Propertius 4.4 and Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis 1540-1612

Lindsay J. Rogers (University of Florida)

Propertius 4.4 has long been admired for an elegiac reworking of the Tarpeia story that boasts a multi-generic blend of aetiology, Roman history, and Greek myth. In telling the Tarpeia myth of 4.4 the poet exhibits his special interest in tragedy, and in particular, in Euripides – the tragedian most associated with amatory themes. This paper will demonstrate that Propertius bases his version of the Tarpeia myth on a messenger speech from Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis (1540-1612) in order to garner authority for his account while innovating the myth to fit elegiac themes and to portray Tarpiea as a tragic virgin.

Propertius, in laying out his program for book 4, notifies his audience that Euripides’ Ipigenia at Aulis will come into play later in the book:

exemplum graue erit Calchas: namque Aulide soluit
ille bene haerentis ad pia saxa ratis;
idem Agamemnoniae ferrum ceruice puellae
tinxit, et Atrides uela cruenta dedit; 4.1.109-112

In poem 4.4, Propertius’ use of the tragedy has arrived. By opening the poem with the verb form fabor (4.4.2) Propertius lets his audience know that they have entered the realm of fabula, or drama. Just as Propertius’ poem begins with a scene set in a wooded grove in an area sacred to Vesta, Euripides’ messenger sets a similar scene in a grove of Artemis. Both introductions include the name Jove/Zeus in the genitive case:

Tarpeium nemus et Tarpeiae turpe sepulcrum
fabor et antiqui limina capta Iouis.
lucus erat felix hederoso conditus antro (Propertius 4.4.1-3)

λξω δἀπἀρχῆς, ἤν τι μὴ σφαλεῖσά μου
γνώμη ταράξῃ γλῶσσαν ἐν λόγοις ἐμήν.
ἐπεὶ γὰρ ἱκόμεσθα τῆς Δις κόρης
Ἀρτέμιδος λσος λεμακς τ νθεσφρους (Euripides Iphigenia at Aulis 1541-4)

Furthermore, in organizing structure Propertius 4.4 closely follows Iphigenia at Aulis 1540-1612 both in action and speech. Due to the inherent reliability of the messenger character in Greek literature, Propertius’ use of the messenger speech form gives his aetiological story a basis of authority. By molding Tarpeia into a tragic virgin Propertius adds depth to the original story and elicits sympathy for the girl on the grounds of her inexperience and inability to progress into true adulthood. The audience pities her even more when Propertius’ tale ends with her unexpected murder while Iphigenia was allowed the opportunity to accept her fate and die with honor. Thus, Propertius offers a more sympathetic telling of the Tarpeia myth cast into the mouth of a Euripidean messenger that maintains immoderated erôs as the central theme.

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