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A Two-Way Road: Comparative Anthropology of Eros and Sensuality in Latin Elegy and the Greek Novel
A lecture by Romain Brethes (Sciences Politiques, Paris), part of the Winter 2022 CMRS-CEGS Research Seminar, Classics 250, “Eros. Amor. The Erotic Cultures of the Early Global World” taught by Professor Giulia Sissa (Political Science and Classics).
One of the emerging questions facing scholars of the Greek novel, and imperial Greek literature more generally, is the question of whether Greek authors were interested in, and betrayed knowledge of, Latin literature and culture. The orthodox view has for a long time been (and still partly is) that, while the Romans engaged with Greek cultural practices, the Greeks were on the whole indifferent to, and silent on the subject of, Latin literature. A paradigm shift is taking place, and the idea that the Greek novelists were readers of Latin literature is gaining traction. The reception of Latin literature, and especially Latin poetry, in the imperial Greek world is therefore coming into focus as a big-ticket issue, especially within the study of the Greek novels.
Erotic experience and playful exploration lie at the heart of Ovidian erotodidactic poems and Longus and Achilles Tatius’ novels. For instance, in Ovid’s Amores and Ars Amatoria, the lover has to learn how to decipher, through a semiotic and sensual labyrinth, the reactions provoked by certain stimuli. This lover has also to find inscribed in the beloved’s body the signs of a likely mutual attraction. If the acts of viewing, gazing or touching play a part in objectifying the desired body as something to conquer and possess, this sensual activity also expresses a form of subjectivity and self-representation. This process thus stands at the crossroads of knowledge (How to be a good learner and decipher?), gender performance (Am I a good actor/actress, or a good pretender?) and consent (How to consider and to deal with the beloved’s resistance?).
Professor Brethes considers in this lecture if these Ovidian protocols can be paralleled and explored especially in Longus and Achilles Tatius’ novels – some texts stemming from the so-called “Second Sophistic” movement – where issues of erotic experience and knowledge are problematized in contrasting and complementary ways. Daphnis and Chloe displays, at least partly, a celebration of innocence. Daphnis and Chloe are indeed unconventional lovers insofar as they are unaware of what love is, how to name and to satisfy it, but they try out bodily experiences which challenge the traditional sexual dimorphism. Leucippe and Clitophon targets the convention of reciprocal love and is ironically portrayed as a fiction of impotent knowledge: if Clitophon and even Leucippe try to be good Ovidian pupils by sharing multiple sensual connections, they are eventually prevented from becoming champions of mutual orgasm by various obstacles. While Longus is pushing to the limits the ignorance of sexual achievement, Achilles Tatius mocks an excess of bookish expertise since the lovers’ cultural dispositions are nothing but helpful in their erotic quest. Could Longus and Achilles Tatius then be engaged in a dialogic relationship mediated by their own reading of Ovid’s prescriptions?
“A Two-Way Road: Comparative Anthropology of Eros and Sensuality in Latin Elegy and the Greek Novel”
2:00 – 3:30 pm Pacific Time