Departmental Papers (Classical Studies)

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Book Chapter

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Lire la Ville: Fragments d’une Archéologie Littéraire de Rome Antique

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For Ovid, erotic elegy is a quintessentially urban genre. In the Amores, excursions outside the city are infrequent. Distance from the city generally equals distance from the beloved, and so from the life of the lover. This is peculiarly true of Amores, 3.13, a poem that seems to signal the end of Ovid’s career as a literary lover and to predict his future as a poet of rituals and antiquities. For a student of poetry, it is tempting to read the landscape of such a poem as purely symbolic; and I will begin by sketching such a reading. But, as we will see, testing this reading against what can be known about the actual landscape in which the poem is set forces a revision of the results. And this revision is twofold. In the first instance, taking into account certain specific features of the landscape makes possible the correction of the particular, somewhat limited interpretive hypothesis that a purely literary reading would most probably recommend, and this is valuable in itself. But paying more general attention to what can be known about this landscape over its long history raises some larger questions, most of which could hardly arise from a conventional literary reading. Nor, I should add, are such questions likely to arise from a consideration of landscape alone: it is the way in which literary and landscape studies seem to contradict one another, both superficially and on a deeper level, that makes this poem so fascinating. These contradictions cannot, in my view, be entirely resolved; and for this reason they give us an opportunity to reflect on certain theoretical issues that I will raise here only briefly, reserving them for fuller exploration elsewhere.

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Date Posted: 03 January 2017