- La poétique d’Ovide, de l’élégie à l’épopée des Métamorphoses: Essai sur un style dans l’histoire
Anne Videau’s detailed study of Ovidian elegy and epic is, above all, about the stylistic manifestations of Ovid’s response to power: how the macroscopic interplay of lover and beloved, ruler and subject, are represented in antitheses, allusions, and verbal conceits. In addition to several smaller, recurrent themes [End Page 528] running through the book—ambiguity of expression and apotheosis, to name but two—the larger argument attempts to sketch a unified picture of Ovid’s poetics as informed by generic expectations and historical context. The book consists of two parts, the first of which is as much a history of Roman elegy as a study of Ovid and identifies some distinguishing features of the genre that will resurface in the Metamorphoses. The second part, though it begins with a similar attempt to contextualize the epic’s place in the genre, focuses on a selection of episodes in the Metamorphoses, principally the Theban cycle of Books 3–4 (those interested in this part of the poem now have plenty to digest in Videau’s substantial reading set alongside Micaela Janan’s recent monograph). Despite the politico-cultural analyses promised at the outset and discussed mainly in the final chapter and conclusion, concerns of generic tradition and verbal play predominate and, indeed, this is where the strength of the book lies.
The author engages with a wide range of scholarship in multiple languages, though she makes especially extensive use of work by Gilles Tronchet and Jacqueline Fabre-Serris. Readers less familiar with the French scholarship will find Videau’s concerns and approach a particularly refreshing complement to recent Anglophone studies of Ovid and Augustan culture by, e.g., Andrew Feldherr and Michèle Lowrie. Those who know Videau’s own earlier work, however, will recognize an unusually large proportion of the book’s content from previous publications. The attempt to yoke them together has mixed results, and some readers will find the whole less compelling than the individual components, despite their frequent brilliance.
The chapters in part 1 explore the coherence in the Roman elegiac tradition both internally and in its relationship to Greek precedents. Videau is primarily interested in the historical moment of Roman elegy, its meditations on erotics and power, and (in part 2) the related developments of the erotika pathēmata theme in the Metamorphoses. Before getting to Ovid, she introduces the main topics through an extended reading of Catullus 66 (chap. 1), a precursor to Roman love elegy and a useful comparandum with the Hellenistic tradition (given the length of her analysis, a text of the poem might have been included). Videau traces its themes of liminality, feminine perspective, and dependency on a figure of power through the later poets, culminating with Ovid’s exile poetry. She shows in particular how Catullus’ poem inaugurates a tradition by combining and adapting the generic functions of ex-voto and funerary epigram through Berenice’s dedication of the lock for the welfare of Ptolemy and the lock’s separation from the queen through catasterism (59 ff.). The duality of the poem and its unusual protagonist—hovering between generic roles and states of existence—describes the situation of the elegiac poet and lover learning to cope with a new and destabilizing condition, whether political or erotic. These issues are explored in greater depth in the subsequent chapters, which discuss, among other subjects, the generic roots of the oscillation between anger and peace in Ovid’s depiction of the princeps (178 ff.), and the increasingly marked tension between elegy and epic from Tibullus to Ovid (205 ff.). In certain cases the exposition of familiar [End Page 529] issues can seem belabored, but even the overlong treatment of liminality in Tibullus, for instance, contains rewarding close readings of the text, such as the spatio-temporal effects...