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  • Introduction
  • Duncan F. Kennedy (bio)

In the wake of the pioneering work of Gérard Genette and Mieke Bal in the 1970s, narratology was enthusiastically embraced by classical scholars working in the areas of epic, historiography, and the ancient novel.1 Roman love elegy has come rather late to this party, but following a conference titled “Elegy and Narrativity” at Princeton in 2004, and a panel held at the Annual General Meeting of the Classical Association at Reading in the United Kingdom in 2005, it is staging its own Alcibiadean entrance. The proceedings of the Princeton conference have been edited by Genevieve Liveley and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell and published by Ohio State University Press (2008) under the title Latin Elegy and Narratology: Fragments of Story. The essays presented here have been developed from the papers delivered at the Reading panel.

Genevieve Liveley draws attention in her essay to the resistance some scholars have felt to the notion that love elegy constitutes any kind of narrative or story, implicit though the idea is in the assumptions they make in their detailed analyses. Undoubtedly, erotic elegy’s characteristic form of first-person enunciation has distracted attention from the important role that narrative plays in the genre. As Kathleen McCarthy puts it below:

Although elegy shares with lyric (and other first-person genres) the preference for poems that represent a fragment of social speech addressed to a specific individual, in elegy this format is elaborated in ways that give weight (and a sense of reality) to the others who inhabit this world, without losing its primary commitment to expressing the feelings of the speaker.


Elegy achieves this, she continues, through narrativity, that is, “through the incorporation of elements which have the effect of telling a story and thus creating a storyworld” (153). The elegiac ego is a compulsive storyteller, about others (partly through the exempla he adduces, often as a means of justifying his own attitudes or behavior), but especially about himself, both as a lover and as a poet. The narrative techniques involved can be very oblique, and the narrative details provided often isolated and fragmentary. The daringly experimental quality of Latin love elegy has often been insufficiently acknowledged, but makes itself felt powerfully [End Page 109] when due attention is paid to the complexity of its narrative constructions. In a number of Tibullus’s Delia elegies, for example, what we have is close to a stream of consciousness from which the reader must recon-figure the details of the storyworld, even as the lover, under pressure from his fluctuating emotions or from events he is currently experiencing in his storyworld, reveals details that are at odds with or even undermine the narrative he is constructing for himself.2

The papers in this volume demonstrate how attention to the narrativity of these poems can achieve genuine purchase on aspects that have been overlooked or caused bewilderment. Liveley uses Paul Ricoeur’s theory of the processes of prefiguration, configuration, and refiguration to explore how readers endow these poems with narrative meaning, dynamically revising their sense of the narrative coherence and development as they incorporate fresh elements.

The reliability of the elegiac narrator is a pressing issue for the reader, as both McCarthy and Liveley explore in relation to Propertius when the puella has the opportunity to tell her story from her point of view. McCarthy focuses on narrative within a single poem, but her analysis radiates out to consider the changing function of the poetic ‘voice’ in book 3 of Propertius and, more generally, across his œuvre as a whole.

It is the elegist’s narrative of his poetic development that is the focus of Barbara Weinlich’s attention. Comparing three Ovidian programmatic elegies with the recusatio in Propertius 3.3, she suggests that these poems are not to be analyzed simply in terms of parallel topoi, but incorporate a narrative element in which the first-person speaker is the protagonist who “in search of an object experiences a transition from one state of being to another that can be classified as a ‘confrontation’” (129). She brings to bear the terminology and tools of Bal’s theory of narrative to suggest that...


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pp. 109-110
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