Learned Girls and Male Persuasion: Gender and Reading in by Sharon L. James

By Sharon L. James

This research transforms our realizing of Roman love elegy, an enormous and complicated corpus of poetry that flourished within the overdue first century b.c.e. Sharon L. James reads key poems via Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid for the 1st time from the point of view of the lady to whom they're addressed--the docta puella, or realized lady, the poet's loved. through examining the poetry now not, as has constantly been performed, from the stance of the elite male writers--as plaint and confession--but quite from the point of view of the women--thus as persuasion and tried manipulation--James unearths techniques and substance that nobody has listened for before.

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The docta puella demands money and gifts, as advised by the lena; the lover-poet offers her poetry instead; and the vir comes between them. Such a material basis for amatory negotations merits investigation and explication (the terms used here can be found in the appendix). 1 The docta puella is an independent courtesan based on the models of the meretrix and hetaira of New Comedy and evidenced in Roman history by such women as Volumnia Cytheris and Hispala Faecenia. The lena too is inherited from New Comedy, though she is found also in Herodas’s first mime.

75 Most elegiac poems are occupied with proposing such trysts, lamenting locked doors, abusing rivals, protesting required generosity, fantasizing an ideal and impossible realm in which lover and puella suffer neither social obstruction nor physical separation, instructing the puella in various ways of pleasing her lover, and threatening her both implicitly and explicitly with the longterm consequences of her unavailability. 78 The elegiac impasse—the material and social gap between lover-poet and puella—both generates the urgent persuasion of elegy and forecloses the elegiac amatory Introduction / 21 relationship; it derives from these insoluble inequities, which are both generic necessities and a key part of the identification and character of the docta puella.

1 The docta puella is an independent courtesan based on the models of the meretrix and hetaira of New Comedy and evidenced in Roman history by such women as Volumnia Cytheris and Hispala Faecenia. The lena too is inherited from New Comedy, though she is found also in Herodas’s first mime. 2 The discussion of these poetic characters will streamline the readings offered in the rest of the book and lead us to some of the points at which elegy invokes and interacts with life outside the purely literary realm.

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