- The Poeta as Rusticus in Ovid, Amores 1.7
Amores 1.7 has long been considered a problematic poem. Its subject matter, the physical assault of the puella by the poet-speaker, is often viewed as distasteful (James 2003, 184), and there are difficulties of interpretation. Opinions of the poem vary, although critics no longer see it as a “sincere expression of regret” on the part of the poet-speaker (e.g., Barsby 1993, 91, quoted in James 2003, 184; Fraenkel 1945, 18 and Wilkinson 1955, 50, both quoted in Khan 1966, 880; Greene 1998, 84). The poem is read, for instance, as a humorously exaggerated and disingenuous description of the poet-speaker’s reaction to his attack on his puella, designed to rationalize and minimize his responsibility (Barsby 1973, 91; Cahoon 1988, 296); as an expression of continued violence against women (Greene 1998, 84); and as a tour de force that turns an angry lover into a subservient underling (Olstein 1979, 297). Commentators agree, however, that the poem is embedded in a strong literary and elegiac tradition that includes quarrels and physical force as a part of erotic interactions.1
In this article I argue for another interpretation of this poem that locates Amores 1.7 firmly in the elegiac topos of the lover’s violence. Specifically, I examine Tibullus 1.10.51–66 and Propertius 2.5.21–6, two poems to which Amores 1.7 has direct verbal and thematic connections.2 My intention is, first, to focus on the characters of the rusticus and the poeta in Tibullus 1.10 between whom Tibullus draws a contrast when it comes to the battles of love, and, second, to discuss how Propertius in 2.5 objects to Tibullus’s description of a drunken rusticus as a rapist, a scene that, in his view, should not have been written. Finally, I argue that in Amores 1.7 Ovid confronts and redirects the topos of elegiac violence by creating a poeta who is also a rusticus.3
Rusticitas is a quality that Ovid disdains and one that his elegy is designed to combat,4 but in Amores 1.7, Ovid’s poet-speaker gradually reveals that he has actually engaged in the behavior of Tibullus’s rusticus by physically attacking his puella. Ovid thus combats the parochial and exclusionary conventions of Propertius and Tibullus who define the elegiac lover ostensibly as a peaceful man. At the same time, however, [End Page 267] Ovid’s poet-speaker punctuates his revelations with a high degree of epic features that show that, despite his uncouth behavior, he is a poet and a learned poet at that. As I suggest here, Ovid, by creating a poet-speaker who is a poeta as well as a rusticus, reworks both Tibullus, who has created a distinction between the behavior of a rusticus and that of a poeta, and Propertius, who believes that any poet who describes the behavior of a rusticus is himself behaving as one.
In the final poem of his first book, Tibullus creates a distinction between the rusticus and the poeta which calls on earlier themes in his poetry and connects the rusticus with the soldier.5 After a series of contrasts between war and peace which ends with a disquisition on the types of love that involve both war and peace (51–66), Tibullus begins his final section with the rusticus, who, drunk after a festival, beats and rapes his wife:6
rusticus e lucoque vehit, male sobrius ipse, uxorem plaustro progeniemque domum.sed veneris tunc bella calent, scissosque capillos femina, perfractas conqueriturque fores;(51–4)
The countryman, himself hardly sober, brings home from the sacred grove his wife and offspring in his wagon. But then the battles of love grow hot and the woman laments her torn hair and her broken gates.
Tibullus describes the condition of the rusticus with a form of litotes (male sobrius),7 and we realize quickly that his drunkenness is ugly as Tibullus moves from the journey home (51–2) to the assault. His language is strong. He chooses bella to define the action of the rusticus, and its contrast with the...