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“Love or War? Erotic and Martial Poetics in Claudian’s De Raptu Proserpinae” Ruth Parkes (CJ 110.4 471-492)

tl;dr version: an extended interest in the relation between love and violence underlies this poem and darkens its potentially lighter aspects.

undergrads might well be interested in this topic, and the article is a nice example of one sort of methodology current in the field, but I’m not sure how many undergrads regularly encounter Claudian.

stakes: I guess expanding on the ways we think about this poem, or perhaps just getting it onto people’s radar?

This is a fairly straightforward and interesting account of intertextual effects in Claudian’s De Raptu Proserpinae, a poem I have to admit to never having read. (Was it on my PhD reading list? I kind of think not!) The first half of the article establishes Claudian’s (from here I’ll call the poem DRP) interest in generic play (epic v elegiac); the “epic” poems of both Ovid and Statius consciously examine at what points erotic and martial elements are appropriate. Claudian’s persistent reference to these two poems sets up his own investigation of this theme. Parkes concludes that DRP is appropriately referred to as “alternative epic” blending as it does elements of traditional epic with the amorous genres of elegy and epithalamium. This section of the article is a straightforward exemplar of this kind of work, and overall it makes a pretty convincing argument. I find myself increasingly hungry for more statistical evidence in this kind of project, however. I heard a fascinating paper at last year’s CAMWS meeting by Neil Bernstein of Ohio University, in which he used data generated by the Tesserae website from SUNY Buffalo to think about rates of re-use of phrases of early poets in later Latin hexameters. This kind of evidence would go a long way toward strengthening arguments about what words are and are not “epic” as opposed to “elegiac.”

The second half of the piece shows how the story itself investigates the similarities and differences between love and violence (symbolic as well as literal). Thus, for example, Parkes shows that the union between Dis and Proserpina can be interpreted as at once an abduction (force) and a legitimate marriage (love). Money quote: “Claudian is interested in bringing love and force together, on the level of action, genre and symbolism.” The final paragraph implies that the significance of this is to darken what might potentially be lighter (elegiac/epithalamic) aspects of the myth. Interesting stuff.

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