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Loss, Desire, and Writing in Propertius 1.19 and 2.15

Barbara Flaschenriem
Classical Antiquity
Vol. 16, No. 2 (Oct., 1997), pp. 259-277
DOI: 10.2307/25011065
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25011065
Page Count: 19
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Loss, Desire, and Writing in Propertius 1.19 and 2.15
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Abstract

Elegies 1.19 and 2.15 combine the motifs of loss, desire, and writing in complex ways. In each poem, the speaker's attempt to recapture the past-to possess his beloved by writing about her-leads him to confront the imperatives of time and the limits of his own poetic art. Furthermore, because Cynthia is so closely identified with Propertius' project as an elegiac poet, she becomes a focus of literary as well as erotic unease. In poem 1.19, the narrator's anxiety about Cynthia's fidelity discloses a deeper anxiety about the reception of his poetry, and about the ability of a text to represent its author faithfully once it enters the public domain. In contrast to 1.19, elegy 2.15 seems initially to resist the prospect of change and loss. In the first ten lines of the poem, the narrator affirms a kind of mastery over time and his beloved, re-creating a scene of pleasure from the past, and presenting Cynthia's unclothed body as the object of his and the reader's amorous gaze. Yet Cynthia's active role in the scene-the evidence of "her" desire-leads to the dissolution of the amatory tableau. Cynthia brings elements of narrative into the erotic spectacle created by the poet-lover; as in poem 1.19, she is associated with forces which threaten the text's stability or closure. In both elegies, however, the poet's fictive encounters with loss are productive as well as unsettling. Such fictions permit him to view both love affair and poetic project retrospectively, and to evaluate their significance. They give expression to literary anxieties, but also allow these anxieties to be explored and partially mastered. Finally, they offer a way of thinking about the limits of love, of representation, and of a writer's control over his text.

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