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Lentus spatiare: Travelling in Rome in the Ars Amatoria

Erika Zimmermann Damer

Ovid’s interest in the topography of urban Rome appears as early as the Amores (e.g. 2.2, 3.2), but the first overview of the Augustan city occurs in Ars 1, where Ovid reformulates many of Augustus’ recently built or sponsored monuments as spaces suitable for finding women (Ars 1.1.49-50, Boyle 2003: 19-20). The speaker of the Ars catalogues porticos, theatres, the temple of Isis, Fora, the Arena, the Circus Maximus, and the temple of Palatine Apollo (1.67-88) as places that make their visitor an erotic masculine subject in urban space. This combination of Roman architectural and landscape features recurs elsewhere in Ovid’s writings (Ars 3.389-94, Tristia 2.277-302, Ex Ponto 1.8.33-36), and constitutes, as I will argue, a literary mapping of the newly transformed center of Rome.

This study joins recent critical interest in Ovidian and elegiac mapping of urban Rome (Lindheim 2010, Edwards 1996, Henderson 2002, Boyle 2003, Welch 2005) with the work of Elizabeth Grosz and feminist geographers. These critics of architecture and geography argue that a subject’s identity exists in relation to its built, urban environment, and that the urban environment also depends upon the socially produced, gendered body for its metaphysical topography. Grosz thus challenges the traditional assumptions that the body and the city are separate forms in a hierarchical relationship to one another where the pre-urban body can be understood as independent of the city, and instead posits the city and the body as an interdependent dyad (Grosz 1995: 103-110, McDowell 1999).

Ovid’s Ars Amatoria provides a mental mapping of contemporary Rome that supports Grosz’ assimilation of the body and the city into a mutually dependent psychical identity, and, with its parallel instructions to a male and a female intended audience, uniquely points to the emergence of gendered, urban identities for Romans in the Augustan period. The praeceptor amoris attempts to shape male and female audiences into ideal lovers and beloveds through careful cultivation of dress, grooming, speech, and language (Gibson 2003). The Ovidian map for a tour through Rome, I argue, similarly creates erotic subjectivity through travel in the city. Additionally, by following the praeceptor’s itinerary, the would-be amatores of Ars 1 reperform actions of prior elegiac lovers set in the new city (e.g., Prop. 2.32.11-16, Prop. 2.31, Am. 2.2.3-4). Their movement in space along this urban itinerary thus become their first acts as lovers.

The buildings that make up the speaker’s agenda, moreover, carry a particular ideological resonance in the years 2 BCE-2 CE, after Augustus has dramatically altered the landscape of Republican Rome. The speaker’s mental map includes buildings stressing the civic benefaction of members of the Domus Augusta, Octavia, Livia, and Agrippa, and the earlier work of Pompey, yet fails to name Augustus as the builder of the temples of Palatine Apollo (cf. Huskey on Tristia 3.1). The Ovidian mental map of Rome thus challenges Augustus’ attempts to use architecture to redefine a single vision of Roman identity celebrated in the Res Gestae (19-21), and speaks to the ongoing contestation of Roman identity and to how Romans male and female used and understood architectural developments.

Nicolet and Favro have demonstrated that mapping the known world and the urban center of Rome developed in the Augustan period (Nicolet 1991, Favro 1996), while Lindheim has connected this to a broader impulse to apprehend the known world through mapping and other attempts to interpret space such as Agrippa’s map of the Roman empire in the Porticus Vipsaniae (Lindheim 2010). The Ovidian mapping in the Ars Amatoria thus has broader cultural significance and can be read like the Forma Urbis Romae as revealing a growing geographical awareness of movement through the city (Macauley-Lewis 2012: 262-266). 

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Travel and Geography in Latin Elegy

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