a faithful lover, but the genre (with few exceptions like 1.5 aestus erat) requires that lover to provide occasions to ‘plead, grovel, threaten or complain’. Masochism is given a prominent place in this chapter, followed by a section on castration as O.’s interest in psychoanalytic interpretation is further revealed.
In chapter 4, O. advances her analysis ‘to show that the same erotically charged waywardness informs Naso’s elegiac practice.’ For example the unequal lengths of hexameter and dactyl are treated as a quasi-castration (made clear in 1.1.18 attenuat nervos proximus ille meos).
O.’s engagement with the text produces some astute observations and enhancement of the appreciation of Ovid’s verse. For example on the opening couplet of Amores 1.1.1-2 O. comments on the ‘elegant irony’ of conveniente (“matching”) at the point where the ‘matter and metre ….break apart’. Although mostly lucid, with her ideas clearly conveyed, this is, however, a book for an academic audience as O.’s choice of vocabulary and expression quoted here will have made clear. It will undoubtedly provoke the interest of scholars working on Ovid for its bold approach, only adumbrated here, and its original take on the Amores.