Carmina Magica: reading magic and ritual in Latin love elegy
De Blois2023.pdf (1.732Mb)
de Blois, Celeste
Carmina Magica: Reading Magic and Ritual in Latin Love Elegy focuses on the relationship between magic, ritual, and poetics in the works of each of the major extant Latin elegists — Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid — with the intention of demonstrating that the category of magic acts as an integral supporting subtext that allows the elegiac poets to interrogate and express the poetic concerns and ideological position of their work more fully. The Roman elegists span a tumultuous period of Rome’s history, which saw a transition from the discord of the civil wars to the increasingly consolidated rule of the principate. Although rituals, both normative and non-normative, were a pervasive presence in Roman society, the elegists seem to purposefully associate their poetry with the occult in a way that could be seen as antagonistic to the newly emerging central authority. However, this inclusion of magic suits the inverted ethos of the elegiac poet-lover and the marginal position he purports to occupy in relation to contemporary culture. Rather than being an unwanted presence in elegy, magic, with its problematic connotations, serves to highlight the subversive nature of the genre. The research approaches the subject through an analysis of the relevant poems; it explores how the poems engage with socio-political and magic discourses, examines the dialogue between these magical poems, and draws on contemporary magic scholarship to demonstrate how recognising the magic subtext enhances our reading of Roman elegy. The thesis begins with an examination of the provocative interplay between magic and conventional ritual in the poems of Tibullus. The second chapter will show how in Books 1-3 Propertius emphasises the importance of magic to his poetry by including it in each of his programmatic poems. The following chapter, on Propertius 4, will explore how the ostensibly more patriotic façade of the book is problematised by a continued juxtaposition of magic and civics rituals. The final chapter will look at how Ovid’s treatment of magic codifies it as a standard element of the genre while his engagement with the topoi of elegiac magic invites his audience to interrogate the conventions, themes, and genre of elegiac poetry more deeply. Scholars rarely delve deeply into the presence of magic in Latin elegy, and little systematic attention has been paid to how it functions or what its significance is. Instead, the presence of magic is often passed over as a commonplace element within elegy. This thesis aims to show how the various instances of magic and ritual are bound up with some of the elegists’ main concerns — politics, gender, and authority. More broadly, magic acts as a signal for subversion and resistance to poetic and political norms throughout the genre. The elegists tap into the cultural currency of the category of magic to add layers of meaning, symbolic connections, and associations to their poetry that reach beyond the elegiac demi-monde.