When Parody and Mourning Embrace: Ovid's Lament for Tibullus

C. Sydnor Roy

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Scholars have long debated the nature of Ovid's poem on the death of Tibullus (Amores 3.9). Some argue that Ovid's elegy is essentially parodic; the poem is intended to amuse the reader and criticize Tibullus (Perkins, 1993). Others argue that the lament, though comic at times, is sincere (cf. e.g. Reed, 1997). In this paper I argue that the process of parody and the process of mourning require the same work and that each element exists independently and forcefully within the poem. The independent existence of both parody and lament and their fruitful interaction lend to a greater feeling of mourning within the poem.

To analyze the mourning process, I will turn to Freud's description in Mourning and Melancholia (1917). Freud describes mourning as the normal reaction to loss. Because the world has become poor and empty, the mourner seeks to recapture elements of the lost one. While in this process, he begins to let go. Derrida ("By Force of Mourning", 1996) expands Freud's description of mourning to argue that mourning re­-presents the dead and creates a strong, powerful image separate from the reality of death. This image, though created by the mourner, has power over her until mourning is complete. I believe that 3.9 is such a work of mourning, in which the poet-persona creates a powerful image of Tibullus-the-poet while burying and letting go of him. This is especially clear at times when Ovid sounds more Tibullan than Tibullus. Also, unlike in other poems in the Amores, the poet refers to himself rarely and only in the context of being a fellow poet and a fellow mourner (3.9.36; 67). The surface focus of the poem is on Tibullus, not Ovid.

The element of parody also present in the poem, however, seems to bring Ovid more to the forefront. He is imitating Tibullus, but the parodic imitation is one of criticism and one that emphasizes the work of the critic. Yet, as Michele Hannoosh has argued ("The Reflexive Function of Parody", 1989), parody is a self-reflexive genre; that is, the parody rebounds upon itself. Because of this self-reflexivity, parody remains an open-ended genre that allows for alternative interpretations of the parodied text and the parodic work itself. Parody, by its nature, still leaves room for the alternative interpretation, which, in 3.9, is mourning.

My paper will focus upon points in Ovid's poem where parody and mourning seem most to interact, looking especially at the tone of the work, its play with the idea of the genre of elegy, and the network of allusions working in this poem. Often, when the poem seems its most comic (such as the argument between Delia and Nemesis, 3.9.53-58), the allusions to Tibullus are the most extensive. These allusions to Tibullus demonstrate Tibullus' own skill at allusion, for they tend to point to places in Tibullus' text where he is making especially learned or multi-layered allusions. I will argue that the parodic element is strong in Amores 3.9, but that it leads ultimately to a better understanding of Tibullus, to the immortalization of his image as poet and thus to a more complete and profound mourning process.


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