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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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Chapter Two. Bruised Bodies: The Wounds of Love 35


CHAPTER TWO BRUISED BODIES The Wounds of Love ∢ In 1904, British psychologist and sexologist Havelock Ellis referred to “love bites” in his third volume of Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Ellis makes particular mention that one can read about love bites in a number of Latin authors, including Plautus, Catullus, and the elegists Ovid and Propertius. His analysis of such bites concludes that they are more commonly performed by women, that they can be signs of affection, and that there is a widespread tendency for women to bite their partners at the climax of sex. Although he mentions love bites in the context of the devouring of the sexual partner in some animal species, nevertheless he decides against tracing love bites to an animal origin. Instead he finds that these bites can be considered as two ends of a sexual extreme: they can be either “one of the origins of the kiss” or one of the “most violent and antisocial of aberrations.”1 In Ellis’ analysis, we can already see the unstable nature of love bites, oscillat- ing between affection and violence. But he does not make clear at what point that line is crossed. When do bites remain a sign of love and when do they turn into an “aberration”? It is in the blurriness of categorization characterized by Ellis that the bites and their subse- quent wounds become interesting materia for elegy. Their very insta- bility provides the elegists with yet another pliable canvas for manipulation.2 ELEGIAC...

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