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Elegiac Eyes

Vision in Roman Love Elegy


Stacie Raucci

Elegiac Eyes is an in-depth examination of vision and spectacle in Roman love elegy. It approaches vision from the perspective of Roman cultural modes of viewing and locates its analysis in close textual readings of Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid. The paradoxical nature of the Roman eyes, which according to contemporary optical theories were able to penetrate and be penetrated, as well as the complex role of vision in society, provided the elegists with a productive canvas for their poems. By locating the elegists’ visual games within their contemporary context, Elegiac Eyes demonstrates how the elegists were manipulating notions that were specifically Roman and familiar to their readership.


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Introduction. Gazing Games: Vision in Ancient Rome 1


INTRODUCTION GAZING GAMES Vision in Ancient Rome ∢ In La Dioptrique (1637), René Descartes used the eye of a dead person (or alternately of a large dead animal) to explain visual perception in humans. This eye functioned exactly like a camera obscura: light came from the outside, it passed in a hole (the pupil), through a lens (the crystalline humor), and was reflected on the internal membrane. By erasing any significant difference between the camera obscura, a dead eye, and a living eye, Descartes effectively severed any connection between vision and the historicity, subjectivity and cultural specificity of human beings.1 This book, which explores the role of vision in Roman love elegy, turns the Cartesian approach on its head, and rests on the assumption that seeing never takes place in a vacuum. Because spectacles and the dynamics of vision were inseparable from the daily lives of the Romans, and because the elegists manipulated further this very rich cultural context, the elegiac eye cannot be merely reducible to scien- tific properties. Its functioning was inscribed and structured by a specific cultural, political, and literary regime. The living eye was endowed with the ability to shame, to love, to desire, to rule, to exclude and to judge, while at the same time vulnerable to the world around it. ELEGIAC EYES 2 This book explores how the visual dynamics of Rome intersect with the writings of the Roman elegists. In the following chapters, I focus on how the elegists engage in an appropriation of...

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