Aratus' Sleepless Poetry and Ovid's vigilatum carmen

Joseph McAlhany

University of New Mexico

Callimachus' Epigram 27, a textually troubled poem on Aratus' Phaenomena, ends with a phrase (as most often read) referring to the astronomical poem as a product of the poet's sleeplessness (γρυπνίη). This insomnia arises from both the lucubration required of learned poetry and the nighttime observations of the phenomena he was putting into verse. For Roman poets, the notion of "sleeplessness" became a Callimachean catchword of sorts for the learning required of refined poetry, as is seen from the neoteric Roman poet Cinna's adaptation of the Callimachus epigram in which he describes Aratus' poetry as invigilata.

Vigilatum may have become a literary critical term, but it was not entirely positive. Sleeplessness signifies not only late night study, but lack of the poetic inspiration which is so often portrayed as deriving from dreams. Thus the wakeful poetry of Aratus is deemed learned but sterile, as Cinna's description of Aratus' poem as aridulus testifies. This paper demonstrates how Ovid in the Amores and Ars Amatoria reinterprets and reinvigorates the notion of a vigilatum carmen (AA 2.285) by transferring the studious wakefulness of the library to the restless nights of the bedroom. Ovid's sleeplessness has its own muse, his domina, who both keeps him awake at night and provides poetic inspiration. With a deft ironic touch, Ovid combines the late nights of the doctus poeta with the servitium amoris into a elegiac form of Alexandrianism.


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