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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2013

Megan O. Drinkwater
Agnes Scott College


Roman elegy is well known for its reversal of traditional Roman gender roles: women are presented in positions of power, chiefly but not exclusively erotic, that bear little or no relation to women's lived experience in the first century b.c.e. Yet the way elegy presents the beloved in a position of power over her lover, as Sharon James has observed, ‘retains standard Roman social and power structures, thus suggesting an inescapable inequity even within a private love affair: rather than sharing goals and desires, lover and beloved are placed in a gendered opposition … Hence resistant reading by the domina is an anticipated and integral part of the genre’. James's remark is indeed correct for each of the instances in which the domina, or female beloved, speaks directly. When she does so, as James also shows, she speaks at cross-purposes with her lover, following a script that is designed ‘to destabilize him’ in an attempt to keep his interest. Yet what has not been noticed is that when the beloved is instead male, the situation is quite different. Tibullus' Marathus in poem 1.8, our sole example of a male elegiac beloved-turned-speaker, is the exception that proves the fundamental rule of gender inequity. Marathus, that is, when given the opportunity to speak, does in fact share the aims of a male lover, albeit in pursuit of his own puella. When the gendered opposition so integral to elegy is erased, the beloved no longer protests against the strictures of the genre; when both are male, lover and beloved alike are entitled to speak as elegiac lovers.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2013

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For comments and suggestions I am grateful to Jeanne Neumann, Molly Pasco-Pranger, and the anonymous referee. To Gregson Davis, for the invitation to deliver an earlier version of this paper at the symposium in honour of his retirement from Duke University in April 2011, and for years of patient and dedicated guidance, my debt of gratitude is incalculable.


1 So Greene, E., ‘Elegiac woman: fantasy, materia and male desire in Propertius 1.3 and 1.11’, AJPh 116 (1995), 303–18Google Scholar, at 303. Greene presents a slightly revised version of this view in The Erotics of Domination: Male Desire and the Mistress in Latin Love Poetry (Baltimore, 1998; repr. Norman, 2010), 38Google Scholar. The bibliography on this topic is vast. For recent treatments, see the collected essays of Wyke, M., The Roman Mistress: Ancient and Modern Representations (Oxford, 2002)Google Scholar and James, S., Learned Girls and Male Persuasion: Gender and Reading in Roman Love Elegy (Berkeley, 2003)Google Scholar.

2 James (n. 1), 26. So also Valladares, H., ‘The lover as model viewer: gendered dynamics in Propertius 1.3’, in Ancona, R. and Greene, E. (edd.), Gendered Dynamics in Latin Love Poetry (Baltimore, 2005), 206–42Google Scholar, at 237: ‘what is striking about elegy as a genre is how dependent it is on the disparity of power between its protagonists to structure its narrative pursuit and longing’.

3 James, S., ‘Ipsa dixerat: women's words in Roman love elegy’, Phoenix 64 (2010), 314–44, at 316.Google Scholar I am deeply grateful to the author for an advanced copy of this article.

4 So Drinkwater, M., ‘His turn to cry: Tibullus’ Marathus cycle (1.4, 1.8, and 1.9) and Roman elegy’, CJ 107 (2012), 423–50,Google Scholar esp. 434–6 and 445–6.

5 So Breed, B., ‘Portrait of a lady: Propertius 1.3 and ecphrasis’, CJ 99 (2003), 3556Google Scholar, at 35 and n. 1.

6 So Ball, R., Tibullus the Elegist: A Critical Survey. Hypomnemata 77 (Göttingen, 1983)Google Scholar, 130; Verstraete, B., ‘The originality of Tibullus' Marathus elegies’, Journal of Homosexuality 49 (2005), 299313CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed, at 310; and James (n. 3), 331.

7 James (n. 3), 329.

8 Ibid. 321–2 and n. 26.


9 Ibid. 229.


10 Ibid. 331. Ovid's Heroides are, of course, very different from elegy as a whole and are not in fact treated by James (n. 3). Most fundamental for my purposes is that the letters are imagined as solely the speech of the heroines with no external moderating voice. It is also worth noting that in the Heroides, the writers/speakers are not beloveds, but instead are trying to regain or attain that position. For the Heroides as resisting the dominant traditions of their source texts, see Spentzou, E., Readers and Writers in Ovid's Heroides: Transgressions of Gender and Genre (Oxford, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; as using failed rhetorical strategies in attempting to woo their would-be lovers, Lindheim, S., Mail and Female: Epistolary Narrative and Desire in Ovid's Heroides (Madison, 2003)Google Scholar; and as constituting an intratextual community of authors, Fulkerson, L., The Ovidian Heroine as Author: Reading, Writing and Community in the Heroides (Cambridge, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also the intriguing parallel of Harvey, E., Ventriloquized Voices: Feminist Theory and English Renaissance Texts (London, 1992)Google Scholar on how ‘transvestite ventriloquism expresses a cultural suppression of the female voice’ (12) in a later period. Of particular relevance is ch. 4, revised from an article previously published as Harvey, E., ‘Ventriloquizing Sappho: Ovid, Donne, and the erotics of the feminine voice’, Criticism 31 (1989), 115–38.Google Scholar


11 James (n. 3), 229 n. 52 and 332. I thus do not address e.g. 3.6 or 4.7, because 3.6 is not presented as actual speech by the beloved, but instead represents what the amator desires to hear reported by the slave Lygdamus. Similarly, although 4.7 is the lengthiest speech attributed to a female beloved (4.7.13–94), Cynthia's ghost (umbra, 4.7.96) only seemed (uisa est 4.7.1) to address the speaker. Even in these instances, however, speech attributed to Cynthia still shows her to be a resisting reader/speaker. As Janan, M., The Politics of Desire: Propertius IV (Berkeley, 2001)Google Scholar, 31 notes, Cynthia's speech in 4.7 encourages readers ‘to review not only Propertius’ own work but the whole elegiac genre with greater skepticism'; see also her more extended discussion of the poem (100–13). For Wyke (n. 1), 184, Cynthia in 4.7 is ‘allocated direct speech only to denounce the earlier Propertian ego’. The case of 4.3 is similar to that of the Heroides, on which see above (n. 10), and thus falls outside the scope of this study. On 4.3 see especially Janan, 53–69 and Wyke (n. 1), 178–85.

12 James (n. 3), 319, noting specifically that ‘the boundaries between categories are both porous and, often, arguable’.

13 In this I draw especially on Wyke (n. 1), 155–91, from which chapter this article derives its title. Especially influential is Wyke's discussion (162) of how the amator maintains ‘male discursive control over the female object of both his erotics and his poetics’ despite his persistent play with gender and his self-attribution of feminine characteristics. Noted by Lee-Stecum, P., ‘Poet/reader, authority deferred: re-reading Tibullan elegy’, Arethusa 33 (2000), 177215CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 212 in terms of how for Tibullus, this enables elegiac ‘“gender play” to be stabilised by re-figuring the poet as the ultimate controlling (male) authority of/over the text’.

14 James (n. 3), 316.

15 Analysis of the poem tends to concentrate on Propertius' deployment of these mythological exempla, how they correspond to the beloved and the poet, and/or their relation to contemporary art. The most recent of these include Dunn, F., ‘The lover reflected in the exemplum. A study of Propertius 1.3 and 2.6’, ICS 10 (1985), 233–59Google Scholar on how these myths emphasize the lover's experience in the poem; Harrison, S., ‘Drink, suspicion and comedy in Propertius 1.3’, PCPhS 40 (1994), 1826Google Scholar on the humour latent within these examples and their aptness to the ‘hyper-suspicious mind of the poet’ (21); Greene (n. 1 [1995]), 304 on how the poet ‘imagines his mistress in an ideal state of captivity and helplessness’; Breed (n. 5), 35 on the poem's use of ‘a distinct textual mode of evoking the visual, namely the ecphrasis in poetry of a work of visual art’; and Valladares (n. 2).

16 So Greene (n. 1 [2010]), 57–8 and Valladares (n. 2), 227.

17 A possibility that Heyworth, S.J. (ed.), Sexti Properti Elegos (Oxford, 2007)Google Scholar restores, by reading arma at 1.3.16. See the discussion at id., Cynthia: A Companion to the Text of Propertius (Oxford, 2007)Google Scholar, 17. Harrison (n. 15), 21 and n. 19 also seems to support this idea, as does Tatham, G., ‘“Just as Ariadne lay …”: images of sleep in Propertius 1.3’, Scholia 4 (2000), 4353Google Scholar, at 49–51. See also Allen, A., ‘Sunt qui Propertium malint’, in Sullivan, J.P. (ed.), Critical Essays on Roman Literature (Cambridge, MA, 1962), 107–48Google Scholar, at 133; Lyne, R.O.A.M., ‘Propertius and Cynthia: Elegy 1.3’, PCPhS 16 (1970), 6078Google Scholar, at 60 and 63–4; Harmon, D., ‘Myth and fantasy in Propertius 1.3’, TAPhA 104 (1974), 151–65Google Scholar, at 161; Hubbard, M., Propertius (London, 1974)Google Scholar, 21; Booth, J., ‘Moonshine: intertextual illumination in Propertius 1.3.31–3 and Philodemus Anth. Pal. 5.123’, CQ 51 (2001), 537–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 527; and Breed (n. 5), 48.

18 Citations of Propertius are from the text of Heyworth (n. 17 [OCT]). Translations are my own.

19 Curran, L., ‘Vision and reality in Propertius 1.3’, YClS 19 (1966), 189207Google Scholar, at 205 and Harmon (n. 17), 161 see Cynthia's speech as miniatures of a ‘heroine's lament’; Harrison (n. 15), 23 sees Cynthia's attempts ‘to say the right thing … as a sign of her unreliability’; Kaufhold, S., ‘Propertius 1.3: Cynthia rescripted’, ICS 22 (1997), 8798Google Scholar, at 93 concludes that the speech ‘presents a Cynthia rewritten in the role of the elegiac lover rather than as the elegiac beloved’, on which see below. See also the summary of these approaches in Breed (n. 5), 35 and n. 2; Greene (n. 1 [1998]), 52–3; and James (n. 3) 335, who notes that ‘we might call this the song of the inclusa amata, a counterpart to the song of the exclusus amator’.

20 As overwhelmingly noted by critics. See Dunn (n. 15), 240 with additional bibliography, and Kaufhold (n. 19), 87.

21 So Hubbard (n. 17), 21 and Richardson, L. Jr. (ed.), Propertius: Elegies I–IV (Norman, 1977)Google Scholar, ad loc.

22 Here I disagree with Lyne (n. 17), 61–2, who takes Propertius at his word in his frequent – perhaps too frequent – protestations of fidelity, noting that ‘it is not till we get to 2.22A that Propertius’ habits suddenly seem to have changed' (62). An important corrective to this approach is provided by Greene (n. 1 [1998]), 53 who notes that such readings ‘tend to privilege and romanticize the male perspective of the narrator’.

23 James (n. 1), 26.

24 See Curran's (n. 19), 205–6 insightful remarks on how Cynthia's speech reflects the vision of the amator leading up to her speech ‘only to reject it’.

25 Kaufhold (n. 19), 94–8, following Baker, R., ‘Beauty and the beast in Propertius 1.3’, in Deroux, C. (ed.), Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History, Collection Latomus 168 (1980), 245–58Google Scholar sees Cynthia here as an elegiac amator following the usual lover's script and thus presenting a side of herself we have not seen before. Yet while she is clearly marked as an elegiac speaker, her speech is not identical to that of the amator, but instead, as James (n. 3), 342 notes, shows her to be ‘a reflecting surface for her lover-poet, even when she speaks’. As Greene (n. 1), 306 reminds us, the ‘apparent reversal of gender roles in the poem’ is indeed only apparent.

26 Valladares (n. 2), 233.

27 Cf. Harrison (n. 15), 23 with further observations on how Cynthia's catalogue of virtue here may betray her own tendency toward elegiac dalliance, followed by Tatham (n. 17), 52–3 with additional support. Harmon (n. 17), 162–3 makes similar observations, but compares Cynthia to women of epic as much as women of elegy. James (n. 3), 334, following Harrison, notes that Cynthia here follows the lena's advice in being the first to accuse your lover when you have been unfaithful yourself.

28 Breed (n. 5), 51, who further notes (n. 5), 52 that ‘Cynthia's speech shows that … possession of a voice is by no means incompatible with being an object’.

29 See the brief remarks of Harmon (n. 17), 152, Fedeli, P. (ed.), Properzio. Elegie Libro II (Cambridge, 2005)Google Scholar, 833, and James (n. 3), 336–7.

30 See most recently the discussion of Fedeli (n. 29), 832–3 and Heyworth (n. 17 [Cynthia]), 238.

31 So White, R., ‘Dramatic unity in Propertius 1.8, 2.29, 2.33’, CPh 56 (1961), 217–29Google Scholar, at 222. Heyworth's punctuation shows obstupui as prefacing the speaker's reaction to Cynthia's dumbfounding beauty, yet the possibility remains that obstupui is enjambed from the preceding line. The reminder of Warden, J., ‘The dead and the quick: structural correspondences and thematic relationships in Propertius 4.7 and 4.8’, Phoenix 50 (1996), 118–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 124–5 that obstupui means literally ‘I was struck dumb’ is especially nice here at the transition point when the amator stops speaking and Cynthia takes her turn, implying that the elegiac beloved only has her chance to speak when he lets her get a word in edgeways.

32 Fedeli (n. 29), 837 adduces the parallels of Tib. 1.9.57 and Ov. Am. 1.8.97.

33 The Latin here allows us to think this is either because of recent exertion or emotional turmoil. So Camps, W. (ed.), Propertius. Elegies Book II (Cambridge, 1967)Google Scholar on spiritus and Butler, H. and Barber, E. (edd.) The Elegies of Propertius: Edited with an Introduction and Commentary (Oxford, 1933; repr. Hildesheim, 1964)Google Scholar on motus.

34 James (n. 3), 336–7 sees these details as ‘appropriate to a secret assignation in her bed’. The possibility that we are not meant to believe Cynthia has tempted many critics, but the observation of Greene (n. 1 [1995]), 306 on 1.3, that ‘readings tend to privilege and romanticize the male perspective of the author’ should be taken as cautionary advice.

35 Warden's comment (n. 31), 127 that ‘it is the poet who is putting the words in her mouth’ reminds readers that Cynthia's words must serve his own poetic agenda, the most important part of which is the continuation of his poetic output.

36 Dee, J., ‘Elegy 4.8: a Propertian comedy’, TAPhA 108 (1978), 4153Google Scholar, at 51–2, with examples of legal language in 4.8, in addition to the commentaries. See most recently Hutchinson, G. (ed.), Propertius. Elegies Book IV (Cambridge, 2006)Google Scholar.

37 The speaker also informs us that such infidelity is a frequent occurrence at 4.8.27–8.

38 So Butler and Barber (n. 33), 369; Camps, W. (ed.), Propertius. Elegies Book IV (Cambridge, 1965; repr. New York, 1979)Google Scholar, at 134; Richardson (n. 21), 470; Dee (n. 31), 51; and Hutchinson (n. 36), 202–3.

39 Formula legis emphasizes the legal nature of Cynthia and Propertius' renegotiated contract. As Fedeli, P. (ed.), Properzio. Elegie Libro IV (Bari, 1965)Google Scholar, ad loc. notes, this juridical phrasing appears only here in poetry.

40 See e.g. Allison, W., ‘Virgilian themes in Propertius 4.7 and 8’, CPh 75 (1980), 332–8Google Scholar, at 337 and Dee (n. 31), 51, who proposes that this is simply part of Cynthia's irate overreaction.

41 Here I follow Butler and Barber (n. 33), 370 and Hutchinson (n. 36), 203.

42 For a recent reading of ritual, especially the Lanuvium episode, in 4.8, see Walin, D., ‘Cynthia serpens: a reading of Propertius 4.8’, CJ 105 (2009), 137–51Google Scholar.

43 Dee (n. 31), 48.

44 Contra, most recently, Walin (n. 42), 138, who sees the poet here as ‘remastered by Cynthia’ but does not discuss her speech. Lee-Stecum's ([n. 13], 212) perceptive observations about Tibullus pertain here as well: while the amator ‘in many ways abdicates the Roman cultural norm of male authority and control … re-figuring the poet as the ultimate controlling (male) authority of/over the text’ is consistently the end result.

45 James (n. 1), 9–12, for example, emphasizes the differences between the Marathus poems and the bulk of elegy. Most recently, Nikoloutsos, K., ‘Beyond sex: the poetics and politics of pederasty in Tibullus 1.4’, Phoenix 61 (2007), 5582Google Scholar and The boy as metaphor: the hermeneutics of homoerotic desire in Tibullus 1.9’, Helios 38 (2011), 2757CrossRefGoogle Scholar focusses on the poems themselves and does not treat them in the wider context of elegy. For a brief discussion of this issue with further bibliography see Drinkwater (n. 4), 423–4.

46 See Drinkwater (n. 4), passim for a full discussion of the Marathus cycle's place within elegy as a whole and of Marathus' shifting role throughout the cycle of poems.

47 Indicated in particular by the speaker's admission in 1.9 that he had served as the boy's lamp-bearer (1.9.41–2) and even paid for the girl's compliance to Marathus' desires (1.9.43–4) on multiple occasions.

48 So Putnam, M., Tibullus: A Commentary (Norman, 1973)Google Scholar, 133; Lee-Stecum, P., Powerplay in Tibullus: Reading Elegies Book One (Cambridge, 1998), 232–3Google Scholar; and Drinkwater (n. 4), 434–6. Bright, D., Haec mihi fingebam (Leiden, 1978)Google Scholar, 248 reads the speech as a ‘myth illustrating Tibullus-Delia’, followed by Ball (n. 6), 133–4, who calls it a ‘miniature parable’ that alludes to the Delia elegies.

49 Citations of Tibullus are from the edition of Maltby, R. (ed.), Tibullus. Elegies: Text, Introduction and Commentary (Cambridge, 2002).Google Scholar

50 So Drinkwater (n. 4), 435.

51 So Drinkwater (n. 4), 436. See also Lee-Stecum (n. 48), 234: ‘the boy is now ironically in the same position with the puella as the poet was with a boy in the fourth elegy’. Marathus' speech, unlike those of Cynthia, bears out the exactitude of this switch, as Lee-Stecum (n. 48), 240 also notes in his observation that ‘the words of “Marathus” recall those of the poet himself’.

52 It may of course be objected that both Cynthia and Marathus are equally ‘trapped’ in that their author alone is in charge of what they have to say, but what their authors choose to have them say none the less reflects important differences about their potential identities within elegy.

53 While Marathus seems to be speaking as an exclusus amator, waiting on the threshold for his beloved to come, Booth, J., ‘Tibullus 1.8 and 1.9’, MH 53 (1996) 232–47Google Scholar, at 235–6 suggests that the use of reserare may signal that he is instead, like Cynthia in 1.3, inclusus.

54 Here the main speaker picks up on Marathus' complaint that his skills are of no avail at 61–2, one typical of the Tibullan speaker whose ‘dependence upon words leaves him open to complete failure and impotence’, as Lee-Stecum (n. 13), 195 observes, with additional references.

55 Cf. James (n. 1), 11: ‘Tibullus's elegies demonstrate a sort of developmental pattern for masculine sexuality’. Similarly, James (n. 3), 325 n. 38 notes that, even in Ars am. 3, puellae ‘are never constructed as able to compose poetry. That talent seems to lie with men alone’, citing Gibson, R. (ed.) Ovid. Ars Amatoria Book 3 (Oxford, 2003)Google Scholar on lines 329–48. Marathus' elegy in miniature seems to mark him as just such a man.

56 As suggested by Drinkwater (n. 4), 445–6.

57 Lee-Stecum (n. 13), 191.

58 So James (n. 3), 316. Warden (n. 31), 127 makes a similar point in his observation that we must take the speaker's word for what his beloved has to say, as does Breed (n. 5), 52, in his reminder that ‘the elegiac woman … requires the poet to have any say at all’.

59 James (n. 3), 324 notes a lone instance (Ov. Am. 3.7.11) of the puella's reportedly calling her poet dominus as capitalizing on this desire, showing that she ‘knows that what he really wants is control – dominance – over her’. In his presentation of her direct speech, as I hope to have shown, this is precisely what he has achieved.

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