Propertius IV:
Callimachus Reborn in Rome

Dustin R. Heinen

University of Florida

Propertius Four has been considered a most difficult book from one of the Augustan age's most difficult poets.  Here Propertius seems to move away from his traditional themes and models—Cynthia and the elegy of Gallus and Tibullus—to take up a new style of poetry as Callimachus Romanus.  The meaning of this self-assigned title is explicit only in its first designation (Callimachus).  Propertius clearly plans to follow the shades of Callimachus, but in order to claim this title in its fullest sense, Propertius creates "Roman" poetry (Romanus).  Scholars have examined the influence of Mimnermus and Callimachus on Propertius, but most commentators note only a tenuous link between Propertius' last book and the subject matter of such Roman antiquarians as Varro, Cornelius Nepos, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.  The purpose of this paper is to re-examine Propertius' title as Callimachus Romanus through the use of diction in order to uncover a close relationship to antiquarian literature.

Propertius does not abandon the modes of Latin love elegy, but now fuses aetiological subject matter with his poetry (Arkins 2005).  He shifts from "learned Athens" (III.21.1) and the Alexandrian ascetic, and moves towards the Roman counterparts of Mimnermus and Philetas of Cos.  Examination of specific uses of vocabulary in poems 4.1, 4.2 and 4.9 show the clearest and most specific examples of Roman influence.  Propertius starts book four with a tour of the scenes of old Rome, noting the early senate, Alba, the Fictiles, the Domus Romuli, and the Tarpeian Rock, all scenes in which he uses a structure and vocabulary similar to the antiquarians.  In Propertius' next poem (the Vertumnus elegy), he employs a wide range of rustic vocabulary borrowed from Varro—cerasus, cucumis, cucurbita, and brassica, all words occurring almost exclusively in the works of these two authors (Dee, 1974).  Poem 4.9, in which Propertius deals with the Roman myth of the fight between Cacus and Hercules bears remarkably similar vocabulary structure to Dionysius of Halicarnassus' treatment of the myth (Pillinger 1969).  Propertius desplays his full role as Roman Callimachus by denying Hercules purification and the ritualistic rites of the Ara Maxima, and instead making him the exclusus amator in the elegiac paraklausithyron, though not before a thorough treatment of the Roman subject matter.  One is able to trace this influence through all of Propertius Four.  Once the reader moves beyond the "slender" view of the Callimachean sources of Propertius, he can fully understand the title "Romanus Callimachus"


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