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  • The Story of a Poet’s Apologetic EmancipationThe Recusatio-Narratives in Propertius 3.3, Amores 1.1, 2.1, and 3.1
  • Barbara Weinlich (bio)

In regard to the love elegies of Propertius and Ovid, past and more recent scholars have investigated possible relations between recusatio poems of both authors exclusively based on thematic parallels. Thus Walter Wimmel (1960, 295–302), followed by Kathleen Morgan (1977, 9–10, 17–20), assesses Propertius 3.3 as a model for both Amores 1.1 and Amores 3.1. Erich Reitzenstein (1935), in turn, sees connections between the opening elegies of each author’s books, that is, between Propertius 1.1 and Amores 1.1, and so forth (67–77), while Dietmar Korzeniewski (1964) considers a correspondence between Amores 1.1 and 2.1 (188–9). By contrast, an investigation of the formal parallels between Propertian and Ovidian recusatio poems directs the reader’s attention to a yet undiscussed group of four interrelated elegies and thus opens up a new perspective on the nature of apologetic writing in the œuvre of Propertius and Ovid’s Amores, respectively.

Applied to Propertius 3.3 and Amores 1.1, 2.1, and 3.1, Mieke Bal’s (1997) theory of narrative brings to the reader’s attention that in each of the four poems, the first-person speaker uses an elaborate narrative in support of his recusatio, i.e., his apology “for not writing in a higher style” (Cameron 1995, 455).1 Furthermore, the first-person speaker is the main protagonist of each story. Lastly, each story’s plot, or, in Bal’s terminology, each story’s fabula, follows the same pattern: it involves a subject who in search of an object experiences a transition from one state of being to another that can be classified as a ‘confrontation.’

A comparative analysis of the formal parallels with the tools of Bal’s theory of narrative suggests that these four programmatic elegies should be read as a series of interrelated poems that gradually transforms and thus endows the Propertian recusatio narrative with a new function. The formal differences between the four narratives with regard to the design of their stories and their fabulas suggest that Amores 1.1, 2.1, and 3.1 both affirm and contest their affiliation to the pattern or system introduced in Propertius 3.3. By modifying Propertius 3.3, the Ovidian [End Page 129] poems re-emphasize the need for a recusatio to justify the small genre. At the same time, however, Amores 1.1, 2.1, and 3.1 modify the tradition of recusatio in which Propertius 3.3 inscribes itself: the need to defend the choice of a lower style, as pronounced in Vergil’s Ecloga 6.3–8, is set in contrast to the need to defend the criterion for choosing any particular style.

After introducing the central terms of Bal’s theory and defining the beginning and end of each of the four narratives, I analyze each of the four texts separately, but not exclusively, as certain aspects of one narrative only become relevant in the context of another. In a concluding section I summarize my results.

Bal’s Theory of Defining and Confining a Narrative

Mieke Bal’s theory of narrative is based upon the notion of three distinct layers: narrative text, story, and fabula. Although in effect inseparable, these layers will be temporarily disjoined for the textual analysis of Propertius 3.3 and Amores 1.1, 2.1, and 3.1.

According to Bal, a narrative text is the medium through which a story is related. In the case of the four elegies, the story is related by means of words. Examining this layer of narrative entails, among others, questions in regard to the narrator, nonnarrative comments, textual forms (e.g., descriptions), and levels of narration (e.g., direct and indirect speech).

The term ‘story’ denotes the particular manner in which a plot is presented. Most importantly, this layer reflects the storyteller’s perspective, i.e., his focalization, on the elements of a plot and the ways in which his perspective shapes his relating of a plot. In addition, however, an investigation of this layer...


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pp. 129-152
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