Sulpicia: an/other female voice in Ovid's Heroides a new reading of Heroides 4 and 15.
In the last of the individual letters, Heroides 15, the female speaker and supposed author is the great Greek poet Sappho. As recent scholars (e.g., Gordon 1997, 281; Hallett 2005) have established, allusions to the poetry of the historical Sappho figure prominently in this letter. Some are direct allusions, others indirect as they echo the poems of Catullus who imitated her words.
Among other Roman writers who emulate Sappho is a female author of erotic epigrams: Sulpicia. In one of her poems (Tibullus 3.13), she refers successively to two earlier models, Cornelius Gallus and Sappho. The opening line of this text, tandem venit amor, perhaps recalls the renowned phrase attributed by Vergil to Gallus at Eclogue 10.69, omnia vincit amor. To judge from the many other appearances of this phrase in Latin literature, omnia vincit amor is either a direct quote or a slight variation of a verse in Callus's lost Amores. The word tandem may seek to evoke Callus's poetry as well, specifically his verses discovered in the Qas'r Ibrim papyrus: tandem fecerunt c[ar]mina Musae / quae possem domina deicere digna mea (Finally the Muses have created poems, worthy of my mistress, of the sort that I was able to utter). (2) The context of Sulpicia's tandem venit amor also supports a reference, either direct or oblique, to Gallus, for two lines later, at 3.13.3-5, she too proclaims that the Muses have decisively intervened in her efforts to win her love: exorata meis illum Cytherea Camenis / attulit in nostrum deposuitque sinum. / exsoluit promissa Venus (Moved by my Camenae, Cytherea has brought and placed him in my arms. Venus has kept her promises). By noting that the Muses have enlisted the aid of the goddess Venus, and referring to her by the epithet Cytherea, Sulpicia also calls to mind the actual name, Cytheris, of the woman Gallus celebrated by the pseudonym Lycoris. (3)
In her reference to the mediation of the goddess Cytherea, Sulpicia simultaneously embraces another literary model, Sappho. The verses exorata meis illum Cytherea Camenis / attulit in nostrum deposuitque sinum. / exsoluit promissa Venus have affinities with Sappho, fragment 1, in which she successfully implores Venus's Greek counterpart, Aphrodite: (4)
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] And you, blissful, your immortal face all laughter, asking what troubles me this time, why again I call you down, what ardent desire was in my wild heart: "Who is she that persuasion fetch her, enlist her and put her into bounden love? Sappho, who does you wrong?" If she balks, I promise, soon she'll pursue you. If she's turned from gifts, now she'll give them. And if she does not love you, she will love, helplessly she will love.
Furthermore, as Stephen Hinds (2006, 185) has suggested, the verb venit in the Sulpician phrase tandem venit amor involves etymological wordplay: the first three letters of venit evoke the name Venus, which finally appears in line 5, and, according to Balbus in Cicero, De natura deorum 2.69, (5) the name of Venus itself derives from venire. But Sulpicia may have another reason for choosing this form of this verb, since it may equally allude to Sappho, fragment 2.46:
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] You came: you did well. I desired you ardently: you inflamed in my soul a desire that consumes it.
The communis opinio is that Sulpicia was the niece of the orator and statesman Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, whom she addresses by name in one of her poems, and whom Ovid praises as his own onetime patron twice in his Epistulae ex Ponto (1.7 and 2.2). In this paper, I will argue that echoes of Sulpicia's voice can be recognized not only in Heroides 15, written by Sappho (Sulpicia's literary model), but also in Heroides 4, written by a woman, Phaedra, who reveals her love for a man, Hippolytus.
The first sign of Sulpicia's presence in Heroides 4, I would argue, is the style of the opening verses. Many critics (e.g., Lowe 1998) have viewed Sulpicia's writing as obscure and complicated, and have noted her fondness of combining two propositions in an interlocked fashion so as to express or seek erotic reciprocity. Ovid's lines, quam nisi tu dederis, caritura est ipsa, salute / mittit Amazonio Cressa puella viro (The greeting, which if you don't give, she herself will be deprived of, is being sent by the girl of Creta to the man born of the Amazon), seems to parody this very aspect of Sulpicia's style. The verbal formulation launches a chain of interactions between Phaedra and her beloved Hippolytus, functioning as epistolary 'foreplay' of sorts, in a letter written to arouse the erotic feelings of her young male addressee. We find two enigmatic subordinate clauses linking the letter writer and her addressee, followed by a noun whose sense is ambiguous: salus means 'greeting' and frequently assumes this sense in Roman correspondence, and yet it also signifies 'good health,' which is what Phaedra expects from Hippolytus.
Heroides 4 is the only letter in this collection in which a woman declares her love for a man. Ovid's principal model, the lost tragedy Hippolytus Crowned, represents Phaedra as suffering from an unspecified illness, and not speaking. This silence is an important dramatic element since she finally explains her condition to her nurse and the Chorus:
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (392-4) When love wounded me, I started to consider how I might best bear it. So I began to be silent about this and conceal my disease.
We know that Euripides was forced to present the story in this particular way after the failure of his first version of the Hippolytus, in which Phaedra declared her passion to her stepson. Heroides 4.7-8--ter tecum conata loqui ter inutilis haesit / lingua, ter in primo destitit ore sonus (Three times I was trying to speak with you; three times my tongue was jammed without being of use to me; three times the sound stopped on the tip of my tongue)--alludes to this tradition of Phaedra's silence, which appears not only in Euripides' second version but also in Sophocles' play on the same subject. (6)
It would be simplistic, however, to think that Ovid has his Phaedra speak merely to break from his Athenian dramatic predecessors. Rather, here we find Ovid innovating in a subtle way, proposing another possibility: a written declaration. I would explain this innovation by observing that Ovid was drawing on a Roman precedent, writing by a woman in which she revealed her passion for a younger man, and claimed that she had specifically chosen the medium of writing for that purpose: Sulpicia 3.13. Other details in Heroides 4 also point us to this Roman female literary model.
Ovid's heroines in the Heroides may be Greek, but their ways of thinking and their ideological frames of reference accord with the Roman culture that shaped him and his readers. Roman ideology of his day viewed what was said about a woman (her fama) as directly related to her sexual respectability (pudor). Respectable sexual conduct, moreover, consisted of chastity for unmarried girls and marital fidelity for married women. It is not at all surprising that Ovid's Phaedra uses the terms fama and pudor when asking herself whether her declaration of love for Hippolytus is proper:
qua licet et [dagger]quitur[dagger] pudor est miscendus amor dicere quae puduit, scribere iussit amor. (9-10) As much as possible, we must put modesty in love. That which is shameful to be read, Love has commanded it be written.
The word pudor here implies reserved, restrained behavior. The verb puduit introduces the idea of shame, a feeling that results from conduct, whether sexual or not, judged blameworthy Moving from the word pudor to the word puduit amounts to a noticeable correction in Phaedra's thought process, for pudor is used to describe a way of conducting one's self that is in keeping with social norms. Puduit, however, substitutes a verb that describes internal feeling for a noun that pertains to outward acting. This feeling results from internalizing social norms, but with an important adjustment: it is only associated with oral declarations, and is suppressed by the process of writing.
Phaedra speaks at greater length about her fama when she reflects upon how her love for Hippolytus began:
non ego nequitia socialia foedera rumpam; fama, velim quaeras, crimine nostra vacat. venit amor gravius, quo serius. urimur intus; urimur et caecum pectora vulnus habent. (17-20) It is not because I have a taste for depravity that I will break the bonds of marriage; my reputation, I wish you to inquire about it, is empty of accusation. Came Love all the more heavy because it was more late. I am burning inside, I am burning; my breast holds a hidden wound.
Phaedra announces that the breach of her marital bonds will not result from nequitia, a negatively charged term that suggests both abandoning one's self to sensual pleasures and outright moral dissolution. In the final verses of the poem, Phaedra depicts her experience of love as all the stronger because it is "late"; prior to this, she talks about her fama, emphasizing that it is still intact. (7) These verses allude, twice, to Sulpicia 3.13.
The words venit amor (19), of course, literally repeat a key phrase in the opening words of 3.13:
tandem venit amor qualem texisse pudori quam nudasse alicui sit mihi fama magis. (1-2) At last came Love such as the reputation of concealing it would make me feel more ashamed than the reputation of revealing it.
At the same time, the opening lines of 3.13 provide a model for Ovid's representation of Phaedra's way of talking about her erotic feelings. Sulpicia's proclamation of intense, powerfully felt, passion is a preliminary to a highly personal formulation of the relationship between pudor and fama. Sulpicia declares that she is involved in a love affair, and does so in writing. She specifies that a reputation for having hidden it would be for her a reason for greater shame than one earned for revealing it. Here pudor refers, generally, to the feeling of shame that ordinarily results from a particularly blameworthy act. It is not used in its more limited, particular sense: to denote the feelings that cause women to exhibit sexual reserve outwardly. Yet Sulpicia's judgment about how to portray her love affair does not take social norms into account: she is fixated on the specificities of her situation, that her love is exceptional.
Sulpicia explains what is exceptional about her love in the final couplet of the epigram:
sed peccasse iuvat; vultus componere famae taedet: cum digno digna fuisse ferar. (9-10) But I am glad to have committed a fault, making a face for my reputation is repugnant to me; let it be said that I have been with a man worthy of me, and I have been worthy of him.
These verses associate her erotic union and the act of hiding it with two kinds of feelings that have nothing to do with pudor: pleasure and distaste. By employing the word peccasse (to have misbehaved), Sulpicia indicates that she does not even try to avoid the moral condemnation that greets illicit love affair; indeed the verb iuvat (it brings me delight) sounds like a provocation. In addition, the idea of 'veiled' behavior, expressed by the phrase vultus componere in combination with fama, is represented as dishonest and hypocritical, thereby justifying the verb taedet (it is distasteful). Such paradoxes befit her final revelation: Sulpicia openly proclaims that she and her partner are worthy of one another, adding that she wishes her love affair to be known in these terms (note ferar, or 'I may be said' or 'I will be said').
This wish is a sign, as was the case at the beginning of the poem, that she wants to control what must be said about her. But since the beginning of the poem, her thoughts have developed in a different direction. She not only assumes the fama of taking part in a love affair, but also dictates what is to be said about her, that she has been with a man of whom she is worthy, just as he is worthy of her. Because of its moral implications, her assertion enables her readers to change their judgment about a union out of wedlock; indeed, it justifies her proud, public proclamation of her love affair in the first place. To judge from its echoes in later Latin poetry, the way in which Gallus uses the word dignus in the Qas'r Ibrim papyrus--tandem fecerunt c[ar]mina Musae / quae possem domina deicere digna mea--soon gained renown. (8) Sulpicia 3.13.9-10 is one such echo, personally modulated. It foregrounds a notion that dominates Sulpicia's erotic imagination: reciprocity.
What did Ovid recall, and seek to have his readers recall, of this text whose female author outspokenly reveals, in writing, an illicit love that she is trying to redefine? As the expression venit amor attests, Phaedra, too, wants to convince her reader, in this instance the male addressee she is attempting to seduce, that her experience of love is exceptional. The metaphor of love as weighty (gravior) is perhaps borrowed from Propertius, who makes frequent use of it. (9) By repeating the verb form uror in lines 9 and 20, Ovid also seems to echo another poem in the Sulpicia-cycle, 3.11. There she states in lines 5-6:
uror ego ante alias: iuvat hoc, Cerinthe, quod uror si tibi de nobis mutuus ignis adest. I burn more than the others; and I likewise, Cerinthus, burn if you are feeling a mutual fire for me.
What follows the verb uror in this poem, of course, is what Phaedra hopes to achieve. But her story is at an earlier stage, still a secretly maintained feeling on her part alone. It has not yet developed into 'mutual love.'
What of the immediate context of these verses in 3.11? Written for Cerinthus's birthday, this poem evokes, at first, the destiny the Fates sang when he was born. They announce a new kind of slavery (novum servi-tium) for puellae such as Sulpicia, and proud kingdoms (regna superba) for Cerinthus. Sulpicia distinguishes herself from other girls by the intensity of her love: she wants to burn with desire if her feelings are reciprocated. Lines 3-4 (te nascente novum Parcae cecinere puellis / servitium et dederunt regna superba tibi [Foretelling such things out of her divine breast, the Parcae once sang the felicity of Peleus, 64.382-3]) may have attracted Ovid's attention because they echo two earlier and famous texts, one in fact inspiring the other: Catullus 64.382-3 and Tibullus 1.7.1-2. Catullus's words, talia praefantes quondam felicia Pelei / carmina divino cecinere e pectore Parcae (Foretelling such things out of her divine breast, the Parcae once sang the felicity of Peleus, 64.382-3), conclude the song in which the Fates celebrate the exemplary union of Peleus and Thetis (nullus amor tali coniunxit foedere amantes [Not any love joined lovers with such pact, 64.335]) and the warrior destiny of their son Achilles. In elegy 1.7, Tibullus introduces the destiny of another famous Roman warrior, his patron Messalla, who has just celebrated a triumph: hunc cecinere diem Parcae fatalia nentes / stamina (The Parcae sang this day unwinding the threads of the fate, 1.7.1-2). These two texts influence the opening of 3.1 1, where the Fates predict glory to a victorious hero of a new sort, one exceptionally valiant in the field of erotic conquest.
These verses also seem to have given Ovid the idea of drawing on another Catullan text, an epithalamium (marriage hymn), like the song of the Fates: poem 62. Heroides 4.29-30--est aliquid plenis pomaria carpere ramis / et tenui primam delegare ungue rosam (It is something to gather fruits from full branches and to pick the first rose with a delicate fingernail)--evidently recall 62.43: idem cum tenui carptus defloruit ungui (The same flower gathered with a delicate fingernail faded). In Heroides 4, gathering fruits and flowers is a metaphor for losing one's good fama:
tu nova servatae carpes libamina famae et pariter nostrum fiet uterque nocens. est aliquid plenis pomaria carpere ramis et tenui primam delegere ungue rosam. (27-30) You will gather the new libation of the reputation I have preserved and in the same way each of us will be guilty. It is something to gather fruits from full branches and to pick the first rose with a delicate fingernail.
In Catullus 62, in response to pueri who are attempting to seduce them, puellae compare gathering flowers with the loss of virginity:
multi illum pueri, multae optavere puellae; idem cum tenui carptus defloruit ungui, nulli illum pueri, nullae optavere puellae: sic virgo ... (42-5) Many boys, many girls desired it; the same flower, gathered with delicate fingernails, faded; no boy, no girl desired it, like the girl ...
As a result, the reader is invited to view as equivalent the loss of fama and the loss of virginity, an event highly valued by the pueri of Catullus 62: cam viro magis et minus est invisa parenti (She is more dear to her husband and her father looks upon her less unfavourably, 58). As a married woman, Phaedra cannot offer Hippolytus her virginity; instead, she will sacrifice her fama--hence the metaphor of the libation, which has great value as well.
Catullus would appear to have borrowed the comparison between an unplucked Mower and an unmarried girl from Sappho: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Just as, on a mountain, the hyacinth trampled underfoot by shepherds, and the purple flower has fallen on earth, so an unmarried girl ..., 9.113 Reinach]. Sappho's lyrics provide further background for the play of intertextual echoes in Ovid's poem since pariter ... uterque at Heroides 4.28 may be variation on Sulpicia 3.11.14-5, and their repeated uterque ... uterque. Hence Ovid is here referring to one of Catullus's epithalamia, specifically recalling a passage that Catullus has adapted from Sappho, who is in turn Sulpicia's model about poetic writing and erotic conquest.
In Catullus 62, young girls are portrayed as afraid of being judged negatively by both other girls and young boys. In Heroides 4, Phaedra is only interested in Hippolytus's reaction to her. Two of Sulpicia's favorite motifs also figure in Phaedra's words: reciprocal sharing and the idea of dignity. Phaedra says that when they consummate their relationship, she and Hippolytus will both be equally at fault (et pariter nostrum fiet uterque nocens, 28), but emphasizes that each of them is worthy of the other. The conclusion following from this assertion, that she will therefore not be ashamed of this love affair, is expressed in the general form of a maxim, one that applies to Hippolytus's situation: at bene successit, digno quod adurimur igni: / peius adulterio turpis adulter obest (And in any case the successful result has been that I burn with a fire worthy of myself: to be adulterous and ashamed is worse than adultery, 33-4).
The next part of Phaedra's letter is inspired by the well-known passage in Euripides' prologue, in which Phaedra suddenly expresses a wish to indulge in Hippolytus's favorite activity of hunting:
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (215-22) Take me to the mountains! I will go to the woods and to the pine trees, where the beast-slaying dogs run on the heels of dappled deer. Please, by the gods! I desire to shout to the dogs and with a pointed weapon in my hand hurl a Thessalian spear past my yellow hair.
It would have been impossible, I would argue, for a Roman elegiac poet to write about hunting without referring to the elegies of Gallus. By illustrating the idea of servitium amoris with the exemplum of Milanion, Gallus created a canonical precedent, as attested by the numerous homages to Gallus's description of Milanion in Vergil, Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid himself. Because of the verbal and thematic similarities, these echoes of Gallus have allowed modern critics to reconstruct, with approximate accuracy, how Gallus treated this motif in his Amores. The influence of the Gallan model is perceptible at Ovid's Heroides 4.41: in nemus ire libet pressisque in retia cervis. The phrase in nemus ire libet recalls Vergil's description of Gallus at Eclogues 10.59: ire libet Partho ... The word retia also appears in echoes of Gallus at Tibullus 1.4.50 and Ars Amatoria 2.189 and 194.
In Heroides 4, however, another literary model has been superimposed: Sulpicia 3.9, in which she voices her apprehensions about her lover's plans to go hunting. Heroides 4. 40-41, in retia cervis / hortari celeris per iuga summa canes resembles ipsa ego velocis quaeram vestigia cervi / et demam celeri ferrea vincla cani at 3.9.13-4. Heroides 4 features the words Delia and ipsa at line 40 and iuvat at 45; Sulpicia 3.9 has Delia at line 5, ipsa at 12 and 13, and iuvat at 9. The rest of the passage recalls Euripides' prologue, although the Ovidian Phaedra describes actual hunting activities rather than indulging in flights of imagination, and portrays herself as driving a chariot, or as racked by frenzy in the manner of Bacchantes rather than breaking mares.
As in the case of the earlier Greek tragedy, Phaedra identifies herself as the daughter of Pasiphae, and invokes her fatal familial destiny as the latest in the line of women who have fallen victim to passion against their wills. But she also emphasizes how hunting activities accentuate Hippolytus's virile charms in passage without Euripidean precedent and evoking Sulpicia in the process. Phaedra's words at 87-8, quid iuvat incinctae studia exercere Dianae / et Veneri numeros eripuisse suos? (What pleasure can one find in practicing Diana activity and in taking her cadences away from Venus?), sound much like Sulpicia 3.9.9-10: quidve iuvat furtim latebras intrare ferarum / candidaque hamatis crura notare rubis? (What pleasure can one find in furtively going among the haunts of the wild animals and in having white legs streaked because of the stinging bushes?). We might also add Propertius 2.19.17-8: ipse ego venabor: iam nunc me sacra Dianae / suscipere et Veneri ponere vota iuvat (I will start hunting, myself: yet I find pleasure to take on Diana worship and to address vows to Venus), since Ovid has borrowed his mode of formulating the traditional opposition between Venus and Diana. The similarities between Sulpicia 3.9 and Propertius 2.19, chief among them the opposition between Venus and Diana, and the words iuvat and ipse ego, would point to a common source, for which Gallus is the only candidate. (10)
All of Ovid's allusions to Sulpicia 3.9 noted so far are merely textual, and less significant than his appropriation of the poem's striking and original theme: the interruption of hunting in order to make love in the open. Ovid introduces this theme with et Veneri numeros eripuisse suos (88), which lends an erotic significance to the phrase alterna requies in the next line.
Phaedra gives three examples of this alterna requies. The first, the love life of Cephalus and Aurora, is borrowed from Euripides. In the Greek play, the nurse introduces the story to Phaedra, but from a different perspective. She wants to convince her mistress that it is impossible to resist Venus, and that those who have willingly submitted to love have not regretted it:
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (451-2, 454-6) Those who own the texts of the ancients and who pass their time with the Muses, know ... that one day the luminous Dawn took away Cephalus and placed him among the gods because she loved him.
The third example given by Phaedra is Meleager's love for Atalanta, who would have kept ferae spolium as a token of this love. We have here an eroticized version of the events. In the traditional tale, Atalanta is the first to strike the Caledonian boar; Meleager, who has fallen in love with her, therefore decides she should receive the beast's hide. Since the two other examples adduced by Phaedra highlight erotic couplings, we can conclude that the hide, as a gift from Meleager, is a 'love token' because it was used as bed or blanket for the lovemaking of the two in the forest. (11) It is obviously significant that this story features a girl named Atalanta, a name made famous by Gallus, whose Amores celebrated the Arcadian Atalanta and her lover Milanion. Most probably Gallus's Amores represented Milanion's servitium amoris as involving a sexual union with his beloved.
Phaedra's second example is the love between Venus and Adonis: saepe sub ilicibus Venerem Cinyraque creatum / sustinuit positos quaelibet herba duos (Often under the holm oaks, any grass encountered held the reclining bodies of Venus and of Cinyras's son, 97-9). This choice, too, was evidently inspired by Sulpicia 3.9, which alludes to this tale. Indeed, the elegy begins with a request to the boar, to save Cerinthus from the same fate as Adonis:
parce meo iuveni, seu quis bona pascua campi seu colis umbrosi devia montis aper, nec tibi sit duros acuisse in proelia dentes. (3.9.1-3) Spare the young man I love, whether you frequent the good pastures of the fields or the places of the shady mountain which are outside the paths, boar, and may you not sharpen your tusks in order to make them hard for the fights.
Sulpicia then imagines herself and Cerinthus making love, in the wilds of nature, in front of the hunting nets. She expresses the desire to accompany her lover on a hunting expedition, adapting the scenario in which Milanion performed servitium amoris to her personal circumstances, and dreams of an erotic pause on the grounds that this temporary interruption of hunting will chase away the boar:
tunc mihi, tunc placeant silvae, si, lux mea, tecum arguar ante ipsas concubuisse plagas; tunc veniat licet ad casses, inlaesus abibit, ne veneris cupidae gaudia turbet aper. (3.9.15-8) It is then that the forest would please me, if, my light, with you I was caught in the act, lying down in front of the traps themselves. Then it could come in front of the nets; it will go away unharmed, the boar, in order not to disturb the delights of a love full of desire.
The same wish is also voiced by Ovid's Phaedra, who suggests to Hippolytus that they add their sexual union to the turba who have haunted the woods: ipsa comes veniam, nec me latebrosa movebunt / saxa neque obliquo dente timendus aper (Myself I will come in order to be your companion; neither the rocks full of hiding places will take me away nor the boar which its oblique tusks make dangerous, 103-4). The allusion to the boar and his tusks probably echoes earlier elegy as well.
So far I have assumed that elegies 3.9 and 3.11 are the work of Sulpicia, and not a male 'impersonator,' called the amicus or the garland-poet. In a 1994 article, Holt Parker presents a strong case for this view, taking issue with, inter alios, Stephen Hinds. Hinds (1987, 36-7) views the textual similarities between elegy 9 and some of Ovid's poems as evidence that this elegy postdates Ovid's death. Parker, however, observes that there is no extant precedent in classical antiquity for a love poet who writes in the first person while substituting his voice for that of another poet. (12) This observation, together with the details that Heroides 4 shares not only with 3.9 and 3.11 but also with Sulpicia 3.13, which is widely viewed as her own work, makes it more plausible to conclude that all of these texts, which are written in the first person, predate the Heroides and are by Sulpicia. The hypothesis that a male author, writing after Ovid, composed 3.9 and 3.11 is far less likely. This would involve assuming that Sulpicia's decision to adapt some of Gallus's motifs in 3.13 prompted a later male poet to treat the hunting theme by borrowing a feminine variation of this gallian motif from Heroides 4 and by evoking Ovid's words because Ovid, too, evokes Gallus and Sulpicia 3.13. Furthermore, it is highly likely that Ovid, who received literary support from Sulpicia's uncle Messalla, knew the poems of his niece. Only scholars who cannot conceive that a male poet would find inspiration from a female colleague, or that an immensely talented poet would draw on one with lesser gifts, would refuse to entertain the possibility that Ovid, who allows women such as Phaedra to speak in his Heroides, also draws on the poetry of a woman in creating Phaedra's words. After all, in Tristia 3.7, Ovid writes to and encourages a young female poetic protegee, whom he calls Perilla. Finally, there is Ovid's high esteem for ingenium. In addition to illustrating this quality in her own elegies, particularly in her use of paradox, Sulpicia's elegiac epitaph for her slave lectrix, Petale, specifically praises the dead woman's ingenium along with her ars and beauty. (13) When ascribing words to women in his Heroides, a poet such as Ovid, who shared in this quality, had every reason to pay homage to an authentic female voice with ingenium in abundance.
The rest of Heroides 4 concerns Phaedra's particular situation. She enumerates, although only to eliminate, various obstacles to her union with Hippolytus. Among such obstacles are her husband (who is absent and has treated both of them badly); pietas (an antiquated notion that she feels must be redefined); and the risk of being caught when they are kissing each other (although this could easily be justified by their kinship with one another). She finishes her letter with a series of prayers that include, among other things, various forms of the verb parcere, a key item of vocabulary in elegiac writing, for example, Tibullus 1.4.83: parce, puer, quaeso, ne turpis fibula fiam. In Heroides 4, we find this verb twice: first at lines 161-2, with misere priorum / et, mihi, si non vis parcere, parce meis (May you take pity on my ancestors and if you won't spare me, may you spare my family); then at 167, per Venerem, parcas, oro, quae plurima mecum est (In the name of Venus, may you spare me, please, Venus who possesses myself entirely). Line 167 immediately follows a passage that develops an important motif from Callus's Amores: the idea that Love will triumph over everything. Here Phaedra claims that Love has been victorious over her own pride (fastus), pudor, and nobilitas. (14) We are expected evidently to hear, in these repetitions of the verb parcere, an ultimate echo of 3.9, in which Sulpicia begs the boar to spare her lover, much as Phaedra, who, after trying to remove the different obstacles to their love, suggests to Hippolytus that he quickly consummate their union, adding this wish at line 148: qui mihi nunc saevit, sic tibi parcat Amor (May Love which now is cruel to me, spare you in that case).
Let us now look at Heroides 15, the letter of the lyric poetess Sappho. Sappho acknowledges that she has been forced, because of her unhappy love affair, to change literary genre:
forsitan et quare mea sint alterna requiras carmina, cum lyricis sim magis apta modis. flendus amor meus est; elegia flebile carmen; non facit ad lacrimas barbitos ulla meas. (5-8) Perhaps you will ask too why my verses are alternated, even when I am more made for lyric modes. I must mourn my love; the elegy is song of tears, no one lute is suitable for my tears.
Holt Parker's claim that the love poets of classical antiquity do not use the first person unless they are writing in their own person at first seems contradicted here: Ovid uses the first person in claiming to represent the words of his Greek predecessor Sappho. But Ovid is not writing in the literary genre practiced by Sappho; rather, he is evoking an imaginary love affair, derived from Attic comedy, in which Sappho was represented as a fictional personage. (15) The literary past of the historical Sappho lies in the background of this poem, which portrays her as attempting an entirely fictitious experimentation in Roman erotic elegy. I will argue that among the literary models chosen by Ovid is Sulpicia. (16) If I am correct, and insofar as Sulpicia is one of voices in Heroides 4, we may consider Heroides 15 as authentic.
As with the opening line of Heroides 4, Ovid calls attention to the presence of Sulpicia's voice immediately after the verses quoted above:
uror, ut indomitis ignem exercentibus Euris, fertilis accensis messibus ardet aget. (9-10) I burn as, when the untamed Eurus apply their fury, catches fire a fertile field whose harvest are in flames.
Uror is the term that Sulpicia uses twice in 3.11.5 when she evokes the intensity of her love: uror ego ante alias: iuvat hoc, Cerinthe, quod uror. Ovid glosses this word with ignis, accensis, and ardet, three redundant terms in a comparison that seems to be inspired by one of Sappho's own lyrics: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Eros agitated my mind as the wind falls from the mountain in the oaks, fr. 2.44 L-P).
What else did Ovid take from Sulpicia's verses in Heroides 15? One motif in particular: the erotic gaudia (joys) that she celebrates, and upon which he develops several variations. Gaudia is the word Sulpicia uses in celebrating her own love affair with Cerinthus at 3.13.5-6: exsoluit promissa Venus: mea gaudia narret, / dicetur si quis non habuisse sua (Venus has kept her promises: he may tell my joys the man who is said not to have his own). (17) Gaudia also figures in the words of Ovid's Sappho when she names the man that she loves at 15.109-10:
cum mihi nescio quis "Fugiunt tua gaudia" dixit, nec me flere diu nee potuisse loqui. When someone told me, 'Your joys are flying' (I swear to you), I was unable, for a long time, either to weep or to speak.
This motif of erotic gaudia is, in Heroides 15, linked with another theme that perhaps goes back to Callus and has been mentioned earlier: the idea that a love affair can be justified by the 'dignity' of the partners. Sulpicia modulates this motif in a distinctive way, by adding and making explicit the notion of reciprocity. The Ovidian Sappho claims the beauty of her lover is such that Phaon cannot find a partner worthy of himself:
si, nisi qua facie poterit, te digna videri, nulla futura tua est, nulla futura tua est. (39-40) If no woman, unless for her beauty's sake could seem worthy of you, will be yours, none shall be yours.
But Sappho also claims that she seems beautiful to Phaon when he reads her poems, noting that when she sang, he stole kisses from her and praised her. In fact, she asserts, Phaon liked her because of her manner of lovemaking and her apta verba loca (48).
The 'night of love' theme in all probability also goes back to Callus, (18) and is used by Sulpicia in 3.9, 3.13, and 3.18. Indeed, all of the details highlighted so far in Heroides 15 allude to Sulpicia. She, after all, claims to have conquered her lover through her poetry, continues her conquest through the same means, and concludes the cycle of her poems by evoking a night of intense passion.
Because she reflects back on Phaon's charms, Ovid's Sappho imagines that various goddesses would have judged him superior to their own lovers. Aurora would have abducted him instead of Cephalus. (19) Phoebe would have chosen him rather than Endymion. Sappho even opines that Venus would have been afraid that Mars would have found him attractive as well. This final detail probably recalls Tibullus 3.8, usually attributed to the amicus Sulpiciae because it is written in the third person. The speaker here insinuates that Mars, visiting his temple on March 1 to attend the Matronalia, might well fall in love with Sulpicia, forgetting about Venus in the process:
spectatum e caelo, si sapis, ipse veni; hoc Venus ignoscet: at tu, violente, caveto ne tibi miranti turpiter arma cadant. (2-4) (20) In order to gaze upon her, if you know how to appreciate it, come youself from the sky. Venus will forgive you for it, but, you, violent, must be careful that, because of your admiration, you shamefully would be dropping your weapons.
Ovid may or may not allude to the Sulpicia poems with this mention of Venus and Mars, but it is quite unlikely that in this context, immediately following these mythical exempla, his use of words that recall the end of Sulpicia 3.9 is purely coincidental. Heroides 15.95, hue ades, inque sinus, formose, relabere nostros (Come here and let yourself return to my breast) bears striking similarities to Sulpicia 3.9.24, et celer in nostros ipse recurre sinus (And quickly running, throw yourself upon my breast).
The Ovidian Sappho then recalls the moment when Phaon left her, and quotes the words used to announce his departure, fugiunt tua gaudia. From that moment on, she spends her days in sorrow. Only the night, with the illusions brought by its dreams, affords her any respite. In recalling the gaudia that the night is bringing back at lines 126ff., Ovid inserts words prominent in Sulpicia 3.13--pudet and iuvat--and proposes a new combination of these verbs that, as in 3.13, does not ignore the emotional force of pudet but gives pride of place to pleasure:
ulteriora pudet narrare, sed omnia fiunt, et iuvat et siccae non licet esse mihi. (133-4) I am ashamed to tell what follows, but all was achieved and I like that, and it isn't possible for me to remain dry.
We find the motif of erotic gaudia once again when Sappho remembers their physical union in the wilds of nature, much as Sulpicia imagines experiencing veneris gaudia while hunting with Cerinthus at 3.9.18. Sappho states, antra nemusque peto tamquam nemus antraque prosint; / conscia deliciis illa fuere meis (I reach the caves and the woods as if the caves and the woods were useful to me: those were indeed witnesses to my delights, 137-8). But here she is not conceiving an imaginary situation, ardently wished for, but summoning a memory to mind. What is more, the place is now deserted:
invenio silvam, quae saepe cubilia nobis praebuit et multa texit opaca coma. at non invenio dominum silvaeque meumque. (143-5) I find the forest, which often gave us a bed and covered us with the shade of its abundant hair. But I don't find the master of the forest, who is also mine.
The motif of hunting, central to Sulpicia 3.9, here lurks in the background: it is implicit in the expression dominus silvae. A similar expression, montium domina ... silvarumque, is applied to Diana in Catullus 34.9-10. If this periphrasis evokes Phaon, it is probably because he mastered this activity, a detail that Ovid perhaps added to the literary tradition.
As some critics have noted, (21) the next passage alludes to Catullus, the first poet who gave a Roman voice to Sappho. Lines 153-5, in which Sappho's song about her desertos amores is compared with that of the nightingale, mourning Itys, recall Catullus 65.10-4 in which Catullus voices grief at the death of his brother. This grief is so deep, Catullus relates, that he can only compose songs like the nightingale's lament for Itylus. Gianpiero Rosati (1996, 215) convincingly interprets Ovid's allusion to Catullus as a signal that a poet racked by sorrow can only write elegies. He also makes the appealing suggestion that these verses refer to Sappho's verses themselves, examining evidence for her evocation of the nightingale's song in a poem now lost. Whether or not Ovid alludes here to Sappho's own poetry, he does invite his readers to recognize in Lesbia's lover a predecessor of the Roman elegiac poets; in this way he also emphasizes, considering the important role played by Sappho in Catullus's poetry, the continuities between lyric and elegiac poetry. (22)
Frederica Bessone (2003) has recently argued that Ovid confronts the two genres, lyric and elegy, by having Sappho perform a transcodification of her own poetics, and thereby move from one genre to the other. Bessone notes that this process has a Latin poetic precedent in Vergil's Eclogue 10. There the poet ponders the plight of the elegiac poet Callus, and has him recast some of his characteristic literary motifs to accommodate the genre of bucolic poetry. (23) Vergil's goal here, however, differs from Ovid's in Heroides 15. While Vergil wishes to convert Gallus to the literary genre he practices, Ovid explores contact points, and breaking points, between two genres, one of which--lyric poetry--is, like the verses of Catullus themselves, a historical component of the other's background.
Sappho's letter, therefore, foregrounds and at the same time questions an apparent difference between lyric poetry and Roman elegy: in the former the lover chooses a succession of partners, but in the latter he devotes himself to an absolute and unique passion. Bessone bases his contention on an analysis of textual echoes of Propertius and Ovid's Amores in Heroides 15. (24) She views Heroides 15.84, artisque magistra / ingenium nobis molle Thalia facit (Teaching me my art, Thalia gives me a talent easily moved) as similar to Propertius 2.1.4, ingenium nobis ipsa puella facit (My mistress herself gives me talent), and in turn as equivalent in meaning to Heroides 15.206, ingenio vires ille dat, ille rapit (He gives strength to my talent, he takes it away).
Line 84 concludes a passage about Sappho's predisposition to change her object of desire often, as a practice explicitly connected with the genre in which she has been writing. But in line 206, she explains that her talent depends on Phaon, the only man she loves. Ovid articulates the opposition between these two forms of erotic behavior around a reference to Propertius, the poet who is also the theoretician of unique love, as the opening words of his Monobiblos declare: Cynthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis.
Scholars have also connected Heroides 15.79-80--molle meum levibusque cor est violabile telis, / et semper causa est cur ego semper amem (My heart is malleable and easily pierced by the light arrows; there is always a reason why I am forever loving)--in which Sappho says she falls in love very easily, with two other passages by Propertius. 2.22.13, quaeris, Demophoon, cur sim tarn mollis in omnis, and 2.22.18, mi fortuna aliquid semper amare dedit, in which Propertius says that on the previous day he fell in love with several puellae at the same time. What is more, these verses of Propertius are evoked by Ovid in his Amores, a collection of elegies in which he apparently is in love with only one girl.
In Amores 2.4.10, however, Ovid speaks about the hundred chances of changing loves, centum sunt causae cur ego semper amem. Heroides 15.80 repeats the end of this line, which itself repeats Amores 1.3.2, aut amet aut faciat cur ego semper amem, a poem all about love for a single individual. Bessone (2003, 238) concludes that the striking contradiction, in the space of a few verses in Heroides 15, between two of Sappho's declarations, one about her erotic "nomadism," the other about her definitive passion for Phaon, actually alludes to "una contraddizione tra due mod-elli elegiaci dello stesso Properzio, gia allusivemente ripresa dall'Ovidio degli Amores."
I would like to endorse Bessone's conclusion, and to elaborate upon its implications. In Heroides 15, Sappho says that she can only write elegies. Thus Ovid must select and adapt models taken from this poetic genre that the reader can recognize. I argue that he has chosen two authors to represent and authenticate the elegiac genre: Gallus (25) and Sulpicia.
It is likely that the two kinds of erotic behavior, to which Ovid draws his readers' attention through textual allusions, figure in Gallus's Amores as well, which is why Vergil and Propertius present us with two images of Gallus that are at face value incompatible. In Eclogue 10, Vergil depicts Gallus as dying of love because his beloved, Lycoris, has left him. In Propertius 1.13, however, Callus is presented as a seducer suddenly confronted by the experience of passion:
dum tibi deceptis augetur fama puellis certus es et in nullo quaeris amore moram, perditus in quadam tardis pallescere curis incipis ... (5-8) While your reputation grows for deceiving girls and while sure of yourself you seek not delay to it, you have fallen for someone and begin to pale with slow heartache ...
The destiny that Ovid assigns to his Sappho seems to combine these two modes of behavior, except that the happy ending of Propertius's elegy 1.13 has been substituted for the tragic prospect chosen by Vergil in Eclogue 10. It is this prospect of Gallus's misery that Propertius keeps in mind when he must, in a few verses, situate the author of the Amores in the Roman tradition of erotic poetry: et modo formosa quam multa Lycoride Gallus / mortuus inferna vulnera lavit aqua (And in recent days how many wounds has Gallus, dead of the fair Lycoris, washed in the waters of the world below! 2.34.91-2), because that is probably the most representative image of Gallus's poetry, and of the genre that he initiated.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Ovid's Sappho arrives at a fatal decision. We should not conclude that Ovid is implying that the lyric poetess was unable to compose elegy. (26) Her final admission of helplessness in lines 195-6, dolor artibus obstat / ingeniumque meis substitit omne malis (Grief is an obstacle to art and all my talent ceases because of my pain), has parallels in such elegiac texts as Tibullus 1.4.81-4, where, following his exposition of an ars amandi, he states:
heu! heu! quam Marathus lento me torquet amore! deficiunt artes, deficiuntque doli. parce, puer, quaeso, ne turpis fibula fiam, cum mea ridebunt vana magisteria. Alas! Alas! How Marathus is tormenting me with his love slow to reply to mine. Art is abandoning me, the tricks too. May you spare me, my boy, so that I don't become a shameful object of legend when all are laughing at my vain lessons.
I would conclude, however, that in Heroides 15, the literary choice of Sulpicia builds on that of Gallus. Her texts are the only model, either the oldest or the most successful or both, of Roman elegy written by a woman. This would explain, among other things, why Ovid portrays Phaon in such a shallow fashion, as a counterpart to Cerinthus. (27) I would also point out that in her writing Sulpicia assigns great importance to physical desire and the union of bodies, an emphasis that may well originate in her reading of Sappho, her specific model in 3.13. If this assumption is valid, along with the allusions to Catullus, Ovid's echoes of Sulpicia in Heroides 15 also marks another way of emphasizing continuities and connections between lyric and elegy.
Let me end by returning to the question of Ovid's ars. In its canonical form, elegy certainly includes the motif of death from amorous despair. But we must not forget that Ovid always tries to spare the love the fatality that can result from furor. It is difficult to date the different poems that Ovid wrote when he was young. But it is likely that at the time he was writing the Heroides, he had begun to think about, and perhaps compose, his Ars amatoria, a treatise conceived so that dolor can no longer be an obstacle to artes. All the same, it cannot be denied that his Sappho is far from mastering the elegiac genre in the way that Ovid did, even if nothing is decided at the end of Heroides 15, and even if--judging from Amores 2.18.35, dat votam Phoebo Lesbis amata lyra--we are willing to believe that her letter to Phaon might receive a favorable response. (28)
(1.) I am going to develop here a particular point of a general study about the texts that were attributed to Sulpicia and to an author who traditionally is called the amicus Sulpicae. I prepared this study for a colloquium about Sulpicia that has been delayed, but I presented the first version of my paper in December 2004 at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa..
(2.) Anderson et al. 1979, 140.
(3.) Roman elegiac poets were indebted to Gallus for the Romanizing version of the servitium amoris, illustrated in his Amores with Greek mythological exemplar: they wrote elegiac poems for the purpose of erotic conquest (or re-conquest); expressed erotic furor (madness); and exploited various forms of persuasion. Indeed, the poems ascribed to the Muses in the opening lines of the Gallus-papyrus are depicted as vehicles of persuasion. The word domina, literally meaning 'mistress of slave,' also signals Callus's invocation of the servitium amoris motif.
(4.) My view converges, on this point, with Piastri 1998b, 140.
(5.) Cicero, Nat. D. 2.69: quae autem dea ad res omnes veniret Vencrem nostri nominaverunt, atque ex ea potius venustas quam Venus ex venustate (Venus was so named by our countrymen as the goddess who veniret [makes an advent] to all things; her name is not derived from the word venustas [beauty] but rather venustas from it).
(6.) See Jolivet 2001, 271; Barrett 1964, 10.
(7.) It is possible that velim may be an echo of verse 8 of Sulpicia's epigram 18: ne legat id nemo quam meus ante velim.
(8.) We can refer to Propertius's elegy 1.13, addressed to Gallus, in which the word dignus appears twice in verse 29, nee mirum, cum sit love digna et proxima Ledae, and in 33-4, tu vero quoniam semel es periturus amore, / vetere: nan alio limine dignus eras. These repetitions of the word dignus are, as is the case for Sulpicia, a way of referring to Callus by proposing a new thematic combination.
(9.) See Propertius 2.30.7-8: instat semper Amor supra caput, instat amanti / et gravis ipse super libera colla sedet (Love ever looms above your head, looms above the lover, and sits, a heavy burden, even on a neck once free).
(10.) I would argue that, the similarities between Sulpicia and Propertius can be explained with a common model: Callus. Although we find iuvat in other texts of Sulpicia, perhaps the elements common to elegy 9 and this text of Propertius (iuvat, ipse, and the opposition between Venus and Diana) belonged to texts in which Callus evoked the love affair of Milanion and Atalanta.
(11.) We find a similar allusion to making love outdoors in Propertius's elegy 3.13.35 (a skin of a fawn covers lovers).
(12.) Parker (1994, 43) comments: "The reader (in elegies 9 and 11) is presented with a poet who writes subjective love poetry in the first person, directly presenting as his own the emotions of another, assuming the persona, not of a mythological character, not of a dead or historical figure, not a generic figure, but of a fellow poet, a friend and acquaintance, one known to the audience, who had written her own personal poetry about her love. Someone writing in this way is completely unknown in Greek and Roman poetry."
(13.) This connection was suggested to me by Judith P. Hallett, who has recently relaunched an assumption made in Carcopino 1929 about an epitaph found in Rome at Via del Corso 522. The epitaph evokes a young woman called Petale or Sulpicia Petale, who would be, according to Carcopino, the emancipated slave and lectrix of Sulpicia. I have also argued for this hypothesis in Fabre-Serris 2009. The term ingenium is used in line 6 of the epitaph: splendebat forma, creverat ingenio.
(14.) It should be noted that we find the same idea in Propertius 1.5, addressed to Callus: nee tibi nohilitas potent succurrere amanti / nescit Amor priscis cedere imaginibus (And your high birth will cannot help you in love either: Love scorns to defer to ancestral portraits, 23-4).
(15.) Nagy 1996, 40-1; Cordon 1997, 277.
(16.) For other arguments taken from poetics, see Rosati 1996 and Bessone 2003. The arguments taken from metrical or lexical irregularities seem to me unconvincing. Similarities with texts that Ovid wrote afterward are no more meaningful, since the poet often takes expressions and motifs from own poems.
(17.) The word gaudia, taken in an erotic sense also appears in Catullus (61.117), Tibullus (1.5.39; 2.1.12; 2.3.72) and Propertius (1.4.14; 1.13.24; 1.14.13; 1.19.9; 3.3.30). Because this motive of gaudia is articulated with words like pudet or iuvat, we may recognize in it an echo of the poetess's epigrams. Moreover, it is striking that Sappho does not accept the judgment of her brother who considers the cause of her pain to be pudenda (119). We may recall that Sulpicia, in epigram 3.13, used the expression sit pudori only in order to make this notion relative. Even if the word gaudia here has an erotic meaning, we can consider (because of the motif of loss), as Hallett (2005, 18) proposes, that Catullus's 68.95 (omnia tecum una perierunt gaudia nostra) is behind Heroides 15.109 (fugiunt tua gaudia). As support, Hallett quotes verses 115-6 (non aliter quam si nati pia mater adempti / portet ad exstructos corpus inane rogos), in which Sappho evokes, as equivalent to her pain, that of a mother when her child is buried. Catullus was in the same situation, and in these verses a Catullean term may be found in adempti: heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi (101.6).
(18.) See Fabre-Serris 2007.
(19.) Sappho perhaps told this story; see the scholia ad Apollonius Rhodius 4.57.
(20.) It is my conviction in my study of Sulpicia's and Sulpiciae amicus's texts that Ovid also refers to some texts written by the amicus. It is striking that the same situation is in elegy 8 and in Heroides 15: three protagonists--Venus, Mars, and an/other possible love for the god. In elegy 8, this other love is Sulpicia; in Heroides 15, Phaon.
(21.) Rosati 1996, 214-5; Bessone 2003, 218-20; Hallett 2005, 13-5.
(22.) On the series of Catullus's echoes in elegy 15, see Hallett 2005, who specifically points out textual echoes from carmina 68 and 101.
(23.) Bessone 2003, 227; see Conte 1984.
(24.) Rosati 1996, 216; Rimell 1999, 119, 128.
(25.) Bessone (2003, 229 note 66) assumes that one of the Gallian motifs in Heroides 15--the sufferings of a lover expressed in the loneliness of the nature--goes back, through the Acontius of Callimachus, to Sappho herself, who would have eroticized a detail of an Homeric story: the wandering of Bellerophon after his failure. Given the state of our sources, any hypothesis not only about what the elegy inherited from lyric poetry, but also about the consciousness that a Roman author could have of such a transmission, is weak at best.
(26.) See Rimell 1999, 119.
(27.) Gordon (1997, 281) observes: "Phaon seems not to do or say anything at all; Sappho has nothing to quote except something he failed to say."
(28.) I am very grateful to Judith Hallett for her translation that has considerably improved the first version of this paper.
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|Date:||Sep 22, 2009|
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