Department of Classics

Barbara Weinlich, Texas Tech University: "Geographical Games and Social Constructs: The Rhetoric of Dominion in Propertius 3.13 and 14"

Fri, September 11, 2009 | Classics Lounge, WAG 116

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

This paper treats a well-known set of Propertian poems and suggests an alternative reading
to existing scholarship based on the following observations. Each elegy views Rome as a
gendered space. Furthermore, each poem compares contemporary Rome to another cultural
space that is remote either in time or place. In addition, each elegy links a woman’s sexual
morality to the common good (bonum), both in the case of Rome and in the case of the
other cultural space. Finally, the speaker of each poem offers a Romanocentric perspective,
that is to say, he sees everything in relation to Rome. This viewpoint, in turn, allows the
Propertian ‘I’ to adopt a rhetoric that determines the relations of center and periphery as
well as the individual citizen’s place in the Roman world.

My reading thus revisits the existing broad literary approach to Elegies 3.13 and 14, which
comprises Lana’s and Cairns’ Quellenforschung on particular topics, an interpretation of
Propertius 3.14 as an expression of the poet’s longing for a satisfying love by Alfonsi and
Nethercut, and an exploration of thematic and structural aspects shared by both poems.

Moreover, my paper reassesses the existing broad social and political approaches to both
poems in the light of recent studies on gender and domesticity in the age of Augustus. As
Milnor elucidates how Augustus exploited the concept of women and domesticity to support
his new vision of Roman society and ultimately the idea of one-man rule, she invites the
reader to further explore the intricacies of Elegy 3.13 and to go beyond the interpretation
of both Della Corte and LaPenna, according to which this poem is merely in support of
contemporary ideological needs. Similarly, Cairns’ thesis that Propertius 3.14 was written to
honor Sparta within a specific historical context engenders a fruitful discussion in view of a
critical approach based on recent studies of gender and domesticity as well as gender and

In combining Milnor’s critical approach with both an intertextual and a dynamic discursive
reading of Propertius 3.13 and 14, this paper aims at pushing into new territory on both
fronts. It will argue that both poems are linked together as a geographical game that involves
a range of social constructs: elegiac love, the construction of gender, the construction of
sexual morality, Roman domestic politics, Roman imperial politics and most importantly the
construction of the self in society. Elegies 3.13 and 14 offer reflections about a citizen’s place
in the Vrbs as well as in the orbis, the new world system, ordered by Rome. The Propertian
speaker casts himself in the role of an outsider at the Vrbs in poem 3.13, but becomes an
insider when looking at Sparta in Propertius 3.14.

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