The erotic gaze plays a crucial role in Latin literary representations of desire: desire itself arises from the gaze. For the most part, this gaze is portrayed as male, with a woman as its immobile object. Critics, moreover, often consider the gaze merely a mode of control that the male lover employs over the female beloved. Yet Roman poets represent situations that defy simple categorization. As Patricia Salzman-Mitchell (2005, 163–164) has observed, elegiac poetry depicts the puella as an object of the male gaze; yet by being stared at for a long time, as Andromeda is by Perseus, she can be viewed as exerting dominance over the male lover, who is both stupefied by her beauty and paralyzed by his passion. The first couplet of Propertius 1.1—Cynthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis / contactum nullis ante cupidinibus—suggests that not only is Cynthia the passive object of the burning male gaze, but she has also provoked his desire through eye contact.
Following the seminal essay of Judith P. Hallett, "The Role of Women in Roman Elegy: Counter-Cultural Feminism" (1973), critics tend to emphasize that the imaginary scenario in which elegiac lover and beloved are situated, the former in the position of a servus and the latter as a domina, is a way of representing love as an area of power relations reversing Roman cultural and ideological norms. Roman tradition expected women to behave chastely, exhibiting erotic reserve. But in the genre of elegy, the poet-speaker, concerned with the possible infidelity of his powerful domina, frequently questions female behavior and feeling alike. In 1.2, for example, Propertius suspects that Cynthia's expensive attire betokens her eagerness to appeal to other men, implying that she looks at them and regards them as objects of her own desire. Propertius tries to reassert his dominance over her potential exploitation of her costly cultus in a prescriptive manner, by arguing that she should seek to remain the object of his gaze and desire alone. By alternating the positions of object and subject of desire in this way, relating both to changing gazes, elegiac poets therefore provide an extremely complex picture of amatory relations.
This collection of essays developed from the presentations on a [End Page 105] panel—sponsored by EuGeStA, the international network bringing together European and North American researchers working on gender studies in different disciplinary fields of antiquity—given at "Visions: Feminism and Classics VII," at the University of Washington, Seattle, in May 2016. Entitled "Through Women's Eyes: Female Vision in Latin Elegiac and Epic Poetry," the five papers here examine several texts that openly depict women as "seeing subjects." Since all but one of these texts were written by male authors, we must consider these women as literary characters, interpreted, according to Maria Wyke (2002), as metaphors for both poetry and political order. As Alison Sharrock (1998, 36) has written, "Women are 'perceived'. We often speak not just of 'women', but of 'images', 'representations', 'reflections of women.'" The women depicted in Latin literature written by men lack the autonomy of thought and feeling that readers could grasp and analyze as if these were actual women. However, the focus on women as "seeing objects" signifies a questioning about women to be put in perspective with Roman social reality. These female portraits created from this unusual perspective need resituating in the framework of first-century BCE and CE Roman culture, in which traditional gender roles and moral codes are both challenged in practice and re-asserted by political power.
The first two essays analyze texts representing morally troubling conduct. Florence Klein proposes to reread Catullus's c. 64 as commenting on one of its (underestimated) models: Moschus's poem on Europa. Breaking with the Greek poetic tradition that depicts women victims of rape as mere objects of male lust, Moschus narrates the story from Europa's point of view, and suggests that the maiden, whose name means "a young girl with wide/widely open eyes," consents to her abduction out of attraction to the bull. Klein looks closely at two passages where Catullus, like Moschus...