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Death Becomes Her: Women's Speech Haunting Propertian Elegy.

In her speech in Propertius 4.7, the ghostly Cynthia portrays herself as the elegiac hero: she is faithful and long-suffering while the lover-poet is faithless and cruel. Cynthia's claims and complaints raise the question of why Propertius would create a character who undermines the elegiac worldview and overturns the roles of lover and mistress. (1) Furthermore, the other speaking women of Book 4, Acanthis in 4.5 and Cornelia in 4.11, join with Cynthia in disrupting the elegiac world and also the larger one of Augustan Rome. The three women are united in their role as ghosts who present speeches from beyond the grave, (2) and they insist that the reader take them and their concerns seriously. I argue here that Propertius uses these female characters' speeches to question and destabilize cultural and literary codes and conventions, thereby using their words to support the lover-poet's resistance to strict identification with either an upstanding and responsible Roman male citizen, (3) or an effeminate and ineffectual elegiac lover. (4)

One of the most recent interpretations of the ghostly women in Propertius's Book 4 is Barbara Gold's 2007 article "The Natural and Unnatural Silence of Women in the Elegies of Propertius." Gold considers the presence of silence and silencing in literature and the power structures enmeshed in silence, arguing that elegiac women are often silenced by the poet and the genre, even when they are speaking. Yet she also acknowledges that Propertius creates spaces of uneasiness around gender, where marginalized voices appear to be trying to speak and to speak against the text: "He destabilises the traditional roles and qualities assigned to women by casting both Cynthia and himself in many different and conflicting roles and by problematizing his representation of her" (2007, 66). To this, I add that Propertius also destabilizes the male roles in the text, since, as Maria Wyke (2002, 46-77) has shown, the elegiac mistress is completely bound up in defining the male. In this paper I build on this earlier scholarship and argue that any destabilization of the gender role of the mistress must have an equivalent effect on that of the lover-poet and so when he destabilizes the female, he causes an equal destabilization of the male. Cynthia is indeed a fiction and a foil for the lover-poet's needs, but her presence in the poetry is not purely as an Other to be silenced and controlled. Gold (2007, 66) posits that the dead women of Propertius 4 have more powerful voices than the living, and that Propertius gives power to the dead but fears living words. But Cynthia's speech in 4.7 is not her only speech and Propertius writes a living Cynthia who expresses the same concerns and criticisms as her ghost. Propertius consistently places serious criticisms of the characters and tropes of his genre in her mouth, and in Book 4 he adds other women who also critique the lover-poet, elegy, and Roman society. I consider here how the ghosts of these women are meaningful to the loverpoet, and how their demands relate to him. Throughout his corpus, Propertius attempts to forge a new kind of masculine identity that avoids exclusive identification with traditional elite masculinity or the effeminized role of the elegiac lover. Propertius uses the figure of Cynthia, and particularly her direct speech, to weaken the boundaries between male and female, Roman and non-Roman, and lover and beloved; in Book 4 Acanthis and Cornelia join her and add their support to her critique.

One of the defining features of women like Cynthia is their lack of permanent relationships to men: they exist outside the bounds of social legitimacy (Wyke 2002, 184-85). As I argue, Cynthia's status as a member of an out-group allows Propertius to use her to voice criticism of social and literary conventions, although ultimately a male poet is still using a female character as a tool. Propertius was himself a writer in a privileged position, and did not share in the particular kinds of gendered powerlessness that his ghosts lament. The lover-poet, for all his protestations of subjection and poverty, is always also an adult Roman male from a wealthy, leisured background. Propertius had created another ghost at the end of Book 1--Gallus, a soldier from Perusia. But this ghostly voice is connected to the author: a male from the same part of Italy as Propertius, he has died as an incidental casualty of the civil conflict between Antony and Octavian. (3) When Propertius returns to the dead on the much larger scale of the elegies in Book 4, however, the ghosts are nothing like this earlier one. The women's ghosts, in part, recover and give voice to concerns and people that are excluded and rejected from elegy and from Roman society. (6) Like many literary ghosts, they specifically target those who have wronged them, by harming them in life, causing their death, or seeking to benefit from the circumstances that led to their ghostly existence.

All of Propertius's speaking ghosts are manifestations of the violence and oppression that have been inflicted on them (Gordon 2008, xvi, 22, 197). These systems of oppression do not have to be overt to function, and they still affect and 'haunt' the characters, when their operations are hidden or their effects denied. Gordon, in her study on literary haunting, uses the example of slavery in the novel Beloved, which is set after the American civil war. A Propertian example of a hidden system may be seen in Elegy 4.5, where the poverty, 'greed,' and 'immorality' of demimonde females are viewed as individual character flaws, rather than as part of or a reaction to a larger system of discrimination embedded in social structures. Indeed, as Gordon (2008, vii, 19) points out, haunting often occurs at the point where social structures and individual experience of them intersect: ghosts point to alternative stories and experiences that have been suppressed by the dominant culture (2008, 23). Cynthia and Acanthis represent the experiences of women of the underclass, while Cornelia is a representative of the differently oppressed elite woman. The three women all display varying degrees of dissatisfaction with their lives and deaths and demand redress for the wrongs they have suffered. In this paper I consider what each woman seems to want, in order to show what challenges and complaints they address to elegy and to Roman society. Finally, I connect these women's speeches to some of the issues of poetics and gender in Propertius's corpus and make some suggestions for how they are part of the challenges that the poetic project attempts to make.

The Complaints

A. Cynthia

In her speech, which takes up the majority of Elegy 4.7, Cynthia reminisces about the love she had shared with the lover-poet, berates him for his poor treatment of her after her death, and delivers her final instructions. Cynthia's speech serves to refute many of the claims made throughout the corpus about both her and her relationship with the lover-poet. This poem complicates the lover-poet's perspective of the puella and the elegiac love affair while also engaging with socio-political themes to call masculine identities and privileges into question. Cynthia's complaints are clear and all point to one overarching concern: the lover-poet's faithlessness.

Cynthia begins her speech with an accusation that sets the tone for her depiction of the lover-poet throughout the poem (4.7.13-14): perfide nec cuiquam melior sperande pucllae, / in te iam vires somnus habere potest? (Faithless one, from whom no girl ought to expect anything better, is sleep already able to take hold of you?). (7) Cynthia's accusation of faithlessness is in keeping with her statements about the lover-poet elsewhere in the corpus, which provide a backstory for her ghostly complaints. (8) Throughout the corpus, without exception, Propertius has Cynthia claim sexual fidelity for herself; unlike the lover-poet, Cynthia never acknowledges that she has been unfaithful. Cynthia's self-depiction in 4.7 conforms to this pattern. Fidelity is one of the essential characteristics of the elegiac lover, and by denying that the lover-poet exhibits fidelity, Cynthia destabilizes elegy itself.

Cynthia quickly turns to a grim and jarring description of the misery and neglect of her death. This is the first evidence she gives for the lover-poet's faithlessness. She suggests that the lover-poet could have kept her alive longer if he had wanted to (4.7.23-24): at mihi non oculos quisquam inclamavit euntis: / unum impetrassem te revocante diem (But no one called to me as my eyes were closing: I might have obtained one more day if you called me back). Cynthia's account in 4.7 portrays the antithesis of the behavior expected of an elegiac lover. The lover-poet showed indifference to her illness and death, in contrast to his claims in other poems; for example, he says that he made vows for her health and attended her sickbed at 2.9.25-27, and the entirety of 2.28 focuses on Cynthia's illness and the lover-poet's concern about it, including a vow made for her recovery at 43-44. His callous and faithless behavior towards Cynthia is strikingly in contrast with the protestations of fidelity he makes elsewhere. (9) Propertius shows Cynthia haunting the lover-poet with his carelessness and the ease with which he can move on from her.

The gap between expectation and treatment increases with Cynthia's sketch of her funeral. It is marked by poverty (4.7.25-26, 32-34), which is surprising, given the association of the elegiac mistress and the elegiac lifestyle with luxury, (10) but the lover-poet's absence is still more disturbing and lies at the heart of Cynthia's complaint (4.7.27-31):
denique quis nostro curvum te funere vidit,
atram quis lacrimis incaluisse togam?
si piguit portas ultra procedere, at illuc
iussisses lectum lentius ire meum.
cur ventos non ipse rogis, ingrate, petisti?

Finally, who saw you bent over at my funeral, who saw you warming your
black toga with your tears? If you were ashamed to proceed beyond the
city gates, at least you should have ordered my funeral train to go
more slowly past. Why did you not yourself call the winds to my pyre,
ungrateful man?

Cynthia reproaches the lover-poet for his complete omission of public mourning, as he neither accompanied her funeral procession nor attended her pyre. (11) This double rejoinder is placed in between lines describing the lack of amenities at her funeral, which draws a close relationship between the two omissions: his love is a central constituent of the luxurious trappings of the elegiac lifestyle and, like them, is missing from Cynthia's death. Cynthia's ghost continues to pose serious questions about the lover-poet's version of their relationship, and ties his behavior before and immediately after her death to his lack of fidelity in life.

Cynthia's next complaint also relates to her larger concern about the lover-poet's fidelity. The lover-poet has a new mistress, who has entered his life suspiciously soon after Cynthia's death. The ghost's description of the new mistress, Chloris, sets this poem apart from the pervasive elegiac norms found elsewhere in Propertius's works (4.7.39-40): quae modo per vilis inspecta est publica noctes, / haec nunc aurata cyclade signat humum (This woman, who just now was on sale publicly for cheap nights, now marks the dust with her gilded hem). Cynthia is insulted because the lover-poet has entered a relationship with a woman who has recently been a common streetwalker rather than an elegiac mistress, a scortum rather than a meretrix. (12) Cynthia then assesses the character of the new mistress, who commits a number of offenses against Cynthia's memory, starting with the destruction of a golden statue of Cynthia (4.7.47-48): te patiente meae conflavit imaginis aurum, / ardent<e> e nostro dotem habitura rogo (You allowed her to melt the golden image of me, so that she might have a dowry from my burning pyre). Chloris shows her own insecurity by mistreating Cynthia's slaves in retaliation for their loyalty to Cynthia (41-46). In her complaints about this new mistress, Cynthia focuses on specific actions and offenses committed against her memory and her property, offenses that the lover-poet allowed to happen. The ghost of Cynthia is mistreated as a result of the lover-poet's infidelity to her memory, as she had suffered in life because of his infidelity to her living self.

Cynthia's complaints are not only those of a neglected mistress. She also takes issue with the lover-poet's representation of her in his poetry, rejecting his poems and thereby contesting his documentation of her and their affair (4.7.77-80): (13)
et quoscumque meo fecisti nomine versus,
ure mihi: laudes desine habere meas!
pelle (14) hederam tumulo, mihi quae praegnante corymbo
molli<a> contortis alligat ossa comis.

And whatever verses you have made in my name, burn them for me: stop
claiming praise that is mine! Remove from my grave the ivy, which binds
my soft bones with its twisting leaves while its clusters swell.

Cynthia does not want the lover-poet to continue to gain cultural capital through his account of their love affair. She refuses to be dependent on him for her artistic representation after her death, and urges him to destroy his account of their relationship (Janan 2001, 108). Indeed, she goes even further when she does not permit ivy a plant the lover-poet associates with his poetry at 2.5.26 and 4.1.61-62 (Fedeli 2005, 188; Hutchinson 2006, 186), to grow over her tomb. She envisages it as choking her remains, an image that may be read as a symbol for how the poetry has twisted her image in life, given the difference between the lover-poet's portrayal of her and her own account. Cynthia challenges his right to the fame of a poet, and shortly after these lines will contest his poetic mastery with her own. Propertius has written the debate between the perspectives of the puella and the lover-poet into his text.

B. Acanthis

The lover-poet's claims about Cynthia and the elegiac relationship are further undermined in Elegy 4.5. The central figure of this poem is the lena Acanthis, whose own speech (21-62) is framed by the lover-poet's commentary on her character, behavior, and death (1-20, 63-78). The lena's speech in 4.5 endeavors to usurp the lover-poet's role of the praeceptor amoris by advising the puella to do precisely the opposite of what he teaches. (15) Her speech is mostly admonitory and directed at Cynthia and women like her, and she herself serves as a dire warning of the impoverished old age in store for them if they do not provide for their own retirements. (16) Acanthis provides very practical reasons for the 'greedy' behavior that the lover-poet censures.

Acanthis's death, funeral, and grave align her experience with Cynthia's complaints in 4.7. Both women's ends are marked by poverty and loneliness, and the similarities further emphasize how inappropriate Cynthia's is for a beloved girlfriend. The emphasis in Cynthia's description of her funeral is on the absence of luxury and love, which are also missing from Acanthis's. But the lena's is embellished with further unattractive details about her poor funerary accoutrements (4.5.71-72): exsequiae fuerunt rari furtiva capilli / vincula et immundo pallida mitra situ (Her funeral featured stolen woolen bands on her scanty hair and a headdress pale with unclean filth). Not only was the lena's funeral impoverished, but her very grave is rough, overgrown, and accursed (4.5.75-78):
sit tumulus lenae curto vetus amphora collo:
urgeat hunc supra vis, caprifice, tua.
quisquis amas, scabris hoc bustum caedite saxis,
mixtaque cum saxis addite verba mala!

Let the tomb of the procuress be an old amphora with a broken neck:
assault it from above, wild fig tree. Whoever is a lover, strike this
grave with rough stones, and add nasty words mixed in with the stones!

The lover-poet thus accords Acanthis a grave that is both appropriate to her ethos (the broken wine jar suggests the habitual drunkenness associated with the lena) (17) and a focus for the anger of other lovers, much as he imagines his own grave (1.7.23-24) as a source of inspiration to them. The fig that he hopes oppresses her tomb anticipates the ivy that Cynthia says is binding her bones, and again highlights the similarities between the two women's deaths. Cynthia's lonely and shabby end in 4.7 bears out the importance of Acanthis's instructions in 4.5, which emphasize the necessity of getting money out of one's lovers in order not to suffer in old age. (18) The older woman's death haunts the lives of younger women who rely on the generosity of men without having formal ties to them, and both deaths call into question the claims of eternal devotion the lover-poet habitually makes.

The lena's speech provides a warning to the elegiac beloved to capitalize on her youth and good looks while they last (4.5.59-62), and in particular to amass as much wealth and property from her lovers as she can. In a practical sense, from the viewpoint of both meretrix and lena, fine gifts are necessary for the present purpose of supporting her current household and the glamorous appearance and lifestyle necessary to attract and keep clients. (19) Just as pressing is the need to store up wealth for the future, which she must do as much as possible in her youth in order to support herself in her unmarketable old age (James 2001, 224-25). But the lena goes further than simply advising the puella to earn as much as she can; like Cynthia in 4.7, she includes attacks on the lover-poet's claims to poetic mastery as well as his elegiac fidelity as part of her warnings and complaints.

Acanthis specifically mocks the pretensions of the elegiac lover-poet, advising the puella not to give in to one who claims poverty (4.5.54-58):
versibus auditis quid nisi verba feres?
quid iuvat ornato procedere, uita, capillo
et tenuis Coa veste movere sinus?
qui versus, Coae dederit nec munera vestis,
istius tibi sit surda sine arte lyra.

If you listen to their verses, what will you gain besides words? "What
use is it to go forth with hair adorned, my life, and to set in motion
the delicate folds of a Coan silk dress?" He who gives poems, and not
gifts of Coan dresses, let that fool's penniless lyre be without art as
far as you are concerned.

Acanthis cites the first two lines of Propertius 1.2, an elegy which aims to convince his mistress that fine gifts and adornment are unnecessary for either her beauty or the lover-poet's desire. (20) Her direct appropriation of these lines is a clever and compelling device in the speech of the lena. Acanthis here does not complain about the lover-poet's misunderstanding of the basic economic realities of women like Cynthia; on the contrary, she mocks it, using what small power she has--her speech--against him.

C. Cornelia

Although the two women would appear at first to be polar opposites, Cornelia's speech shares a great deal in common with Cynthia's in 4.7, particularly with respect to their faithfulness and their self-assurance about the way they lived their lives. Both women speak long addresses from the grave to their male partners, Cornelia's filling all of 4.11 and Cynthia's occupying the bulk (13-94) of 4.7. Both profess their fidelity (4.7.51-54; 4.11.41-54) and worth (4.7.69-70, 85-88; 4.11.30-72), and both give instructions to be carried out by the living (4.7.35-38, 73-86; 4.11.73-98). There are even similarities in the details they supply about their place in the underworld: both women pass over water (4.7.59-60; 4.11.15-16), mention the crime of the Danaids (4.7.67-68; 4.11.27-28), and refer to Cybele in connection with good women (4.7.61; 4.11.51). (21) Some of these similarities come, of course, from the genre: both women are performing funeral orations for themselves and delivering their last requests to their loved ones. (22) Overall, Cornelia's complaints are few; for the most part, she expresses satisfaction with her life and sympathy for her husband's widowed state. Near the beginning of 4.11, though, she exclaims (4.11.11-14):
quid mihi coniugium Paulli, quid currus auorum
profuit aut famae pignora tanta meae?
non minus immitis habuit Cornelia Parcas:
et sum, quod digitis quinque legatur, onus.

What use for me was my marriage to Paullus, what use the triumphal
chariot of my ancestors or the great pledges of my reputation? Cornelia
has not found the Fates any less unyielding: and I am now a weight that
may be collected in five fingers.

This outburst casts doubt on her extensive account of her virtuous and decorous life. These lines, combined with the ending of the poem, which leaves Cornelia awaiting a verdict of the underworld judges, make it difficult to accept that this poem is a wholehearted endorsement of the conventional role of the respectable woman (Lange 1974, 336). As in the case of Cynthia, Propertius represents this female ghost as expressing views that were generally repressed in the dominant culture. By contrast to Cynthia, Cornelia is less clear about her complaints and her wishes. There are, however, so many connections between Cornelia's speech and Cynthia's in 4.7 that Cornelia's briefly expressed doubts gain strength from their association with Cynthia's condemnation of the elegiac lover. Cornelia's ghost shows that the Roman matrona haunts male discourse as well, if elusively. (23) As a matrona, Cornelia holds the most honored role available to a Roman woman, but she still expresses reservations about its worth. Cornelia and Cynthia's combined words implicitly criticize the Roman male establishment, which includes both elegiac lover and upstanding citizen, both of whom write women into the restricted, if complimentary, roles of puella and matrona.


A. Cynthia

Near the end of 4.7, Cynthia specifies what must be done in response to her haunting. She begins with practical requests related to the world of the living. Her ghost makes appeals for her slaves, which, had the lover-poet been truly faithful, he would have received at her death bed; thus she revisits the theme of his treachery as she begins to explain what redress he needs to make (4.7.73-76). Furthermore, Cynthia has distinct ideas about where her remains should lie and how she should be remembered. She takes active control of her own artistic memory by dictating (4.7.81-86) her own epitaph (Warden 1980, 51):
ramosis Anio qua pomifer incubat arvis,
et numquam Herculeo numine pallet ebur,
hic carmen media dignum me scribe columna,
sed breve, quod currens vector ab urbe legat:

Where the fruitful Anio lies on branching fields, and, thanks to the
divine Hercules, ivory never yellows, here on the middle of a column
write a song worthy of me, but brief, which a rider rushing from the

As her parting shot against the lover-poet's verse, her very epitaph, an elegiac couplet, alludes to the function of elegy as a funerary genre and shows her own facility with the Alexandrian style to which the lover-poet aspires. (24) At the same time, she challenges the values of Alexandrian elegy, by rejecting the secluded trails and backroads espoused by Callimachus (Aet. fr. 1.25-27). In stark contrast to the lover-poet's desire for a secluded grave, (25) Cynthia requests that her monument be placed where hurried travelers may see it as they rush by. Propertius shows Cynthia seeking to take control of her own reception and challenging the lover-poet's right to define her and their affair. Cynthia demands redress for the tangible wrongs she has suffered at the lover-poet's hands and also the intangible ones, all of which are largely a result of his faithless betrayals before and after her death. She requires that the lover-poet and Propertius correct these wrongs before they can move on from her.

Cynthia's demands for recognition and redress take two forms (Gordon 2008, 63-64). First, she demands recognition of her extraordinary engagement with the elegiac situation. She has been as important to defining what elegiac love is and who the characters are as the lover-poet has, and she demands that her version of the story be given equal credence. Second, she insists that the lover-poet acknowledge and make up for his behavior to her before and after her death. Her last requests are also important aspects of her demand for recognition, as she denies the lover-poet's right to represent her and instead dictates her own epitaph. Through her requirement of recognition and redress, the ghost of Cynthia forces open gaps in the text, bringing elegy into contact with the sordid historical details of the lives of women who lacked the sanctioned protection of men; Acanthis the lena, in both her death and her advice to the puella, further emphasizes the dangers such women faced. (26) Thus, the speeches made by ghostly women in the fourth book may be read as a response to the actual experiences of women in Roman society, experiences left out of most Latin literature.

B. Acanthis

Acanthis's advice to the puella can be read as a kind of demand for redress: not for herself, but for young women who are in danger of suffering the same fate as she did when she died poor and alone. Her speech, like Cynthia's, also attempts to wrest poetic mastery from the lover-poet. Both women challenge the stereotypical reading of the characters and situation of love elegy, but from slightly different viewpoints, and Acanthis joins her voice to Cynthia's as she speaks from beyond the grave. In theory, neither woman should be haunting Propertius or his elegy. They had been given proper, if stingy, burials, which should have sent them away from the mortal realm. (27) But it seems that technically fulfilling the rites of burial are not enough to stop these restless spirits, who haunt the fourth book with the dissatisfaction of women whose motives have been misunderstood, whose lives and deaths have been undervalued, and whose creativity and control over their words has been taken from them.

The conditions that led to Acanthis's warning demand redress. Despite his protestations of fidelity, it is unlikely that the lover-poet will stay with the puella forever (James 2003, 40-41), and so the lena admonishes (4.5.59-62):
dum vernat sanguis, dum rugis integer annus,
utere, ne quid cras libet ab ore dies!
vidi ego odorati victura rosaria Paesti
sub matutino cocta iacere Noto.

While your blood is young, while your youth is free from wrinkles, use
your looks today lest tomorrow they please no one! I have seen the rose
gardens of fragrant Paestum on the point of drooping and lying parched
in the morning South wind.

The basis of the lena's warning is the simple fact that women's age, unlike men's, affects their ability to attract lovers and to earn a living. (28) The lover-poet's description in 4.5 of Acanthis shows scorn for women who have lost their youth: she has a rugosum collum (4.5.67), cavi dentes (68), and rari capilli (71). This inequitable assessment of the aging female body is problematic for both the lena and puella, and connects to broader societal issues related to gender, wealth, and status. Acanthis, unlike the lenae of New Comedy, does not seem to be acting out of self-interest in her warning to the puella, but offers her practical advice on how to make her fortune while she still can. This poem provides an important back-story for the elegiac scenario, since the historical courtesan, whose attributes color the character of the elegiac mistress, enjoyed few years in which she could expect to earn well, and the long nights and rough lifestyle that she would lead in that period would only make her age faster. (29) So while the elegiac lover could eventually return to the lifestyle and earning potential of an upper-class Roman male once his years of youthful indiscretion were over, (30) the puella had no such expectation. The ghost Acanthis addresses the financial consequences facing women who could not or would not depend upon male relatives, conditions that haunt the world of elegy. (31) Acanthis particularly speaks to the moral implications of the lover-poet's belief that the mistress is motivated by greed. The reparations that she wants are not for herself; she wants acknowledgement from the poet, the lover-poet figure, and the audience of the material realities of underclass women.

C. Cornelia

The similarities between Cynthia and Cornelia identify this matrona as another literary construct, and so we may consider Cornelia's role as ghost as similar to Cynthia's. (32) Her stronger ties to historical Roman society are evident in the content and shape of her speech, yet at the same time she can also be seen to 'haunt' Propertius's elegiac discourse in a literary sense. Even socially well-connected elite women tend to inhabit the margins of history and, when they do appear, to serve as models for exemplary purposes. (33) On the surface, Cornelia's ghost appears to confirm societal conventions, but occasional expressions of doubt in her speech draw attention to the fact that depictions of women's experiences are largely missing from Roman texts. (34) Though her specific demands for redress are less obvious, Cornelia's brief doubts and final address to the judges suggest that she wants recognition for living a life worthy of praise. Propertius's poem, then, may itself be interpreted as the partial fulfilment of her wishes.

Reminders of Unjust Systems and Unresolved Wrongs

Propertius invites these phantoms into his poetry, with their complaints and their demands. He gives them compelling speeches that interact with his other poems and with the larger themes running through his corpus. Ghosts are liminal entities in Roman, as well as modern, thought (Felton 1999, 94). In ancient stories about hauntings, the ghosts appear in liminal spaces, such as doors or windows, and to people who are in liminal states of mind, often in dreams or in the space between waking and sleeping. This is indeed the case with Cynthia's apparition in 4.7. Cynthia is based on a liminal character type in the Roman world, but in Propertian elegy, she is central: she is liminal and not-liminal at the same time, while in the context of elegy, Cornelia is certainly a liminal figure, and in Propertian elegy Acanthis is as well. Propertian elegy does not simply overturn the rules of the 'straight world'; it complicates that very overturning by inviting in a matrona and by giving the puella a voice, which she then uses to insist that she does not fit the role that elegy assigns to her. I argue that this play with liminality may go some way towards explaining why Propertius brings these women in as ghosts, as he is able to borrow some of their status as figures in the borderlands of history and literature for his larger aims. Propertius gives greater space and focus to the concerns of Cynthia the elegiac mistress than to Acanthis the lena or Cornelia the matrona, and this can tell us something about how these types of women fit into his elegiac worldview: Cynthia is quite simply a more important figure. Cornelia may be the woman that Propertius ends with, but Cynthia is the woman he began with, quite literally, as her name is the first word in his corpus. Unlike the other women, she has a strong and pervasive presence in Propertius's earlier books, and appears, alive, in the poem immediately following 4.7. The unsettling and unfair underworld that Cornelia and Cynthia experience is a striking example of the liminal and oppressed status of these women in life and in death.

A. Afterlife

Cynthia depicts an underworld in which time stands still and all women, good and evil, are left floating on a stream without reaching either punishment or reward (Janan 2001, 110-12). The evil women, Clytemnestra and Pasiphae, represented as deceptive and unfaithful to their husbands, exemplify the polar opposite of Cynthia's self-construction (4.7.55-58) (Warden 1980, 45). The good women, among whom we find Cynthia, are less easy to interpret (4.7.63-70):
Andromedeque et Hypermestre sine fraude maritae
narrant historiae tempora nota suae:
haec sua maternis queritur livere catenis
bracchia nec meritas frigida saxa manus;
narrat Hypermestre magnum ausas esse sorores,
in scelus hoc animum non valuisse suum.
sic mortis lacrimis vitae sanamus amores:
celo ego perfidiae crimina multa tuae.

Andromeda and Hympermestra, wives without deceit, recite the well-known
details of their stories: the first bewails that her arms are bruised
from maternal chains and her hands did not deserve the cold cliffs;
Hypermestra tells of her sisters who dared a great crime, and that her
own heart was not strong enough for it. Thus we consecrate the loves of
our lives with tears in death: but I hide the many crimes of your

Andromeda, Hypermestra, and Cynthia may have been judged 'good,' but they do not seem to have won any reward for their behavior. (35) Although the lands of the blessed dead are described (4.7.59-62), the good women are still afloat on their journey to them, trapped between death and afterlife (59): ecce coronato pars altera rapta phaselo (Look, another group is carried away by a garlanded boat). Andromeda and Hypermestra, whose lives and deaths took place in the distant mythical past, are no closer to their reward than the bad women are to their punishment. Additionally, the good women are not given rest from their earthly sorrows. (36) They continue to tell and retell their stories of victimization and betrayal, all except Cynthia, who keeps silent, since to tell of the betrayals she suffered at the lover-poet's hands would be tantamount to breaking faith. The good women of myth, like Cynthia, have not been rewarded for their virtue. Cynthia's ghost expresses doubts about the value of female virtue for ensuring women's safety and fulfilment in life, since it does not even protect them in death. She thus exposes the oppression Roman women experienced even if they fulfilled the roles imposed on them by society.

Cynthia ends her speech by ceding possession of the living lover-poet to other women for the present, while promising that she will repossess him in the end: nunc te possideant aliae: mox sola tenebo (Let other women possess you now: soon I alone will hold you, 4.7.93). Cynthia consistently represents the lover-poet as faithless in 4.7 and throughout the corpus, and in the end she seems to accept that she cannot change him. Indeed, her statement that more than one other woman (aliae) may have him is a final challenge to his claims of elegiac devotion to a single woman. This is her final word on his behavior, (37) but not the end of her speech, which promises in a somewhat disconcerting way that her fides will remain after both their deaths and that her remains will spend eternity with his: mecum eris et mixtis ossibus ossa teram (You will be with me, and I will rub your bones mixed with mine, 94). (38) Elsewhere, Propertius has the lover-poet idealize devotion beyond the grave, but here Cynthia, not he, takes that ideal to its furthest extreme.

Cynthia's depiction of her own afterlife and her promise of a future for her and the lover-poet's earthly remains appears to be grounded in the tropes of elegy, with its valorization of eternal devotion. Yet her speech also represents the lover-poet's behavior (and her own) as deviating significantly from generic norms. Cynthia's version of the afterlife sets her in comparison with the virtuous and depraved heroines of myth in a way that challenges the lover-poet's version of her character. At the same time, the underworld scene undermines secure categorization of women in general as good or evil, as well as our expectation of punishment for vice and reward for virtue.

Cornelia has much less to say about her experience after death than Cynthia, but what she does say has significant parallels with Cynthia's account. Like Cynthia, she permits her husband to have another woman, if he must (4.11.85-87) (Gunther 2006, 394). Her account of the underworld is similar in some of its details to Cynthia's. Cornelia also seems to be mired in a watery place awaiting judgment and reward (4.11.15-18):
damnatae noctes et vos, vada lenta, paludes,
et quaecumque meos implicat unda pedes,
immatura licet, tarnen huc non noxia veni:
det Pater hic umbrae mollia iura meae.

Cursed nights and you, marshes, sluggish water, and whatever wave
entangles my feet, I may have come here too soon, but not,
nevertheless, as an evildoer: May the Father here give gentle judgement
to my shade.

Cornelia's initial lines set the stage on which the rest of her speech is performed. She, like Cynthia, is recently dead, and, like Cynthia, she must provide an account of herself that justifies her life and asks her survivors to reckon with her death. These lines make clear what she thinks of herself: she died too soon, is a good woman, and deserves a mild fate. The end of the poem, however, leaves her fate still hanging in the balance; even the blameless and exemplary Cornelia does not receive a concrete and clear reward in Propertius's poems.


It is difficult to appreciate why Propertius so consistently represents women who criticize the roles for men and women which are constructed by elegy and Roman society, and who repeatedly cast doubt on the possibility of male fidelity while simultaneously emphasizing its importance. Cynthia continually accuses the lover-poet of infidelity, an attack that aims at the very heart of the identity of elegiac lover; she also insists on redefining her own role, either by ignoring or expressly rejecting the elegiac puella's characteristic greed and faithlessness. Cynthia and Acanthis's ghosts raise uncomfortable questions about the security of the puella and how much she can rely on the lover-poet to love her (and therefore support her financially) forever; they also interject material realities into the idealized world of elegy. The lover-poet consistently takes the position that he is the wronged figure, the faithful lover who is betrayed by his mistress's inconstancy and greed. (39) Cynthia, however, portrays him as a callous and careless lover, whose real concerns are carousing and enjoying himself, not the love and faithfulness he claims to espouse. He is more like Caelius as presented by Cicero--a young man who is sowing his wild oats, but will not stay in the demimonde forever (Fear 2005, 15). The narrative trajectory of Propertius's elegiac collections even supports her viewpoint, for despite his claims to being suited only to writing of love and girls, Propertius writes progressively more about public or mythological themes in Books 2 and 3, a trend that culminates in his decision to write only public, etiological poetry for the glory of Rome in 4.1.67-70 (Keith 2008, 113). Propertius does not, however, carry through with his plan, articulated in the first half of Elegy 4.1, to turn to Rome alone for inspiration. Instead, in the fourth book he capitalizes on the doubts about contemporary public life and elite values which he has sown in the earlier amatory collections, but on a greater scale. Cynthia returns from her dismissal at 3.24-25 and then from the dead in 4.8, and a chorus of other women offers a critique directed not only at him but also at the larger Roman society whose roles and values the lover-poet claims to have rejected. Propertius's Book 4 is haunted by the voices of those who are largely excluded from Roman history.

Propertius is interested in constructing a masculinity for his lover-poet in the liminal space between traditional Roman masculinity and elegiac effeminacy. In earlier books of his poetry, he uses a kind of identification between lover-poet and puella to take advantage of her liminality, a liminality based both on the position of adulterous women and courtesans in Roman society and on the characterization of courtesans in Greek and Roman literature. (40) In Book 4, Propertius builds on this foundation from the earlier books, and expands beyond the character of Cynthia in his exploration and exploitation of the liminal position of women. The women in this book are more varied in their societal and historical positions, and three of them--Cynthia, Acanthis, and Cornelia--have the added liminality of the ghost. (41) Ghosts are creatures that in their very nature exist between worlds. They bridge the gap between the living and the dead, and represent at the same time an intrusion of the world of the dead into the land of the living, and of the concerns of the living into the land of the dead. (42) Of these ghosts, Cynthia and Acanthis are in many ways the same recognizably elegiac character at different stages of the life cycle of an elegiac puella. Cornelia, however, adds a different dimension to Propertius's critique of and challenge to Roman and elegiac mores. As a historically attested individual and upper-class matrona, she may seem very far-removed from amatory elegy; indeed, her poem's position at the very end of Propertius's corpus has been interpreted as signaling the poet's final acquiescence to the non-elegiac virtues and values that her ghost champions. (43) But the unexpected connections between Cornelia and Cynthia provide surprising evidence of the commonalities that can be found between women who are in theory extremely different. Furthermore, Cornelia, like Cynthia, can be a conduit for Propertius's doubts about elegiac tropes and Roman society. Throughout his corpus, Propertius engages in a long-term dialogue with Roman society and elegiac values, comparing them, contrasting them, critiquing them, taking what he values from both, and rejecting what he does not. (44) Cornelia, like Cynthia and Acanthis, is part of this larger project. Just as Propertius uses an elegiac beloved to critique elegiac 'society' and the Roman demimonde alike, he eventually resorts to using a Roman matrona to subtly illuminate and critique the social class to which she belongs.

Women are largely ignored in Roman literature, but that does not mean they are not there and do not matter. (45) In this article, I have examined the ghosts of Propertius 4 for the echoes and unfinished business of the past that can be read inside of and under the surface of texts. (46) Cynthia, Acanthis, and Cornelia look for redress for the injustice they have suffered and provide an avenue for change in the present, for opening up new spaces for thought, identity, and action (Gordon 2008, xvi, 201-2). On this reading, the women's speeches that come from beyond the grave in Book 4 may be read as a response to the repressed experiences of women in Roman society. This is especially true of Cynthia and Acanthis, the underclass women, who bring to light the financial and social challenges experienced by women who did not have the socially sanctioned protection of men; but it is also true of Cornelia the matrona, whose speech is haunted by the brief expression of doubt that her exemplary life was truly worthwhile (4.11.11-14) (Lowrie 2008, 176). These ghosts' voices are harnessed by Propertius and used as part of a larger project of destabilizing the gender system and Roman and elegiac values. As such, they do not really seek redress for themselves and their specific experience of violence in the nexus of gender-based oppression. Rather, their speeches have the effect of calling into question the constructs of gender that dominated Roman elite society and the elegiac scenario. (47)

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(1.) Some scholars have simply dismissed her claims as lies or exaggerations (e.g., Goold 1999, 359 note 71: "Cynthia's charges are not to be taken seriously"; and Papanghelis 1987, 185: Cynthia is a "vindictive shrew"), but such perfunctory dismissals are rarely given textual support or careful argumentation.

(2.) The ghosts of Propertius 4 are both situated in and distinct from the Greco-Roman literary and historical tradition of specters from beyond the grave. See Felton 1999 for an overview of this tradition.

(3.) See 1.6 for an example of this type of man in Tullus, and discussion in Cairns 2006, 43.

(4.) See Horace, Carm. 1.33 and 2.9 for a caricature of the elegiac lover, with discussion in Nisbet and Hubbard 1970. 368-76 and 1978, 136-38.

(5.) This ghost, although not addressed here, is also a part of Propertius's ongoing engagement with and critique of his society and its values.

(6.) This part of my analysis is influenced by Gordon's 2008 work on ghosts in twentieth-century literary fiction. See Kristeva 1982 on horror and abjection.

(7.) These lines are consistent with her words in other speeches in the corpus (e.g., 1.3.25-46, 2.29.31-38, and 3.6.19-34). Her consistency speaks against the views of those who do not believe her, including Papanghelis 1987, 181, 185 and Lvne 1980, 118-19.

All citations from Propertius are taken from Fedeli 1984, unless otherwise stated. All translations are mine.

(8.) In 1.3, Cynthia accuses the lover-poet of returning to her after sexually exhausting himself (she calls him languidus at 1.3.38) with another woman. In 2.29, she suggests that his morals are not as elevated as hers (32, 34), when he returns to her in circumstances similar to those in 1.3. In 3.6, moreover, Cynthia interweaves accusations about the lover-poet's infidelity with statements about her own blamelessness (3.6.21-24):
ille potest nullo miseram me linquere facto
et qualem nolo dicere habere domi!
gaudet me vacuo solam tabescere lecto:
si placet, insultet, Lygdame, morte mea!

That man was able to abandon wretched me, who had done nothing, and to
have in his house a woman of a sort I don't want to speak of! He
rejoices because I am dying away alone in an empty bed: if it pleases
him, let him dance on my grave, Lygdamus!

Cynthia's claims here about her own behavior accentuate her innocence: she has done nothing (21) and her bed is empty (23). In contrast, she accuses the lover-poet of keeping another woman in her place (22), so that her fidelity is given to him in spite of the wrongs he has done. The lover-poet makes similar claims for himself at 2.9.43-44, 2.24.35-40, and 2.32. The circumstances of 3.6 are further linked to 4.7 by the presence of the slave Lygdamus, whom Cynthia believes has poisoned her, and by Cynthia's description of the woman with whom she believes the lover-poet has replaced her (qualm nolo dicere), suggesting a woman of lower status than she rather than another elegiac mistress; she will make a similar accusation about Chloris, the woman who has replaced her in 4.7.

(9.) E.g., 1.17.19-24; 2.13.27-36; 2.24.35-38; 3.16.21-30. Cf. Yardley 1973 on sick puellae in elegy.

(10.) Tibullus 2.3 is the locus classicus; in the Propertian corpus, 1.2 sets the tone for the mistress's luxury.

(11.) Indeed, his absence from Cynthia's funeral contrasts sharply with his earlier fantasies about her behavior at his funeral (e.g., 2.13.27-30).

(12.) She is not unlike the class of women to whom the lover-poet claims he will turn in the set of related poems at 2.22-24, in which he seems to be advocating the casual approach to love and women more appropriate to lyric.

(13.) See Dufallo 2005, 116.

(14.) Fedeli (1984) prints Sandbach's emendation pone, saying "docta puella optare non potest ut hedera e sepulcro suo pellatur" (The learned girl cannot want the ivy removed from her tomb). I disagree, as this particular docta puella is perfectly capable of rejecting the accoutrements and tropes of the lover-poet's elegy. Hutchinson (2006) prints pelle, and (186) gives reasons similar to mine: "It is not clear that C. desires this emphasis on P.'s poetry about her. She has told him to burn it, and the epitaph she requests contrasts with it in brevity (sed breue 84). The poetic associations of ivy make it all the more suitable for removal."

(15.) Myers 1996, 1. Ohrman (2008, 106) believes that the lenae of 4.5 and Ovid, Am. 1.8 and Priapus in Tibullus 1.4 "offer the most complete teachings of love in 'canonical' elegy," thus suggesting that in fact the Una is a better praeceptor anions than the lover-poet.

(16.) Greco-Roman ghosts often come to give a warning to the living: Felton 1999, 8.

(17.) So Keith 2008, 35.

(18.) James (2001, 225) connects Acanthis's advice in 4.5 to Cynthia's 'greedy' behavior in 2.16. Cf. Wyke 2002, 184 on the motives of Acanthis versus those of the lover-poet.

(19.) James 2003, 168-71 (specifically on hairstyling).

(20.) Some editors bracket these lines, on the grounds that they are "probably a marginal quotation which has entered the text" (Hutchinson 2006, 148); Camps (1965, 102), on the other hand, thinks that it "does not seem impossible that it should be quoted here by the speaker, with a sneer"; cf. Wyke 2002, 102.

(21.) Gold 2007, 65; cf. Lange 1974, 338. Curran (1968, 137) argues that Cornelia is obsessed with her funeral and its aftermath; this obsession certainly allies her with Cynthia.

(22.) Cornelia's speech resembles funeral orations given to women, as exemplified in the so-called Laudatio Turiae, and, to some extent, also epitaphs that claim to be in the voice of the dead woman (e.g., CIL VI 6593).

(23.) In Gordon's readings of haunting in literary texts, she finds that the ghost or ghostly figure tends to be somewhat elusive and to require a certain amount of interpretation in order to understand the absence that it represents or the wrong it wants redressed. See, for example, her discussion of how the ghost of Morrison's Beloved does not just force recognition of the past and redress for its wrongs, but also makes the living move through the haunting and let go of the violence of the past (Gordon 2008, 175-90).

(24.) Lange 1974, 340. Propertius indicates his admiration for and identification with Alexandrian poetry in the opening poems of three of his four books, at 2.1.39-42, 3.1.1-6, and 4.1.59-64. Keith (2011 ) explores the relationships between elegy and epigram in programmatic poems of the elegists' collections.

(25.) 3.16.25-26; di faciant, mea ne terra locet ossa frequenti, / qua facit assiduo tramite vulgus iter! (May the gods make it so that she does not place my bones in a busy place where the crowd makes its journey on a busy footpath).

(26.) Cf. Homans 1987, 173 on the inclusion, even if by accident, of female voices in male-authored texts.

(27.) See Felton 1999 for an overview of the circumstances under which ghosts appear in ancient texts.

(28.) For threats of Cynthia's coming old age, see 2.18.19-22 and 3.25.11-48. For old age as no bar to love for the lover-poet, see 2.25.9-10; cf. Horace, Carm. 1.25. For discussion of Horace, see Nisbet and Hubbard 1970, 289-92. Cf. Ancona 1994, chap. 4 on the differing effects of age on lover and beloved.

(29.) As Propertius himself suggests at 2.33.33-34. Further, as McGinn (2004, 53) points out, prostitutes also had to invest significant amounts of money on enhancing their attractiveness and often worked in environments that were not conducive to saving money.

(30.) James 2001, 239. See Fear 2005, 15-19 for discussion of the connection between youth and indulgence in the character of the elegiac lover.

(31.) McGinn (2004, 70-71) argues that women without male relatives to depend on were particularly likely to turn to prostitution for survival.

(32.) For the status of Cornelia as literary construct as well as historical woman, see Wyke 2002, 108-14.

(33.) Cf. Dixon 2007, 58-59 for the transformation of Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, into an icon of virtuous motherhood and the fragmentary survival and later interpretation of her own writing (26-29); cf. Hillard 1989.

(34.) Gordon (2008, 19) theorizes haunting as a way to understand the gaps between the articulation of social structures, which are everywhere evident in Cornelia's speech, and the lived experience of them.

(35.) Curran (1968, 136) notes that Cornelia implicitly associates herself with Hypermestra at 4.11.27-28.

(36.) Warden 1980, 44-47. The verb queritur (65) has elegiac connotations, usually signifying the complaints of the lover-poet, as at 1.16.39 and 1.18.29 (cf. Saylor 1969). It also appears in a simile describing a puella's complaints about her lover's infidelity at 2.20.5.

(37.) Although not actually, as she will return to the subject when she shows up still alive in the next poem.

(38.) See Uden 2005, 640 for the use of tero with connotations of "excessive and threatening sexuality," notably at 3.11.30 to describe Cleopatra as worn out from sex with slaves.

(39.) Although not completely: see, e.g., 2.22, 2.23 (although here he blames Cynthia for his very inconstancy), and 4.8.

(40.) For elegiac puellae as liminal figures, see Buchan 1995, 67-68 (on Corinna's first appearance in the Amores); Gardner 2013, 35 for the elegiac lover-poet as occupying a liminal space; Welch 2005 for liminality as a theme in Propertius 4.

(41.) See Felton 1999, 94 on ghosts as liminal figures.

(42.) Lowrie (2008, 168-69) reviews the ways in which Cornelia exists in two places at once.

(43.) See Lowrie 2008 for an overview of the critical reaction to Cornelia and 4.11.

(44.) Gordon (2008, 190) defines a haunted person as "to be in the seemingly old story now scared and not wishing to be there but not having anywhere else you can go that feels like a place you can belong."

(45.) Cf. Homans 1987, 160 on the focus of feminist criticism on recovering that which is lost or hidden from view.

(46.) Gordon (2008, 25) argues that literary fiction is important in the study of haunting because literature has not been subject to the same norms of knowing and knowledge production that "factual" writing, such as sociological work, has been in the twentieth century. As a result, fiction can reveal in an imaginative way issues and conflicts that cannot be accessed through standard methods.

(47.) This article's earliest incarnation was as a chapter of my dissertation, and I thank first and foremost my doctoral supervisor, Alison Keith, and the members of my dissertation committee, Erik Gunderson and Jarrett Welsh. Thanks are also due to the anonymous reviewers at Helios for their comments on an earlier draft, and to Sarah McCallum, whose comments and suggestions were immensely useful for bringing it into its final form.
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