Academic journal article Helios

Ovid's Erotic Vates

Academic journal article Helios

Ovid's Erotic Vates

Article excerpt

Ovid's use of vates in Amores 3.9 clarifies one aspect of his poetic debt to Tibullus and at the same time brings further understanding to the tone and purpose of the poem. In the opening lines of the poem (5-6), Ovid defines Tibullus as a vates of Elegy, a definition that forms a contrast with the idea of vates as a dignified prophet and teacher. (1) Later, however, he declares that he and Tibullus are to be included among the ranks of the sacri vates whose voices are divinely inspired and eternal (26, 29). Still later he addresses Tibullus himself as sacer yates (41). The cumulative usages of vates can be interpreted in one of two ways. On the one hand, Ovid's emphatic calling forth of the bards of old and his inclusion of both himself and Tibullus in their number may contribute to the solemnity of the poem, and may reveal the intensity of Ovid's reaction to Tibullus' death. (2) Ovid's definition of the vatic Tibullus, which progresses from the elegiac to the sacer, seems to support this view. On the other hand, it is unusual that Ovid should so affirm Tibullus' vatic connections when Tibullus called himself a sacer vates but once in his corpus (2.5.114). Tibullus' self-description and its context are significant, however, and he may have inspired Ovid to create his own version of an erotic vates.

Ovid's creation of the erotic vates plays a complex role in the Amores. The numerous appearances of vates in poems that establish or affirm Ovid's decision to write elegy, and the designation of the functions of this vales in these and other poems, are consistent with the humorous tone of the Amores, and suggest as well that Ovid is answering a poetic conceit cultivated by his contemporaries. Ovid's agendas, in turn, must influence the emphasis on vates in Amores 3.9 and thus contribute to the ironic nature of the poem. (3)

Tibullus as vates appears appropriately enough in a poem to Apollo (C.2.5). Written to celebrate the Sibylline priesthood of Messalinus, the poem focuses naturally on the vatic/prophetic/didactic powers of Apollo and his Sibyl, who is twice called vates (18, 65). Late in the poem Tibullus shifts briefly from Apollo to Cupid and from Cupid to Nemesis, whom he defines as the source of his poetic inspiration:

at tu, nam divum servat tutela poetas,

praemoneo, vati parce, puella, sacro,

ut Messalinum celecrem...

But you, for the protection of the deities guards poets,

I am warning, spare your sacred vates, girl,

so that I might celebrate Messalinus... (113-15)

In a reversal of the usual elegiac recusatio--"S pare me Epic/Tragedy, so that I may write elegy"--Tibullus allies himself with the prophetic Sibyl as he asks his girl to allow him to write of Messalinus' achievements. Yet because he is asking Nemesis to spare her sacer vates, he is blending the concepts of sacer vates and vates Elegiae, a connection he makes more clear with his joining of vates to the poetas of the previous line, and with the insertion of puella into the phrase vat parce... sacro. Furthermore, he raises the poeta of elegy to the level of sacer vates with his attribution to the vates Elegiae of the protection of deity. Tibullus in general is not overly concerned with defining his poetic persona. C. 2.5 contains the only appearances of vates in the established Tibullan corpus, while poeta appears one other time (1.4.61). Putnam suggests that Tibullus' designation of himself as a sacer vates "cannot be taken entirely seriously in a context where the Sibyl has twice been called vates" (194), but Tibullus' message is very deliberate. Just as Apollo combines elements of war with peace, music, and prophecy, so Tibullus the poet combines serious political themes with elegy. No better example of this blending exists than C. 2.5 itself. This "most 'Roman"' of Tibullus' poems displays as well the most representative elements of his elegiac art. (4) Thus Tibullus calls the elegiac poet a sacer vates and presents himself, overtly and covertly, as both, a view that Ovid ostensibly supports in Amores 3 9. …

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