Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Classical Studies

First Advisor

Ralph Rosen

Abstract

This dissertation is on the Carmina Priapea (CP). The CP is a collection of 80 Latin epigrams that are about, in dedication to, or in the voice of the Roman god Priapus. The CP is obscene in content, notionally inferior in form and style, and curiously anonymous. The earliest scholarship was concerned with assigning a provenance to the book, but more recent scholars have turned to literary interpretation, paying increased attention to the CP’s formal elements. I aim to fill what I see as a gap in the scholarship by offering a careful study of the CP’s poetics. Although I do not think either the date of this text or the identity of its author can ever be determined with certainty, I endorse the growing scholarly consensus that the CP was written and organized by a single hand at the end of the 1st century CE. I argue that the CP is informed by a poetic discourse that is both sophisticated and ironic. The poet of the CP is cognizant of the Neoteric and Callimachean aesthetic principles practiced by his literary predecessors and contemporaries, but he adopts these principles by adapting them into a Priapic context, which is often tinged with irony. This dissertation consists of an introduction on the unity of the poetry book and three chapters on elements I see at play in the book: repetition, materiality, and liminality. In each chapter I focus on different aspects of Priapic poetry (repetitive language, the image of Priapus, and the idea of a confined garden) as a basis from which to move outward to the poet’s thematization of these elements in the book. The poems in the CP take advantage of familiar themes by subverting readers’ expectations. My work concludes that the CP is not so much “good” poetry in spite of its obscenity, but that its power and appeal come from the complexity of certain poems in which it is left to the reader to decide what is aesthetically good or bad. This is poetry that forcefully defies its status as “literature,” while demonstrating that it does indeed deserve that status.

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