- Sextus Propertius: The Augustan Elegist
Patronage, biography, Gallus, and Augustus: in Sextus Propertius: The Augustan Elegist Francis Cairns offers a new consideration of these four difficult aspects of Propertian studies. His analysis is often innovative and thought provoking. Yet, as Cairns himself admits, his conclusions are necessarily conjectural, owing to the limited external evidence and the complexities attendant on distilling historical facts from Propertius’ poetry.
The book focuses on Propertius’ relationship with Cornelius Gallus, Tullus, Maecenas, and Augustus, all of whom, Cairns believes, were patrons of the poet. Gallus receives the lengthiest consideration: seven of the book’s twelve chapters attempt to uncover the full breadth of his influence upon Propertius. In this respect, Cairns’s work belongs to the controversial line of Gallan scholarship in which Franz Skutsch and David Ross are prominent. Nonetheless, Sextus Propertius is valuable for its presentation of an impressive range of information. Cairns applies philological and historical methodologies to bring to bear sources ranging from epigraphical evidence and centuriation to analysis of meter and intertextual allusions. His efforts have produced a work which will prove useful for scholars of Augustan poetry, as well as other specialists who study the early principate.
In the first two chapters of the book, Cairns discusses evidence about the historical figures behind the personae mentioned in Propertius’ early poetry. He gives particular attention to Propertius himself, tracing a variety of references to the Propertii and to the family of the addressee “Tullus,” the Volcacii Tulli. These chapters are thorough and offer much for scholars interested in Augustan literary history to consider. Yet there is scant solid evidence about [End Page 78] Propertius as a historical figure. As a result, much of Cairns’s argumentation relies on speculation. The reader will do well to keep this in mind, as many of his conclusions, while possible, are by no means incontrovertible.
The majority of the book (Chapters 3–7, as well as Chapter 12) treads into even more conjectural territory, turning to the figure of “Gallus” in Propertius’ poetry. Cairns argues that Propertius’ “Gallus” is C. Cornelius Gallus, who he contends was not only one of Propertius’ poetic models, but also his patron along with Tullus during the period when he published the Monobiblos. Cairns suggests that Propertius’ depiction of Gallus can be better understood through the concept of deformazione, i.e., the assimilation and misrepresentation of one poet’s work by another poet.
Despite deformazione, Cairns proposes that he is able to trace potentially Gallan “verbal complexes” in Propertius through (1) certain lexical patterns, (2) the maintenance of a term’s metrical sedes, and (3) the presence of tri- and polysyllabic words at pentameter line endings. Cairns’s assertions in this section of the book are particularly persuasive when he finds a confluence between a Gallan “verbal complex” and polysyllabic pentameter line endings. Cairns uncovers so much evidence of Gallus’ poetry in Propertius, however, that one wonders whether his criteria for discerning Gallan features ought to be narrowed.
Chapters 8–11 focus on the relationship between Propertius and patronage in Books 2–4 of his elegies, the period in the poet’s career during which Cairns contends that Maecenas and Augustus were his patrons. He believes that the patron-client relationship inherently offered direct benefits to the patron, so that Propertius’ poetry should be understood as explicitly pro-Augustan (for a differing view on Propertius and patronage, see Heyworth, BICS 50  93–128). Thus, Cairns seeks to refute the notion of anti-Augustanism in Propertius, contrasting his own views with those of Stahl in particular. Cairns’s work in this section of the book suggests interesting literary-historical contexts for some of Propertius’ elegies, especially 3.14 and 3.17. Yet, I suspect that this work will not do much to change the opinions of those who were not already in Cairns’s camp regarding the nature of the relationship between poets and patrons.
The book is generally well edited, although there are a few typographical errors. In addition, Cairns claims that...