Vision in Roman Love Elegy
Chapter Five. Seeing Death 119
CHAPTER FIVE SEEING DEATH ∢ In Lady Lazarus (43–45), Sylvia Plath tells that “Dying//Is an art, like everything else.// I do it exceptionally well.” These verses, taken out of their poetic context, could easily refer to the deaths written by one of the Roman elegists. The elegists indeed treat death as an art form, carefully sculpting its repeated instances in verse. They engage closely with it, imagining their own funerals or vividly picturing a mistress come back from the dead, half-burnt from the funeral pyre. These elegiac deaths have long been of interest to scholars, in par- ticular those who have focused on Propertius’ preoccupation with this topic.1 This chapter revisits this well-worn territory of death in Roman elegy by re-examining it in light of its visual nature, considering how the elegists draw on visual dynamics to great effect. Working from the funeral procession as a staring point, this chapter undertakes two main tasks. The first one is to break down how the elegiac dynamics of vision structure the rituals of death, and how the poets manipulate the visual schema of the Roman pompa funebris (funeral procession).2 I argue that the elegists play with a tripartite structure already present in Roman rituals of death that could include the ancestors, the corpse, and mourners.3 The second task is to study the effects of using such physical and vivid representations of death in elegy. What can the spectacle of death help the elegists accomplish? This chapter draws in particular on Mario...
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