Homeric Variations on a Lament by Briseis


Elegizing Briseis in Augustan Rome

[91] The poetic potential of our glimpse of Briseis in the Iliad was not lost on the Augustan poets, who also had access to the Epic Cycle, which we have only in summary form. [1] Propertius and later Ovid seize on the figure of Briseis and the tragic aspects of her relationship with Achilles as the perfect nexus of epic and elegiac agenda. [2] In Book 2 of his elegies, Propertius transforms epic into elegy and elegy into epic through the figure of Briseis. A close reading of the four poems in which Briseis appears will show how Propertius constantly reinterprets heroic exempla from the lover’s perspective (and vice versa). [3] This reinterpretation is part of an ongoing engagement with epic poetry in which Propertius refuses to write epic while he at the same time transforms heroic models into elegiac ones. In order to refuse epic poetry, Propertius subsumes it to his own poetic goals.

[92] These poetic goals are declared in a number of ways, all of which can be explored through the figure of Briseis. First, Propertius equates the epic and the elegiac poet—and the lover and the statesman and warrior. Propertius asserts in Book 2 and elsewhere that elegiac struggles are heroic, and that a lover is a fighter. Second, Propertius explicitly inserts himself into the history of Greek and Latin literature by alluding to and incorporating other genres within his elegiac mode of expression. Finally, Propertius affirms a Callimachean system of poetics that rejects the grandiose, martial, and political. Propertius’ transformation of epic into elegiac and Callimachean poetry is a recusatio that runs throughout the Propertian corpus.

Briseis is part of a system in which the dimensions of poet, citizen, elegy, and epic are explored. Propertius 2.1 is the ideal starting point for my own exploration of this system, because with this poem Propertius sets forth his goals for Book 2 as a whole. The seemingly minor figure of Briseis unites many of the themes that are programmatically laid out in 2.1 well before Briseis appears.

Make Love and War: The Lover as Warrior in 2.1

Book 2 of Propertius’ elegies begins with a programmatic poem about the elegist’s place in Augustan Rome. Propertius [4] refuses epic by equating love and war, thereby justifying his choice to be a love poet. [5] The poem is structured around a series of rejections of other, more weighty forms of literature that a statesman and poet might be expected to write. The poem is addressed to Maecenas and therefore must fulfill a dual purpose: it is a dedication to a literary patron and at the same time recusatio of state-oriented epic or historical poetry. ,

[93]Propertius creates poetic independence for himself first by asserting that his poetic inspiration is Cynthia and only Cynthia—he is simply incapable of other forms of poetry, notably epic:

Cynthia, whose very name is connected with Apollo, here replaces both Apollo and the epic muse as the source of Propertius’ poetic inspiration. Calliope is perhaps to be associated with Hesiod, Apollo with Homer. [
7] The substitution of Cynthia for Apollo and Calliope marks a rejection of epic poetry for elegy, as well as a rejection of war and the life of a statesman for the life of the elegiac lover.

Propertius goes on to equate the “struggles” of lovemaking with the epic hero’s ordeals (luctatur) on the battlefield:

‘seu nuda erepto mecum luctatur amictu,’
‘tum vero longas condimus Iliadas.’ (2.1.13–14)
Or if she struggles with me nude, her dress torn off,
then indeed I compose long Iliads.

Here sex is a substitute for battle, and a poem about sex is Propertius’ Iliad. [
8] Propertius (no doubt playfully) justifies his choice by portraying the life of a lover in heroic terms.

But poem 2.1 is not only a justification on the part of the author of the apolitical life and work of a poet. The poem also creates a place for love elegy in the literature of Augustan Rome. In line 17 begins a recusatio proper that encompasses the history of Greek and Latin literature. Propertius begins by stating that it is not his fate to write epic poetry (17), but if it were, his subject would be Caesar and Maecenas:

‘quod mihi si tantum, Maecenas, fata dedissent,’
‘ut possem heroas ducere in arma manus,’
‘non ego Titanas canerem, non Ossan Olympo’
‘impositam, ut caeli Pelion esset iter,’
‘nec veteres Thebas, nec Pergama nomen Homeri,’
‘Xerxis et imperio bina coisse vada,’
‘regnave prima Remi aut animos Carthaginis altae,’
[94]‘Cimbrorumque minas et bene facta Mari …’
‘bellaque resque tui memorarem Caesaris, et tu’
‘Caesare sub magno cura secunda fores.’ (2.1.17–26)
But if only fate had so endowed me, Maecenas,
that my Muse could lead a hero’s hands to arms,
I should not sing of Titans, or Ossa on Olympus
piled, that Pelion might become the path to heaven;
or of ancient Thebes, or Pergamum, Homer’s glory,
and the union of two seas at Xerxes’ command,
or the early reign of Remus or the fury of lofty Carthage,
the Cimbrian menace and the splendid feats of Marius:
I should tell of your Caesar’s wars and policies and you
after mighty Caesar would be my second theme.

The poet rejects theogony (19–20), the Theban cycle (21), the Trojan War (21), the Persian wars (21), the founding of Rome (23), the Punic wars (23), and the Celtic invasions (24) as subjects for his epic poetry. This recusatio is a formal refusal of not only themes but also genres and poets. Again he indirectly cites Hesiod (19–20) and more explicitly Homer (21), as well as Herodotus, Ennius, Naevius, and possibly Livy—to name just the most obvious. [
9] In so doing Propertius refuses wisdom poetry, epic poetry, tragedy, and history. We may recall here lines 15–16, which render Propertius’ love poetry “the greatest history”: seu quidquid [Cynthia] fecit sive est quodcumque locuta,/maxima de nihilo nascitur historia. It is interesting to note that Propertius does not yet reject pastoral poetry, a point to which I will return shortly.

Just as Cynthia becomes Propertius’ “epic” Muse, Propertius’ patron Maecenas likewise takes on an epic persona. He becomes Patroklos: [10]

‘nam quotiens Mutinam aut civilia busta Philippos’
‘aut canerem Siculae classica bella fugae,’
‘eversosque focos antiquae gentis Etruscae,’
‘et Ptolomaeei litora capta Phari,’
‘aut canerem Aegyptum et Nilum, cum attractus in urbem’
‘septem captivis debilis ibat aquis,’
‘aut regum auratis circumdata colla catenis,’
‘Actiaque in Sacra currere rostra Via;’
‘te mea Musa illis semper contexeret armis,’
‘et sumpta et posita pace fidele caput:’
‘Theseus infernis, superis testatur Achilles,’
‘hic Ixioniden, ille Menoetiaden.’ (2.1.27–38)
For as often as I sang of Mutina or graves dug at Philippi in civil war,
or the naval war and the rout of Sicily,
or the ruined hearths of Etruria’s ancient race,
[95]and the coasts of Ptolemaic Pharos captured;
or I should sing of Egypt and the Nile, when haled into Rome,
it flowed flagging with its seven streams captive;
or the necks of kings encircled with chains of gold
and Actian prows speeding along the Sacred Way:
my Muse would always be weaving you into these exploits,
you the soul of loyalty in commending as in rejecting peace.
Theseus to the shades below, Achilles to the gods above proclaims a comrade’s love,
the one of Ixion’s, the other of Menoetius’ son.

With these lines Propertius continues his sweeping review of Greek and Roman history, taking the survey down to the time of composition. He concludes by asserting that he has been unable to write about these historical events without weaving in Maecenas, and compares him to Perithous and Patroklos. In this way Propertius celebrates his patron as a hero. And by implication of course, Augustus is Achilles. On this analogy the world of the elegist becomes thoroughly heroic: Cynthia, Maecenas, and Augustus all have their Iliadic counterparts, and, if we follow the analogy through, Propertius is Homer himself.

But a Homer Propertius refuses to be. Despite his attempts at epic poetry, the poet maintains that his slender Callimachean poetics (angusto 38, 45) are not up to the task of composing hard epic narratives (duro 40):

‘sed neque Phlegraeos Iovis Enceladique tumultus’
‘intonet angusto pectore Callimachus,’
‘nec mea conveniunt duro praecordia versu’
‘Caesaris in Phrygios condere nomen avos.’
‘navita de ventis, de tauris narrat arator,’
‘enumerat miles vulnera, pastor ovis’ (2.39–44)
But neither would the slender utterance of Callimachus suffice to thunder
forth the battle waged on Phlegra’s plain between Juppiter and Enceladus,
Nor are my powers fitted to enshrine in martial strains
the name of Caesar among his Phrygian ancestors.
The sailor tells of winds, the ploughman of oxen;
the soldier counts his wounds, the shepherd his sheep

In lines 39–40 the poet compares his poetics to those of Callimachus, who was not able to “thunder forth” the Titanomachy. In the next two lines is a reference to the Aeneid, which is still at this point a work-in-progress. Virgil is a Roman poet who could write epic; Propertius’ calling is elsewhere. In 43–44 the poet notes that every person tells stories about what they know best. The verses are structured with adversative asyndeton at the caesura, with the result that oppositions are set up between sailor and farmer, soldier and shepherd. These oppositions mirror those set up throughout the poem between lover and statesman, elegist and epic poet.

[96]Propertius associates himself with the Hellenistic poetry of Callimachus, but Propertius is not a pastoral poet like Theocritus or Virgil. His field of expertise is love:

‘nos contra angusto versantes proelia lecto:’
‘qua pote quisque, in ea conterat arte diem.’
‘laus in amore mori’ (2.1.45–47)
I for my part wage wars within the narrow confines of a bed:
let everyone spend his life in the trade he practices best.
To die in love is glory

Here, as in 13–14, the language of love and battle are mixed so as to make battle a metaphor for love and to effect an equivalency between the two. The elegist wages war, but in bed. Likewise it is glorious for the elegist to die on the battlefield of love. This idea is picked up again in the final lines of the poem, in which the poet imagines his tombstone, as though he were a fallen warrior.

Lines 49–70 continue the recusatio with a literary tour de force in which mythological exempla from tragedy and the Epic Cycle abound. [11] With Phaedra and Medea in lines 51 and 54 the genre of tragedy, noticeably absent from the earlier survey, gains a place within the overall theme of refusal. [12] Many of the remaining exempla come from the Trojan cycle, and here Achilles makes his second appearance, referred to indirectly (by way of his spear) as simply “the Thessalian” (Haemonia … cuspide 63). Propertius’ inescapable sufferings are then compared to the famous punishments of the underworld and the binding of Prometheus.

The poem concludes with a return to Maecenas (73), and the hope that the patron will honor the poet once he has died:

‘quandocumque igitur vitam mea fata reposcent,’
‘et breve in exiguo marmore nomen ero,’
‘Maecenas, nostrae spes invidiosa iuventae,’
‘et vitae et morti gloria iusta meae,’
‘si te forte meo ducet via proxima busto,’
‘esseda caelatis siste Britanna iugis,’
‘taliaque illacrimans mutae iace verba favillae:’
‘‘Huic misero fatum dura puella fuit’’
When, therefore, fate claims back from me my life,
and I become a brief name on a tiny marble slab,
then, Maecenas, hope and envy of Roman youth,
my rightful pride in life and death,
[97]should your travels chance to bring you close to my tomb,
halt your British chariot with its figured harness,
and, shedding a tear, pay this tribute to my silent embers:
“An unrelenting girl was the death of this poor man!”


Here the poet imagines that his tomb, not unlike the tomb of a Greek hero, [
13] will be visited by travelers. Maecenas is also imagined heroically or, at the very least, as a warrior in his chariot. True to Propertius’ Callimachean poetics, however, the tombstone will be slender (exiguo 72). The punch line as it were is that the cause of this hero’s death is not a fatal wound in battle but a fatal love affair: Huic misero fatum dura puella fuit (78). Nevertheless, as I noted above, this death will be for Propertius a source of glory: laus in amore mori (47). The adjective dura applied to Cynthia recalls the duro versu of line 40. Again an equivalency is made between the harsh ordeals of the warrior and those of the lover. Thus the final lines of the poem bring together the themes of dedication, recusatio, and Hellenistic poetics, as a final connection between the warrior and poet is made in the image of the hero’s tomb.

In 2.1 Propertius makes two types of refusal to write epic poetry. In 39–46 he argues that his poetics are not of kind to suit epic themes. Like Callimachus, he is incapable. But the poem as a whole argues for an equivalency between love and war that overrides the poet’s professed lack of ability. Stahl has noted of 2.34: “Propertius dedicates the larger part of the Second Book’s epilogue to explaining his relationship with Virgil: a natural counterpiece to his own introductory refusal to write an epic on Augustus’ deeds.” [14] Similarly, I argue that Propertius’ metaphorical combination of the semantic realms of love and war in 2.1 indicates a special way in which the elegist can and will write epic. Epic will be transformed into elegy throughout Book 2. Just as Maecenas can become Patroklos, Cynthia will become Briseis. And Propertius (like Augustus) will become Achilles.

Briseis and Cynthia: 2.8 and 2.9

As I have argued above, in the Iliad Briseis can be a captive, prize, a girl, a daughter, or a wife. In Iliad 9.340-341 Achilles asks if only the sons of Atreus love their wives (alokhous), thereby likening her to Clytemnestra and inviting us to think of Briseis as a “wife.” [15] In Briseis’ lament for Patroklos in 19 she says that Patroklos had promised to make her Achilles’ kouridê alokhos. A kouridê alokhos is a wife to whom one was betrothed in youth or young adulthood; [16] [98]Agamemnon uses this phrase of Clytemnestra in Iliad 1.114. But of course Briseis has already been married when our Iliad begins. In the Iliad Briseis is a captive foreigner and Achilles’ concubine, a prize of war (Iliad 1.392). Achilles himself killed her husband (19.295–296).

Propertius exploits this tension between Briseis as wife and Briseis as captive concubine, never to be resolved in the Iliad itself, [17] in a masterly way in Book 2 of his elegies. Propertius’ elegiac mistress Cynthia plays a number of seemingly contradictory roles in this book (and throughout the Propertian corpus). [18] At times she seems to be a meretrix, at other times an upper-class wife committing adultery. [19] In 2.6 Propertius highlights the ambiguity: Nos uxor numquam, numquam seducet amica:/semper amica mihi, semper et uxor eris (2.6.41–42). The poetics of Propertius are quite different from those of Homeric poetry, but the parallels between Propertius’ portrayals of Briseis and Cynthia and the use of Briseis as an exemplum show us that has exploited a striking (if initially unintentional) affinity between these two characters.

I now propose to look more closely at the poems in which Briseis appears, in order to show how Propertius “elegizes” epic by elegizing Briseis. Propertius makes Briseis a central character in an ongoing recusatio that transforms epic and heroic traditions by infusing them with the agenda of love elegy. In these four poems, Cynthia can be Briseis, or she can be the antithesis of Briseis. The portrayals of both Cynthia and Briseis are shaped by the dictates of the poems’ narratives. The flexibility built into their characters allows a reinterpretation of each woman with each new episode. And yet a unity emerges that shows that the arrangement of the four poems and the portrayal of the characters are anything but random.

Poems 8 and 9 of Book 2 have been read as a complimentary pair. In both poems the narrative context is Cynthia’s unfaithfulness. In poem 8 she has been snatched away by another (eripitur 8.1); in poem 9 Cynthia is portrayed as a [99]deceiver (fraudes 9.31). Briseis is the explicit analogy in both cases. Poem 8, however, has been attacked on grounds of unity. [20] The wild bursts of emotion seem incoherent and irreconcilable. Although it is not a programmatic recusatio, as in poem 2.1 nonelegiac genres and themes are inserted into the medium of elegy and transformed. But it is precisely Briseis and the analogy with Cynthia that unites the poem.

Poem 2.8 begins: eripitur nobis iam pridem cara puella (1). As many commentators have noticed, the verb already sets up an analogy with Briseis, who will not appear by name until line 35. Briseis was captured by Achilles, who calls her douriktêtê “won by the spear” (9.343). In the Iliad, Briseis loves her captor, and when she is stolen a second time in Iliad I, this time by Agamemnon, she goes “unwillingly” (ἀέκουσα 1.348). The analogy with Cynthia is unexpected but nonetheless meaningful. Cynthia herself has been “captured” and is possessed by Propertius, whether we think of her as a married woman or a meretrix. [21] Now someone has stolen what he had rightfully stolen.

By imagining her as Briseis, the poet can portray Cynthia, at least in this poem, as unwilling to leave him. Propertius reinterprets the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon in Iliad 1 as a love triangle: nullae sunt inimicitiae nisi amoris acerbae (3). [22] None of this becomes clear, however, until the final exemplum of the poem. Before engaging the epic analogy to which he only alludes in the opening lines, the poet first analyzes great themes of history and tragedy in terms of love.

In lines 7–10 Propertius moves from epic and goes on to rethink the monumental History of Herodotus from an elegiac perspective. He encapsulates the driving theme of Herodotus’ History as it is formulated in Herodotus 1.5:

Ἐγὼ δὲ περὶ μὲν τούτων οὐκ ἔρχομαι ἐρέων ὡς οὕτως ἢ ἄλλως κως ταῦτα ἐγένετο, τὸν δὲ οἶδα αὐτὸς πρῶτον ὑπάρξαντα ἀδίκων ἔργων ἐς τοὺς Ἕλληνας, τοῦτον σημήνας προβήσομαι ἐς τὸ πρόσω τοῦ λόγου, ὁμοίως μικρὰ καὶ μεγάλα ἄστεα ἀνθρώπων ἐπεξιών. Τὰ γὰρ τὸ πάλαι μεγάλα ἦν, τὰ πολλὰ αὐτῶν σμικρὰ γέγονε· τὰ δὲ ἐπ’ ἐμέο ἦν μεγάλα, πρότερον ἦν σμικρά. Τὴν ἀνθρωπηίην ὦν ἐπιστάμενος εὐδαιμονίην οὐδαμὰ ἐν τὠυτᾠ μένουσαν, ἐπιμνήσομαι ἀμφοτέρων ὁμοίως.

But concerning these things I do not plan to say how they happened one way or another, but rather having indicated the one who I myself know first committed unjust acts against the Greeks I shall proceed with my history, treating small and great cities of men alike. For many cities that were once [100]great have now become small; and some that were great in my time were small before. Knowing therefore that human prosperity never continues in the same place, I shall mention both alike.

(Herodotus I.5.3–4)

Propertius applies to love the idea that great cities fall and small ones become great and the fact that human fortune is never constant:

‘omnia vertuntur: certe vertuntur amores:’
‘vinceris aut vincis, haec in amore rota est. ’
‘magni saepe duces, magni cecidere tyranni,’
‘et Thebae steterant altaque Troia fuit’. (2.8.7–10)
All things change, and loves not least of all:
you lose to those you vanquished—so turns the wheel in love.
Great generals and tyrants have often taken a fall.
Thebes is destroyed and lofty Ilion has ceased to be.

Troy and Thebes are great cities that are now destroyed and insignificant. If these can be overthrown, it is no wonder that love can too. Love’s fortune is cyclical, imagined as a wheel (rota 8). We may compare the following passages:

εἰ δ’ ἔγνωκας ὅτι ἄνθρωπος καὶ σὺ εἶς καὶ ἑτέρων τοιῶνδε ἄρχεις, ἐκεῖνο πρῶτον μάθε ὡς κύκλος τῶν ἀνθρωπηίων ἐστὶ πρηγμάτων, περιφερόμενος δὲ οὐκ ἐᾷ αἰεὶ τοὺς αὐτοὺς εὐτυχέειν.

(Herodotus I 207.2)

But if you recognize that you are a man and that you rule over other men, learn first that there is a cycle of human affairs, and wheeling around it does not allow the the same people to remain always fortunate.

ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ πῆμα καὶ χαρὰ
πᾶσι κυκλοῦσιν, οἷον Ἄρ-
κτου στροφάδες κέλευθοι.

But pain and joy
exist in a circle for all, just like
the rotating paths of the Great Bear.

(Sophocles Trachiniae 131–133)

The wheel or kuklos of human fortune is a pervasive concept in the tragedies of Sophocles. [
23] It is also an important metaphor for Herodotus, as exemplified not only in the opening chapters of the work but also in the story of Croesus in Book 1. Although the cyclical nature of human fortune may well be to some extent a universal concept, I think that in 2.8.7–10 Propertius does in fact refer to the monumental work of Herodotus’ History. As I noted above, already in 2.1 Propertius said that out of Cynthia’s words and deeds “the greatest history [101](maxima … historia)” is born (2.1.15–16). [24] Here that promise comes to fruition, but through elegy and the elegist’s poetics. Propertius’ poem is only forty lines long, it is in elegiac couplets, and the history is that of a love affair. But just as there are seeds of elegy already in the Iliad, so Herodotus 1 offers appropriate material for the elegist: the opening chapters of the book are all about wife stealing.

The metaphor of the wheel of human fortune is one that Herodotus and Sophocles share. The next Greek model that Propertius reinterprets is Antigone:

‘quid? non Antigonae tumulo Boeotius Haemon’
‘corruit ipse suo saucius ense latus,’
‘et sua cum miserae permiscuit ossa puellae,’
‘qua sine Thebanam noluit ire domum? (2.8.21–24)’
What? Did not Boeotian Haemon at Antigone’s tomb
destroy himself, stabbed in the side by his own sword,
and did he not mix his bones with the unhappy girl’s,
since without her he would not enter his Theban home?

In these lines Propertius takes a complex set of heroic actions and values and analyzes them from the point of view of the lover. From this point of view Haemon killed himself for love, because he could not live without Antigone. Scholars have objected to discrepancies with known literary versions of the myth. [
25] Butler and Barber write that whatever version Propertius has in mind, “the parallel is inept.” Camps tries to excuse Propertius: “The fact that the circumstances attending the loss are quite different in the two cases is not a fault; the speaker’s thoughts are rendered incoherent by emotion.” [26]

But as we have seen, the Antigone-Haemon exemplum is the second of three great literary models to which Propertius equates his own loss of Cynthia. The poem begins with a veiled allusion to epic and the figure of Briseis; in lines 29–40 the analogy is fully realized as the third of the three:

‘ille etiam abrepta desertus coniuge Achilles’
‘cessare in tectis pertulit arma sua.’
‘viderat ille fuga, stratos in litore Achivos,’
‘fervere et Hectorea Dorica castra face;’
‘viderat informem multa Patroclon harena’
‘porrectum et sparsas caede iacere comas,’
[102]‘omnia formosam propter Briseida passus:’
‘tantus in erepto saevit amore dolor.’
‘at postquam sera captiva est reddita poena,’
‘fortem illum Haemoniis Hectora traxit equis.’
‘inferior multo cum sim vel matre vel armis,’
‘mirum, si de me iure triumphat Amor? (2.8.29–40)’
Even great Achilles, left alone when his wife was stolen,
allowed his arms to lie idle in the face of the Trojans.
He had seen the Achaeans in flight cut down along the shore,
and the Greek camp ablaze with Hector’s torch;
he had seen the unlovely corpse of Patroklos
lying stretched out on a heap of sand and his locks caked with blood,
enduring it all for the sake of lovely Briseis:
such is the grief that sears a man when his love is stolen.
But when with tardy redress his captive was restored,
he dragged the valiant Hector behind his Thessalian horses.
Since I am far inferior to him in mother and in arms,
why wonder that Love naturally triumphs over me?

Here, just as in the Antigone-Haemon passage, the elegiac poet/lover interprets the model from the lover’s point of view. In the elegist’s analysis, Achilles allowed his dearest friend Patroklos to die for love of Briseis (omnia formosam propter Briseida passus 35). Even the dragging of Hektor is attributed to retroactive dolor for the taking of Briseis.

In all three of his uses of Greek literary models in this poem Propertius distorts and reinterprets the analogy, forcing his exempla to fit within a lover’s paradigm. Many scholars have tried to show how Propertius gets the model wrong, and then they explain why he did so. Richardson for example writes on these lines: “Whether we are to see this distortion as a lapse of the poet’s memory of the Iliad or rather as the half-deliberate falsification of his fevered imagination at this point does not greatly matter.” Similarly: “In 2.8 the poet could not stop to think where to begin or what to do, and things came off rather to his discredit.” [27] This interpretation, like that of Camps on the Antigone analogy, attributes an inability on the part of the poet to control his own emotions. Consequently his poetry becomes incoherent and imprecise.

Emotional and intellectual turmoil may well be the construct that Propertius (the author) develops for the poetic persona that is the speaker of the poem. But I argue that the distortion of famous literary models is intentional and part of an ongoing recusatio, in which Propertius (the author) asserts the place of elegy in Greek and Roman literary history. Propertius has not, in a fit of jealous emotion, misinterpreted the act of dragging Hektor. The dragging of Hektor is one of the most primal and atrocious responses to grief in the Iliad. No ancient reader of the poem could mistake Achilles’ grief for Patroklos for anger over the taking of Briseis. Propertius, moreover, could have easily left out lines 37–38, which at [103]first seem almost an afterthought. But Propertius has deliberately composed and included them. In so doing, he signals even more provocatively his appropriation of epic into an elegiac world.

This appropriation of epic begins even before 2.8.29. Already in the Antigone-Haemon exemplum a conflation of epic, elegy, and tragedy has taken place. In line 23 Haemon is said to mix his bones with those of Antigone (sua cum miserae permiscuit ossa puellae). Both Richardson and Camps point out that we know of no tradition in which Antigone and Haemon share a tomb. Achilles and Patroklos, however, are a famous example of a pair whose bones are mixed in a single funeral urn. Propertius makes brilliant use of this exemplum in poem 4.7, in which Cynthia returns after death in a dream and makes this same request of Propertius. Here in 2.8 I think we have an even earlier reference to the mixing of the bones of Achilles and Patroklos. By mixing epic and tragic allusions in the Antigone example Propertius both signals his innovative use of the material but also appropriates them with his own elegiac system.

Propertius’ use of Briseis as a model for Cynthia is the crucial and culminating appropriation of epic in this poem. Line 1 refers to Cynthia (Eripitur … puella), but recalls Briseis. In line 29 Propertius compares his emotions to those of Achilles, abrepta desertus coniuge. A form of rapio brings the two together. There is a disjunction, however. Cynthia is a puella, but Briseis is called a coniunx. Propertius exaggerates the relationship between Briseis and Achilles in order to make the theft seem all the more terrible and the loss all the more painful. In exaggerating their relationship, Propertius gives more weight to his own relationship. And yet Briseis is just as much Achilles’ puella as Cynthia is Propertius’. Here again I think the disjunction is intentional. In line 37 Propertius plays on Briseis’ status by calling her captiva: it is unclear whether captiva refers to her theft by Agamemnon, or Achilles, or both. The analogy with Briseis and the poem as a whole cast the sufferings of the lover in heroic terms. The obvious parallels between Briseis and Cynthia allow Propertius to elegize the epic material as well as call attention to the fact that he is doing so. And yet Propertius is never far off from his Iliadic model even when departing from it. For as we have already seen, the attribution of the status of wife to the captive Briseis is one made already in the Iliad by Achilles himself. [28]

Poems 2.8 and 2.9 are together a brilliant depiction of the progression of the emotions of the abandoned lover. In poem 2.8 the analogy with Briseis is made in order to entertain the idea that Cynthia has been taken from him against her will. In 2.9 there is no such illusion, and instead Cynthia becomes a failed Briseis. Briseis is imagined as the quintessential faithful Greek bride, and Cynthia is a poor comparison:

[104]‘Penelope poterat bis denos salva per annos’
‘vivere, tam multis femina digna procis;’
‘coniugium falsa poterat differre Minerva,’
‘nocturno solvens texta diurna dolo;’
‘visura et quamvis numquam speraret Vlixem,’
‘illum exspectando facta remansit anus.’
‘nec non exanimem amplectens Briseis Achillem’
‘candida vesana verberat ora manu;’
‘et dominum lavit maerens captiva cruentum,’
‘propositum flavis in Simoenta vadis,’
‘foedavitque comas, et tanti corpus Achilli’
‘maximaque in parva sustulit ossa manu;’
‘cum tibi nec Peleus aderat nec caerula mater,’
‘Scyria nec viduo Deidamia toro. ’
‘tunc igitur veris gaudebat Graecia nuptis,’‘ [
‘tunc etiam felix inter et arma pudor. (2.9.3–18)’
Penelope was able to keep her honor intact for twice ten years,
a woman well meriting that multitude of suitors;
her crafty loom enabled her to put off the hour of marriage,
undoing the day’s weaving in nightly deceit;
and although she never expected to see Odysseus again,
she stayed true and became an old woman waiting for him.
Briseis, too, holding the lifeless Achilles,
beat her fair cheeks with frantic hand:
the mourning captive washing her bleeding lord
as he lay beside the sandy shoals of the Simois;
she soiled her hair and her little hand
took up the body of the huge Achilles and his giant bones.
Peleus was not there for him then, nor his sea-born mother,
nor Deidamia, who slept in a deserted bed on Scyros.
Thus in those days Greece rejoiced in faithful brides,
and in those days a blessed restraint existed even in times of war.

Here not just Briseis but even Penelope becomes incorporated into the elegiac realm. [
30] The faithful wife of twenty years would seem to have no place in the (adulterous) world of the elegiac lover, but Propertius expects no less than [105]perfect “fidelity” from his mistress Cynthia. The possibility that Cynthia could be a Penelope is brought out even further by the juxtaposition of Briseis with Penelope as another example of a devoted consort. Like Cynthia, Briseis is no wife, and yet, like Penelope, she is a model of fidelity.

The powerful image of the weeping Briseis (2.9.9–14) serves a number of purposes that tie in well with poems 2.1 and 2.8. First and foremost Briseis is a foil for the unfaithful Cynthia, devoted and loyal beyond all others. Briseis was there for Achilles when his father, mother, and the mother of his son were not. Second, in portraying Briseis this way, as with Penelope, Propertius transforms epic into elegy while at the same time casting his own sufferings in a heroic light.

The elegizing of epic, however, as we have seen in 2.1 and 2.8, involves more than rewriting epic narratives to focus on romantic love. The Roman elegist is also asserting a system of poetics that is modeled on learned Alexandrian poets like Callimachus and Theocritus. Propertius often displays his own learnedness and familiarity with Alexandrian poetic techniques by means of sophisticated allusions to Greek and Roman poetry that operate on multiple levels. The death of Achilles does not take place within the confines of the Iliad, but in the Aethiopis. In the summary form in which we have it, there is no episode in the Aethiopis in which Briseis laments Achilles as she does here, but in this or some other tradition she must have done so. Quintus of Smyrna (3.551) contains a similar scene, and probably drew on the same source as Propertius.

Propertius employs Alexandrian learning by alluding here as elsewhere to “non-Homeric” Cyclic traditions. [31] But the lamenting Briseis is also eminently Iliadic. The only words that she speaks in the epic are a lament for Patroklos (19.282–300). [32] Propertius’ Briseis laments Achilles, but at the same time reenacts her Iliadic lament for Patroklos (and presumably her lament for her first husband). [33] The range of referents for the allusion is extended, and as a result Briseis laments more than one man. In this poem the unfaithful Cynthia is not Briseis. Or is she? In 2.8 the poet compares her directly to Briseis, and in 2.20 and 2.21 he will do so again. The multiple referents for Briseis’ lament may be connected with Cynthia’s multiple lovers. If this interpretation is right we may be able to read a similar meaning into the seemingly out of place reference to Deidamia, the mother of Neoptolemus, as Achilles’ widow (16). If Propertius is Achilles, what does this say about his own fidelity? The perfection of the Achilles-Briseis relationship crumbles as each is revealed to be more than monogamous, and the relationship between Propertius and Cynthia is revealed to be equally fragile.

[106]Poem 2.9 presents Briseis as above all a creature of lament. At first the devoted Briseis is merely a foil for the faithless Cynthia, with whom the lamenting woman seems to have little connection. But as I have argued above, the poem tests the applicability of the analogy, which may be more fitting than it seems at first glance. In poems 2.20 and 2.22, Cynthia is very much a lamenting woman who, as an abandoned lover, expresses all the tortured emotions that the Greek lament tradition and the Roman elegiac love tradition share. In 2.9 we may already see traces of the affinity between these two poetic systems in the combination of Briseis and Cynthia.

Epic and Elegy, Love Song and Lament: 2.20 and 2.22

In the second pair of poems in which Briseis appears in Book 2, she and Cynthia are linked closely with Andromache (2.20.1–2, 2.22.29–32). As I noted in my introduction to this book, Briseis and Andromache are marked in the Iliad as both objects of love and singers of lament. The special combination of love song and lament that they perform is a kind of proto-elegy, incorporated into epic. [34] The elegiac meter has its origins in lament poetry, but in the archaic period the elegiac meter became divorced from the genre of lament because of anti-aristocratic laws that prohibited elaborate funerals. [35] In Euripides’ Andromache, Andromache sings a lament in elegiacs that may be the first reclaiming of lament in the elegiac meter (103–116). Andromache, whose proleptic lament for Hektor in Iliad 6 and formal lament at Hektor’s funeral in Iliad 24 make her an archetypal singer of lament in Greek song tradition, is an ideal figure with which to reexplore the connection between elegy (with its erotic connotations) and lament. In 2.9, 2.20, and 2.22 Propertius exploits the very similar connection between lament and love song that is so central to Roman elegiac love poetry. By linking Cynthia closely with Briseis and Andromache, Propertius, like Euripides, reunites epic and elegy, lament and love song.

But of course in Roman elegiac poetry it is generally the male lover who laments and loves, and the mistress who is cold and impenetrable. In a famous example Catullus compares himself to a flower that has been “touched” by the plough (11.23–24). In Propertius Book 2, the roles are, on the surface, (re) reversed: Propertius becomes the warrior figure Achilles, and Cynthia is either the lamenting Briseis or Andromache (2.8, 2.20.1–2, 2.22.29–32), or else a failed Briseis or Andromache (2.9). The analogy between the lover and the fighter that is so prevalent in 2.1 and other poems throughout the Propertian corpus fits [107]perfectly into this scheme. Through the shifting signs of the metaphor heroic values are reinterpreted and reassigned.

But if Propertius is to be a fighter, then Achilles must be a lover. Already in 2.8 Achilles is as much the persecuted elegiac lover as Propertius is the epic warrior: tantus in erepto saevit amore dolor “such is the grief that sears a man when his love is stolen” (2.8.36). By portraying Achilles as a tortured lover Propertius brings out a very important aspect of Achilles’ character in the Iliad. As Hélène Monsacré has shown, Achilles performs a series of laments that connect him to the erotic world of women’s lament and love song. [36] Briseis’ lament in fact mirrors Achilles’ own. [37] The corresponding laments of Achilles and Briseis in the Iliad are reflected in the four poems in which Briseis appears in this book. In 2.8 and 2.9 Propertius is the tormented elegiac lover whose emotions find expression in lament poetry. In 2.20 and 2.22, the situation is reversed, and it is Cynthia who grieves.

Thus poems 2.20 and 2.22 are in many ways a pair that balance and contrast 2.8 and 2.9. In the first two poems Cynthia has found another lover; in the second pair, Propertius is the one who is suspected and then proved (by his own admission) to be unfaithful. Now Propertius is the deceitful one (fraude 3). In 2.9 Achilles is associated with two women whom he has widowed, and I have argued that Propertius hints already there that he too has multiple associations. But in 2.20, as I will now go on to explore, he swears that that is not the case, declaring that he has una fides (18).

In this poem Cynthia laments, and surpasses even Briseis and Andromache in her grief:

‘Quid fles abducta gravius Briseide? quid fles’
‘anxia captiva tristius Andromacha?’
‘quidve mea de fraude deos, insana, fatigas?’
‘quid quereris nostram sic cecidisse fidem?’
‘non tam nocturna volucris funesta querela’
‘Attica Cecropiis obstrepit in foliis,’
‘nec tantum Niobe, bis sex ad busta superba,’
‘sollicito lacrimans defluit a Sipylo. (2.20.1–8)’
Why do you weep more bitterly than the abducted Briseis? Why
in your anxiety do you weep more sorrowfully than captive Andromache?
And why do you frantically weary the gods with tales of my infidelity?
Why do you complain that my loyalty has sunk so low?
Not so piercingly does the mourning bird of Attica
utter her nightly dirge in Athenian trees;
not so does Niobe, whose pride caused twice six deaths,
pour down her tears from anguished Sipylus.

[108]The elegiac Cynthia is gravius and tristius than her epic counterparts. If we read these lines in the context of recusatio, gravius takes on even greater meaning: epic/martial poetry is gravis, but Propertius’ elegy is gravius. [

Propertius here compares the complaints of Cynthia to four heroic exempla of lament. Next after Briseis and Andromache Propertius adduces Procne, who was transformed into the nightingale, a bird of lament in perpetual mourning for her son Itys. Querela is the Latin word for lament. It is also a word used of lover’s complaints, as in the closing lines of Propertius 4.11: haec postquam querela mecum sub lite peregit,/inter complexus excidit umbra meos (4.11.95–96). [39] This word more than any other unites lament and elegy. We might apply this duality of meaning to the story of Procne, whose murder of her son was an act of revenge for her husband’s rape of her sister. I suggest that here as elsewhere Propertius interprets the mythological exemplum from the lover’s perspective, and that Procne is meant to be lamenting betrayed love and its disastrous consequences.

The final exemplum is steeped in both lament and epic traditions. Here Propertius refers to Niobe, whose twelve children Artemis and Apollo killed after Niobe boasted that she was a more successful mother than Leto. Although Briseis and Andromache are the prototypical lamenting women from the standpoint of Propertius Book 2, Niobe is the traditional figure of lament from the standpoint of the Iliad. In Iliad 24 Achilles urges Priam to share a meal with him after he has ransomed the body of Hektor. Even Niobe, he says, had to eat:

νῦν δὲ μνησώμεθα δόρπου.
καὶ γάρ τ’ ἠΰκομος Νιόβη ἐμνήσατο σίτου,
τῇ περ δώδεκα παῖδες ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ὄλοντο
ἓξ μὲν θυγατέρες, ἓξ δ’ υἱέες ἡβώοντες.
τοὺς μὲν Ἀπόλλων πέφνεν ἀπ’ ἀργυρέοιο βιοῖο
χωόμενος Νιόβῃ, τὰς δ’ Ἄρτεμις ἰοχέαιρα,
οὕνεκ’ ἄρα Λητοῖ ἰσάσκετο καλλιπαρῄῳ·
φῆ δοιὼ τεκέειν, ἣ δ’ αὐτὴ γείνατο πολλούς·
τὼ δ’ ἄρα καὶ δοιώ περ ἐόντ’ ἀπὸ πάντας ὄλεσσαν.
οἳ μὲν ἄρ’ ἐννῆμαρ κέατ’ ἐν φόνῳ, οὐδέ τις ἦεν
κατθάψαι, λαοὺς δὲ λίθους ποίησε Κρονίων·
τοὺς δ’ ἄρα τῇ δεκάτῃ θάψαν θεοὶ Οὐρανίωνες.
ἣ δ’ ἄρα σίτου μνήσατ’, ἐπεὶ κάμε δάκρυ χέουσα.
νῦν δέ που ἐν πέτρῃσιν ἐν οὔρεσιν οἰοπόλοισιν
ἐν Σιπύλῳ, ὅθι φασὶ θεάων ἔμμεναι εὐνὰς
νυμφάων, αἵ τ’ ἀμφ’ Ἀχελώϊον ἐρρώσαντο,
ἔνθα λίθος περ ἐοῦσα θεῶν ἐκ κήδεα πέσσει.
[109]ἀλλ’ ἄγε δὴ καὶ νῶϊ μεδώμεθα δῖε γεραιὲ
σίτου· ἔπειτά κεν αὖτε φίλον παῖδα κλαίοισθα
Ἴλιον εἰσαγαγών· πολυδάκρυτος δέ τοι ἔσται.

But now let us think of dinner.
For even Niobe of the beautiful tresses took thought of food,
she whose twelve children died in her halls,
six daughters, and six sons in the bloom of youth.
Apollo slew the sons with his silver bow,
angered at Niobe, and Artemis who pours down arrows killed the daughters,
since Niobe had equated herself with Leto the beautiful-cheeked:
she asserted that Leto had borne two children, but she herself had borne many.
And they although being two destroyed them all.
The bodies lay there amidst the slaughter for nine days, nor was there anyone
to bury them; Zeus had turned the people to stone.
But on the tenth day the Heavenly gods buried them.
But she indeed thought of food, when she was weary of weeping.
And now somewhere among the rocks in the lonely mountains
in Sipylos, where they say are the haunts of goddesses,
the nymphs who dance around the Acheloos river,
there as a stone she weighs her cares from the gods.
But come let us two also take thought, brilliant old man,
for food. Then in turn you may lament your dear son,
once you have led him back into Ilion. Indeed he will be much-lamented.

(Iliad 24.601–620)

The story of Niobe is significant in its own right. For the story and its applicability to the context in which it is used troubled Alexandrian scholars. [
40] Propertius alludes directly to lines that were athetized by Aristophanes (of Byzantium) and Aristarchus. As Antonios Rengakos has shown, Alexandrian poets like Callimachus and Apollonius of Rhodes displayed their learnedness by alluding to the variant readings of Homer known to them and to the textual problems encountered in the work done by the Alexandrian scholars on the text of Homer. [41] I would argue that in these lines Propertius practices an Alexandrian method of alluding to Homer. Propertius uses Homer, but in an untraditional, Callimachean way.

Even more significant for this discussion, however, is the Iliadic context within which the story is told. Just before Achilles cites the example of Niobe, he and Priam weep for sons and fathers. Just after this episode, as 24.620 already predicts, the funeral of Hektor begins with its succession of laments by Hecuba, Helen, and Andromache. And it is with this funeral that the Iliad comes to an end. When Propertius compares Cynthia’s lament to Niobe’s, he also evokes some of the fullest expressions of lament in archaic Greek literature.

These four exempla, when taken together, are a reintegration of lament and love song, epic and elegy. Homeric poetry already incorporates women’s lament traditions within its epic framework. Propertius simply recreates, from the [110]opposite direction, something that epic already does. Homeric poetry incorporates lament into epic; Propertius reinterprets elegy as lament and in doing so incorporates epic into lament. In order to achieve this reinterpretation, Propertius adopts the techniques of Alexandrian poets whose “slender” poetics transform weighty epic hexameters into finely crafted and delicate elegiacs. Propertius combines the substance of epic with the poetic techniques of Callimachus and creates Roman love elegy.

In 2.22, the final poem in which Briseis appears, Propertius reasserts himself as the lover and warrior Achilles, declaring that one woman is not enough for him. [42] Poem 2.22 aggressively equates the lover and the fighter in the way of 2.1. Hektor and Achilles are examples of warriors whose martial strength and abilities are in no way diminished by sex and love:

‘Iuppiter Alcmenae geminas requieverat Arctos,’
‘et caelum noctu bis sine rege fuit;’
‘nec tamen idcirco languens ad fulmina venit:’
‘nullus amor vires eripit ipse suas.’
‘quid? cum e complexu Briseidos iret Achilles,’
‘num fugere minus Thessala tela Phryges?’
‘quid? ferus Andromachae lecto cum surgeret Hector?’
‘bella Mycenaeae non timuere rates?’
‘ille vel hic classis poterant vel perdere muros:’
‘hic ego Pelides, hic ferus Hector ego. (2.22.25–34)’
For Alcmena’s sake Jupiter put the twin Bears to rest,
and for a doubled night did heaven lack a king;
yet he was not therefore faint when he turned to wield the thunderbolt:
never does the act of love rob a lover of his strength.
What? When Achilles came from Briseis’ embrace,
did not the Trojans flee the Thessalian’s shafts?
And when fierce Hector rose from Andromache’s bed,
did not Mycenae’s fleet tremble before his onset?
They had the power to destroy either ship or walls;
in love I will be Achilles, in love fierce Hector.

These lines bring together a number of points in my discussion. First, we see here more than anywhere else Briseis and Andromache as objects of desire, which is a necessary image if Propertius is to “elegize” them. [
43] By portraying [111]them both as lovers Propertius allows Briseis and Andromache to become elegiac mistresses, and conversely he allows the elegiac mistress to become Briseis or Andromache. By combining the object of desire (as here) and the singer of lament (as in 2.9 and 2.22), Propertius captures the essence of the emotions of elegy. Elegy conveys anger, grief, sorrow, despair, loss, and fond remembrance, all of which emotions Roman elegiac love poetry and Greek funeral lament share. Although formal lament certainly exists and existed outside of epic, Propertius in these four poems engages heroic and specifically Iliadic lament in a complex process of recusatio. By comparing himself to Achilles and Cynthia to Briseis, Propertius does more than claim equal validity for love elegy as other love poets do. [44] Through the figure of Briseis Propertius is able to reinterpret epic and transform it into elegy, thereby asserting his own poetic goals in a heroic realm.

I have argued that Propertius deliberately inserts himself into the history of Greek and Latin literature by reinterpreting his models from the point of view of the lover and recasting them as elegy. By declaring all of literature a source for elegiac exempla, Propertius affirms the preeminence of love elegy as a genre. In so doing Propertius consistently refuses to write epic and constantly justifies his own choice to write elegy. But in refusing, Propertius displays a command of the epic tradition. Thus his refusal is also an inclusion. This technique is grounded in Alexandrian learning and connects Propertius with the Callimachean poetic program that he claims for himself throughout the elegies. [45]

Propertius’ elegiac portrayal of Briseis has its origins in this Hellenistic tradition of poetry. [46] Callimachus and Philitas are the poets cited by Propertius as Greek models for Roman love elegy. [47] Apollonius’ Argonautica, however, though hexameter epic poetry, is revolutionary from the point of view of poetics and extremely important in the history of love elegy. Medea’s soliloquy in Book 3 of the Argonautica expresses all of the tortured emotions of Catullus and Propertius. Catullus’ portrayal of Ariadne (64) and Virgil’s portrayal of Dido (Aeneid 4) are comparable responses to Apollonius’ treatment of Medea, and are [112]each infused with Alexandrian learning and poetic techniques. Both Catullus 64 and Virgil’s Aeneid are themselves reconciliations of Callimachean poetics and heroic poetry. Unlike Catullus or Virgil, Propertius distances himself from epic subjects by claiming that he can only write about Cynthia. But by constantly comparing Cynthia to epic models, Propertius becomes an epic poet on his own (elegiac) terms.

Book 2 of Propertius’ elegies presents notorious difficulties for the critical reader. [48] Divisions between the poems are not always clear or consistent in the manuscripts, and the unusual length of the book (1,362 lines) indicates the possibility that two books, one or both perhaps damaged, have been conflated in our manuscript tradition. As Hubbard notes: “The problem of what constitutes a poem and what principles of unity we can invoke is thus sharply posed by book II in a way in which it is not posed by other books of Propertius.” [49] Four poems do not guarantee that Book 2 as we now have it is a unity. But the balance of comparison and contrast, oppositions and reversals in the analogy between Cynthia and Briseis, and Propertius and Achilles are a unity that problematizes traditional attempts to divide the book, forcing the reader to reconsider the integrity of the poems handed down to us as Book 2. This unity encompasses a large portion of the 34 poems handed down to us as Book 2. In poem 2.1 Augustus and Maecenas are Achilles and Patroklos. But in 2.8, 2.9, 2.20, and 2.22 Propertius is Achilles and Cynthia is Briseis. Does that make Propertius the poetic equivalent of Augustus? Can Maecenas (as Patroklos) make Cynthia Propertius’ kouridiê alokhos? The substitutions at work in the analogy of Achilles and Briseis in this book collapse all distinctions between lover and [113]warrior, poet and statesman, and finally elegist and epic poet that are so crucial to our understanding of Propertius.


[ back ] 1. That the Roman elegiac poets had access to the Epic Cycle seems to me certain. They knew at least a good deal of traditional material that was narrated in the Cycle (although much of this material may have been mediated through tragedy). Names of the poems of the Epic Cycle (and the authors to whom they are attributed) are inscribed on the so-called Tabulae Iliacae (found in and around Rome and dated to Augustan times). On the Tabulae Iliacae see Sadurska 1964 and Horsfall 1979.   

[ back ] 2. On the “elegizing” of Briseis in Ovid (and Propertius) see especially Jacobson 1971 and Barchiesi 1992, 185ff. I have borrowed the term “elegize” from Barchiesi. For Propertius, see also Dalzell 1980, 30: “the whole plot of the Iliad is conceived in romantic terms: Achilles, Briseis, and Patroklos are the central figures in a drama of passion and suffering. This is an elegiac Iliad, brought down to human level, where the characters are motivated by the emotions which move the elegiac lover.”    

[ back ] 3. Running commentaries tend to encounter heroic exempla on a case by case basis and therefore do not treat them as a unified system. The resulting analysis focuses on each instance as a distortion of the heroic exemplum that requires explanation. Butler and Barber 1933, Richardson 1976, and Camps 1966 alternatively excuse the poet or point out his errors. I propose to show the pattern by which Propertius deliberately reinterprets the exempla in the context of love elegy. This reinterpretation by nature distorts the model, but, as I will demonstrate, the “distortion” often offers a great deal of insight into both the Propertian poem and its source.   

[ back ] 4. I refer to “Propertius” or “the poet” and “Cynthia” not biographically, but as characters in a poetic narrative constructed by the “real” Propertius who is the author of the poems. It is often difficult or impossible to distinguish between the two, since the narrator of the poems is also an elegiac poet and refers to himself as “Propertius” in 2.8. For the poetic persona we may compare Catullus and others, whose narrators likewise refer to themselves in a way that suggest that they should be equated with the author, but who seem to be poetic constructs nonetheless.   

[ back ] 5. See Stahl 1985. See also, e.g., Propertius 1.6, where Propertius calls love his militiam (1.6.30). The equivalency between love and war is an important theme in the poetics of Sappho, whose poetry was an important model for the Roman poets (above all Catullus and Horace). See especially Sappho fragments 1 and 16 (Voigt) and Rissman 1983. Rissman argues that Sappho deliberately alludes to the military language of epic poetic traditions, incorporating it and transforming it into love poetry in much the same way that Propertius does.    

[ back ] 6. All translations of Propertius are adapted from those of Goold 1999.   

[ back ] 7. Cf. Hesiod, Theogony 79. Camps notes that Calliope is elsewhere Propertius’ Muse (3.2.16, 3.3.38, and 3.3.51). See Camps 1966, ad loc.   

[ back ] 8. See Camps 1966, ad loc.   

[ back ] 9. On the poetic references and sources see Butler and Barber 1933, ad loc.   

[ back ] 10. On Maecenas as Patroklos see Stahl 1985, 165.   

[ back ] 11. See Butler and Barber 1933, ad loc.   

[ back ] 12. It could be argued that veteres Thebas is an allusion to tragedies set in Thebes, but the place of the phrase within a seemingly chronological catalog indicates I think that the Theban cycle of epic poetry is meant.    

[ back ] 13. Cf., e.g, Iliad 7.87–91 and Alcestis 996–1004.   

[ back ] 14. Stahl 1985, 173.   

[ back ] 15. See above, pp. 39 and 65.   

[ back ] 16. See Nagy 1970, 104–5, note 9.   

[ back ] 17. As I noted above [p. 35], Iliad 24.675–676 offers some closure to the quarrel over Briseis as Achilles and Briseis go off into Achilles’ tent together to sleep. But the Iliad is open-ended in that Achilles’ death is constantly foreshadowed. Although the relationship between Achilles and Briseis is restored upon her return, Achilles’ death guarantees that she will never be more than a captive concubine.    

[ back ] 18. See Richardson 1976, 3–4: “The picture of Cynthia that must be put together is of a woman who is shown us by turns as a casta puella who spurns the poet’s desperate love and devotion (1.1), a frivolous and vain creature of fashion preoccupied entirely with her own appearance (1.2), a devoted wifely companion who can berate the poet for his desertion of her for an evening while he has gone off carousing (1.3), a doxy willing to threaten to follow a rich suitor to wintry Illyria (1.8), yet tearfully insistent that P. give up thought of a career and the chances of lining his pocket in Asia to dance constant attendance on her in Rome (1.6), a vindictive little trollop ensconced in the society of the demimonde of Rome (1.5), and a courtesan accustomed to spend her holidays grandly among the pleasures and temptations of Baiae (1.11)—to name only some of the guises in which we meet her in the first half of the first book.”    

[ back ] 19. See Williams 1968, 529ff. and Richardson 1976, 143ff.   

[ back ] 20. See especially Butler and Barber 1933, ad loc.   

[ back ] 21. If Cynthia is a married woman, he has stolen her from her husband; if a meretrix, he has stolen her from her many would-be lovers.    

[ back ] 22. Compare Ovid’s Tristia 2.371–374 for a similar transformation:

Ilias ipsa quid est aliud nisi adultera, de qua
inter amatorem pugna virumque fuit?
quid prius est illi flamma Briseidos, utque
fecerit iratos rapta puella duces?

[ back ] 23. See especially Ajax 127–132, 208–209, 669–673; Trachinian Women 94–140; Oedipus Tyrannos 1186–1192; Oedipus at Colonus 1448–1456.   

[ back ] 24. In Book 1.15.24 Cynthia becomes nobilis historia because of the magnitude of her treachery and infidelity. (See Stahl 1985, 163.) In 1.15, as in this poem, women of the Greek heroic past (in this case Calypso and Hypsipyle) are put forth as models of fidelity in comparison with Cynthia.    

[ back ] 25. See Butler and Barber 1933, Camps 1966, and Richardson 1976, ad loc. Sophocles’ Antigone is the best-known and most obvious literary model. Hyginus (Fab. 72) also has a version in which Haemon kills Antigone and then himself.    

[ back ] 26. Camps 1966, ad loc.   

[ back ] 27. Richardson 1976, 236.   

[ back ] 28. 9.340-343. Cf. 19.297–298.   

[ back ] 29. ‘Nuptis’ is Baehrens’ emendation for ‘natis’. If ‘natis’ is kept, the meaning is that children have certain parentage. This seems a strange thing to say of the children of Briseis or Deidamia, and even stranger in connection with Cynthia. Richardson objects to ‘nuptis’ on the grounds that it is “inappropriate for Briseis, when the poet has just characterized her as ‘captiva’.” Yet in line 29 of the same poem (2.8) Briseis is referred to as Achilles’ ‘coniunx’. In this poem Penelope and Briseis are juxtaposed as faithful women, and the juxtaposition seems to equate Penelope and Briseis. As I argued above, I think the disjunction between Briseis as a captive and a wife is intentional, although I do not regard the emendation as certain, and both readings emcompass the ambiguity.   

[ back ] 30. For Penelope cf. 2.6.23: felix Admeti coniunx et lectus Ulixis.   

[ back ] 31. Homer was considered by the Alexandrians to be the author of only the Iliad and Odyssey. On Alexandrian allusion to variants and alternative traditions see Rengakos 1993 and discussion below.   

[ back ] 32. On the laments of Briseis see the introduction and chapter 4.   

[ back ] 33. See chapter 4.   

[ back ] 34. On lament and love song, see also above, p. 5.   

[ back ] 35. For the relationship between lament and elegy see Alexiou 1974, 104. On the legislation of lament in the archaic period see Alexiou 1974, 14–23, Loraux 1986, 45–49, Holst-Warhaft 1992, 114–19, McClure 1999, 45, and Murnaghan 1999, 204–5.   

[ back ] 36. See Monsacré 1984.   

[ back ] 37. See Lohmann 1970, 102–5 and 1988, 13–32, Alexiou 1974, 132, and Pucci 1993.   

[ back ] 38. Cf. Propertius 4.1.109, in which the seer Calchas at Aulis before Troy is a grave exemplum. I think that grave has a double meaning: Calchas is both an example from epic as well as a weighty or serious example.   

[ back ] 39. 4.11 (Sunt aliquid Manes …) is itself another exercise in elegizing epic. It alludes throughout to the dream of Achilles in Iliad 23.62–107. Cynthia, like Patroklos, appears to Propertius in a dream after her death and reproaches him for neglect of her funeral rites. Sunt aliquid Manes is a verbal echo of the exclamation of Achilles, in which the hero, after attempting in vain to embrace the shade of Patroklos, suddenly realizes the nature of the psukhê after death. See Dué 2001b.    

[ back ] 40. For the various issues involved, see Richardson 1993, ad loc.   

[ back ] 41. Rengakos 1993.   

[ back ] 42. Poem 2.22 is usually divided into at least two parts. See Richardson 1976, who makes 2.22.43–50 the beginning of a new poem and transposes 2.22.17 to follow 2.22.50 as part of the same poem. For a defense of the unity of 2.22 see Williams 1980 and Hendry 1998–2000.   

[ back ] 43. Cf. Ovid’s Ars Amatoria 2.711–714: Fecit et in capta Lyrneside magnus Achilles,/cum premeret mollem lassus ab hoste torum./Illis te manibus tangi, Brisei, sinebas,/imbutae Phrygia quae nece semper erant? (“So also did great Achilles treat the captive girl from Lyrnessos, when weary from war he pressed the soft couch. Did you allow yourself, Briseis, to be touched by those hands, which were always imbued with the blood of Trojans?”). I find this passage to be one of the most striking examples of an “elegized” epic exemplum involving Briseis. Here Ovid alludes to one of the most solemn and moving scenes of the Iliad, the kissing of Achilles’ “man-slaying” hands by Priam. Cf. Iliad 24.504–506: ἐγὼ δ’ ἐλεεινότερός περ,//ἔτλην δ’ οἷ’ οὔ πώ τις ἐπι-χθόνιος βροτὸς ἄλλος,//ἀνδρὸς παιδοφόνοιο ποτὶ στόμα χεῖρ’ ὀρέγεσθαι.   

[ back ] 44. Cf., e.g., Horace 1.1.   

[ back ] 45. See especially 4.1.64: “Umbria Romani patria Callimachi!” On Propertius’ use of Callimachean poetic techniques in his fourth book see Sullivan 1976, 138ff., as well as Hubbard 1974, 68ff., and Camps 1966, 4.   

[ back ] 46. It is possible that one or more Roman tragedies on the wrath of Achilles may have emphasized the romantic relationship between Achilles and Briseis, though Barchiesi (1992, 186–87) does not think it likely.   

[ back ] 47. See 2.34.31 and 3.1.1.   

[ back ] 48. See the recent edition by Goold 1999, as well as Tarrant 1983, 324–26 and Sullivan 1976. The nearest parallel for book length in Latin literature to Propertius Book 2 is the third book of Horace’s Odes at 1,004 lines. The other books of Propertius are 706, 990, and 952 lines long. The Alexandrian poets/critics seem to have been highly conscious of of book lengths. The history of book/scroll lengths is also very much related to Homeric book divisions, which seem to have become canonical sometime after Aristarchus. Greek tragedies could be as long as 1,800 lines, but were generally around 1,400. The four books of Apollonius’ Argonautica range from 1,285 to 1,781 lines long. Pre-Aristarchean Homeric papyri show possible scroll lengths of 1,000 to 2,000 lines according to calculations by Van Sickle 1980 and Irigoin 1952. The canonical Homeric book divisions range from 461 to 877 lines long. The books of Virgil’s Aeneid average 850 lines, while those of Ovid’s Metamorphoses average 800 lines, both basically conforming to the post-Aristarchean Homeric model. See Nagy 1996, 183–84. All of this indicates to me that even book length is a profession of poetics on the part of the poet and that there may be a literary intent behind a single extra-long book of Propertius. Unfortunately the severely corrupt state of the Propertian corpus as a whole prevents scholars from anything more than a guess as to what the original length of Book 2 might have been, and therefore it cannot be stated with certainty that Propertius has deliberately composed an extra-long book. On Greek book lengths see Irigoin 1952, 141 and Van Sickle 1980, 9ff.   

[ back ] 49. Hubbard 1974, 45.