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Love and its Critics

 | 
Michael Bryson
, 
Arpi Movsesian

2. Channeled, Reformulated, and Controlled: Love Poetry from the Song of Songs to Aeneas and Dido

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I. Love Poetry and the Critics who Allegorize: The Song of Songs

1Susan Sontag, in her now-classic essay “Against Interpretation”, protests against a form of criticism which reshapes texts like the Song of Songs into new and ideologically compliant forms:

  • 1 Susan Sontag. Against Interpretation: And Other Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), (...)

Interpretation […] presupposes a discrepancy between the clear meaning of the text and the demands of (later) readers. It seeks to resolve that discrepancy. The situation is that for some reason a text has become unacceptable; yet it cannot be discarded. Interpretation is a radical strategy for conserving an old text, which is thought too precious to repudiate, by revamping it. The interpreter, without actually erasing or rewriting the text, is altering it. But he can’t admit to doing this. He claims to be only making it intelligible, by disclosing its true meaning. However far the interpreters alter the text ([as in] the Rabbinic and Christian “spiritual” interpretations of the clearly erotic Song of Songs), they must claim to be reading off a sense that is already there.1

One of the most powerfully erotic, celebratory, and secular love poems in all the world’s literature, the Song of Songs (Image 100000000000004B0000000F635E4AB3.jpg, or Shir ha-Shirim) has endured nearly two thousand years of interpretation that attempts to tame it and explain it away. Traditionally dated to sometime around 950 BCE, the Song has a complicated textual history.

Image 10000000000000FC0000017CDA1D5A9D.jpg

Illumination for the opening verse of Song of Songs, the Rothschild Mahzor, Manuscript on parchment. Florence, Italy, 1492.2

  • 3 Gerson Cohen. “The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality”. In Studies in the Variety of (...)
  • 4 M. H. Segal. “The Song of Songs”. Vetus Testamentum, 12: 4 (October 1962), 477.
  • 5 Ibid., 478.
  • 6 Ibid., 481–82. The method and date of composition of the Song is a matter of ongoing controversy, a (...)
  • 7 The only mention of the deity is embedded in the term (shalhevetyah) in 8:6, which literally trans (...)
  • 8 Zhang Longxi. “The Letter or the Spirit: The Song of Songs, Allegoresis, and the Book of Poetry”. C (...)

2Gerson Cohen suggests that “while the Song of Songs may contain very ancient strata, the work as we have it now cannot have been completed before the Macedonian conquest of the Near East and rise of the Hellenistic culture”.3 Likely written down between 400 and 100 BCE, it may be, as M. H. Segal argues, “a collection of love poetry of a varied character” preserved by “oral transmission through the generations”,4 a collection written in a popular, rather than classical Hebrew, a Mishnaic Hebrew more like Aramaic than the Hebrew of the prophets.5 The Song looks back to details of city life and attitudes about relations between the sexes that reflect the Jerusalem of Solomon’s time, as well as the Jerusalem of the Hellenistic period,6 testifying to the power of love and desire, even staging a sex scene between its male and female lovers. It is wholly without disapproval and judgment, frank in its depiction of passion, and absolutely uninterested in a world beyond love—not only is God not discussed,7 neither is the relationship of Israel to its religious traditions or the surrounding nations. As Zhang Longxi describes it: “[t]he language of the Song of Songs is the secular language of love. It speaks of the desire and the joy of love, [but not] of law and covenant, the fear and worship of God, or sin and forgiveness”.8

  • 9 Origen composed a ten-book commentary on the Canticle of Canticles [the Song of Songs], conscious o (...)

3For that very reason, on both the Judaic and Christian sides of the controversy, this Hellenistic text that treats of Bronze-age lovers has been made to wear the mantle of an allegory, cast as a poem describing the relationship between God and Israel by Rabbinic interpreters, or between God and the Christian Church by early Church Fathers. In one of the great ironies of literary history, the Christian tradition of de-eroticizing the Song is powerfully advanced by Origen9 (c. 184–254 CE), a man who castrated himself to avoid the temptations of sexual desire. As the early Church historian Eusebius tells it:

  • 10 Ἐν τούτῳ δὲ τῆς κατηχήσεως ἐπὶ τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας τοὔργον ἐπιτελοῦντι τῷ Ὠριγένει πρᾶγμά τι πέπρακται(...)

In the time that he was applying himself to the work of teaching in Alexandria, Origen did a thing which gave surpassing proof of an incomplete and immature mind, though it also served as a supreme example of self-restraint. He gave the saying that “there are eunuchs who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven” too absolute and violent an understanding, and thinking at once to fulfill the Saviour’s utterance, as well as to shut down any suspicion and slander by unbelievers due to the fact that he, a young man, did not discourse about divine things only with men, but also with women, he rushed to complete the Saviour’s words by his deeds.10

  • 11 Richard A. Layton differs, arguing that the literal sense is important, but only in support of the (...)

4Origen’s introduction to his commentary on the Song makes his attitude toward the text clear. It is absolutely not to be read in its literal sense.11 A reader who cannot or will not transcend the literal meaning of the Song’s words should not read it at all:

  • 12 Audire enim pure et castis auribus amoris nomina nesciens, ab interiore homine ad exteriorem et car (...)

One who does not know how to listen to the language of love with pure and chaste ears will distort what he hears and turn from the inner man to the outer man, and shall be converted from the spirit to the flesh; nourishing concupiscence and carnality within himself, brought to carnal lust by reason of the Scriptures. On this account, then, I warn and counsel everyone who is not yet rid of the molestations of flesh and blood, nor has withdrawn from the inclinations of the physical, to regulate themselves by entirely abstaining from the reading of this book.12

5Origen probably did not use a knife to be “rid of the molestations of flesh and blood” merely in order that he might read the Song in peace. But he is at great pains to explain every sensual detail of the poem in terms of the relationship between Christ (the Bridegroom) and the Church (the Bride). Origen’s comments on the famous opening of the Song illustrate his method. First, the poetry:

  • 13 Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) 1:2.

יִשָּׁקֵ֙נִי֙ מִנְּשִׁיק֣וֹת פִּ֔יהוּ כִּֽי־ טוֹבִ֥ים דֹּדֶ֖יךָ מִיָּֽיִן׃13

  • 14 Ariel and Chana Bloch point out that the Hebrew (dodeyka) though often translated as “your love”, (...)

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for your lovemaking is better than wine.14

6And now, Origen’s ingenious attempt to explain what those “kisses” really mean:

  • 15 Propter hoc ad te Patrem sponsi mei precem fundo et obsecro, ut tandem miseratus amorem meum mittas (...)

For this reason I beg you, Father of my spouse, pouring out this prayer that you will have pity for the sake of my love for him, so that not only will the angels and the prophets speak to me through his ministers, but that he will come, and “let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” by his own self, that is, to pour his words into my mouth with his breath, that I might hear him speak, and see him teach. For these are the kisses of Christ, who offered them to the Church when at his coming, he made himself present in the flesh, and spoke the words of faith and love and peace.15

7The lengths to which Origen goes here to explain away the “kisses” of a lover are revealing. There was no need to wait for Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of suspicion—the fundamentals of that tradition are here in Origen’s work.

8For Ann Astell, Origen’s entire method is a flight from the literal toward the mystical, an attempt to leave behind the carnal in favor of a union with the Spirit:

  • 16 Ann W. Astell. The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 3.

Origen’s method of exegesis […] moves away from the Canticum’s literal, carnal meaning to its sensus interioris, [while] the bridal soul, renouncing what is earthly, reaches out for the invisible and eternal […] An almost violent departure from the body itself and from literal meaning energizes the soul’s ascent.16

  • 17 Cohen, 6.

9Gerson Cohen suggests something similar about Rabbinical interpretations of the Song, grounding his case in the marriage imagery used to describe the human-divine relationship in the Hebrew scriptures. Putting Israelite religion in the context of the religions of surrounding cultures, Cohen argues “the Hebrew God alone was spoken of as the lover and husband of his people, and only the house of Israel spoke of itself as the bride of the Almighty”.17 Perhaps the most famous example of this marital motif, however, is the negative example found in Hosea, where Israel is likened to a “wife of whoredom”:

  • 18 Hosea 1:2.

לֵ֣ךְ קַח־ לְךָ֞ אֵ֤שֶׁת זְנוּנִים֙ וְיַלְדֵ֣י זְנוּנִ֔ים כִּֽי־ זָנֹ֤ה תִזְנֶה֙ הָאָ֔רֶץ מֵֽאַחֲרֵ֖י יְהוָֽה׃18

Go take to yourself a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom, for the land has committed great whoredom by departing from Yahweh.

10Though a jealous God promises to take Israel back,

  • 19 Ibid., 2:19–20.

וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י לְעוֹלָ֑ם וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִי֙ בְּצֶ֣דֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּ֔ט וּבְחֶ֖סֶד וּֽבְרַחֲמִֽים׃
וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י בֶּאֱמוּנָ֑ה וְיָדַ֖עַתְּ אֶת־ יְהוָֽה׃19

And I will wed you to me forever, in righteousness and justice, in loving kindness and compassion. I will wed you to me faithfully, and you shall know Yahweh.

11such reconciliation will come only after the “husband” humiliates the “wife”:

  • 20 Ibid., 2:9–10.

לָכֵ֣ן אָשׁ֔וּב וְלָקַחְתִּ֤י דְגָנִי֙ בְּעִתּ֔וֹ וְתִירוֹשִׁ֖י בְּמֽוֹעֲד֑וֹ וְהִצַּלְתִּי֙ צַמְִר֣י וּפִשְׁתִּ֔י לְכַסּ֖וֹת אֶת־ עֶרְוָתָֽהּ׃
וְעַתָּ֛ה אֲגַלֶּ֥ה אֶת־ נַבְלֻתָ֖הּ לְעֵינֵ֣י מְאַהֲבֶ֑יהָ וְאִ֖ישׁ לֽאֹ־ יַצִּילֶ֥נָּה מִיָּדִֽי׃20

So I will return and take back my grain in its season, and my wine in its season, and I will strip away my wool and flax, which clothed her nakedness. And then I will uncover her shamelessness in her lovers’ eyes, and none shall deliver her from my hand.

  • 21 Nancy R. Bowen. “A Fairy Tale Wedding?” In A God So Near: Essays on Old Testament Theology in Honor (...)
  • 22 Mark Golden. “Demography and the Exposure of Girls at Athens”. Phoenix, 35: 4 Winter 1981), 321.
  • 23 Margaret L. King. “Children in Judaism and Christianity”. In The Routledge History of Childhood in (...)

12More disturbing than the angry-God-as-husband motif in Hosea, however, is the violently-abusive-God-as-husband of Ezekiel 16. Here, readers encounter “a fairy tale marriage that has gone horribly awry”.21 Ezekiel portrays God as a man who finds an infant girl (Israel) who has been exposed, thrown out upon the hills or fields to be killed and eaten by predators, one of the ancient world’s forms of birth control (Athenians of the fifth century BCE exposed “10 percent or more of their newborn girls”22). Scholars often claim the Jews refused to engage in such practices. For example, Margaret King contends that “Jews and Christians […] steadily opposed the linked practices of infanticide, exposure, and abortion by which the Greeks and Romans controlled population”.23 But despite such contentions, the picture in Ezekiel is plain:

  • 24 Ezekiel 16:3–5.

וְאָמַרְתָּ֞ כֹּה־ אָמַ֨ר אֲדֹנָ֤י יְהוִה֙ לִיר֣וּשָׁלִ֔םַ מְכֹרֹתַ֙יִךְ֙ וּמֹ֣לְדֹתַ֔יִךְ מֵאֶ֖רֶץ הַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֑י אָבִ֥יךְ הָאֱמִֹר֖י וְאִמֵּ֥ךְ חִתִּֽית׃
וּמוֹלְדוֹתַ֗יִךְ בְּי֨וֹם הוּלֶּ֤דֶת אֹתָךְ֙ לֽאֹ־ כָרַּ֣ת שָׁרֵּ֔ךְ וּבְמַ֥יִם לֽאֹ־ רֻחַ֖צְתְּ לְמִשְׁעִ֑י וְהָמְלֵחַ֙ ל֣אֹ הֻמְלַ֔חַתְּ וְהָחְתֵּ֖ל֙
ל֥אֹ חֻתָּֽלְתְּ׃ לאֹ־ חָ֨סָה עָלַ֜יִךְ עַ֗יִן לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת לָ֛ךְ אַחַ֥ת מֵאֵ֖לֶּה לְחֻמְלָ֣ה עָלָ֑יִךְ וַֽתֻּשְׁלְכִ֞י אֶל־ פְּנֵ֤י הַשָּׂדֶה֙ בְּגֹ֣עַל
נַפְשֵׁ֔ךְ בְּי֖וֹם הֻלֶּ֥דֶת אֹתָֽךְ׃24

Thus says the Lord Yahweh to Jerusalem: your origin and your birth is of the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite. At your birth, on the very day you were born, your navel was not cut, nor were you washed in cleansing water, massaged with salt, or wrapped in swaddling bands. No eye had pity on you to do any of these things for you, but you were cast into an open field, for you were hated on the day you were born.

  • 25 Ronald E. Clements. Ezekiel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 74.
  • 26 Ezekiel 16:6.

Though it is blamed on the Amorites and Hittites, exposure clearly was not unknown in Israel, as Israel is described here as a baby girl left outside to die: “Ezekiel’s allegory draws particular attention to the […] cruel but often regrettably practised offense of leaving an infant girl to die at birth, because families preferred boys”.25 The man who rescues her describes seeing this baby girl “Image 10000000000000420000000F5BCCD844.jpg”—“polluted in [her] blood” before he says to her26Image 10000000000000140000000FF06975A1.jpg”—“Live!” and takes her home to raise her to womanhood. After raising her as his own daughter, he takes a fancy to her:

  • 27 Ibid., 16:7.

עֲדִָי֑ים שָׁדַ֤יִם נָכֹ֙נוּ֙ וּשְׂעָרֵ֣ךְ צִמֵּ֔חַ וְאַ֖תְּ עֵרֹ֥ם וְעֶרְיָֽה׃27

For jewels her breasts were well-fashioned, and her hair grown, and [she] was naked and bare.

13The note of father-daughter incest is disturbing enough, but what follows makes that pale into insignificance:

  • 28 Ibid., 16:8–12.

וָאֶעֱבֹ֨ר עָלַ֜יִךְ וָאֶרְאֵ֗ךְ וְהִנֵּ֤ה עִתֵּךְ֙ עֵ֣ת דֹּדִ֔ים וָאֶפְרֹ֤שׂ כְּנָפִי֙ עָלַ֔יִךְ וָאֲכַסֶּ֖ה עֶרְוָתֵ֑ךְ וָאֶשָּׁ֣בַֽע לָךְ וָאָב֨וֹא
בִבְרִ֜ית אֹתָ֗ךְ נְאֻ֛ם אֲדֹנָ֥י יְהִו֖ה וַתִּ֥הְיִי לִֽי׃ וָאֶרְחָצֵ֣ךְ בַּמַּ֔יִם וָאֶשְׁטֹ֥ף דָּמַ֖יִךְ מֵֽעָלָ֑יִךְ וָאֲסֻכֵ֖ךְ בַּשָּֽׁמֶן׃ וָאַלְבִּישֵׁ֣ךְ
רִקְמָ֔ה וָאֶנְעֲלֵ֖ךְ תָּ֑חַשׁ וָאֶחְבְּשֵׁ֣ךְ בַּשֵּׁ֔שׁ וַאֲכַסֵּ֖ךְ מֶֽשִׁי׃ וָאֶעְדֵּ֖ךְ עֶ֑דִי וָאֶתְּנָ֤ה צְמִידִים֙ עַל־ יָדַ֔יִךְ וְרָבִ֖יד עַל־
גְּרוֹנֵךְֽ׃ וָאֶתֵּ֥ן נֶ֙זֶם֙ עַל־ אַפֵּ֔ךְ וַעֲגִילִ֖ים עַל־ אָזְנָיִ֑ךְ וַעֲטֶ֥רֶת תִּפְאֶ֖רֶת בְּראֹשֵֽׁךְ׃28

When I passed by you and looked at you, behold, your season was the time for love. I spread my garment over you, covering your nakedness. I made an oath to you, and entered a covenant with you, declared the Lord Yahweh, and you belonged to me. Then I washed you with water, thoroughly washing your blood away, and anointed you with oil. I covered you in embroidered garments, and gave you leather sandals. I bound you in fine linens and covered you in silks.
I decked you in jewelry, putting bracelets on your wrists, a necklace around your neck, a ring in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a glorious crown on your head.

14Having taken the child he raised as a daughter and married her (converting incestuous thoughts into deeds), this much older man (God) explodes in rage over the infidelities of his young daughter-wife:

  • 29 Ibid., 16:15, 36–37, 39–40.

וַתִּבְטְחִ֣י בְיָפְיֵ֔ךְ וַתִּזְנִ֖י עַל־ שְׁמֵ֑ךְ וַתִּשְׁפְּכִ֧י אֶת־ תַּזְנוּתַ֛יִךְ עַל־ כָּל־ עוֹבֵ֖ר
[…]
יַ֣עַן הִשָּׁפֵ֤ךְ נְחֻשְׁתֵּךְ֙ וַתִּגָּלֶ֣ה עֶרְוָתֵ֔ךְ בְּתַזְנוּתַ֖יִךְ עַל־ מְאַהֲבָ֑יִךְ וְעַל֙ כָּל־ גִּלּוּלֵ֣י תוֹעֲבוֹתַ֔יִךְ וְכִדְמֵ֣י
בָנַ֔יִךְ אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָתַ֖תְּ לָהֶֽם׃ לָכֵן הִנְנִ֨י מְקַבֵּ֤ץ אֶת־ כָּל־
[…]
וְנָתַתִּ֨י אוֹתָ֜ךְ בְּיָדָ֗ם וְהָרְס֤וּ גַבֵּךְ֙ וְנִתְּצ֣וּ רָמֹתַ֔יִךְ וְהִפְשִׁ֤יטוּ אוֹתָךְ֙ בְּגָדַ֔יִךְ וְלָקְח֖וּ כְּלֵ֣י תִפְאַרְתֵּ֑ךְ
וְהִנִּיח֖וּךְ עֵירֹ֥ם וְעֶרְיָֽה׃ וְהֶעֱל֤וּ עָלַיִךְ֙ קָהָ֔ל וְרָגְמ֥וּ אוֹתָ֖ךְ בָּאָ֑בֶן וּבִתְּק֖וּךְ בְּחַרְבוֹתָֽם׃29

But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by. […] Because your filth was poured out and your nakedness uncovered as you whored with your lovers, and the abominations of your idols, and the blood of your children that you poured out to them, behold, I will bring together all your lovers, [and] I will give you into their hands, and they will throw down your defenses andbreak down your high places; they will strip you of your clothes and take your jewels and leave you naked and bare. They will bring a great multitude against you, and they will stone you with stones and thrust you through with their swords.

15The young girl he had once saved from death, he now has beaten, stoned, and cut to pieces. Having saved her, claimed her, but been unable to keep her, God spends his truly impotent rage in the fashion of a violent cuckold: he turns her over to those men who will brutalize her for him, and only then will his rage be abated:

  • 30 Ibid., 16:42.

וַהֲנִחֹתִ֤י חֲמָתִי֙ בָּ֔ךְ וְסָ֥רָה קִנְאָתִ֖י מִמֵּ֑ךְ וְשָׁ֣קַטְתִּ֔י וְל֥אֹ אֶכְעַ֖ס עֽוֹד׃30

So toward you I will rest my fury, and abolish my jealousy, and I will be quiet and calm, and I will not be angry any more.

16After her near-fatal beating, God’s daughter-wife will return to him in shame—he will accept her back merely so that he may further humiliate her:

  • 31 Ibid., 16:63.

לְמַ֤עַן תִּזְכְּרִי֙ וָבֹ֔שְׁתְּ וְל֨אֹ יֽהְיֶה־ לָּ֥ךְ עוֹד֙ פִּתְח֣וֹן פֶּ֔ה מִפְּנֵ֖י כְּלִמָּתֵ֑ךְ בְּכַפְּרִי־ לָךְ֙ לְכָל־ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשִׂ֔ית31

So that you will remember and be ashamed, and never let it come to pass that you open your mouth because of your humiliation, when I am appeased concerning all that you have done.

  • 32 Linda Day. “Rhetoric and Domestic Violence in Ezekiel 16”. Biblical Interpretation, 8: 3 (July 2000 (...)

17It is tempting to think that the infant girl of so many years before might have been better off if only God had passed her by in that open field, leaving her to the mercy of beasts less systematically savage than himself. Hardly a story of love, this “fairy tale marriage gone horribly awry” is more akin to a tale of domestic abuse, as “the profile of YHWH in Ezekiel 16 matches that of real-life batterers in significant ways”.32

  • 33 Cohen, 12.

18There is no love in these allegorical accounts of what Cohen ominously calls “the inseverable marital union between God and Israel”,33 unless by “love” we mean ownership and domination, or vengeance and impotent wrath that uses others to inflict its bloody will, or the desire to silence and shame a daughter-bride into compliant and docile submission. This is the powerful impression given by the multiple instances to be found in the Biblical prophets of the marriage allegory. Whether in Hosea, or Ezekiel 16 and 23, or in Jeremiah 3 and 13, the portrait of the human-divine marriage is an overwhelmingly negative one, which the relative lightness of Isaiah 54 cannot atone for:

  • 34 Isaiah 54:6–8.

כִּֽי־ כְאִשָּׁ֧ה עֲזוּבָ֛ה וַעֲצ֥וּבַת ר֖וּחַ קְרָאָ֣ךְ יְהוָ֑ה וְאֵ֧שֶׁת נְעוִּר֛ים כִּ֥י תִמָּאֵ֖ס אָמַ֥ר אֱלֹהָֽיִךְ׃
בְּרֶ֥גַע קָטֹ֖ן עֲזַבְתִּ֑יךְ וּבְרַחֲמִ֥ים גְּדֹלִ֖ים אֲקַבְּצֵֽךְ׃
בְּשֶׁ֣צֶף קֶ֗צֶף הִסְתַּ֨רְתִּי פָנַ֥י רֶ֙גַע֙ מִמֵּ֔ךְ וּבְחֶ֥סֶד עוֹלָ֖ם רֽחַמְתִּ֑יךְ אָמַ֥ר גֹּאֲלֵ֖ךְ יְהוָֽה׃ ס34

For as a forsaken wife Yahweh has called you, pained in spirit like the wife of a man’s youth when she is refused, said your God. For the briefest instant I left you, but with great mercy I will gather you. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting loving kindness I will have mercy on you, says Yahweh, your redeemer.

19Far from being comforting, the latter passage sounds like the insincere apology uttered by a husband who has just beaten his wife—again.

  • 35 Whereas in Hosea and Ezekiel there is no dialogue—the railed-upon woman gets no voice.
  • 36 Cohen, 12.
  • 37 Longxi, 207.
  • 38 Cohen, 14. Emphasis added.

20The relationship described in the Song is radically different—there is no sense of punishment, and no dominant theme of domestic violence, rage and bloody revenge. What a reader encounters in this ancient love poem is something missing elsewhere in the Bible: “whereas the other books of the Bible do indeed proclaim the bond of love between Israel and the Lord, only the Song of Songs is a dialogue of love”,35 though Cohen insists that the dialogue is between “man and God”.36 However this very insistence, grounded as it is in the tradition of the Christian exegesis of Origen and the Rabbinic exegesis of Akiba (c. 50–137 CE), is just one more instance of the ongoing attempts to tame the Song, and force it to say what its guardians demand it should say. Such commentary on love poetry tries to “eliminate any implication of erotic love and to attach to poetry a significance that demonstrates […] ethical and political propriety”.37 As Cohen explains, “if love could not be ignored, it could be channeled, reformulated, and controlled, and this is precisely what the rabbinic [and Christian] allegory of the Song of Songs attempted to achieve”.38 This attempt to channel, reformulate, and control is exactly what we will see love being subjected to in both poetry and criticism as we move through time.

21One of the most evocative portions of the Song is a wonderfully explicit scene played out between the young man and woman of the poem. The young man comes to her door, calling for her in desire, but when she answers, he has slipped away:

  • 39 Song of Songs 5:2–6.

פִּתְחִי־ לִ֞י אֲחֹתִ֤י רַעְיָתִי֙ יוֹנָתִ֣י תַמָּתִ֔י שֶׁרֹּאשִׁי֙ נִמְלָא־ טָ֔ל קְוֻּצּוֹתַ֖י רְסִ֥יסֵי לָֽיְלָה׃
פָּשַׁ֙טְתִּי֙ אֶת־ כֻּתָּנְתִּ֔י אֵיכָ֖כָה אֶלְבָּשֶׁ֑נָּה רָחַ֥צְתִּי אֶת־ רַגְלַ֖י אֵיכָ֥כָה אֲטַנְּפֵֽם׃
דּוֹדִ֗י שָׁלַ֤ח יָדוֹ֙ מִן־ הַחֹ֔ר וּמֵעַ֖י הָמ֥וּ עָלָֽיו׃
קַ֥מְתִּֽי אֲנִ֖י לִפְתֹּ֣חַ לְדוֹדִ֑י וְיָדַ֣י נָֽטְפוּ־ מ֗וֹר וְאֶצְבְּעֹתַי֙ מ֣וֹר עֹבֵ֔ר עַ֖ל כַּפּ֥וֹת הַמַּנְעֽוּל׃
פָּתַ֤חְתִּֽי אֲנִי֙ לְדוֹדִ֔י וְדוֹדִ֖י חָמַ֣ק עָבָ֑ר39

pen to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my perfect one: for my head is drenched with dew, my hair with midnight’s drops. I have stripped off my garments; how shall I put them back on? I have washed my feet; how shall I soil them? My lover put in his hand by the hole, and my womb moved for him. I rose up to open to my lover; and my hands dripped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, with my hands upon the bolt of the lock. I opened to my lover; but my lover had withdrawn, and he was gone.

22We do not have commentary by Origen for this passage (of his ten original volumes, only four remain), so let’s look at something from seemingly the opposite end of the exegetical spectrum, a book called Song of Solomon for Teenagers:

  • 40 Chris Ray. Song of Solomon for Teenagers: And Anyone Else Who Wonders Why They Are Here (Bloomingto (...)

Imagine the King of Kings. He is not just a great man. He is God! Imagine He loved you when you were unlovable. He cleaned you up and made you somebody. He wants to love you and protect you. He wants to enjoy you. He wants you to love and enjoy Him. How dare you say no. Don’t you realize that without Him you can do nothing. […] How dare you reject One who is altogether lovely. The problem we have is that He is the one that picks the time of visitation.40

  • 41 Longxi, 195.

23Though the lack of question marks can be disconcerting, and the remarks about enjoying and being enjoyed are borderline disturbing, the allegorical method of interpreting the Song is essentially the same in this simple twenty-first-century text as it is in Origen’s complex third-century writings. The young man in the poem is erased as a human being and turned into a symbol for God, while the young woman is denied her sexuality and made to serve as a metaphor for those who do not turn quickly enough to Him. The story of passion, sex, longing, and love is completely dismissed in favor of a meaning which is forced onto the text like the attentions of an unwanted suitor, and this forcing has a long history: “[t]he fundamental way to justify the canonicity of the Song of Songs, among both Jews and Christians, has always been to read the text as an allegory, a piece of writing which does not mean what it literally says”.41

But when the allegory is stripped away and the commentary is removed, what happens in this exquisite passage? A young man calls late at night at a girl’s door: “open to me”, he says, “for my head is drenched with dew, my hair with midnight’s drops”. The young man is expressing sexual desire for his “darling”, his “perfect one”. She hesitates: “I have washed my feet; how shall I soil them?” (“Feet” are often used in the Bible as a euphemism for more intimate parts of the body—the story of Ruth and Boaz is an excellent example). But he persists, putting “his hand by the hole”, as her “womb moved for him”. The Hebrew word here is Image 10000000000000150000000FB638ED6D.jpg (meeh or me-yeh), which when used about a woman, can generally be translated as “womb” just as it is at Ruth 1:11, where Naomi bemoans her age and infertility:

וַתֹּ֤אמֶר נָעֳמִי֙ שֹׁ֣בְנָה בְנֹתַ֔י לָ֥מָּה תֵלַ֖כְנָה עִמִּ֑י הַֽעֽוֹד־ לִ֤י בָנִים֙ בְּֽמֵעַ֔י וְהָי֥וּ לָכֶ֖ם לַאֲנָשִֽׁים׃

Return, my daughters, why will you go with me? Are there yet sons in my womb that may become your husbands?

  • 42 Macbeth 2.3.32. All quotations from the plays are from William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. (...)

With her womb stirring, the young woman is suddenly wet with myrrh, her hands and her fingers dripping with the scented, sensual oil. As she slips her oiled fingers around “the bolt of the lock”, she opens to him, and the consummation is near. Here, the Hebrew word is Image 100000000000001B0000000FF728E6E7.jpg (manul), which, translated as “bolt”, is like the deadbolt that is inserted between the door and the doorjamb, making the phallic reference of the verse obvious. Just as the young woman fondles the manul with her wet fingers, at that precise moment, the young man had “withdrawn, and he was gone”, leaving the young woman open, wet with oil, and absolutely frustrated. In the terms of the Porter from Macbeth, the young man (and his manul) can stand to, or not stand to,42 and in this case, he and it have done the latter.

24Near the end of the Song, it appears that the relationship between the young man and young woman is illicit, for she wishes he could be as her brother, so that when they met in public there would be no suspicion:

  • 43 Song of Songs 8:1–3.

25מִ֤י יִתֶּנְךָ֙ כְּאָ֣ח לִ֔י יוֹנֵ֖ק שְׁדֵ֣י אִמִּ֑י אֶֽמְצָאֲךָ֤ בַחוּץ֙ אֶשָּׁ֣קְךָ֔ גַּ֖ם לאֹ־ יָב֥וּזוּ לִֽי׃
אֶנְהָֽגֲךָ֗ אֲבִֽיאֲךָ֛ אֶל־ בֵּ֥ית אִמִּ֖י תְּלַמְּדֵ֑נִי אַשְׁקְךָ֙ מִיַּ֣יִן הָרֶ֔קַח מֵעֲסִ֖יס רִמֹּנִֽי׃
שְׂמאֹלוֹ֙ תַּ֣חַת ראֹשִׁ֔י וֽימִינ֖וֹ תְּחַבְּקֵֽנִי׃43

O that you were as my brother, who sucked the breasts of my mother! When I should meet you outside, I would kiss you, yes, and no one would despise me. I would lead you, and bring you to my mother’s house, and she would teach me; I would give you a drink of the spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate. Your left hand would be under my head, and your right hand would embrace me.

26None of this makes any sense if seen through the allegorical lens of Origen. The young woman is wishing she could invite the young man home to have sex with her—with his left hand under her head, and his right hand embracing her, she is imagining them either making love or dancing the tango (arguably the same thing), and the image of drinking the spiced wine of the juice of her pomegranate could not be more obvious. It echoes an earlier scene which is clearly a reference to a sexual assignation:

  • 44 Ibid., 7:11–13.

27אֲנִ֣י לְדוֹדִ֔י וְעָלַ֖י תְּשׁוּקָתֽוֹ׃ ס
לְכָ֤ה דוֹדִי֙ נֵצֵ֣א הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה נָלִ֖ינָה בַּכְּפִָרֽים׃
נַשְׁכִּ֙ימָה֙ לַכְּרָמִ֔ים נִרְאֶ֞ה אִם פָּֽרְחָ֤ה הַגֶּ֙פֶן֙ פִּתַּ֣ח הַסְּמָדַ֔ר הֵנֵ֖צוּ הָרִמּוֹנִ֑ים שָׁ֛ם אֶתֵּ֥ן אֶת־ דֹּדַ֖י לָֽךְ׃44

I am my lover’s, and his desire is for me. Come, my love, let us go into the field; let us spend the night in the village. Come, let us rise early and go to the vineyards; let us see whether the vines flourish, the tender grapes appear, and the pomegranates bud and blossom. There I will give my love to you.

28If the “vines flourish” and the “pomegranates bud and blossom”, then perhaps this love scene will work out better than the last one.

  • 45 Weston Fields. “Early and Medieval Interpretation of the Song of Songs”, Grace Theological Journal, (...)
  • 46 The urge to allegorize the Song may well have developed in reaction to a changing imperial atmosphe (...)

29So how did we get to the point where a poem so obviously sexual as the Song of Songs is commonly tamed into submission as a religious allegory, where even teenagers are taught to read a poem that openly features youthful eroticism and unceasing sexual innuendo as if it were written by virgins, for virgins, and about virgins? For centuries after its composition—perhaps as long as a millennium, if the most generous estimates are correct—the Song appears to have been read and sung in the spirit of love and desire, for “there is no record of allegorization in the earliest period”.45 The allegorical reading of the Song began under a Roman imperial rule that since the days of Caesar Augustus had been slowly tightening its grip on the sexual behaviors of its subjects,46 developing at approximately the same time among the Jews and the Christians:

  • 47 Longxi, 194.

At the council of Jamnia at the end of the first century, […] Rabbi Judah argued that the Song of Songs defiled the hands, i.e., was taboo or sacred, hence canonical, while Ecclesiastes did not. Rabbi Jose then expressed his doubt about the propriety of including the Song in the canon, but Rabbi Aquiba made a powerful plea [and he] angrily denounced those who treated this holy Song as an ordinary song (zemîr) and chanted it in “Banquet Houses”.47

  • 48 Benjamin Edidin Scolnic. “Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?” Conservative Judaism, 48: (...)

30Rabbi Akiba argued for the inclusion of the Song in the Hebrew canon by claiming “all the world is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies”.48 Arguing against other Rabbis who thought, based on a literal interpretation, that the text was obscene, Akiba seems to have been the earliest known advocate for an allegorical approach to the Song.

31In the centuries that follow, allegory becomes orthodoxy. The Babylonian Talmud makes repeated allegorical references to the Song. In the Gemara (a section completed c. 500 CE) of the Tractate Sanhedrin, verses from the Song are interpreted as signifying the Sanhedrin, the judicial body appointed in each Israelite city:

  • 49 Tractate Sanhedrin. In Hebrew English Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, ed. by Rabbi Isidore Epstei (...)

32שררך אגן הסהר אל יחסר המזג וגושררך-זו סנהדרי ]…[ בטנך ערימת חטים מה ערימת חטים
הכל נהנין ממנה אף סנהדרין הכל נהנין מטעמיהן49

Your navel is like a round goblet which lacks no wine: that navel—that is the Sanhedrin. […] Your belly is like a heap of wheat [Song of Songs 7:2]: even as we profit from wheat, so also we profit from the Sanhedrin’s reasonings.

33Those reading the Song as a poem about love and desire are condemned as bringing evil to the world, and unless the Rabbis are condemning something wholly imaginary, this is evidence that there were still people who approached the Song in exactly this way:

  • 50 Ibid., 101a.

34הקורא פסוק של שיר השירים ועושה אותו כמין זמר והקורא פסוק בבית משתאות בלא זמנו
מביא רעה לעולם מפני שהתורה חוגרת שק ועומדת לפני הקבה ואומרת לפניו רבונו של עולם
עשאוני בניך ככנור שמנגנין בו לצים50

A reader of a verse from the Song of Songs who sings it at the wrong time, turning it into a festival song, brings evil into the world. The Torah, dressed in sackcloth, stands before the Holy One and cries out, “Lord of the Universe! Your children treat me as a lyre played by scornful fools”.

  • 51 Sara Japhet. “Rashi’s Commentary on the Song of Songs: The Revolution of the Peshat and its Afterma (...)

35For centuries, the perspectives of Akiba, Origen, and the Talmud remain the dominant mode of reading and understanding the Song. But a change comes at the end of the eleventh century, in France, at the same time the first of the troubadour poems are appearing in the world. Rabbi Solomon the Izakhite, known to history as Rashi, champions the Peshat method of Scriptural interpretation, “the interpretation of the text according to its ‘plain meaning’”.51 Rashi has little use for the Talmudic idea that the Song should not be sung on festival days; rather than bringing evil into the world, he regards such singing as bringing good:

Image 10000000000002FB0000004CABC18C3D.jpg

  • 52 Rashi’s commentary is quoted here from the Tractate Sanhedrin (101a), Part VII, Vol. 21. In The Tal (...)

Note 52

But I say the time for the feast is a good day, and for a man to take a glass in his hand and tell others the words of ancient legends and the verses relevant to the day—this always brings good to the world.

  • 53 Edward L. Greenstein suggests that the “plain” meaning is often actually much more complex than the (...)

36Rashi also gets right to the “plain meaning”53 of the famous “kisses” of the Song, arguing that they are literal kisses being desired by an actual woman whose husband has become neglectful. The resulting view of the text is at once less strained (having no need to compare a woman’s body to an all-male judiciary), more responsive to textual detail, and entirely more human than the interpretations of Akiba, Origen, and the innumerable commentators who follow them:

Image 100000000000031A0000006C8CED1971.jpg

  • 54 Mikraot Gedolot: Torah with Forty-Two Commentaries (), Vol. 3 (The Widow and Brothers Ram: Truskave (...)

Note 54

She sings this song with her mouth, in exile and widowhood: “Would that King Solomon would kiss me, like he used to, with the kisses of his mouth, since in some places they kiss the back of the hand or the shoulder, but I long for the familiarity with which he first treated me, like a bridegroom with his bride, kissing mouth to mouth”.

  • 55 Japhet, 202.
  • 56 Ibid., 211.

37Rashi may be the first Rabbinical interpreter to apply this “plain meaning” method to the Song,55 but he would not be the last. Two anonymous commentators of the twelfth century in France take the Peshat methodology to its logical conclusion, arguing that the Song was merely a song, was not sacred, and was included in the canon because it was popular. The first commentator, finally published for the first time in 1866,56 makes the point directly:

  • 57 Ibid., 212.

the interpretation of “the Song of Songs” is: This is one of the songs composed by Solomon, who wrote many songs, as it is said: “And his songs numbered one thousand and five” (1 Kgs 5:12). Why was this one written [written down and included in the canon] of all the others? It was written because it was loved by the people.57

  • 58 Ibid., 214.

38The second twelfth-century commentator, first published in 1896, “explained the Song of Songs as a secular love song, did not present it as a parable, did not regard it as a prophecy, and did not include an allegorical interpretation”.58

  • 59 Ibid., 215.

39At the time the troubadours are working, it appears that the love poetry of the Song is being read and explained, by at least a few, as love poetry about human beings desiring each other, regardless of the laws of God or man. As Japhet explains, “this kind of commentary on the Song of Songs—an exclusive adherence to the plain meaning and total avoidance of any kind of allegory—is a unique phenomenon, with no parallel in the long history of Jewish exegesis of the Song of Songs until the modern period”.59 Sadly, this unique phenomenon does not last. In the thirteenth century, at about the same time the troubadour movement is being crushed by the Church, and the notably allegorical “sweet new style” (dolce stil novo) adopted by Dante is taking over, the Peshat school dies out, and the allegorical reading of the Song returns.

40In some quarters, it never disappeared in the first place. For Richard of St. Victor, the twelfth-century mystical theologian, even the most erotic portions of the Song are to be interpreted in terms of the visitation of Grace, or “visitationem gratiae”:

  • 60 “Dilectus mens misit manum suam per foramen, et venter meus intumuit ad tactum ejus, Quam visitatio (...)

My beloved put in his hand through the hole of the mind, and my belly is swollen to the touch thereof; and this visitation of grace, is sent through the hole by the hands that, as through a chink, infuse grace into the souls of the faithful.60

  • 61 “Intentio principalis huius opis est exprimere mutua desideria inter sponsum & sponsam, sive inter (...)

41This is also evident in the work of Giles of Rome (Egidio Colonna), the thirteenth-and fourteenth-century cleric and Archbishop of Bourges, who argues that “the principal intention of [the Song] is to express the mutual desire between the bridegroom and bride, or between Christ and the Church”.61 Giles—who served in the same Provençal region whose theological, sexual, and poetical heresies the Church spent decades subduing during the Crusades and the Inquisition—insists that the language of opening to the lover is to be understood in terms of preaching:

  • 62 “Ita sponsus attraxit me: unde non volens vel valens resistere ei, (surrexi) a contemplatione, (ut (...)

My bridegroom attracted me so much, that being unwilling or unable to resist him, I got up from contemplation to open to my beloved through preaching, and not only through preaching in word, but also through preaching in example. Therefore it continues: my hands, that is, my works, dripped with myrrh, that is, with the mortification of the flesh.62

  • 63 Bart Vanden Auweele argues a different case, emphasizing the relatively recent academic voices that (...)
  • 64 For an excellent overview of this process, see J. Paul Tanner, “The History of Interpretation of th (...)

42This reading of the Song, insisting that what it really says is opposed to what it merely seems to say, served the immediate ideological needs of the Inquisition-era Church, and has remained dominant ever since.63 Even now, the movement to restore the erotic sense of the verse is largely confined to academia, and has little impact on the way most readers encounter the poem.64

  • 65 Longxi, 207.

43The story of the Song is a miniature reflection of the story of this book. Love, passionate and mutually chosen regard between two people, without concern for gods, laws, or institutions, has always struggled to survive in a hostile world. Its literary monuments have been appropriated for the purposes of those opposed to it, as verses speaking of desire and frustration, passion and joy, the sensual details of liquids, oils, and sweets, and open admiration of the body’s form, are “channeled, reformulated, and controlled” into metaphors, allegories, and symbols of an eros redirected toward the sky. “It is amusing”, as Longxi notes, “to see how the priggish commentators stretch the words out of all proportion […]. Such farfetched exegeses […] consistently read love songs as about anything but love”.65 We will see versions of this pattern repeatedly, as passion becomes worship, and desire becomes the decorous admiration of objects whose best use is to transport the admirer beyond the hated and distrusted flesh, and toward a union with what one cannot speak to, cannot draw near to, and most definitely cannot touch.

II. Love Poetry and the Critics who Reduce: Ovid’s Amores and Ars Amatoria

  • 66 G. P. Goold. “The Cause of Ovid’s Exile”. Illinois Classical Studies, 8: 1 (Spring 1983), 96, http: (...)
  • 67 Ibid.

44Two collections of poetry that have no pretensions to being allegories of the sacred, the Amores and the Ars Amatoria, despite their often scurrilous reputations, are actually no more explicit in their passions and descriptions than the Song of Songs. But while the Song, after much debate, was included in the canons of Judaism and Christianity, the Ars Amatoria, and Ovid along with it, were banished from Rome to the shores of the Black Sea. Born in 43 BCE, Ovid was an established poet by his early twenties, and he “poured forth with uninterrupted regularity a series of elegiac works that far surpassed anything ever previously attempted in their open mockery of accepted sexual morality”.66 The Amores (an early work loosely centered around the poet’s wry and self-aware fascination with a woman he refers to as Corrina) are completed by the time Ovid was twenty-eight, and by this time “he had established himself as Rome’s foremost poet, and was the idol of the capital”.67

45The Amores have the feel of a young man’s poetry, mixing bravado with uncertainty in their treatment of love and desire. The poems often talk of love as something that is sweeter when stolen, especially in poems like Elegy 1.4, “Amicam qua arte”, and the famous Elegy 1.5 “Corrina Concubitus”. The former mockingly bemoans the fact that the lady’s husband would be at dinner:

  • 68 Ovid. Amores 1.4. In Ovid: Heroides and Amores, ed. by Grant Showerman (Loeb Classical Library, Cam (...)

Vir tuus est epulas nobis aditurus easdem—
ultima coena tuo sit, precor, illa viro!
ergo ego dilectam tantum conviva puellam
adspiciam?
68

Your husband will be at the same supper with us—
let that supper, I pray, be your husband’s last!
Shall I be so close to a girl I love
and merely be a guest?

46But the lover soon finds the husband’s presence exciting, since it challenges him to remain undetected in public:

  • 69 Ibid., 328, 330, ll. 13–26.

ante veni, quam vir—nec quid, si veneris ante,
possit agi video; sed tamen ante veni.
cum premet ille torum, vultu comes ipsa modesto
ibis, ut accumbas—clam mihi tange pedem!
me specta nutusque meos vultumque loquacem;
excipe furtivas et refer ipsa notas.
verba superciliis sine voce loquentia dicam;
verba leges digitis, verba notata mero.
cum tibi succurret Veneris lascivia nostrae,
purpureas tenero pollice tange genas.
siquid erit, de me tacita quod mente queraris,
pendeat extrema mollis ab aure manus.
cum tibi, quae faciam, mea lux, dicamve, placebunt,
versetur digitis anulus usque tuis.
69

Come before your husband, why not, come before,
I don’t see what’s possible, but arrive before.
When he lies on the couch, look, with modest
demeanor recline beside him—secretly touch my foot!

Look at me and my nods and my expressive face;
catch my secrets and return them.
Without saying a word, my eyebrows will speak to you;
words from my fingers, words traced in wine.
When you think of the pleasures of our love,
with a tender thumb touch your cheeks.
If you remember some silent complaint against me,
gently grasp the bottom of your ear with your hand.
When you are pleased, my light, with what I do or say,
fiddle with the ring on your finger.

47Ironically, the lover giving this advice descends into jealousy. What if the woman with whom he is cuckolding her husband, cuckolds him with her husband? An intolerable thought:

  • 70 Ibid., 330, ll. 43–46.

nec femori committe femur nec crure cohaere
nec tenerum duro cum pede iunge pedem.
multa miser timeo, quia feci multa proterve,
exemplique metu torqueor, ecce, mei.
70

Do not engage or touch him with the thigh
not the tip of the foot with his hard foot.
Alas, I fear much, because I have often been wanton,
tormented, look you, by my own example.

48The young man (Ovid himself?) wants to believe that his love (Corinna perhaps, though unnamed in this poem) is faithful to him, despite her marriage to another. And if necessary, he would prefer that she lie in order to maintain this belief:

  • 71 Ibid., 332, ll. 69–70.

sed quaecumque tamen noctem fortuna sequetur,
cras mihi constanti voce dedisse nega!
71

Nevertheless, whatever the night’s fortune proves,
tomorrow, in a firm voice, deny that you gave yourself!

49The more famous elegy, “Corrina Concubitus”, reflects none of the teasing and self-tormenting doubts of the fourth elegy, and is filled with the delights of physical eros, desire and fulfillment. First, the poem gives voice to the delights of seeing:

  • 72 Amores 1.5, 334, ll. 9–12.

ecce, Corinna venit, tunica velata recincta,
candida dividua colla tegente coma—
qualiter in thalamos famosa Semiramis isse
dicitur, et multis Lais amata viris.
72

Behold, Corinna comes, draped in a loose gown,
hair parted over her white neck—
just as Semiramis came to her bed,
so they say, and Lais loved by many men.

50Next, the poem moves to touch mixed with sight:

  • 73 Ibid., ll. 13–24.

Deripui tunicam—nec multum rara nocebat;
pugnabat tunica sed tamen illa tegi.
quae cum ita pugnaret, tamquam quae vincere nollet,
victa est non aegre proditione sua.
ut stetit ante oculos posito velamine nostros,
in toto nusquam corpore menda fuit.
quos umeros, quales vidi tetigique lacertos!
forma papillarum quam fuit apta premi!
quam castigato planus sub pectore venter!
quantum et quale latus! quam iuvenale femur!
Singula quid referam? nil non laudabile vidi
et nudam pressi corpus ad usque meum.73

I tore off her coat—it was thin, and covered little;
but, she held the tunic, fighting to be covered,
fighting as if she would win,
or be conquered easily, but not by her own betrayal.
As she stood before my eyes with drapery set by,
she hadn’t a flaw in her entire body.

What shoulders, what arms I saw and touched!
The form of her breasts, how fit to be caressed!
How flat is her belly, beneath her breasts!
Her side’s quantity and quality! What a thrilling thigh!
Why refer to more? I saw nothing unpraiseworthy
and pressed her naked body against mine.

51Finally, as desire has played its scene, and quiet satisfaction remains, the poem turns to a wish for many more such afternoons as this one:

  • 74 Ibid., ll. 25–26.

Cetera quis nescit? lassi requievimus ambo.
proveniant medii sic mihi saepe dies!
74

Who knows not what followed? Weary, we rested.
May such afternoons come for me often!

  • 75 See John C. Thibault. The Mystery of Ovid’s Exile (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), (...)
  • 76 Goold, 107.

52Corinna is neither a goddess, nor an allegory for the sacred. There has never been a critical impulse to explain “Corrina Concubitus” as if it were really portraying the relationship between humanity and the gods. Corinna is portrayed as a flesh-and-blood woman, desired and worried over by a flesh-and-blood man. If Corinna is a stand-in for anything or anyone, perhaps it is Julia, the daughter of Augustus, the Roman Emperor who would, some twenty-plus years after the publication of the Amores, banish Ovid from Rome for life. While this possibility has long been a matter of debate,75 it does tie in with the overall feeling in many of the elegies of forbidden love—an eros that is more exciting because of the possibility of getting caught and severely punished. If Corinna is Julia, and the famous twofold reason for Ovid’s banishment (carmen et error, the poem and the mistake Ovid refers to in his poem Tristia, 2.207) was “for writing the Ars Amatoria and for committing a transgression”76 with her, then what a reader encounters in both the Amores and the Ars Amatoria is life and experience, transgression and joy, transformed into poetry that celebrated love and desire which was enjoyed in the shadow of condemnation and banishment. Rather than passion sublimated into a search for the divine, these poems are perhaps our first clear example, unsullied by the allegorizing and temporizing mood, of what the troubadours will call fin’amor, love as an end in itself.

Image 1000000000000098000000FD1A3A9CDA.jpg

Title page of a 1644 edition of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria.77

53However, in what will soon become a familiar move in the criticism of many different authors and periods, some commentary on Ovid’s work returns it to the realm of allegory, not of the human-divine relationship, but, in this case, of poetry itself. Reducing Ovid’s work to a series of conventions and tropes, Peter Allen argues that it amounts to little more than poetry gazing at its own reflection:

  • 78 Peter Allen. The Art of Love: Amatory Fiction from Ovid to the Romance of the Rose (Philadelphia: U (...)

The lesson is in fact a lesson in literary theory. The Ars and Remedia reveal (though often in indirect ways) that the love described in elegiac poetry is essentially the same as the poetry itself: both are artistic fantasies, constructed by the reader and the poetic lover together. Elegiac love depends for its existence on the presence of recognizable conventions, which help the reader situate it within a literary context, to recognize it as fiction. Through such conventions the poet involves the reader in the act of literary creation, which is itself an amatory relationship and, in fact, the most intimate relationship in these texts; the preceptor’s true task is to teach the reader how to be a creator, like himself.78

54Once, in the mid-twentieth century work of a critic like Blanchot, this kind of argument—reducing literature to a meta-discourse in which all that literature talks about is itself—might have seemed fresh, even profound. It draws loosely on the now-familiar idea that language refers only to language, and that only by a series of shared conventions do we credit it with an illusory signifying power. Such criticism categorically denies any possibility of poetry’s intervention in the world, turning literature into a passive prop for political, military, economic, and epistemological regimes of power to which it cannot even refer, much less oppose. It presents an appearance of radicalism, while deliberately entangling itself in its own refusals and withdrawals.

  • 79 Ibid.

55Such an argument about Ovid insists that, “[d]espite the Amores’ pose of sincerity, well-informed readers will recognize that each of their characters and situations are conventional”.79 Note the rhetorical pressure applied to the reader—to resist the critic’s insistence that Ovid’s work is merely conventional, relating only to the experience of writing about love and not love itself, puts the reader outside the camp of the “well-informed”. Thus we are told how we should read Ovid, and how we should not read Ovid; “well-informed” readers will naturally obey such prescriptions and proscriptions. But this is all a symptom of an authoritarian strain in criticism that can be seen running all the way back through Origen, Rabbi Akiba, and Giles of Rome, for whom the Song of Songs had to be read with the ideological demands of empire and church in mind. To demand, even implicitly as Allen does, obedience in the reading of a poet whose delight in disobedience is reflected throughout his poetry, is more than faintly absurd. And here we see a new assertion—one we will encounter later in criticism of medieval poetry: that the “poetic ‘I’” does not represent an individual point of view (neither that of a poet nor a narrative voice), but is instead a conventional and collective illusion. It would be ill-informed, according to such criticism, to believe otherwise:

  • 80 Allen, 21.

The amator is little more than a convention himself, a reuse of the traditional Roman poetic “I”, which derives from Propertius, Tibullus, Gallus, and Catullus, as well as Catullus’s Alexandrian model, Callimachus. This poetic “I” is a ventriloquist’s voice, a literary echo of an echo of an echo. Even the sincerity that post-Romantic readers, at least, traditionally attribute to the poet-lover is undermined by the amator’s confessions of infidelity and multifarious desire. His affirmations of love are “sincere” not in the sense that they unify the amator, the poet, and the historical Ovid, but in the sense that they create an effective illusion of a poet in love.80

56From Allen’s perspective, the “well-informed” reader will also reject the possibility that “Corrina” had any referent in the world of fleshand-blood, regarding it as obvious that “she” is merely another literary convention:

  • 81 Ibid.

Corinna is no more real than her lover. Historical identities have been found for the women in earlier elegy, but literary history is silent on Corinna, and efforts to re-create her are not only fruitless but even irrelevant to an understanding of the Amores. Rather than existing as a person in her own right […] she is the object of the amator’s desire, the grain of sand that provokes the poetic oyster to produce a string of literary pearls […]. Poetry, not Corinna, is the true star of the Amores.81

  • 82 Alison Sharrock. Seduction and Repetition in Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994) (...)

57And thus the “well-informed” and properly compliant reader will approach the Amores in order to read about poetry, not about love. We will see this same move made by other critics, though in different contexts, ad infinitum. Even a less apparently prescriptive critic like Alison Sharrock ultimately cannot resist turning Ovid’s poetry into an allegory for the act of reading: “the Ars itself is a spell (a carmen) with great seductive power. […] Just as texts are magically seductive, so is interpretation, so is theory. It is the act of reading that draws us into the poem. Reading about desire provokes the desire to read”.82 Such critics have become temperamentally averse to the idea of poetry speaking of anything but itself, as if it were the self-obsessed bore most of us try to avoid at parties.

  • 83 Barbara Weiden Boyd. “The Amores: The Invention of Ovid”. In Brill’s Companion to Ovid, ed. by Barb (...)
  • 84 The Lex Iulia de Maritandis Ordinibus of 18 BCE restricted marriage between the social classes, and (...)
  • 85 For a comprehensive survey of this theme across world literature, see Eos: An Enquiry into the Them (...)

58But Ovid was anything but a bore. He was the kind of poet dedicated to “pushing the limits (of convention, genre, discretion) and refusing to be bound to or by anything other than his own genius”.83 Ovid gives every appearance of refusing to take seriously the pieties that surround love, and especially refuses to take seriously the laws that surround marriage and procreation in Augustus’ Rome.84 However, he does take quite seriously the joys of transgressive love itself. For example, “Ad Auroram”, Elegy 1.13 from the Amores, shows a lover railing against the rising sun—in a way that foreshadows the passions of the alba form of twelfth-century Occitania85—for cutting short his time with his beloved:

  • 86 Ovid. Amores, 1.13, 368, ll. 3–9.

Quo properas, Aurora? mane!-sic Memnonis umbris
annua sollemni caede parentet avis!
nunc iuvat in teneris dominae iacuisse lacertis;
si quando, lateri nunc bene iuncta meo est.
nunc etiam somni pingues et frigidus aer,
et liquidum tenui gutture cantat avis.
quo properas, ingrata viris, ingrata puellis?
86

Where do you hurry, Aurora? Stay, so to Memmnon’s shades
his birds may make annual festival in combat!
Now I delight to lie in the tender arms of my mistress;
if at any time, now it is best that she lies close to me.
now, too, sleep is deep and the air is cold,
and slender-throated birds sing liquid songs.
Why do you hurry, unwelcome to men, unwelcome to girls?

59The lover berates the oncoming light, knowing his course is futile, but driven by passion and the desire to remain in his “girl’s soft arms”, crying out over how many times dawn has torn him away from them:

  • 87 Ibid., 370, ll. 27–30.

optavi quotiens, ne nox tibi cedere vellet,
ne fugerent vultus sidera mota tuos!
optavi quotiens, aut ventus frangeret axem,
aut caderet spissa nube retentus equus!87

often have I wished night would not give place to thee,
so that the stars would not flee before your face!
often have I wished the wind would break your axle,
or that a thick cloud would trip and fell your horse!

60Then, rehearsing the myth of Aurora, the goddess of dawn who is herself married to the eternally old Tithonus, the lover accuses the goddess of hypocrisy for wanting to stay with her young lover Cephalus, while repeatedly denying the lover of the poem the chance to stay in the arms of his beloved:

  • 88 Ibid., ll. 35–41.

Tithono vellem de te narrare liceret;
fabula non caelo turpior ulla foret.
illum dum refugis, longo quia grandior aevo,
surgis ad invisas a sene mane rotas.
at si, quem mavis, Cephalum conplexa teneres,
clamares: “lente currite, noctis equi !”
Cur ego plectar amans, si vir tibi marcet ab annis?88

I wish Tithonus were licensed to tell about you;
there is no more shameful story in heaven.
Fleeing from him, for he is so many ages older than you,
you rise early from the old man, to morning’s chariot wheels.
Whereas, if you had your beloved Cephalus in your embrace,
then you would cry: “Run slowly, horses of the night !”
Why must I suffer in love since your man is wasted with years?

61It is especially notable that human desire and frustration are at the center of Ovid’s poem, and the goddess Aurora, with her serial attractions to, and affairs with, mortal men, is a reflection of and comment upon the love between men and women, not a transcendent and otherwise body-denying goal for which lovers must strive.

62Ovid mocks the pretensions of controlling husbands, and by extension those of Augustus in passing a law against adultery, in “Ad virum servantem coniugem”, Amores 3.4. This poem laughs at the man who would too strictly defend the sexual fidelity of a woman; such a man makes himself a tyrant, a fool, and a cuckold:

  • 89 Ovid. Amores, 3.4, 458, 460, ll. 1–8.

Dure vir, inposito tenerae custode puellae
nil agis; ingenio est quaeque tuenda suo.
siqua metu dempto casta est, ea denique casta est;
quae, quia non liceat, non facit, illa facit!
ut iam servaris bene corpus, adultera mens est;
nec custodiri, ne velit, ulla potest.
nec corpus servare potes, licet omnia claudas;
omnibus exclusis intus adulter erit.
89

Harsh man, setting a guard over your tender girl
gets you nothing; her own character is what will defend her.
If she is chaste when free from fear, then she is pure;
but if she doesn’t sin because she’s not allowed to, she’ll do it!
Even if you have well guarded the body, the mind is adulterous;
no watchman has any power over her will.
Neither can you guard her body, though you close every door,
excluding all; for the adulterer will be within.

63In Ovid’s elegy, adultery is a natural response to the tyranny of unwanted husbands and absurdly impractical laws that create (or enhance) the very effects they seek to prevent. In fact, the strict laws of the husband or the emperor inculcate the desire to break those laws and achieve the forbidden (a motif familiar from Genesis 2–3):

  • 90 Ibid., 460, ll. 17–26.

nitimur in vetitum semper cupimusque negata;
sic interdictis imminet aeger aquis.
centum fronte oculos, centum cervice gerebat
Argus—et hos unus saepe fefellit Amor;
in thalamum Danae ferro saxoque perennem
quae fuerat virgo tradita, mater erat;
Penelope mansit, quamvis custode carebat,
inter tot iuvenes intemerata procos.
Quidquid servatur cupimus magis, ipsaque furem
cura vocat; pauci, quod sinit alter, amant.
90

We strive for what is forbidden and desire what is denied;
just as a sick man gazes over prohibited waters.
A hundred eyes before, a hundred behind, had
Argus—and these were often deceived only by Love;
in a chamber of eternal iron and rock Danae was shut,
though she had been shut in as a maid, she became a mother;
Penelope remained steadfast, although without a guard,
among many youthful suitors.
Whatever is guarded we desire the more, the thief
is invited by worry; few love what is permitted by another.

64Finally, the elegy ends with a bit of advice for old husbands—pretend, as Shakespeare will write, to believe her when she says “she is made of truth”, even though you know she lies. Pretend not to notice the dalliances, even the affairs, because unless you are willing to be rid of her, there is really nothing you can do about them:

  • 91 Ibid., 462, ll. 41–48.

quo tibi formosam, si non nisi casta placebat?
non possunt ullis ista coire modis.
Si sapis, indulge dominae vultusque severos
exue, nec rigidi iura tuere viri,
et cole quos dederit—multos dabit—uxor amicos.
gratia sic minimo magna labore venit;
sic poteris iuvenum convivia semper inire
et, quae non dederis, multa videre domi.
91

Why did you marry beauty if only chastity would please you?
Those two things can never be combined.
If you are wise, indulge your lady—and the stern looks?
Ditch them. Do not rigidly insist on the rights of a husband,
and cherish her very generous and loving… friends.
You will receive great thanks, with little effort on your part;
so in this way, you can always celebrate and feast with youths,
and see many gifts at home which you did not give.

65The last lines are a wry joke—those gifts the husband did not give to his much-younger wife may very well be gifts he can no longer give her: children resulting from sexual encounters with young men who can still “stand to” in a way that the husband has long since stopped being able to do.

  • 92 These laws proscribed class intermarriage, fornication/adultery, and celibacy, respectively. P. J. (...)
  • 93 Ibid., 431.

66Beyond pure social and sexual satire, the Amores are a work of pointed political critique. The passing of such laws as the Lex Iulia de Maritandis Ordinibus and the Lex Iulia de Adulteriis Coercendis (of 18 and 17 BCE) and the Lex Papia Poppaea (of 9 CE) represented an ongoing attempt to use the power of government to “reform Roman private morality”.92 Thus, more than merely claiming that the husband creates or encourages adultery in a wife over whom he keeps too strict a watch, the Amores make a political point we might characterize as libertarian today: the government encourages rebellion by being tyrannical. In such a reading of the Amores, Augustus is the cuckolded husband who foolishly creates the conditions and the impetus for his own cuckolding by trying to control what cannot be controlled—the social and sexual mores of his “wife”, the Roman people. Read in this way, Ovid’s poems can be seen as an allegory which describes the relationship between Augustus and Rome in the terms of relationships between men and women. But though they can be seen so, there are no powerful cultural forces that demand they must be seen so, and “[i]t is only in recent years, that Ovid’s Amores has come to be viewed as a political work”.93 The poetry itself, unlike that of the Song, has not been “channeled, reformulated, and controlled” to the point that its frankly erotic content has been subjected to wholesale interpretive erasure, and that is an unqualifiedly good thing. But the suggestion (not mandate) for reading the Amores in a political light makes it easier for us to see the way in which love itself is often “channeled, reformulated, and controlled” in order to serve the agendas of the powerful.

  • 94 Ibid., 443.

67In passing laws designed to regulate sexuality, Augustus is trying to establish a Julian dynasty that will survive the vicissitudes of time and unforeseen circumstance. Just as the early critics like Xenophanes, Akiba, and Origen seek to control the reading of eros-driven poetry, Augustus seeks to control eros itself. But like the husband of “Ad virum servantem coniugem”, he is trying to control the uncontrollable. Ovid even treats the myth of the founding of Rome, the story of Romulus and Remus, in a way designed to puncture the pretensions of an Augustus determined to control private behavior: “Ovid’s treatment of the Romulus and Remus legend is similarly disrespectful. Where Virgil chooses his language carefully and speaks of Ilia as merely ‘pregnant by Mars’ […], Ovid points to Romulus and Remus as the product of adultery”.94 As Ovid puts it:

  • 95 Ovid. Amores. 462, ll. 37–40.

Rusticus est nimium, quem laedit adultera coniunx,
et notos mores non satis urbis habet
in qua Martigenae non sunt sine crimine nati
Romulus Iliades Iliadesque Remus.95

He is a rustic fool, who hurts over an adulterous wife,
and he surely doesn’t know the ways of
this city,
in which the sons of Mars were not born without crime,
Romulus, and Remus, Ilia’s twins.

  • 96 The Lex Papia Poppaea targeted both celibate people and childless couples.

68To all the self-important men and women of the world who would legislate private morality, who would pass laws about who can do what to whom, with whom, under what circumstances, in what positions, and with what ends in mind,96 Ovid’s Amores say: Oh please, get over yourselves. In Ovid, we see love being both celebrated for its own sake and for its subversive potential as a private weapon against public tyranny.

  • 97 Peter White. “Ovid and the Augustan Mileau”. In Brill’s Companion to Ovid, ed. by Barbara Weiden Bo (...)

69This subversive potential is developed to extremes of sharpness and power in the Ars Amatoria, a work that “exudes urban hipness”,97 by identifying itself and its ethos with the cosmopolitan and imperial city of Rome. These are the poems of a sophisticated and experienced older man, a Pandar-like figure who tells a world full of young men how to find, approach, speak to, and seduce a world full of women, and in so doing, undermine the values of the Augustine state:

  • 98 Ovid. The Art of Love. Trans. by James Michie. Introduction by David Malouf (New York: Modern Libra (...)

The poem really is subversive—not in the challenge it offers to the new morality, or because it has the effrontery to claim for the lover the same “professional” status as the farmer, the soldier, the holder of high public office, but because it […] establishes the lover/poet as the emperor of an alternative and privately constituted state.98

  • 99 Karl-J. Hölkeskamp. Reconstructing the Roman Republic: An Ancient Political Culture and Modern Rese (...)

70One can see why the Augustus, who was busily trying to clean up Roman morality, restore the wholly imaginary mos maiorum99 (the good old ways of the good old days), and channel Roman sexuality into childbirth and the maintenance of social class distinctions, would find offense in a poem that valued the private over the public, the lover over the warrior, the poet over the emperor.

  • 100 Sergio Casali. “The Art of Making Oneself Hated: Rethinking (Anti-)Augustanism in Ovid’s Ars Amator (...)

71Subversive notes begin playing almost as soon as the poetry starts. The Ars Amatoria is “a book that, proposing to teach Romans how to love and be loved, in fact achieved the result of winning for its author the implacable hatred of the most important Roman of all”, and is a major part of “Ovid’s project of constructing his poetic career as a constant pain in Augustus’ neck”.100 It isn’t hard to see why, when Ovid’s critique of Rome’s self-mythologizing is so often front and center in his work. For example, while recommending that young men look for women in the theatre, Ovid compares the founding of Rome with rape and the (im)morality of a military empire:

  • 101 Ovid. Ars Amatoria, 1.101–10, 114–16, 127–32. In Ovid: The Art of Love and other Poems, ed. by J. H (...)

Primus sollicitos fecisti, Romule, ludos,
Cum iuvit viduos rapta Sabina viros.
Tunc neque marmoreo pendebant vela theatro,
Nec fuerant liquido pulpita rubra croco;
Illic quas tulerant nemorosa Palatia, frondes
Simpliciter positae, scena sine arte fuit;
In gradibus sedit populus de caespite factis,
Qualibet hirsutas fronde tegente comas.
Respiciunt, oculisque notant sibi quisque puellam
Quam velit, et tacito pectore multa movent.
[…]
Rex populo praedae signa petita dedit.
Protinus exiliunt, animum clamore fatentes,
Virginibus cupidas iniciuntque manus.
[…]
Siqua repugnarat nimium comitemque negabat,
Sublatam cupido vir tulit ipse sinu,
Atque ita “quid teneros lacrimis corrumpis ocellos?
Quod matri pater est, hoc tibi” dixit “ero”.
Romule, militibus scisti dare commoda solus:
Haec mihi si dederis commoda, miles ero.101

You first instituted these games, Romulus,
when the single men profited by raping the Sabine women.
Back then no awnings hung over a marble theatre,
nor was the platform stained with red saffron;
there artless and thick Palatine branches
were simply placed, while the stage was unadorned;
the audience sat on steps made from turf,
the branches covering their shaggy hair.
Each cast his eyes around, noting the girls
he wanted, and was deeply stirred in his silent heart.
[…]
The king gave the signal for the rape.
Immediately they burst forth, shouting, betraying their
virgins with greedy, lustful hands.

[…]
If a girl resisted too much, or refused her companion,
lifted up on his lustful bosom, the man carried her,
saying, “And what’s that ruining your eyes with tears?
What your father was to your mother, that will I be to you”.
Romulus, only you knew what was fitting:
if you give me such advantages, I will be a soldier too.

72The rape, or abduction (from the Latin raptio) of the Sabine women, is a well-known element of early Roman legend. As Livy tells the story:

  • 102 Iam res Romana adeo erat valida ut cuilibet finitimarum civitatum bello par esset; sed penuria muli (...)

The Roman State was now strong enough in war, a match for any of its neighbors; but the absence of women, and the lack of the right of intermarriage with their neighbors, meant their greatness would last for a generation only, for they had no hope of offspring. […] On the advice of the senate, Romulus sent envoys amongst the surrounding nations to ask for alliance and intermarriage on behalf of his new community. […] Nowhere did the embassy get a friendly hearing. […] Romulus, disguising his resentment, made elaborate preparations for the games in honor of equestrian Neptune, which he called Consualia. He ordered the spectacle proclaimed to the surrounding peoples, and the Romans began preparations, with every resource of their knowledge and ability, to celebrate, in order to create amongst the peoples a clear and eager expectation. […] When the time came for the show, when the peoples’ eyes and minds were together occupied, then the forceful attack arose. The signal was given for the young Romans to carry off the virgins. A great part of them were carried off indiscriminately, but some particularly beautiful girls were marked out for the prime leaders, to whose servants had been given the task to carry them to their houses.102

73Livy’s tale is one of a necessary action taken out of the need for self-preservation, because Rome’s “absence of women” meant its “greatness would last for a generation only”. Brutal and dishonest and wicked as it was, it had a recognizable motive. The way Ovid transforms the tale, however, it becomes an extension of the Consualia games, a game in its own right. The women are “pay” for soldiers and Romulus is praised for knowing how to treat military men properly. With such rewards, the poem’s narrator—a lover, not a fighter—would be willing to enlist right away. The journey from Livy’s earnestness to Ovid’s satire is a comment on how far Rome has fallen—what was once a republic is now an empire, a realm in which the emperor, far from being an establisher of new worlds, is the enforcer of people’s bedrooms.

74Later, Ovid continues the none-too-subtle undermining of Augustus, describing his vainglorious public re-staging of the naval battles between the Persians and Greeks as a fine place to seduce women:

  • 103 Ovid. Ars Amatoria, 1.171–76, 24.

Quid, modo cum belli navalis imagine Caesar
Persidas induxit Cecropiasque rates?
Nempe ab utroque mari iuvenes, ab utroque puellae
Venere, atque ingens orbis in Urbe fuit.
Quis non invenit turba, quod amaret, in illa?
Eheu, quam multos advena torsit amor!103

When Ceasar, in the manner of a naval battle,
brought on Persian and Cecropian vessels?
Of course, young men and girls came from both seas,
Venus, the mighty world was in our city.
Who did not find one they might love in that crowd?
Alas, how many were tortured by love!

  • 104 Richard A. Lanham. The Motives of Eloquence: Literary Rhetoric in the Renaissance (New Haven: Yale (...)
  • 105 Ibid.

75In ridiculing a mock battle by describing it as a seduction zone where foreign flames may burn the men who get too close to them, Ovid equates sex with conquest, and eros with war. From such a vantage point, an empire is a vast screwing over of the world, and its emperor the screwer in chief. The result of such accusatory descriptions was predictable: according to Lanham, “Ovid wanted to be honest and Augustus did not. No wonder Augustus banished him”.104 In a dictatorship, telling the truth can be, and often is, considered a subversive act, and “Ovid paid a political penalty for a political crime”.105

76In the final section of Book II, the sharp satire takes a new form, as “Ovid” becomes a character in the verse, and sets himself up as an alternative emperor whose name will be shouted throughout the world:

  • 106 Ibid., 2.739–40, 743–44, 116.

Me vatem celebrate, viri, mihi dicite laudes,
Cantetur toto nomen in orbe meum.
[…]
Sed quicumque meo superarit Amazona ferro,
Inscribat spoliis “Naso magister erat”.
106

Celebrate me as a poet, men, speak my praises,
let my name be known through all the world.
[…]
But whoever shall overcome an Amazon with my steel,
let him inscribe upon his spoils, “Ovid was my master”.

  • 107 Sharrock, 87.

77And why not? According to the incisive logic of the poem, why shouldn’t a poet be emperor of a world based on love, or at the very least desire? But critics have been in a rush to disapprove, as “‘excess’, ‘irrelevance’, ‘narcissism’, ‘self-indulgence’, [and] ‘vacuity’”, are “the standard accusations levelled against Ovid” and “Ovidian poetry”107 more generally. It is nearly impossible to support such a reading of the poet or his poetry when both are returned to the context of an imperial dictatorship, but that doesn’t stop critics from trying:

  • 108 Ibid., 3.

The judgements of two influential critics may be taken as representative of the long and dominant tradition in Ovidian scholarship, which, although it has been challenged in recent years, remains the orthodoxy. Wilkinson says of Ovid’s didactic poetry: “Quite apart from the sameness of tone, there is too much crambe repetita. Surely we have heard before, and more than once, of lovers communicating by writing on the table in wine, exchanging glances and signs, drinking from the side of the cup where the other has drunk, and touching hands” (Wilkinson 1955: 143). This view is echoed by Otis (1966: 18): “so many of the same themes [as in the Amores] are repeated and so often repeated in a much less striking way”. According to this view, the Ars is rather a heavy reworking of the well known topoi of Latin love elegy.108

  • 109 Percy Shelley. “A Defence of Poetry”. In Essays, Letters From Abroad, Vol. 1 (London: Edward Moxon, (...)
  • 110 Casali, “The Art of Making Oneself Hated”, 221.

78To paraphrase the preacher of Nazareth, “the poor [in poetic spirit] we will always have with us”. Despite those critics determined to diminish Ovid, his poems, even at their lightest-seeming, have a serious question to ask: why? Why must life be dominated by the Augustus Caesars of the world—who command with soldiers and laws, who banish their own daughters and granddaughters for adultery, and exile one of the finest poets in the history of the world for carmen et error, a poem and a mistake—rather than be gifted to us in all its imaginative possibility by the Ovids and Shakespeares and Shelleys? Why should not poets, the “unacknowledged legislators of the world”,109 be celebrated instead of emperors, soldiers, and all those who use the power of the sword and the state to forbid the actions and pursuits that bring men and women joy? Though Ovid died in exile far from Rome, his influence, his ideas, his words, even his jokes have survived the millennia in ways that Augustus, despite his power and the legions at his disposal, has not. The great man who would both rule the world and banish its adulterers from his sight, has himself been banished by death, while the poet of love and seduction, sly satire and disrespect for the rules, lives on in his verses, and in the works of countless other poets and writers who have been influenced by him. Ovid “attacks unnamed detractors, censors, thunderbolt-hurlers, who look suspiciously like Augustus”,110 the political moralists who condemn, and the academic critics who dismiss a body of poetic work that celebrates love and desire against the pinched and pursed-lipped claims of law and authority. Power and Law may have banished Ovid, but the poet of Love and Laughter has long since had the last word.

III. Love or Obedience in Virgil: Aeneas and Dido

79From laughter we come to tragedy, from joy to tears. For in the Aeneid’s story of Aeneas and Dido, readers encounter one of the best and worst love stories the ancient world has to offer. Faced with the choice of human love, or divine will, Dido chooses love, while Aeneas—the epic’s hero in the most unfortunate sense of the term—chooses as the tamers of the Song of Songs would have readers choose, and as Augustus would have Rome choose. Pius Aeneas chooses obedience to the will and law of the gods, and Dido is destroyed.

80Having escaped from burning Troy, Aeneas and his brave but bedraggled followers have landed at Carthage, on the North African coast. In part, the story of Aeneas’ devastation of Dido is a poeticizing of the military relations between Rome and Carthage in a later era, when after many battles, Carthage is razed to the ground by Rome, never to rise again. But in the time of the Aeneid, such conflict is a thousand years in the future: Carthage is rising, founded by exiles from Tyre who fled violence and bloodshed at home. Aeneas, an exile from the Trojan war, is in need of mercy. Dido gives it. Perhaps she shouldn’t have.

  • 111 David Shotter. Rome and Her Empire (New York: Routledge, 2014), 218.
  • 112 There is, in Virgil’s portrayal of Aeneas, very little of the spirit with which he had once infused (...)
  • 113 “O patria, o divum domus Ilium” 2.241. All references are from The Aeneid. In Virgil, 2 vols, ed. b (...)

81Aeneas is the perfect hero for an empire busy tightening its grip at home while seeking to expand its reach abroad. The Aeneid is written during the early, expansionist portion of Augustus’ time as emperor, approximately 29–19 BCE, when “campaigning was virtually continuous in western and southern Europe”.111 Unlike the later Ovid, who ridicules the puritanism of Augustus, Virgil flatters the emperor by creating a proto-Roman hero whose prime virtue is obedience.112 Aeneas is not passionless, at least where love and sex are concerned, but he prefers to direct his strength, his emotions, his eros toward mourning for the loss of Troy and founding a new city for his descendants and those of the men who follow him. His cry, “Oh fatherland! Troy, home of the gods!”113 has far more passion and pathos than does his recounting of the loss of his wife in the final battle at Troy. Escaping with his family, Aeneas sees to the safety of his father and son, but leaves his wife, Creusa, vulnerable:

  • 114 Ibid., 2.707–11.

ergo age, care pater, cervici imponere nostrae;
ipse subibo umeris nec me labor iste gravabit;
quo res cumque cadent, unum et commune periclum,
una salus ambobus erit. mihi parvus Iulus
sit comes, et longe servet vestigia coniunx.
114

Come then, dear father, upon my neck;
this task will not be too heavy for my shoulders;
However things may fall, we two have one common peril,
and we will have one salvation. My little Iulus
come with me, and at a distance let my wife follow our steps.

82Having his wife follow at a distance leads to the predictable result; Creusa is lost in the battle, killed by the Greeks:

  • 115 Ibid., 2.738–44.

heu misero coniunx fatone erepta Creusa
substitit, erravitne via seu lapsa resedit,
incertum; nec post oculis est reddita nostris.
nec prius amissam respexi animumue reflexi
quam tumulum antiquae Cereris sedemque sacratam
venimus: hic demum collectis omnibus una
defuit, et comites natumque virumque fefellit.
115

Ah, wretched fate snatched Creusa.
Did she stop for a while, lose the way, or slip and fall back?
I am not certain; nor afterwards was she returned to our eyes.
Neither did I turn my mind or thought toward my lost one
until to the ancient Ceres’ hallowed home
we came; when all were gathered, she alone
was absent, lost to her son and her husband.

  • 116 “quaerenti et tectis urbis sine fine furenti” (ibid., 2.771).

83He does not lack emotion when describing her loss, even claiming that he went back into the battle zone trying to find her, crying out her name as he “rushed furiously and endlessly from house to house through the city”.116 However, the telling detail is that during the initial escape, he never gave her any thought, and only realized that his wife was missing after he had brought father and son to safety.

  • 117 σὴν ἄλοχον, τῆς τ᾽ αἰὲν ἐέλδεαι ἤματα πάντα” (Homer. Odyssey, 5.210. Vol. I: Books 1–12, ed. by A. (...)
  • 118 ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ᾿ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ᾿ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο ·/ κλαῖε δ᾿ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κεδνὰ ἰδυῖαν” (Ho (...)
  • 119 Jean H. Hagstrum. Esteem Enlivened by Desire: The Couple from Homer to Shakespeare (Chicago: Univer (...)

84Aeneas is no Odysseus. Odysseus, even amid his serial philandering and flirting with witches, goddesses, and the daughters of kings, still longs to be reunited with Penelope, whom the goddess Calypso describes as “your wife, she that you ever long for daily, in every way”,117 and for whom “he cried out, still calling forth tears, / Crying as he held his beloved, trustworthy, and strong-minded wife”.118 It appears the feelings were mutual. From Penelope’s point of view, theirs was a reunion of joy and passion: “Hers and her husband’s tears mingle, her knees melt (that sure sign of Aphrodite’s presence), [and] she proceeds formally to their bed with him, led by a maid with torches, as though to renew the days of their beginnings”.119 But far from pining for his wife, Aeneas can barely be bothered to remember her even as they are trying to escape from burning Troy. Later, he gives her no more thought while falling in “love” (or lust) with Dido than he gives Dido after issuing the orders to sail away from Carthage.

Image 100000000000015E0000016E98EA7B29.jpg

Dido and Aeneas. Ancient Roman fresco (10 BC–45 AC). Pompeii, Italy.120

  • 121 Hamlet, 5.2.60–61.

85The love story between the two is mostly one-sided, primarily on Dido’s part. The deck is strangely stacked against her, as well. She falls in love unwillingly, forced by the gods to play the role that will destroy her, despite the fact that Juno regards Dido as dying an undeserved death. The gods—as is their usual course in Homer, Virgil, and most Greek and Roman mythology—play with human beings like chess pieces on a grand game board. Dido’s passion comes over her against her will as part of an ongoing struggle between Juno and Venus that dates all the way back to the famous judgment of Paris, that Venus was more beautiful than Juno. Dido is not a tragic figure in the later Senecan model, whose wounds are often self-inflicted. No, Dido, like so many tragic figures from the earlier Greek tradition of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, is made a victim by the gods as they play out their petty rivalries on the human stage, with mortals as their unwitting proxies. Dido is caught, as Hamlet would say, between “the pass and fell incensed points / Of mighty opposites”:121 Juno, who opposed Troy and opposes the founding of Rome, and Venus, who aids her son Aeneas wherever and whenever possible. Venus sends Cupid, in the guise of Aeneas’ son, to pierce Dido’s heart with the first fatal pangs of love for Aeneas:

  • 122 The Aeneid, 1.683–88.

Tu faciem illius noctem non amplius unam
falle dolo, et notos pueri puer indue voltus,
ut, cum te gremio accipiet laetissima Dido
regalis inter mensas laticemque Lyaeum,
cum dabit amplexus atque oscula dulcia figet,
occultum inspires ignem fallasque veneno.
122

Do you, just for this one night,
imitate his form, and boy as you are, take his familiar face,
so that, when Dido takes you into her lap
amidst the royal tables and flowing wine,
and she embraces you and kisses you sweetly,
breathe into her a hidden fire and secretly poison her.

86The famous night that Aeneas and Dido spend in a cave while taking shelter from a rainstorm, the night of their first lovemaking, is arranged as a trap by the dueling goddesses, Juno and Venus. As Juno designs it:

  • 123 Ibid., 4.117–27.

venatum Aeneas unaque miserrima Dido
in nemus ire parant, ubi primos crastinus ortus
extulerit Titan radiisque retexerit orbem.
his ego nigrantem commixta grandine nimbum,
dum trepidant alae saltusque indagine cingunt,
desuper infundam et tonitru caelum omne ciebo.
diffugient comites et nocte tegentur opaca:
speluncam Dido dux et Troianus eandem
devenient. adero et, tua si mihi certa voluntas,
conubio iungam stabili propriamque dicabo.
hic hymenaeus erit.
123

Aeneas and unhappy Dido, as one
prepare to go hunting in the woods, where the first risings
Of brilliant Titan will have raised his rays, lighting the world.
I shall pour on them a black storm mixed with hail,
whilst the hunters run back and forth with their nets,
from above I will shake the whole sky with thunder.

The comrades will scatter and be covered with opaque night:
into a cave will Dido and the Trojan chief
vanish. I will be present, and, if your will is firm,
in a stable and proper marriage and wedlock,
this will be a wedding.

  • 124 “Libyae magnas it Fama per urbes” (ibid., 4.173).

87Once word spreads of the love affair, as “Rumor runs through Libya’s great cities”,124 the common people, King Iarbus (long a suitor for Dido’s love), and the poem itself turn against the idea of the “marriage” into which Juno has bound the pair. The people’s talk turns sour and critical, turning the night in the cave into something sordid and “shameful”:

  • 125 Ibid., 4.191–95.

venisse Aenean Troiano sanguine cretum,
cui se pulchra viro dignetur iungere Dido;
nunc hiemem inter se luxu, quam longa, fovere
regnorum immemores turpique cupidine captos.
haec passim dea foeda virum diffundit in ora.
125

Aeneas is come, born of Trojan blood,
with whom in marriage fair Dido deigns to join;
now, between them, in luxury they waste the length of winter,
reigning heedlessly, enthralled by shameful desire.
These tales the foul goddess spreads through men’s mouths.

  • 126 “regnum Italae Romanaque” (ibid., 4.275).
  • 127 “ardet abire fuga dulcisque relinquere terras” (ibid., 4.348).
  • 128 “heu quid agat? quo nunc reginam ambire furentem / audeat adfatu? quae prima exordia sumat?” (ibid. (...)

88Soon enough (too soon, from Dido’s perspective), Jove orders Aeneas to leave Carthage and sail across the Mediterranean in search of the shores where he will lay the foundations for the “kingdom of Italy and Rome”.126 Immediately, Aeneas “burns to depart in flight, and relinquish that pleasant land”,127 strategizing not how to leave, but how to make his excuses to Dido: “Ah, what could he do? What can he dare say now to the furious queen/to pacify her? What opening speech could he use?”128 Aeneas is more concerned with how to manipulate Dido into approving of his sudden plan than he is with the effect his leaving will have on her. As with Creusa, he never looks back, and she does not cross his mind, except as an immovable anchor he must cut loose and pull away from. The confrontation between them is heartbreaking and baffling to Dido, but merely embarrassing for Aeneas, whose eyes are now solely fixed on his dearly-beloved gods as he seeks to navigate the awkward final moments of his time with yet another woman he will leave behind on his journey. Dido begs him, uselessly, not to go:

  • 129 Ibid., 4.314–19.

mene fugis? per ego has lacrimas dextramque tuam te
(quando aliud mihi iam miserae nihil ipsa reliqui),
per conubia nostra, per inceptos hymenaeos,
si bene quid de te merui, fuit aut tibi quicquam
dulce meum, miserere domus labentis et istam,
oro, si quis adhuc precibus locus, exue mentem.
129

You’re running from me? By these tears and by your hand,
(since there is nothing else for my miserable self),
through our marriage, by the way our wedding took place,
if I have deserved well of you, or if there was anything
sweet about me, have mercy on a falling house, and yet,
I pray you, if there is room for prayers, change your mind.

89But Aeneas, possessed by an immovable determination to obey the very gods who have so long betrayed him and his beloved Troy, gives an answer that sounds like little more than the It’s not you, it’s me cliché of innumerable modern breakup scenes:

  • 130 Ibid., 4.333–37, 345–47, 359–60.

ego te, quae plurima fando
enumerare vales, numquam, regina, negabo
promeritam, nec me meminisse pigebit Elissae
dum memor ipse mei, dum spiritus hos regit artus.
[…]
sed nunc Italiam magnam Gryneus Apollo,
Italiam Lyciae iussere capessere sortes;
hic amor, haec patria est.
[…]
desine meque tuis incendere teque querelis;
Italiam non sponte sequor.
130

I will, because of many things which
you are able to recount, never, queen, deny that you
are deserving, nor shall I regret my memory of Dido
while I am mindful of myself, while breath reigns in this body.
[…]
But now of great Italy has Grynean Apollo spoken,
Italy, his Lycian lots order me to take hold of;
this must be my love, this my fatherland.
[…]
Stop inflaming both of us with your complaints;
I do not go to Italy of my own free will.

  • 131 “nec coniugis umquam/praetendi taedas aut haec in foedera veni” (ibid., 4.422–23).

90Virgil works especially hard here to make Aeneas sympathetic, despite the fact that such a move comes at the cost of making him seem weak and dishonest, denying the fact that he chooses to obey power—as he once did with Priam, and as he now does with Jove. He is at pains to deny that his relationship with Dido is a marriage—“I never held out the conjugal torch, / nor ever pretended to such a contract”131—despite the fact that Juno calls it a marriage from the very beginning. Virgil is so eager to excuse Aeneas, in fact, that his poem blames Dido for impropriety in getting involved in a relationship arranged by the gods who call the action “marriage” (this, in a Rome in which Augustus Caesar is legislating private relationships):

  • 132 Ibid., 4.166–72.

pronuba Iuno
dant signum; fulsere ignes et conscius aether
conubiis summoque ulularunt vertice Nymphae.
ille dies primus leti primusque malorum
causa fuit; neque enim specie famave movetur
nec iam furtivum Dido meditatur amorem:
coniugium vocat, hoc praetexit nomine culpam.
132

Nuptial Juno
gave the signal; fires flashed in the heavens
witnessing the marriage, as Nymphs howl from the peaks.
That day was the first of death and evil,
the cause of woe; no longer does reputation concern her,
nor does Dido dream of a secret love:
she calls it marriage, and in this name covers her guilt.

91Any guilt that Dido feels may come from her feeling that she has somehow betrayed the memory of Sychaeus, her long-dead husband, by falling in love with Aeneas:

  • 133 Ibid., 4.23–24, 27.

agnosco veteris vestigia flammae.
sed mihi vel tellus optem prius ima dehiscat
[…]
ante, pudor, quam te violo aut tua iura resolvo.
133

I recognize the vestiges of the old flame.
But may the earth open for me to its depths
[…]
before, Shame, I violate you or break your law.

92But guilt aside, it is not only Dido that calls the relationship between herself and Aeneas a marriage. In this case, Aeneas, always so ready to align himself with the will of the gods, denies what the gods affirm. According to Macrobius (c. 400 CE), Virgil puts Dido into a completely untenable position, violently transforming a figure of legendary faithfulness into the passionate victim of love he portrays in the Aeneid:

  • 134 [Virgil] quidquid ubicumque invenit imitandum; adeo ut de Argonauticorum quarto, quorum scriptor es (...)

[Virgil] imitated whatever, and wherever he found; so that the fourth book of the Argonautica by Apollonius served as the model for his fourth book of the Aeneid, upon which he almost entirely formed the tale of Dido and Aeneas’ love on the wildly incontinent passion Medea bore for Jason. [Virgil] so elegantly arranged this that his account of a lustful Dido, which he and all the world knows is false, has for many centuries maintained the appearance of truth.134

  • 135 Marilynn Desmond. Reading Dido: Gender, Textuality, and Medieval Aeneid (Minneapolis: University of (...)
  • 136 Ibid.

93There is a split tradition about Dido, a pre-Virgilian tradition “that represents her only as a leader”135 and a post-Virgilian account in which she has been turned into a victim of passion. In the earlier tradition, “preserved among the fragments attributed to the Greek historian Timaeus of Tauromenium (ca. 356–260 BCE)” Dido is no one’s victim, but “is a heroic figure [whose] suicide is an act of defiance that testifies to the nobility of her nature”.136 In this story, Dido dies in order to avoid dishonor to herself and Carthage:

  • 137 Cum successu rerum florentes Karthaginis opes essent, rex Maxitanorum Hiarbas decem Poenorum princi (...)

With the success of the opulent wealth of Carthage, Hiarbas of the Maxitani summoned ten African leaders in order to claim [Dido] in marriage under threat of war. The deputies, fearing to report this to the queen of the Carthaginians, acted falsely towards her with the news that the king asked for and awaited one who could teach he and his and Africans together a more cultured life; but who could be found, who would wish to leave his relations and cross over to live among the barbarians and wild beasts? Then, castigated by the queen, in case they refused a hard life for the salvation of the rest of the country, to which, if necessary, their life itself was owed, they disclosed the king’s message, saying that she will have to act according to the precepts she gives to others, if she wishes to her city to have security. Taken by this deceit, in the name of Acerbas she called, for a long time and with many tears and piteous wailings. At last she replies that she will go where the fate of her city has summoned her. Taking three months, pyres were built in the outer quarter of the city, and many victims mounted and were consumed by the fires, as if she would placate the ghost of her husband, and make her offerings to him before the wedding; then with a sword she mounted the pyre, and looking at the people, said that she would go to her husband just as she was instructed, and ended her life with the sword.137

94Virgil also stacks the deck against Dido by portraying her, though her Tyrian roots and Carthaginian power, as a passionate and irrational Eastern woman, the very model of the Parthian threat that Rome faced on its Eastern frontiers, and a clear and contemporary reference to the all-too-recent troubles brought upon Rome by the dalliance between Augustus’ defeated rival Marc Antony and the Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra. She is cast as precisely the kind of “unstable” element (uncontrolled female desire) that Aeneas is supposedly well rid of, and that Augustus (in the persons of his daughter Julia, and his granddaughter Julia) will eventually banish from Rome. Her frenzied suicide is a far cry from the resigned calm of such Romans as Cato, who killed himself in a gesture designed to value liberty above life in the dying days of the Roman Republic:

  • 138 Catherine Edwards. Death in Ancient Rome (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 2.

The night before his death Cato is calm and discusses Stoic philosophy over dinner with his companions. […] Later that night he tries to kill himself with his own sword—but because his hand is injured, the blow is not quite powerful enough. His companions come to his rescue and his wound is sewn up by a surgeon. But such is Cato’s determination that he tears open the wound again with his bare hands […]. Cato’s bravery and determination in taking his own life brought him immediate glory.138

95Dido, on the other hand, is portrayed as wild, out of control, made insane with passion due to the poison of Cupid. First, she curses Aeneas, and calls for never-ending war between the people of Carthage and the future people of Rome:

  • 139 The Aeneid, 4.621–29.

haec precor, hanc vocem extremam cum sanguine fundo.
tum vos, o Tyrii, stirpem et genus omne futurum
exercete odiis, cinerique haec mittite nostro
munera. nullus amor populis nec foedera sunto.
exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor
qui face Dardanios ferroque sequare colonos,
nunc, olim, quocumque dabunt se tempore vires.
litora litoribus contraria, fluctibus undas
imprecor, arma armis: pugnent ipsique nepotesque.
139

This is my prayer, with these words I pour out my blood.
Then do you, O Tyrians, pursue his race, and his children
with hatred, and to my dust offer this
gift—let no love nor federation be between our peoples.
Rise from my ashes, unknown avenger
to fight with fire and sword the Dardan colonies,
now, hereafter, whenever we have the strength.
Let shore clash with shore, waves with waves clash.
This is my curse: endless war between us and their children.

96Then, climbing atop the burning pyre on which she will die, she cries out over the life she has lived, and bemoans the fate that brought Aeneas to the shores of Carthage:

  • 140 Ibid., 4.657–62.

‘felix, heu nimium felix, si litora tantum
numquam Dardaniae tetigissent nostra carinae’.
dixit, et os impressa toro ‘moriemur inultae,
sed moriamur’ait. ‘sic, sic iuvat ire sub umbras.
hauriat hunc oculis ignem crudelis ab alto
Dardanus, et nostrae secum ferat omina mortis’.
140

“I had been happy, indeed too happy, if only the
Trojan ships had never touched our shores”.
She spoke, face pressed on the bed: “We die unavenged,
but let us die. Thus, it pleases to go down to the shades.
May he drink this fire with his eyes, from far at sea, that cruel
Trojan, and carry with him omens of our death”.

97Dido’s fate, written by Virgil to glorify the authoritarian and imperial Rome of Augustus Caesar, is to die for love. Aeneas’ fate is to live in the annals of poetry as the ultimate symbol of those who choose obedience, and the gods, over passion. An entire tradition of later poetry takes Aeneas to task, including John Milton, who writes his Adam as the founder of a world (not merely a city) who chooses love over God. This tradition has its deepest roots in the poet who most admired Virgil’s skill, and most despised his politics: Ovid—whose more serious side is evident in his treatment of Dido, giving her a voice and a dignity that Virgil denied her.

IV. Love or Obedience in Ovid: Aeneas, Dido, and the Critics who Dismiss

  • 141 R. G. Austin. P. Vergili Maronis Aneidos Liber Quartos (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1955), 106.

98Dido is a character Ovid would (and does) sympathize with. Aeneas, the curiously dispassionate son of the goddess of love, and the unquestioningly obedient servant of power, is the character that Virgil would have readers admire. We are assured by some classical scholars that those of us who sympathize with Dido (finding Aeneas a combination of inexplicable and abhorrent) are simply wrong, because all Romans read the poem in favor of Aeneas: “His speech, though we may not like it, was the Roman answer to the conflict between two compelling forms of love, an answer such as a Roman Brutus once gave, when he executed his two sons for treason against Rome”.141 But what of Ovid? What of the many Roman readers who read, enjoyed, and admired Ovid’s verse? Were they not Romans as well? Despite Augustus, Rome was no more monolithic in its literary and political sympathies than had been Athens before it, or would be London after it.

99Ovid’s most famous treatment of the episode is quite short, but more in line with what might be expected from the author of the Amores than with the author of the Aeneid. His focus is on Dido, the pain she feels at the loss of Aeneas, and her death. Aeneas is given no more than a sidelong glance in the few lines Ovid spends on the story in his Metamorphoses:

  • 142 Ovid. Metamorphoses. 14.78–82 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1998), 332.

excipit Aenean illic animoque domoque
non bene discidium Phrygii latura mariti
Sidonis; inque pyra sacri sub imagine facta
incubuit ferro deceptaque decipit omnes.
142

Aeneas received there her heart and home,
but she could not abide parting from her Phrygian husband;
on a fire intended for sacred rites, she fell upon her sword,
deceiving all, as she had been deceived.

  • 143 Peter E. Knox. “The Heroides: Elegaic Voices”. In Brill’s Companion to Ovid, ed. by Barbara Weiden (...)
  • 144 Sharrock, 293.
  • 145 Richard Tarrant. “Ovid and Ancient Literary History”. In The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, ed. by Ph (...)

100Ovid’s treatment of the relationship, described as a marriage, takes on a more expansive and unqualifiedly pro-Dido tone in The Heroides, which appear to be “an early work, contemporary with the earliest Amores”.143 If so, the sensitivity displayed by a poet still in his twenties makes it hard to understand what those critics who regard Ovid as having “excessive desire for himself”144 are seeing when they read his work. Far from reflecting anything like narcissism, Ovid’s treatment of Dido “constitutes one of the earliest surviving reactions to the Aeneid, and one of the boldest [and most] scathing about Aeneas”.145

101A letter written from Dido’s point of view, Ovid’s Heroides 7, “Dido to Aeneas”, is one of the single most heart-wrenching things that ever came from his pen, and gives the lie to scholarly insistence that the Roman answer to Dido would have been the one Virgil gave to Aeneas. Ovid writes Dido as someone who sees Aeneas, sees through the pro-imperial Roman propaganda of the Augustan regime, and no more reads things the single right Roman way than Ovid does himself:

  • 146 Rebecca Armstrong. Ovid and His Love Poetry (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2005), 111.

In the Aeneid, Dido seems never quite able to accept that wandering has now become a fundamental part of Aeneas’ character. […] Ovid’s Dido, by contrast, can see that Aeneas is the kind of man who needs to keep moving, and who avoids facing up to the things he has done by simply leaving town. This Dido sees Aeneas as addicted to wandering, and doomed to the repetition of his mistakes.146

102Ovid’s Dido does not go wild with anger as does Virgil’s, does not call down curses, and make predictions of catastrophic future wars; she merely tells Aeneas, sadly, that he will never find another love like hers:

  • 147 Ovid. “Heroides VII: Dido to Aeneas”. In Ovid: Heroides and Amores, ed. by Grant Showerman, 34, ll. (...)

quando erit, ut condas instar Karthaginis urbem
et videas populos altus ab arce tuos?
omnia ut eveniant, nec di tua vota morentur,
unde tibi, quae te sic amet, uxor erit?
Uror ut inducto ceratae sulpure taedae,
ut pia fumosis addita tura rogis.
Aeneas oculis vigilantis semper inhaeret;
Aenean animo noxque diesque refert.
ille quidem male gratus et ad mea munera surdus
et quo, si non sim stulta, carere velim.
non tamen Aenean, quamvis male cogitat, odi,
sed queror infidum questaque peius amo.
147

When will you establish a city like Carthage,
and see the people from your own high citadel?
Should all take place exactly in the event as in your prayers,
where will you find the lover who loves as I do?
I burn, like waxen torches covered with sulfur,
as the pious incense placed upon a smoking altar.
Aeneas, to you my waking eyes were always drawn;
Aeneas lives in my heart both night and day.
But he is ungrateful, and spurns my gifts,
and were I not a fool, I would be rid of him.
Yet, however ill he thinks of me, I cannot hate him.
I complain of his faithlessness, but my love grows worse.

103Ovid also catches Aeneas’s odd remark about having not given his wife a single thought while helping his father and son escape the fires of Troy. He gives Dido a sharp, yet gentle response, far from the raving to which Virgil subjects her. In her Ovidian letter, she reproves Aeneas for his hypocrisy to his gods and to his previous wife:

  • 148 Ibid., 88, ll. 77–86.

quid puer Ascanius, quid di meruere Penates?
ignibus ereptos obruet unda deos?
sed neque fers tecum, nec, quae mihi, perfide, iactas,
presserunt umeros sacra paterque tuos.
omnia mentiris; neque enim tua fallere lingua
incipit a nobis, primaque plector ego:
si quaeras ubi sit formosi mater Iuli—
occidit a duro sola relicta viro!
148

What has little Ascanius done to deserve this fate?
Snatched from the fire only to be drowned in the waves?
No, neither are you bearing them with you, false boaster;
your shoulders neither bore the sacred relics, nor your father.
You lie about
everything; and I am not the first victim of your lies,
nor I am the first to suffer a blow from you:
do you ever ask, where Iulus’ mother is?
She died because her unfeeling husband left her behind!

104In remarking that she is not the first that Aeneas has abandoned, Dido makes it clear that she regards herself as his second left-behind wife, a critique that Ovid employs both here and in the Metamorphoses to reject Aeneas’Virgilian excuse that he had never married her. Finally, describing the form her death will take, Dido places the blame squarely on Aeneas:

  • 149 Ibid., 96, ll. 184–90.

scribimus, et gremio Troicus ensis adest;
perque genas lacrimae strictum labuntur in ensem,
qui iam pro lacrimis sanguine tinctus erit.
quam bene conveniunt fato tua munera nostro!
instruis impensa nostra sepulcra brevi.
nec mea nunc primum feriuntur pectora telo:
ille locus saevi vulnus amoris habet.
149

I write, and in my bosom the Trojan sword is here;
over my cheeks the tears run, onto the drawn sword,
which soon will be stained with blood rather than tears.
How fitting is your gift in my fateful hour!
You bring my death so cheaply.
Nor is now the first time my heart feels a weapon’s blow:
it already bears the cruel wounds of love.

105Ovid, unlike Virgil, doesn’t lift a finger to make readers sympathize with Aeneas. Quite the opposite—he portrays his abandonment of Dido as the betrayal of life as it is lived by ordinary human beings who are neither emperors, nor the epic heroes meant to justify them:

  • 150 John Watkins. The Specter of Dido: Spenser and Virgilian Epic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 19 (...)

Ovid transfers Dido’s story from an account of Rome’s imperial origins to a collection of letters written by classical heroines lamenting erotic betrayals. A more intimate, cyclical view of history as repeated instances of male treachery replaces Virgil’s portrait of it as a linear progress from Troy to Actium. From this feminine perspective, the crucial events are not the rise and fall of empires but the births, deaths, and love affairs of private individuals. By disregarding Aeneas’s public accomplishments, Ovid undermines the official justification for Dido’s abandonment. If Aeneas is a hero according to one account, he is a traitor according to the other.150

106It should come as no surprise, however, that among Ovid’s critics are those who would rather sympathize with Augustus, and his proxy figure Aeneas, than with Dido. Lancelot Patrick Wilkinson dismisses Dido in Heroides 7, and, in so doing, very neatly embodies a too-common condition among literary critics—the cultivated inability to respond emotionally to poetry (except, perhaps, with the impatience of a reader no longer able to respond other than as a literary-reference-detection machine):

  • 151 L. P. Wilkinson. Ovid Recalled (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1955), 93.

[T]he more Ovid tries to excel, the less he succeeds. The forced epigrams creak […]. We are not really convinced when Virgil’s Dido, exaggerating a curse that had come naturally in Homer, less naturally in Catullus, raves that Aeneas was the son of a Caucasian crag, nurtured by Hyrcanian tigresses; still less, when Ovid’s Dido attributes his origin to stone and mountain-oaks, wild beasts or, better still, the sea in storm as now it is. […] So it goes on, argument after weary argument, conceit after strained conceit (to our way of thinking), for close on to two hundred lines.151

107Here we have a glimpse inside the mind of a critic who, recounting “argument after weary argument”, is no longer able, or willing—so impressed is he by the Virgilian virtues of warfare and obedience—to respond to anything in poetry which is not immediately redolent of masculine blood and iron.

  • 152 Howard Jacobson. Ovid’s Heroidos (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 90.
  • 153 Ibid., 90.
  • 154 Ibid.

108Ovid was never the kind of poet an admirer of power and empire would find amenable, and such admiration is amply represented in the critical literature. For example, Howard Jacobson argues that “Ovid’s […] inability to separate out his personal feelings from the mythical situation is one reason why this poem fails”.152 Here a literary critic points to a poet and says that the poet’s “inability” to get beyond “personal feelings” is a reason for poetic failure. It is difficult to think of a more perfect illustration of the unbridgeable chasm that often seems to separate poetry and its critics. But more than his “feelings”, for Jacobson it is Ovid’s politics that represent his real failing: “Ovid was congenitally averse to the Vergilian world-view and quite unable to sympathize with a Weltenschauung that could exalt grand, abstract—not to mention divine—undertakings over simple individual, human and personal considerations”.153 This is an extraordinary argument, brutal in its frank dismissal of the value of individual human life: Ovid was wrong to the extent that he did not value empire over the individual heart; and so, too, are you. For Jacobson, Heroides 7 is merely an agon, a struggle of one poet with another, “Ovid waging war against Vergil”. Ovid, just as those who admire him, “is doomed to defeat from the start because of his incapacity and unwillingness to appreciate the Vergilian position”.154 Note the weasel word, appreciate. Not understand and reject: Ovid failed, as do readers for whom Ovid’s treatment of Dido is more appealing than Virgil’s, because of a failure to agree with and align with the obvious rightness of the imperial, the “grand, abstract [and] divine”, rather than the “individual, human and personal”.

  • 155 David Scott Wilson-Okamura. Virgil in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) (...)
  • 156 Linda S. Kauffman. Discourses of Desire: Gender, Genre, and Epistolary Fictions (Ithaca: Cornell Un (...)
  • 157 W. S. Anderson. “The Heroides”. In Ovid, ed. by J. W. Binns (London: Routledge, 1973), 60.
  • 158 Ibid., 61.

109But even critics not quite so imperially inclined find reason to dismiss Ovid’s Dido: for David Scott Wilson-Okamura, “[c]ompared with Virgil’s Dido, Ovid’s Dido (in Heroides 7) is a simplification. A mere victim, she is sad, but somehow not tragic—not tragic because not strong. We pity her more and care about her less”.155 For such critics, compared with the martial glories of Virgil’s Aeneas, and even the rage of Virgil’s Dido, the quiet, sad, but ultimately not-to-be-deceived understanding of Ovid’s Dido offers too little in the way of excitement or what is mistaken for strength. But Ovid’s Dido is much stronger than Virgil’s, for she sees what Aeneas really is (and by extension, what Rome and its servants really are, what any empire and its servants, even its academic servants, really are). Such critics ignore a crucial point, since the “difference between Virgil’s Dido and Ovid’s illuminates the differences in style and politics between epic and epistle. […] In Ovid, national glory is irrelevant […]”.156 All too many (primarily male) literary critics condescendingly dismiss Dido in the fashion of W. S. Anderson, who writes of what he calls “a contrast between a heroic and a charming Dido”,157 then goes on rather back-handedly to credit Ovid for freeing Dido “from the grandeur and majesty Virgil sought” while giving her “arguments [that] tend to produce an impression of a charming, even coquettish woman of passion”.158 If you listen carefully there, you can hear the tsk tsk being delivered along with a pat on the head. But as so often, the critic says more about himself here than about the poet or the poem. Perhaps it is ever thus.

  • 159 Lanham, 63.
  • 160 Jacobson, 90, n. 26.
  • 161 den VII. Gesang der Heroides näher ins Auge zu fassen, den sogenannten Dido-Brief, der unserer Über (...)

110For Ovid, and for many of his readers, “[y]ou cannot leave Dido behind. She will not oblige by sacrificing the private life, the life of feelings, to the greater glory of Rome”.159 And yet, from a practical and political point of view, perhaps Ovid should have left her behind. Perhaps the poet erred in writing his Dido as he did. In all likelihood, it was at least partly Ovid’s own poetry, perhaps even his letter from Dido to Aeneas, that got him into trouble with the imperial dictator. It could well be that “Ovid’s version of an impius Aeneas predisposed Augustus against him and the Ars, was, as it were, the straw that broke the camel’s back”.160 I. K. Horváth tells readers “to take a closer look at Heroides 7, the so-called Dido-letter, which was, in our opinion, written largely to offend and annoy Augustus, and is usually dismissed with the simple statement that in Ovid, ‘Pius’ Aeneas is a ‘worthless liar’”.161

111If it is true that Ovid was making a deliberate jibe at Augustus and the Roman myth of Aeneas by writing from the point of view of a betrayed and abandoned Carthaginian queen, then we have in “Dido to Aeneas” a powerful example of love and its poetry standing up to power and saying “No”. In giving Aeneas no reply to Dido’s words, the poet of love, as opposed to imperial piety, throws his weight behind Dido. And so have countless readers and poets since.

Notes

1 Susan Sontag. Against Interpretation: And Other Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), 5–6. This kind of interpretation-through-alteration has reached the point of altering (or suggesting alterations to) texts. Such critical rewriting by those determined to save the reputations of poetry’s gods has been going on since the days of Aristotle, who mentions a figure named Hippias of Thasos (unknown to us) who sought to solve the “problem” of Zeus’ apparent dishonesty in Book Two of the Iliad, by “following prosody, as in Hippias of Thasos” “we grant to him that he achieve his prayer” (“κατὰ δὲ προσῳδίαν, ὥσπερ Ἱππίας ἔλυεν Θάσιος, τὸδίδομεν δέ οἱ εὖχος ἀρέσθαι”) (Poetics, 1461a, 22–23. In Aristotle: Poetics. Longinus: On the Sublime. Demetrius: On Style, ed. by Stephen Halliwell [Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995], 30). As Richard Janko explains it, “[i]t was thought offensive that Zeus deceives Agamemmnon, e. g. by Plato (Republic, II 383A). By altering the accent on “grant” (from “δίδομεν” to “διδόμεν”), Hippias tried to shift the blame for the deceit away from Zeus” (Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. by Richard Janko [Indiannapolis: Hackett, 1987], 149, n. 61a21).

2 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Song_of_songs_Rothschild_mahzor.jpg

3 Gerson Cohen. “The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality”. In Studies in the Variety of Rabbinic Cultures (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 13.

4 M. H. Segal. “The Song of Songs”. Vetus Testamentum, 12: 4 (October 1962), 477.

5 Ibid., 478.

6 Ibid., 481–82. The method and date of composition of the Song is a matter of ongoing controversy, and estimates vary from the 10th century BCE to the end of the 2nd century BCE. For a summation of the various positions, see Abraham Mariaselvam, The Song of Songs and Ancient Tamil Love Poems: Poetry and Symbolism (Rome: Editrice Pontificio Intituto Biblico, 1988), 43–44.

7 The only mention of the deity is embedded in the term Image 100000000000002E0000000FF1B16729.jpg (shalhevetyah) in 8:6, which literally translated is “Yahweh-flame”, but serves poetically as a way of intensifying the idea of flame— shalhevet—into the idea of a “colossal” or “roaring” flame, like a lightning strike.

8 Zhang Longxi. “The Letter or the Spirit: The Song of Songs, Allegoresis, and the Book of Poetry”. Comparative Literature, 39: 3 (Summer 1987), 194.

9 Origen composed a ten-book commentary on the Canticle of Canticles [the Song of Songs], conscious of the work of the great Rabbi Akibah and with the explicit intent of showing how the Song was of relevance to the Christian canon of the Bible. […] Origen continues the exegetical tradition of Akibah, who approached the love song allegorically.
John Anthony McGuckin. “The Scholarly Works of Origen”.
The Westminster Handbook to Origen, ed. by John Anthony McGuckin (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 31.

10 Ἐν τούτῳ δὲ τῆς κατηχήσεως ἐπὶ τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας τοὔργον ἐπιτελοῦντι τῷ Ὠριγένει πρᾶγμά τι πέπρακται φρενὸς μὲν ἀτελοῦς καὶ νεανικῆς, πίστεώς γε μὴν ὁμοῦ καὶ σωφροσύνης μέγιστον δεῖγμα περιέχον. τὸ γὰρεἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτοὺς διὰ τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶνἁπλούστερον καὶ νεανικώτερον ἐκλαβών, ὁμοῦ μὲν σωτήριον φωνὴν ἀποπληροῦν οἰόμενος, ὁμοῦ δὲ καὶ διὰ τὸ νέον τὴν ἡλικίαν ὄντα μὴ ἀνδράσι μόνον, καὶ γυναιξὶ δὲ τὰ θεῖα προσομιλεῖν, ὡς ἂν πᾶσαν τὴν παρὰ τοῖς ἀπίστοις αἰσχρᾶς διαβολῆς ὑπόνοιαν ἀποκλείσειεν, τὴν σωτήριον φωνὴν ἔργοις ἐπιτελέσαι ὡρμήθη.
Eusebius.
Ecclesiastical History, ed. by J. E. L. Oulton (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1932), 28.

11 Richard A. Layton differs, arguing that the literal sense is important, but only in support of the allegorical: Origen “pairs [his] allegorical reading with a pioneering literal interpretation of the Canticle. He interprets the lovers’ exchanges in the Song as a drama that unfolds in dialogue among four characters: the bride, the groom and their respective entourages. […] [T]he letter constitutes an indispensable and persistent experience in Origen’s reading of the Song” (Richard A. Layton. “Hearing Love’s Language: The Letter of the Text in Origen’s Commentary on the Song of Songs”. In The Reception and Interpretation of the Bible in Late Antiquity: Proceedings of the Montréal Colloquium in Honour of Charles Kannengiesser, 11–13 October 2006, ed. by Lorenzo DiTommaso and Lucian Turcescu [Leiden: Brill, 2008], 288).

12 Audire enim pure et castis auribus amoris nomina nesciens, ab interiore homine ad exteriorem et carnalem virum omnem deflectet auditum, et a spiritu convertetur ad carnem nutrietque in semet ipso concupiscentias carnales, et occasione divinae scripturae commoveri et incitari videbitur ad libendem carnis. Ob hoc ergo moneo, et consilium do omni qui nondum carnis et sanguinis molestiis caret, neque ab affectu materialis abscedit, ut a lectione libelli huius eorumque quae in eum dicentur penitus temperet.
Origen. Origene: Commentaire sur le Cantique des Cantiques. Vol. 1. Texte de la Version Latine de Rufin, ed. by Luc Bresard, Henri Crouzel, and Marcel Borret (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1991), 84.

13 Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) 1:2.

14 Ariel and Chana Bloch point out that the Hebrew Image 10000000000000130000000FEE11A175.jpg (dodeyka) though often translated as “your love”, should be more accurately rendered as “your lovemaking” in order to capture the sense of physical, sexual love that is being referred to in this verse, and in similar uses of the term in Prov. 7:18, Ezek. 16:8 and 23:17, as well as elsewhere in the Song of Songs 1:4, 4:10, 5:1, and 7:13 (The Song of Songs: A New Translation and Commentary [New York: Random House, 1995], 137).

15 Propter hoc ad te Patrem sponsi mei precem fundo et obsecro, ut tandem miseratus amorem meum mittas eum, ut iam non mihi per ministros suos angelos dumtaxat et prophetas loquatur, sed ipse per semet ipsum veniat et osculetur me ab osculis oris sui, verba scilicet in os meum sui oris infundat, ipsum audiam loquentem, ipsum videam docentem. Haec enim sunt Christi oscula quae porrexit ecclesiae, cum in adventu suo ipse praesens in carne positus locutus est ei verba fidei et caritas et pacis.
Origen, 180.

16 Ann W. Astell. The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 3.

17 Cohen, 6.

18 Hosea 1:2.

19 Ibid., 2:19–20.

20 Ibid., 2:9–10.

21 Nancy R. Bowen. “A Fairy Tale Wedding?” In A God So Near: Essays on Old Testament Theology in Honor of Patrick D. Miller, ed. by Patrick D. Miller, Brent A. Strawn, and Nancy R. Bowen (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003), 65.

22 Mark Golden. “Demography and the Exposure of Girls at Athens”. Phoenix, 35: 4 Winter 1981), 321.

23 Margaret L. King. “Children in Judaism and Christianity”. In The Routledge History of Childhood in the Western World, ed. by Paula S. Fass, 39–60 (New York: Routledge, 2013), 47.

24 Ezekiel 16:3–5.

25 Ronald E. Clements. Ezekiel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 74.

26 Ezekiel 16:6.

27 Ibid., 16:7.

28 Ibid., 16:8–12.

29 Ibid., 16:15, 36–37, 39–40.

30 Ibid., 16:42.

31 Ibid., 16:63.

32 Linda Day. “Rhetoric and Domestic Violence in Ezekiel 16”. Biblical Interpretation, 8: 3 (July 2000), 218, https://doi.org/10.1163/156851500750096327

33 Cohen, 12.

34 Isaiah 54:6–8.

35 Whereas in Hosea and Ezekiel there is no dialogue—the railed-upon woman gets no voice.

36 Cohen, 12.

37 Longxi, 207.

38 Cohen, 14. Emphasis added.

39 Song of Songs 5:2–6.

40 Chris Ray. Song of Solomon for Teenagers: And Anyone Else Who Wonders Why They Are Here (Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2010), 29.

41 Longxi, 195.

42 Macbeth 2.3.32. All quotations from the plays are from William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. by Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller (New York: Pelican, 2002).

43 Song of Songs 8:1–3.

44 Ibid., 7:11–13.

45 Weston Fields. “Early and Medieval Interpretation of the Song of Songs”, Grace Theological Journal, 1: 2 (Fall, 1980), 222, https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/gtj/01-2_221.pdf

46 The urge to allegorize the Song may well have developed in reaction to a changing imperial atmosphere, in light of a series of laws, penalties, and taxation measures designed to control the whos, whats, whys, and hows of marriage and sexuality (laws the poet Ovid seems to have been punished for violating).

47 Longxi, 194.

48 Benjamin Edidin Scolnic. “Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?” Conservative Judaism, 48: 4 (1996), 55, https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/jewish-law/holidays/pesah/why-do-we-sing-the-song-ofsongs-on-passover.pdf

49 Tractate Sanhedrin. In Hebrew English Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, ed. by Rabbi Isidore Epstein (London: Socino Press, 1969), 37a.

50 Ibid., 101a.

51 Sara Japhet. “Rashi’s Commentary on the Song of Songs: The Revolution of the Peshat and its Aftermath”. In J. Männchen and T. Reiprich, eds. Mein Haus wird ein Bethaus für alle Völker genannt werden. Festschrift für Thomas Wille sum 75. Gerburgstag (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 2007), 202.

52 Rashi’s commentary is quoted here from the Tractate Sanhedrin (101a), Part VII, Vol. 21. In The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition, ed. by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (New York: Random House, 1999), 52–53. As is traditional, Steinsaltz uses the semicursive Rashi script, rather than the more familiar square or block Hebrew script, to reproduce Rashi’s commentary.

53 Edward L. Greenstein suggests that the “plain” meaning is often actually much more complex than the allegorical meaning. In arguing for historical context as a crucial element of Rashi’s peshat method of reading, Greenstein makes Rashi sound like an early ancestor of today’s historicists:
Most secondary literature on Jewish exegesis defines peshat as the “simple”, “plain”, or “literal” approach, but these terms are misleading. The historical meaning of the biblical text may actually be complex and figurative, neither simple nor straightforward. […] The peshat method, therefore, should perhaps be glossed in English as the direct, contextual mode of exegesis, not “plain” or “literal”, which it often is not. The derash method is the acontextual approach because it disregards the constrictions of the historical, literary and linguistic condition in which the text first came to us.
Edward L. Greenstein. “Medieval Bible Commentaries”. In Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, ed. by Barry W. Holtz (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 219, 220.

54 Mikraot Gedolot: Torah with Forty-Two Commentaries (Image 10000000000000DB0000000FD5D12877.jpgImage 10000000000000930000000F890DE81E.jpg), Vol. 3 (The Widow and Brothers Ram: Truskavets/Glukhov, Ukraine, 1907), 418, https://books.google.com/books?id=fEUpAAAAYAAJ. Also in Mikraot Gedolot (Image 10000000000000540000000FED752BAF.jpg), Vol. 4, ed. by Yaakov ben Hayyim. Printed by Daniel Bomberg (Venice, 1524), 130r, https://archive.org/stream/The_Second_Rabbinic_Bible_Vol_4/4#page/n261. Further discussed in Yehoshafat Nevo. French Biblical Interpretation: Studies in the Interpretive Methods of the Bible Commentators in Northern France in the Middle Ages (Image 10000000000001540000000FC78AF12A.jpgImage 10000000000000640000000FB40FD956.jpg) (Reḥovot: Moreshet Yaʻaḳov, 2004), 274.

55 Japhet, 202.

56 Ibid., 211.

57 Ibid., 212.

58 Ibid., 214.

59 Ibid., 215.

60 “Dilectus mens misit manum suam per foramen, et venter meus intumuit ad tactum ejus, Quam visitationem gratiae, missionem manus per foramen vocat. Quasi enim per rimam gratiam infundit, cum non total animam perfundit” (Richard of St. Victor. Exposition in Cantica Canticorum. In Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Latina, Vol. 196, ed. by Jacques-Paul Migne [Paris, 1855], col. 503c, https://archive.org/stream/patrologiaecurs104unkngoog#page/n271).

61 “Intentio principalis huius opis est exprimere mutua desideria inter sponsum & sponsam, sive inter christum & ecclesiam” (Giles of Rome. Librum Solomonis qui Cantica Canticorum Inscribitur Commentaria D. Aegidii Romani [Rome: Antonium Bladum, 1555], 2v, https://books.google.com/books?id=ZcjIK13ZCXAC&pg=PP4).

62 “Ita sponsus attraxit me: unde non volens vel valens resistere ei, (surrexi) a contemplatione, (ut aperirem dilecto meo) per praedicationem; et non solum aperui ei praedicando verbo, sed etiam praedicando exemplo. Ideo subditur, (manus meae,) idest, operationes meae, (stillaverunt myrrham,) idest carnis mortificationem” (ibid., 11v, https://books.google.com/books?id=ZcjIK13ZCXAC&pg=PP22).

63 Bart Vanden Auweele argues a different case, emphasizing the relatively recent academic voices that have challenged the secular reading of the Song of Songs:
As long as the Song was read and understood allegorically, it was regarded as one of the most important, most inspiring and most used books of Scripture. Strangely enough, from the emergence of modern exegesis onwards, the poem fell gradually into a kind of oblivion as its obvious meaning became recognised. In the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, the Song was scarcely read in Church and at university. […] Moreover, modern exegetes approached the Song as a collection of diverse short erotic poems instead of being a coherent story with a well-constructed plot. […] In recent years, however, the possibility and legitimacy of a reading of the Song according to its so-called “obvious and literal meaning” has been challenged. Modern interpreters such as Ricoeur, Patmore and Berder have criticised secular erotic readings of the Canticle for representing modern reader expectations rather than expressing a genuine biblical view on sexuality.
Bart Vanden Auweele. “The Song of Songs as Normative Text”. In
Religion and Normativity Vol. 1: The Discursive Struggle over Religious Texts in Antiquity, ed. by Anders-Christian Jacobson, Bart Vanden Auweele, and Carmen Cvetkovic [Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2009], 158). The irony is that Auweele’s case is based on critics whose techniques stem from the interpretive strategies of those who reduced the Song to allegory in the first place. What exactly is “a genuine biblical view on sexuality” if the Song is not allowed to speak for itself on that matter? Here, we have a circular argument which insists that the Song is properly read as expressing a “genuine biblical view”, while that “view” is imposed on the text by critics. The Bible says what we say it says (a statement to which the Inquisition would have been amenable).

64 For an excellent overview of this process, see J. Paul Tanner, “The History of Interpretation of the Song of Songs”, Bibliotheca Sacra, 154: 613 (1997), 23–46, https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_song1_tanner.html, or http://www.paultanner.org/EnglishHTML/PublArticles/HistSongofSongs-PTanner.pdf

65 Longxi, 207.

66 G. P. Goold. “The Cause of Ovid’s Exile”. Illinois Classical Studies, 8: 1 (Spring 1983), 96, http://hdl.handle.net/2142/11861

67 Ibid.

68 Ovid. Amores 1.4. In Ovid: Heroides and Amores, ed. by Grant Showerman (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958), 328, ll. 1–4.

69 Ibid., 328, 330, ll. 13–26.

70 Ibid., 330, ll. 43–46.

71 Ibid., 332, ll. 69–70.

72 Amores 1.5, 334, ll. 9–12.

73 Ibid., ll. 13–24.

74 Ibid., ll. 25–26.

75 See John C. Thibault. The Mystery of Ovid’s Exile (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), 38–54.

76 Goold, 107.

77 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ovid_Ars_Amatoria_1644.jpg

78 Peter Allen. The Art of Love: Amatory Fiction from Ovid to the Romance of the Rose (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), 20.

79 Ibid.

80 Allen, 21.

81 Ibid.

82 Alison Sharrock. Seduction and Repetition in Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 296.

83 Barbara Weiden Boyd. “The Amores: The Invention of Ovid”. In Brill’s Companion to Ovid, ed. by Barbara Weiden Boyd (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 116.

84 The Lex Iulia de Maritandis Ordinibus of 18 BCE restricted marriage between the social classes, and the Lex Iulia de Adulteriis Coercendis of the same year made adultery punishable by banishment—the latter was applied to Julia in 2 BCE.

85 For a comprehensive survey of this theme across world literature, see Eos: An Enquiry into the Theme of Lover’s Meetings and Partings at Dawn in Poetry, ed. by Arthur T. Hatto (The Hague: Mouton & Co.), 1965.

86 Ovid. Amores, 1.13, 368, ll. 3–9.

87 Ibid., 370, ll. 27–30.

88 Ibid., ll. 35–41.

89 Ovid. Amores, 3.4, 458, 460, ll. 1–8.

90 Ibid., 460, ll. 17–26.

91 Ibid., 462, ll. 41–48.

92 These laws proscribed class intermarriage, fornication/adultery, and celibacy, respectively. P. J. Davis. “Ovid’s Amores: A Political Reading”. Classical Philology, 94: 4 (October 1999), 435, https://doi.org/10.1086/449457

93 Ibid., 431.

94 Ibid., 443.

95 Ovid. Amores. 462, ll. 37–40.

96 The Lex Papia Poppaea targeted both celibate people and childless couples.

97 Peter White. “Ovid and the Augustan Mileau”. In Brill’s Companion to Ovid, ed. by Barbara Weiden Boyd (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 12.

98 Ovid. The Art of Love. Trans. by James Michie. Introduction by David Malouf (New York: Modern Library, 2002), xii.

99 Karl-J. Hölkeskamp. Reconstructing the Roman Republic: An Ancient Political Culture and Modern Research (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 17.

100 Sergio Casali. “The Art of Making Oneself Hated: Rethinking (Anti-)Augustanism in Ovid’s Ars Amatoria”. In The Art of Love: Bimillennial Essays on Ovid’s Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris, ed. by Roy Gibson, Steven Green, and Alison Sharrock (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 216, 219.

101 Ovid. Ars Amatoria, 1.101–10, 114–16, 127–32. In Ovid: The Art of Love and other Poems, ed. by J. H. Mozley (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), 18, 20.

102 Iam res Romana adeo erat valida ut cuilibet finitimarum civitatum bello par esset; sed penuria mulierum hominis aetatem duratura magnitudo erat, quippe quibus nec domi spes prolis nec cum finitimis conubia essent. […] ex consilio patrum Romulus legatos circa vicinas gentes misit, qui societatem conubiumque novo populo peterent. […] nusquam benigne legatio audita est. […] Romulus, aegritudinem animi dissimulans ludos ex industria parat Neptuno equestri sollemnis; Consualia vocat. indici deinde finitimis spectaculum iubet, quantoque apparatu tum sciebant aut poterant, concelebrant, ut rem claram exspectatamque facerent. […] ubi spectaculi tempus venit deditaeque eo mentes cum oculis erant, tum ex composito orta vis, signoque dato iuventus Romana ad rapiendas virgines discurrit. magna pars forte, in quem quaeque inciderat, raptae: quasdam forma excellentes primoribus patrum destinatas ex plebe homines, quibus datum negotium erat, domos deferebant.
Livy. Titi Livi Ab vrbe condita libri praefatio, liber primvs, Vol. 1, ed. by H. J. Edwards (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912), 12–14, https://books.google.com/books?id=gsNEAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA12

103 Ovid. Ars Amatoria, 1.171–76, 24.

104 Richard A. Lanham. The Motives of Eloquence: Literary Rhetoric in the Renaissance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), 63.

105 Ibid.

106 Ibid., 2.739–40, 743–44, 116.

107 Sharrock, 87.

108 Ibid., 3.

109 Percy Shelley. “A Defence of Poetry”. In Essays, Letters From Abroad, Vol. 1 (London: Edward Moxon, 1852), 49, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89000649913;view=1up;seq=77

110 Casali, “The Art of Making Oneself Hated”, 221.

111 David Shotter. Rome and Her Empire (New York: Routledge, 2014), 218.

112 There is, in Virgil’s portrayal of Aeneas, very little of the spirit with which he had once infused his character Gallus (based on his contemporary and friend Gaius Cornelius Gallus), for whom “Love conquers all; and we must yield to love” (“Omnia vincit amor; et nos cedamus Amori”) (Eclogue 10.69. In Virgil, 2 vols, ed. by H. Rushton Fairclough [Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960], 74).

113 “O patria, o divum domus Ilium” 2.241. All references are from The Aeneid. In Virgil, 2 vols, ed. by H. Rushton Fairclough (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960).

114 Ibid., 2.707–11.

115 Ibid., 2.738–44.

116 “quaerenti et tectis urbis sine fine furenti” (ibid., 2.771).

117 σὴν ἄλοχον, τῆς τ᾽ αἰὲν ἐέλδεαι ἤματα πάντα” (Homer. Odyssey, 5.210. Vol. I: Books 1–12, ed. by A. T. Murray [Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1919]).

118 ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ᾿ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ᾿ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο ·/ κλαῖε δ᾿ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κεδνὰ ἰδυῖαν” (Homer. Odyssey, 23.231–32. Vol. II: Books 13–24, ed. by A. T. Murray).

119 Jean H. Hagstrum. Esteem Enlivened by Desire: The Couple from Homer to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 58.

120 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Affreschi_romani_-_Enea_e_didone_-_pompei.JPG

121 Hamlet, 5.2.60–61.

122 The Aeneid, 1.683–88.

123 Ibid., 4.117–27.

124 “Libyae magnas it Fama per urbes” (ibid., 4.173).

125 Ibid., 4.191–95.

126 “regnum Italae Romanaque” (ibid., 4.275).

127 “ardet abire fuga dulcisque relinquere terras” (ibid., 4.348).

128 “heu quid agat? quo nunc reginam ambire furentem / audeat adfatu? quae prima exordia sumat?” (ibid., 4.283–84).

129 Ibid., 4.314–19.

130 Ibid., 4.333–37, 345–47, 359–60.

131 “nec coniugis umquam/praetendi taedas aut haec in foedera veni” (ibid., 4.422–23).

132 Ibid., 4.166–72.

133 Ibid., 4.23–24, 27.

134 [Virgil] quidquid ubicumque invenit imitandum; adeo ut de Argonauticorum quarto, quorum scriptor est Apollonius, librum Aeneidos suae quartum totum paene formaverit, ad Didonem vel Aenean amatoriam incontinentiam Medeae circa Iasonem trasferendo. quod ita elegantius auctore digessit, ut fabula lascivientis Didonis, quam falsam novit universitas, per tot tamen saecula speciem veritatis.
Macrobius. Saturnalia, Books 3–5, ed. by Robert A. Kaster (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 408.

135 Marilynn Desmond. Reading Dido: Gender, Textuality, and Medieval Aeneid (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), 24.

136 Ibid.

137 Cum successu rerum florentes Karthaginis opes essent, rex Maxitanorum Hiarbas decem Poenorum principibus ad se arcessitis Elissae nuptias sub belli denuntiatione petit. Quod legati reginae referre metuentes Punico cum ea ingenio egerunt, nuntiantes regem aliquem poscere, qui cultiores victus eum Afrosque perdoceat; sed quem inveniri posse, qui ad barbaros et ferarum more viventes transire a consanguineis velit? Tunc a regina castigati, si pro salute patriae asperiorem vitam recusarent, cui etiam ipsa vita, si res exigat, debeatur, regis mandata aperuere, dicentes quae praecipiat aliis, ipsi facienda esse, si velit urbi consultum. Hoc dolo capta diu Acherbae viri nomine cum multis lacrimis et lamentatione flebili invocato ad postremum ituram se quo sua et urbis fata vocarent, respondit. In hoc trium mensium sumpto spatio, pyra in ultima parte urbis exstructa, velut placatura viri manes inferiasque ante nuptias missura multas hostias caedit et sumpto gladio pyram conscendit atque ita ad populum respiciens ituram se ad virum, sicut praeceperint, dixit vitamque gladio finivit
Marcus Junianus Justinus.
Epitoma Historiarum Philippicarum Pompei Trogi (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1886), VI. 1–7, 134–35), https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112023680843;view=1up;seq=202

138 Catherine Edwards. Death in Ancient Rome (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 2.

139 The Aeneid, 4.621–29.

140 Ibid., 4.657–62.

141 R. G. Austin. P. Vergili Maronis Aneidos Liber Quartos (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1955), 106.

142 Ovid. Metamorphoses. 14.78–82 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1998), 332.

143 Peter E. Knox. “The Heroides: Elegaic Voices”. In Brill’s Companion to Ovid, ed. by Barbara Weiden Boyd (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 120.

144 Sharrock, 293.

145 Richard Tarrant. “Ovid and Ancient Literary History”. In The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, ed. by Philip R. Hardie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 25.

146 Rebecca Armstrong. Ovid and His Love Poetry (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2005), 111.

147 Ovid. “Heroides VII: Dido to Aeneas”. In Ovid: Heroides and Amores, ed. by Grant Showerman, 34, ll. 19–30.

148 Ibid., 88, ll. 77–86.

149 Ibid., 96, ll. 184–90.

150 John Watkins. The Specter of Dido: Spenser and Virgilian Epic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 31.

151 L. P. Wilkinson. Ovid Recalled (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1955), 93.

152 Howard Jacobson. Ovid’s Heroidos (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 90.

153 Ibid., 90.

154 Ibid.

155 David Scott Wilson-Okamura. Virgil in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 234.

156 Linda S. Kauffman. Discourses of Desire: Gender, Genre, and Epistolary Fictions (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), 48.

157 W. S. Anderson. “The Heroides”. In Ovid, ed. by J. W. Binns (London: Routledge, 1973), 60.

158 Ibid., 61.

159 Lanham, 63.

160 Jacobson, 90, n. 26.

161 den VII. Gesang der Heroides näher ins Auge zu fassen, den sogenannten Dido-Brief, der unserer Überzeugung nach in hohem Masse dazu angetan war, bei Augustus Anstoss und Ärgernis zu erregen, und der zumeist mit der einfachen Feststellung dessen abgetan wird, dass aus dem “pius” Aeneas bei Ovid ein “nichtswürdiger Eidbrüchiger” wird.
I. K. Horvath. “Impius Aeneas”. Acta Antiqua: Academiae Scientarum Hungaricae, ed. by A. Dobrovits, J. Harmatta, and G. Y. Moravcsik. Book 6, Vols 3–4 (1958), 390, http://real-j.mtak.hu/441/1/ACTAANTIQUA_06.pdf

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