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Servitium Amoris*

  • R. O. A. M. Lyne (a1)


In this paper I shall be examining the nature and provenance of what many people state or imply to be a traditional, conventional, even trite figure of speech: the Augustan Elegists' figure of the ‘seruitium amoris’’. It is indeed a very frequent image (so to call it for the moment) in the Elegists. As. F. O. Copley says: ‘Of all the figures used by the Roman elegists, probably none is quite so familiar as that of the lover as slave.’’ But frequency does not equal triteness nor traditionality.



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page 117 note 1 Copley, F. O., ‘Seruitium amoris in the Roman Elegists’’, TAPA 78 (1947), 285.

page 117 note 2 ‘By its very nature, therefore, the figure is romantic-sentimental, for it idealizes love out of all relation to reality, and … transports the poets into a phantasyworld created out of their own imagination.’’ Copley, loc. cit.

page 117 note 3 Cf. Enk, P. J., Sex. Propertii Elegiarum Liber I, Pars Prior (Leiden, 1946), pp.1619;Liber Secundus, Pars Prior (Leiden 1962), pp.3445.

page 117 note 4 Cf. in particular Prop. 1.6 and 14, Tib. 1.1 and 10.

page 117 note 5 Cic, . Pro Sestio 136 ff. (56 B.C.).

page 117 note 6 For what I call the ‘life of love’’ cf. Boucher, J. P., Études sur Properce (Paris, 1965), Ch. I'La Génération Elégiaque'; Grimal, P., L'Amour à Rome (Hachette, 1963) Ch. VI; Griffin, J., ‘Augustan Poetry and the Life of Luxury’’, JRS 66 (1976), 87105.

page 118 note 1 That of course is a key aspect of the Elegiac figure: the fact that the man is enslaved to the woman (or boy). It was a comparatively common idea for a woman either to appear as a ‘slave in love’’ or to express willingness to be the literal slave of a beloved man. Cf. Nisbet–Hubbard on Hor. Carm. 1.33.14, with Catull. 64.160 ff., Prop. 4.4.33 f., Ov, . Her. 3.69 ff.

page 118 note 2 Cf. Copley, , loc. cit. 288.

page 118 note 3 Copley, 286 f.

page 118 note 4 The slave-god, like the child-god, appeals to Alexandria because of the piquant incongruity (cf. Herter, H., ‘Kallimachos und Homer’’, Kleine Schriften (Munich, 1975), pp.371 ff. on Callimachus' Hymn to Artemis, especially pp.377 ff.).

page 118 note 5 Cf. Plat, . Phaedr. 238 e etc., LSJ s.v. and 2, Hor, . Serm. 2.7, etc. A willing or at least unconquered (but not ‘natural’’) slavery to a person, especially a man's to a woman or boy, has implications of actual and literal degradation and also, possibly, of masochism and sexual reversal which the quasi-philosophical metaphor cannot have.

page 118 note 6 A.P. 12.80 and 81 (Meleager).

page 119 note 1 It seems, incidentally, unlikely that Paulus, or Agathias (see below), was familiar with the Augustan Elegists, though they did of course draw on Hellenistic and other earlier Greek epigram: cf. Enk, P. J., Sex. Propertii Elegiarum, Pars Altera (Leiden, 1946), p.32 with bibliography; and on Agathias see Cameron, Averil, Agathias (Oxford, 1970), especially pp.1229.

page 119 note 2 Copley, , loc. cit 289.

page 120 note 1 See below. It should of course be noted that the comic idea of a husband as slave to his wife (cf. Caecilius ap. Gell. 2.23.10) carries very different implications from those of either ‘power of love’’ slave imagery or imagery in the mould of the Roman seruitium; and it is really irrelevant to this discussion.

page 121 note 1 Witness for example the hoped-for foedus amicitiae (109.6). At 68.68 isque domum nobis isque dedit dominae (dontinae Fröhlich), domina must, in conjunction with domum and in the context of an expanding fantasy of marriage, be referring to ‘mistress of the house’’ (i.e. effectively wife) not ‘mistress from the point of view of a slave’’. (The transmitted dominam cannot I think work, but this is of course a notorious crux; dominam is defended by, among others, Wilkinson, L. P. at CR N.S. 20 (1970), 290.)

page 122 note 1 Cf. especially Prop. 1.1.25–8: ‘et uos, qui sero lapsum reuocatis, amici, quaerite non sani pectoris auxilia. fortiter et ferrum saeuos patiemur et ignis, sit modo libertas quae uelit ira loqui.’’

page 122 note 1 Leo, F., De Horatio et Arcbilocho (Göttingen, 1900), pp.9 ff.

page 122 note 3 Cf. Aristoph, . Eccl. 707–9;Grassrhann, V., Die erotiscben Epoden des Horaz (Munich, 1966), pp.112–15.

page 122 note 4 Cf. e.g. Prop. 1.12.18–20:

‘sunt quoque translato gaudia seruitio.

mi neque amare aliam neque ab hac desistere

fas est:

Cynthia prima fuit, Cynthia finis erit.’’ Tib. 1.1.55–60, 5.39–40, etc. (Propertius' and Tibullus' inalienable beloved may of course from time to time change–but that is an eventuality they will not normally at any given time foresee. Prop. 2.22 incidentally is a very uncharacteristic poem.)

page 122 note 5 Elegiac romanticism demonstrably provokes Horace's amused criticism and parody in the Odes–and in ways which support the above interpretation of Epod. 11. In 3.10 for example we find Horace as an unexpectedly acute, even cynical ‘exclusus amator’’, and the poem depends for its effect on our recollection of woeful Elegiac ‘exclusi’’. In 1.33 when Horace reads a lesson in love and life to Albius (Tibullus) he uses servile (Elegiac) terms (megrata detinuit compede Myrtale/libertina, 14–16) to make his unelegiac message the more pointed.

page 123 note 1 Cf. Schulz, F., Classical Roman Law (Oxford, 1951), pp.344 ff. on mancipatio.

page 123 note 1 Cf. Wirszubski, Ch., Libertas as a Political Idea at Rome (Cambridge, 1950), p.25.

page 123 note 3 e.g. Bacch. 1205, Poen. 720.

page 123 note 4 Cic, . Paradoxa 36: ‘si seruitus sit, sicut est, obedientia fracti animi et abiecti et arbitrio carentis suo, quis neget omnes leues omnes cupidos omnes denique improbos esse seruos? An ille mihi liber cui mulier imperat, cui leges imponit, praescribit iubet vetat quod videtur, qui nihil imperanti negare potest, nihil recusare audet? poscit, dandum est; uocat, ueniendum; eiicit, abeundum; minatur, extimescendum. Ego vero istum non modo senium sed nequissimum senium, etiam si in amplissima familia natus sit, appellandum puto.’’

page 123 note 5 Paradoxa praef. 3–4 ‘ego tibi ilia ipsa quae uix in gymnasiis et in otio Stoici probant ludens conieci in communes locos. quae quia sunt admirabilia contraque opinionem omnium … tentare uolui possentne proferri in lucem, id est in forum, et ita dici ut probarentur … etc’’ (the whole preface is interesting).

page 123 note 6 Cicero's passage can be interestingly contrasted with Hor, . Serm. 2.7 which argues (humorously) the same Stoic paradox and similarly instances the behaviour of the romantic (adulterous) lover. But it is the lover's slavery to his passion that is castigated in Horace, not his slavery to a person. The satire draws, like the epigram mentioned above, p. 118, on the old idiom of slavery to emotions and the picture presented is one very different in impact and implications from the ‘seruitium amoris’’ of the Elegists–and Cicero; cf. n5, p.123.

page 124 note 1 See above, p. 121 n.l.

page 124 note 2 Prop. 1.1.21, 3.17,4.2, 7.6, etc.

page 124 note 3 In the fourth poem Propertius talks of ‘semitium’’ in connection with his love, but is making neither a programmatic nor a general statement. Love with Cynthia at this time is humiliating and unpleasant as well as superb; Bassus (his addressee) suggests he try other girls; Propertius in these circumstances both does and does not want to quit. Bassus' advice is therefore at once both compelling and impossible. Hence ‘quid cogis?’’ on the one hand and terms of slavery on the other. The paradox and ambivalence of Propertius' immediate situation and attitude is vividly and concretely caught. In the twelfth poem Propertius, despised by Cynthia who is (we take it) raving it up at Baiae, reflects on the possibilities open to some despised lovers to transfer their affections: ‘felix … si despectus potuit mutare calores./sunt quoque translato gaudia …’’ But even as he speaks he realizes and acknowledges the impossibility of such a course in his case: ‘translato gaadia seruitio.’’ It is scarcely easy for a slave ‘transferre’’ his ‘seruitium’’. The impossible dilemma that Cynthia has cast him into at this time (loyalty to a faithless and absent girl) is–again–concretely and vividly conveyed by paradoxical use of servile terminology. Finally at 1.5. very singular inflictions in very singular circumstances are graphically summed up as ‘tarn graueseruitium’’: cf. Mnemosyne 27 (1974), 262 ff.

page 126 note 1 On line 27 see too below, p. 129.

page 126 note 2 Lilja, S., The Roman Elegists' Attitude to Women (Helsinki, 1965), p.83.

page 127 note 1 One of my main disagreements with Copley (see above, p. 117 n. 1) is now clear.

page 127 note 2 This is another point upon which I radically disagree with Copley, , loc. cit. 290.

page 128 note 1 Cf. e.g Propertius' epitaph for himself at 2.13.35 f. ‘qui nunc iacet horrida puluis/ unius hie quondam seruus amoris erat’’; at 2.3.H–32 Tibullus retells the story of Apollo's slavery to Admetus (above, p.l 18) as an elaborately humiliating slavery; and in 2.4 he talks explicitly, elaborately, and generally of his love affair with Nemesis as ‘seruitium’’:

‘hie mihi seruitium uideo dominamque paratam;

iam mihi, libertas ilia paterna, uale …’’ etc.

page 128 note 2 Note e.g. Amores 1.6 where Ovid plays with the idea of seruitium in an amusingly literal way; cf. too Lilja, , op. cit, pp.86–9.

page 128 note 3 In Book I he does not in fact use the word ‘seruitium’’ or any of its cognates in contexts strictly of Elegiac ‘seruitium amoris’’. (1.2.99 ‘at mihi parce Venus: semper tibi dedita seruit / mens mea’’ is in line with other expressions of devotion to other gods (cf. Eur, . Bacch. 366,Or. 418, Ion. 152, Plat. Apol. 23 c, Phaedr. 244 e) and very different in effect from an expression of servility to a beloved human woman.)

page 128 note 4 Cf. Sull. 88,Phil. 13.40, etc.

page 128 note 5 Cf. Mnemosyne 27 (1974), 265 f.

page 129 note 1 Tibullus' programmatic poem 1.1 and Propertius' programmatic 1.6 and 14 afford an immediate and interesting comparison.

page 129 note 2 Cf. Tib. 1.9.21 quoted above.

page 130 note 1 Dio 48.24.1,49.33.4–34.1, 50.5.1 On this question cf. Griffin, J., ‘Propertius and Antony’’, JRS 67 (1977), 1726. This theory has of course to assume (plausibly in fact) that such shrill propaganda was considered otiose or inappropriate or even self-defeating in the post-Actium period. Note how Horace in Epod. 9 will go as far as but no further than talking of the Roman soldiery as ‘emancipates feminae’’ (12); while Antony is the unromantically anonymous ‘hostis’’ of line 27.

* Jasper Griffin kindly read a draft of this paper and offered many acute and helpful suggestions. I owe the Plautine references on p. 123 to Mrs. N. Zagagi.

Servitium Amoris*

  • R. O. A. M. Lyne (a1)


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