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urbs amoena: Sex and Violence in the Ovidian City

Bridget Langley

The pleasant image of a meadow screened with shade and featuring water is the basis of the locus amoenus: a highly rhetoricized natural landscape which Ovid in particular developed as a setting charged with expectations, both of sexual encounter and of violence (Hinds 2002: 123). Newby has recently argued that, from the Augustan period, the atmosphere of a locus amoenus was created within the domesticated space of Roman villas and houses by means of painting and sculptural programs, evoking a voyeuristic and even frightening atmosphere (Newby 2012: 380-81). Agrippa's reorganization and monumentalization of the water supply had already made the natural world a notable presence within the city (Zanker 1988: 139), and several prominent new fountain complexes seem in fact to have borrowed features from elite residential gardens (Longfellow 2011: 19). In this paper I examine how Ovid used these newly public urban waters in his poetry to create an urban locus amoenus, a mixture of nature and artifice, the appropriate setting for both sexual and violent encounters.

I begin with the Ars Amatoria, where the Rome in which men hunt for girls (Ovid Ars Amatoria 1.45-50) and women display themselves to advantage (Ovid Ars Amatoria 3.397-8) is a city of protective shade (Ovid Ars Amatoria 1.67-8; 3.387-8). The erotic atmosphere of this setting is emphasized in Book I by the Appiades Fountain (Ovid Ars Amatoria 1.82), whose thumping jets underscore the place's sexual imperatives (Boyle 2003: 176), and in the companion passage in Book III by the Aqua Virgo (Ovid Ars Amatoria 3.385), whose chill waters women must coyly avoid as they display themselves elsewhere. The charm of the natural world has been brought into the city by these newly constructed porticoes and water features, and the poet makes of them an amatory setting.

In the Fasti, however, these urban groves recall their aetiology as the locations for torment and transformation. Thus, a lucus close to the Lacus Iuturnae is the setting for the rape of the mutilated Lara (Ovid Fasti 2.599-616). Richlin notes the familiar bucolic setting of Lara's rape (Richlin 1992: 172), but the bucolic rape so familiar from the Fasti and the Metamorphoses is, in this case, brought within the city and perpetrated beside an identifiable Roman landmark. The aetiology of the shrines of Mater Matuta and Portunus upon the banks of the Tiber (Ovid Fasti 6.475-550) again makes use of the locus amoenus motif. Using a stereotyped entry formula typical of the locus amoenus (lucus erat; Ovid Fasti 6.503), Ovid introduces the tale of the persecution of the mother and son; the site of their sufferings is commemorated by the buildings sacred to them and to their rescuer Hercules along the river's banks in the Forum Boarium.

I conclude with a study of Epistulae ex Ponto 1.8, where Ovid contrasts his memories of the aqueducts and shaded areas of the Campus Martius with the wild harshness of the waters, the landscape and the cities of Pontus (Ovid Epistulae ex Ponto 1.8.11-38). I argue that Ovid's wish to be able to cultivate a plot of land in exile (Ovid Epistulae ex Ponto 1.8.49-60) is an expression of his inability to make of Pontus the kind of rhetoricized landscape he has made, and continues to make, of Rome.

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Art, Text, & the City of Rome

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