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Nutus amantis:
Interpreting the Body Language of Love

Polyxeni Strolonga

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Nonverbal behavior as a way of communication between lovers is a topos in Roman Elegy. The secrecy that this type of interaction provides secures the success of the adulterous relationship. In this paper I examine the function of elegiac nutus specifically as a sign of concession and in its association with a new type of language, symbolic and erotic. Following Lateiner's[1] thorough categorization and analysis of nonverbal behaviors in Ovid's Metamorphoses, I will show that nutus, "an in-awareness body sign"[2], is connected with the expression of love interest and is employed as a replacement for words that can not be uttered.  In addition, the juxtaposition of nutus with nota suggests that nutus can deliver messages and can thus be as expressive as a verbal utterance; it can even deceive those who can not decipher the signs, thus can not "speak" the body language. I will further explore the paradox of association of words with gestures other than nutus.

It will be shown then that in elegy the choice of nonverbal behavior is not only required by the secrecy of the affair but also reflects the necessity to use metaphorical language (be it military or political), in order to describe a peculiar type of love, which is inappropriate by nature and custom, and therefore unable to be openly expressed. Such love needs to be hidden behind gestures, like nutus, which finally deliver words.  The poet then by acknowledging that gestures constitute a language, calls upon the reader to read between the lines as the lover has to read through gestures and signs. However, the "illiterate" addressees of the elegiac poetry can be easily misled, like the vir dominus, who cannot read the deception, which the elegiac bodies inscribe.



[1] Nonverbal Behaviors in Ovid's Poetry, Primarily Metamorphoses 14.” CJ 91 (1996) 225-254.

[2] For the categorization of nonverbal behaviors see also Lateiner D. Sardonic Smile. Nonverbal Behavior in Homeric Epic. Ann Arbor, 1995.

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