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Love's Imperium in Garcilaso's Third Latin Ode

Joseph D. Reed

Like Iberian Neolatin poetry in general, the three surviving Latin odes of Garcilaso de la Vega (1501-36) have received almost no critical attention, despite the recent efflorescence of work on the reception, in his Spanish-language output, of Roman poetry and of the Roman imperial idea (stimulated especially by Helgerson 2007). This paper aims to fill part of that gap where the third ode, “Sedes ad Cyprias Venus,” is concerned. This poem is most plainly indebted to Horace, Odes 4.1 (“Intermissa, Venus, diu”), whose meter—and general invective against the power of love—it follows; Ovid’s general amatory discourse and the Attis myth of Catullus 63 (noted by Chinchilla 69-70) are also in the background. More deeply entrenched is the influence of the Aeneid: the opening image of the poem imitates Venus’ departure to her temple in Cyprus after speaking (in disguise) to Aeneas in Aeneid 1.415-17, and the bulk of the poem engages with the figure of Cybele, ancestral for the Romans according to the Aeneid’s narrative and Anchises’ simile at 6.784-7. It is on epic intertexts that this paper focuses, tracing a subsumption of imperial and foundational themes into erotic that parallels the Aeneid’s erotics of nationality on the one hand and Garcilaso’s vernacular adaptation of the Petrarcan tradition to Spanish imperial ideology on the other. 
The 84-line ode, first edited and published by Mele in 1898, takes the form of a typically Ovidian or Hellenistic fable of love. Returning to her cult place on Cyprus, Venus reproaches Cupid—who is ready with his gold- and lead-tipped arrows (as in Ovid’s Daphne myth)—for making even the gods fall in love. She catalogues a few of his victims (Jupiter, Luna, Phoebus, Venus herself) before dwelling, unusually, on Cybele and Attis for more than twenty lines. Catullus’ tale of madness and despair becomes an amatory exemplum; the furor is on Cybele’s side (42), and Venus even fears that the mother goddess will take revenge on Cupid. Cupid responds that his power will subdue Cybele’s lions, and asks his mother to choose either to stop reproving him or to give up the delights of love: “I am your son and possess power,” he ironically ends, “command and I obey.” Venus with as much irony concedes his power. 
The poem can in one sense be read as a sly “fan fiction” in the Ovidian manner, supplying what the Aeneid leaves undisclosed, in this case the activities of Venus between her arrival from Carthage at her Paphian temple in Aeneid 1.415-17 and her next appearance at 657-90, where she sends Cupid to make Dido love Aeneas fatally (addressing him as embodiment of her own power: 664 nate, meae vires, mea magna potentia) and he obeys. Garcilaso’s ode thus envisions a subtle bargaining between the deities, focusing on Cupid’s mistreatment of Cybele—here still, perhaps, as stern a punisher as in Catullus, but more the stately Magna Mater whom the Aeneid makes Aeneas’ patron at 9.77-106 than the goddess of ecstatic cult indicted by Aeneas’ enemy at 9.617-20. As supplementer of Virgil, Garcilaso uses the Aeneid’s own erotic dynamics to dissolve imperial epic into love poetry, and at the same time, in destabilizing the power relationship between Venus and Cupid, makes less certain the authority from which Roman imperium derives (in partial parallel to the bargain between Jupiter and Juno in Aeneid 12). His mechanism is a confrontation between the different genres represented in his sources, but the result also accords with his vernacular poetry’s distinctly ambivalent treatment, where the courtly subject is concerned, of the Hapsburg empire as heir of Rome. That inheritance is never plainer than in this performance designed to connect Garcilaso to the humanist community in Naples, where he was serving Charles V, as only poetic virtuosity in Latin could. 
A handout will include Morros’s text of the ode (with a few corrections from Mele’s editio princeps and elsewhere). 

Session/Panel Title

Neo-Latin Texts in the Americas and Europe

Session/Paper Number

53.4

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