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Learned Girls and Male Persuasion

Gender and Reading in Roman Love Elegy

Sharon Lynn James

Publication Year: 2003

This study transforms our understanding of Roman love elegy, an important and complex corpus of poetry that flourished in the late first century b.c.e. Sharon L. James reads key poems by Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid for the first time from the perspective of the woman to whom they are addressed—the docta puella, or learned girl, the poet's beloved. By interpreting the poetry not, as has always been done, from the stance of the elite male writers—as plaint and confession—but rather from the viewpoint of the women—thus as persuasion and attempted manipulation—James reveals strategies and substance that no one has listened for before.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Joan Palevsky Imprint in Classical Literature

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

...Invoking Catullus in his poem “The Scholars,”W. B. Yeats mocked classicists for laboring to produce learned commentaries on love poetry, which he describes as devised by desperate young men “[t]o flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.” Yeats’s beauty may have been ignorant, but Catullus’s certainly was not, or she could not possibly have understood the poetry directed at her. And without the ink-borne labor of the learned heads, neither could...

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pp. xiii-xvi

...Academics are often said to reside in an ivory tower, isolated from mainstream society. Perhaps—but, if so, we do not dwell there alone. The tower is a full and busy house whose inhabitants provide each other with encouragement, challenges, and companionship. Electronic media have now expanded its boundaries across the globe. It is a pleasure and privilege to acknowledge here the friends and colleagues who have kept me company as I wrote this book...

PART I. Concepts, Structures, and Characters in Roman Love Elegy

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1. Introduction: Approaching Elegy

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pp. 3-34

...In the past two hundred years or so, studies in Roman love elegy of the sort mocked by Yeats in his poem “The Scholars” have been divided primarily into source research and interpretation. Both efforts have been necessary, as elegy is not easily understood, for two main reasons. First, it often seems to express deeply felt emotion in apparently, but inconsistently, autobiographical fashion, although it is at the same time obviously filled with artifice. Second, readers conditioned by romanticism to expect sincerity, spontaneity, and, often, biography, from...

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2. Men, Women, Poetry, and Money: The Material Bases and Social Backgrounds of Elegy

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pp. 35-68

...the lover-poet offers her poetry instead; and the vir comes between them. Such a material basis for amatory negotations merits investigation and explication (the terms used here can be found in the appendix). My argument throughout is that the lover-poet is a man of high social rank and some means (though poetically, at least, not as wealthy as his rivals), who seeks to donate poetry at his beloved’s door rather than cash...

PART II. The Material Girls and the Arguments of Elegy; or, The Docta Puella Reads Elegy

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3. Against the Greedy Girl; or, The Docta Puella Does Not Live by Elegy Alone

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pp. 71-107

...material needs, which her lover-poet attempts to ignore or to overcome with elegiac persuasion, which as we have seen is the natural speech of enamored poets, and second, the lover-poet’s generic voluntary poverty. Since nothing so crude as actual money is mentioned, the lover can characterize his beloved’s demands for gifts as deriving not from inevitable necessity, given her profession and social class, but from her personal avarice—in other words, not from need but from greed...

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4. Characters, Complaints, and the Stations of the Lover; or, Adventures and Laments in Elegy

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pp. 108-152

...In theory, it is a form of self-address not used in communication, much less persuasion; it provides the basic vocabulary and attitude of Roman love elegy but is limited to no single topic and is concentrated in only a single elegy, Propertius 1.18. Rather, it informs and suffuses the entire genre, as the table below demonstrates. Expressions of lament crop up throughout each elegist’s corpus but rarely receive full treatment, as they have on their own no specific substance or subject matter, other than the pitiful suffering of the lover-poet, and no direction in which to go. The spineless, pathetic lament...

PART III. Problems of Gender and Genre, Text and Audience, in Roman Love Elegy

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5. Necessary Female Beauty and Generic Male Resentment: Reading Elegy through Ovid

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pp. 155-211

...have been criticized for appearing to mock, satirize, parody, make fun of the works of Propertius and Tibullus, as well as Catullus and, presumably, Gallus; as a result Ovid himself has been criticized as an inferior poet, and as personally and morally defective. Such criticism ignores the playful, self-parodic elements of elegy as a whole; it further fails to establish why satirizing a genre is necessarily a bad thing or why literary satire should indicate an author’s inadequate...

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6. Poetry, Politics, Sex, Status: How the Docta Puella Serves Elegy

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pp. 212-224

...That is, what do the elegists find in this particular woman that meets their poetic needs and goals, which are their personal and professional needs and goals as well? Why, in a time of solidifying peace and prosperity associated with eroding personal and political freedom and responsibility, is the poetic vision of servitude to a noncitizen woman, who makes her living by beauty and sex, so compelling to these elite male poets...


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pp. 225-238


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pp. 239-322

Works Cited

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pp. 323-336

General Index

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pp. 337-344

Index Locorum

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pp. 345-350

E-ISBN-13: 9780520928664
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520233812

Page Count: 365
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: Joan Palevsky Imprint in Classical Literature