Micah Young Myers
Propertius and Tibullus typically represent their poetic personae avoiding travel in favor of pursuing the life of the elegiac amator at Rome or in the Italian countryside (e.g., Prop. 1.6, Tib. 1.1). Moreover, they discourage their beloveds from attempting journeys, expressing concern on the occasions when they do travel (e.g., Prop. 1.8, 1.11, 1.12, 2.19, 2.32, Tib. 1.9). Yet alongside this anti-travel rhetoric, each poet produces an elegy that presents him journeying to or towards the Ionian island of Corcyra: in 1.3 Tibullus, having fallen ill while accompanying Messalla to the east, finds himself on the island, which he calls by the Homeric toponym Phaeacia (1.3.3); Propertius 1.17, his sea storm elegy, may also describe a journey towards Corcyra through the mention of Cassiope (1.17.3). Although the connection between these two poems is well known, the shared reference to Corcyra in the third line of each elegy has not been significantly investigated. Some critics even disagree that Propertius mentions Corcyra. This paper offers a new rationale for understanding Propertius’ ‘Cassiope’ as referring to a port on Corcyra through an analysis of travel narratives and archaeological evidence. In addition, I argue that the parallel journeys of Propertius and Tibullus illuminate important aspects of the discourses surrounding travel in Latin love elegy, a genre that begins with the traveling love poet and imperial agent Cornelius Gallus and concludes with the exile of its final practitioner, Ovid.
Propertius 1.17.3, a difficult verse that Fedeli prints as nec mihi Cassiope solito uisura carinam, has been interpreted as either a reference to the eponymous constellation or to the port on Corcyra. The constellation interpretation recently received support from Stephen Heyworth, who emends solito uisura to soluit conuersa in his OCT. Heyworth contends that Cassiope is an obscure port, so the line should be understood as referring to the constellation. Yet I find that references to the port of Cassiope are well documented in other accounts of travel in the Adriatic (e.g., Suet. Ner. 22.3, Strab. 2.4.3, Itin. Mar. 521). In addition, this paper demonstrates that a common theme in descriptions of stops at Corcyra, and at Cassiope in particular, is stormy weather (Cic. ad Fam. 16.9.1, Gel. 19.1, Od. 5.291-443), which parallels the circumstances of Propertius 1.17. Likewise, Tibullus’ stay at Corcyra due to illness in 1.3 provides a similar example of the island functioning as a stop for ships crossing the Adriatic when problems arise. In general, Corcyra’s ports, including Cassiope, were common stops along the Adriatic routes between Italy and Greece (Rizakis). Moreover, archaeological excavations reveal that in the Roman period Cassiope was an organized city with a port that linked it to trade networks throughout the Adriatic region (Zernioti). The picture that emerges offers new support for the Corcyra interpretation of the reference to Cassiope in Propertius 1.17.3.
The second part of the paper explores the implications of the shared references to Corcyra in Tibullus 1.3 and Propertius 1.17. The paper demonstrates that the mythological resonances of Propertius’ toponym Cassiope, echoed in the reference to the Nereids at 1.17.25, are in dialogue with the Homeric valence of Tibullus’ Phaeacia, whatever the precise chronology of the two elegies’ publications (e.g., Lyne, Knox). I also argue that the common destination for the poets’ ill-fated journeys potentially sets the two poems in competition with one another, with each poet implying that he is less fit for travel than the other. The assertion of being a poor traveler not only coheres with the anti-travel themes of elegy, but also functions as a claim to elegiac glory by emphasizing the puella as the inescapable ‘geographic’ center of each poet’s first book. The paper concludes by suggesting that the parallel journeys of Tibullus and Propertius demonstrate one facet of how both poets reject the traditional role of Roman elites as provincial imperial agents, while embracing the Augustan emphasis on the centrality of Rome and Italy.
Travel and Geography in Latin Elegy