Varying Virtue : Mythological Paragons of Wifely Virtues in Roman Elegy

University dissertation from Faculties of Humanities and Theology

Abstract: This dissertation investigates references to five mythological characters (Penelope, Laodamia, Andromache, Alcestis and Euadne) used as paragons of wifely virtues in Roman elegy. Providing extensive close readings, it discusses the usage of these five characters in the works of Propertius and Tibullus, and in the elegiac works of Ovid, with special reference to issues of narratology, intertextuality, and literary genre. The shaping of such mythological references is significant for our understanding of the elegiac genre as a whole. References found in Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid’s Amores (‘canonical’ elegy) are discussed in Chapter One. Mythological and intertextual inconsistencies reveal a skewed perspective on the elegiac relationship both with regards to the narrator’s appreciation of the beloved and his self-representation. The chapter argues that well-known examples of virtue cannot be incorporated into the system of ‘canonical’ elegy to which infidelity is intrinsic without a sense of jarring. Chapter Two examines the letters of Penelope and Laodamia in Ovid’s Heroides, finding there the same sense of grating between the epic-tragic and elegiac genre systems. In addition it shows that statements by both characters may be read as metapoetic statements on the aims of the genre. Passages drawing on the selected characters in erotodidactic elegy are investigated in Chapter Three. Here, references are of two types, one establishing the credibility of the erotodidactic narrators as changes to the evaluation of the mythological characters are in keeping with their claims for themselves, the other revealing the narrator’s world view to be comically blinkered as myths have to be tweaked to an absurd extent in order to fit the precepts proposed. The fourth chapter deals with instances in Ovid’s exile poetry, highlighting the importance of Ovid’s earlier works as intertexts and the re-inscription of the Ars amatoria into the exilic poetry. Furthermore, we note that these mythological characters become vehicles for metapoetic statements on ‘canonical’ elegy, confirming the traditional tendency of that genre. In conclusion, the dissertation shows that careful reading of seemingly stereotypical mythological references may assist in establishing elegy as a genre concerned with consolidating traditional Roman values.