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  • Gendered Dynamics in Latin Love Poetry
  • Aven McMaster
Gendered Dynamics in Latin Love Poetry. Edited by Ronnie Ancona and Ellen Greene . Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. Pp. 372. $55.00 (cloth).

The study of gender in the Roman world and in Latin literature is a growing and vibrant field, and this volume makes an impressive and thought-provoking contribution to the subject. It is a collection of thirteen essays, most published here for the first time, about the complexities of gender in Latin amatory poetry. It is designed to contribute to the developing discussion of gender and sexuality in classics in general and particularly to the increasing interest in the importance of Latin love poetry as a site for the construction of and anxiety about male and female identity in Rome. Catullus, Horace, Propertius, and Ovid are the poets examined here, with the majority of essays concentrating on either Propertius or Ovid.

While the collection is aimed mainly at classics scholars and students, there is much here that should be of interest to those working in other areas of gender studies, and some of the essays take the needs of nonspecialists into consideration. Some of the essays give very full background information in the footnotes, with dates of works and explanations of technical terms, but others have mainly bibliographical notes, and some references may be unclear for those without specific background in Latin poetry. All the passages from Latin and Greek texts are given both in the original language and translated, but generally the entire poem or poems under discussion are not given in the book, however, so the reader will have to find the texts elsewhere. There is also no index locorum, which would have been a valuable addition, since there are many passages cited and many close readings of individual texts.

Included are essays of particular value for scholars who are not specialists in Latin poetry or even classics. The first essay, Trevor Fear's "Propertian Closure: The Elegiac Inscription of the Liminal Male and Ideological [End Page 615] Contestation in Augustan Rome," outlines the relationship between the elegiac male lover (young, elite, and deliberately resisting maturation into a productive adult) and the rejection, promotion, or accommodation of the normative ideals of Augustan Rome. Fear uses the example of the closural motifs of Propertius's third book to demonstrate the complexities of the elegiac construction of masculinity within the changing social and political world of post-Actium Rome. This essay will give a nonspecialist reader a good outline of the world in which most of the poetry under discussion is set and is particularly valuable for the nuanced approach Fear takes. Too often Roman poetry is seen either as embracing and justifying or as rejecting or subverting Augustus's political and moral programs. Fear resists this simplistic approach, and his argument is compelling.

In "Impossible Lesbians in Ovid's Metamorphoses," Kirk Ormand examines Ovid's portrayal of love between two women (Iphis and Ianthe) in terms of Roman sexual and gender categories to see if it can or should be read as depicting "homosexuality," "homophobia" (an attack on female homoeroticism), or something else. This essay should be useful for classicists and nonclassicists alike, because he gives an intelligent summary of recent scholarly discussion of gender categories and sexuality at Rome and provides clear definitions of his use of the terms. He focuses on what can be reconstructed about female sexuality and gender and makes the important point that the ancient conception of sex requires an active role and a passive role; there can be no equal sexual act: "Ancient Rome perceived sex as essentially predicated on an asymmetry of power" (85). He concludes that the story of Iphis and Ianthe is about the impossibility of love between equals, in which there is no hierarchy of dominance, rather than an attack on female homoeroticism per se. One minor criticism is that Ormand needs to state more clearly that he is reconstructing Roman male thought about women's sexuality, not its realities. Nonetheless, this is a valuable contribution to an important topic.

Hérica Valladares, in "The Lover as a Model Viewer: Gendered Dynamics in Propertius...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-3605
Print ISSN
1043-4070
Pages
pp. 615-619
Launched on MUSE
2011-08-31
Open Access
No
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