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Tibullus On Property Management

Benjamin Vines Hicks

Panelist #4

While Roman elegy’s emphasis on the emotional turmoil of amatory relationships seems incongruent with the deployment of Epicurean ideas, I argue that Tibullus’ complex attitude toward wealth, military service, and public duty in book one of his Elegies reflects Epicurean views concerning wealth management in Philodemus’ On Property Management.   Recent scholarship on Tibullus and Roman elegy has explored its relationship to the epigram (Keith 2011), the emotional subjectivity of the poet (Miller 2004), the status and role of women (James 2003), and Tibullus’ use of the underworld (Houghton 2007).  Philosophical themes in Tibullus have largely been unexplored.  Nevertheless, Tibullus associated with several prominent poets who participated in Epicurean literary circles.  Tibullus enjoyed a close relationship with Horace, as seen in Horace’s dedication to him of both Ode 1.33 and Epistle 1.4, in which Horace characterizes himself jokingly as a “pig from the herd of Epicurus (Epicuri de grege porcum 1.4.16).”  Moreover, Suetonius’ Life of Tibullus calls him a “companion of Vergil,” a dedicatee of Philodemus’ On Virtues and Vices (Kortë 1890, Gigante 1995).  We, therefore, have good reason to look for philosophical ideas in Tibullus’ poetry.

I begin by outlining Tibullus’ attitude toward wealth, property management, and his idealized life in the countryside.   Although in 1.1, Tibullus allows that wealth through war is appropriate and fitting for his patron, Messalla (53-54), he offers that for himself such service is inappropriate (55).  Tibullus’ self-presentation echoes Philodemus’ strong denouncement of earning an income by practicing military art (22.17-28).   In fact, Tibullus refuses a profitable offer to be in Messalla’s army as a tribunus militum for the second time, as we learn both from Tibullus 1.3 and 1.7 that he had served with Messalla in his campaign in Aquitania in 27.  Suetonius’ Vita suggests that Tibullus had even won military decorations as part of his service (cf. Maxfield 1981).  Yet Tibullus suppresses this detail in his poetry.  Tibullus could not shirk the duties of a first campaign with Messalla.  His rank as an eques required it and Roman Epicureans were not against military service per se when the hedonic calculus revealed that non-participation would cause more pain than pleasure (cf. Roskam 2007, Armstrong 2010, 2011, and 2012). Tibullus’ poetic strategy, then, balances the Epicurean concern for friendship through his respect and praise for his patron (cf. 1.7) with his own self-presentation of Epicurean simple living.

I then turn to the ways in which Tibullus engages with Philodemus’ On Property Management.  Part of Tibullus’ pose in 1.1 is that he wishes to appear like the person in Philodemus’ On Property Management 23.8-18, who lives simply off a farm worked on by others.  Philodemus’ text first criticizes the views of Xenophon and presumably Theophrastus (Tsouna 2007, 2012 and Armstrong's review thereof) before presenting his own views.  The text is a tour-de-force of applying the Epicurean calculus of pleasure and pain to the practical problems of estate-management, as Philodemus delineates how much pain to bear in supporting oneself and one’s friends.  Tibullus (1.35) claims to have one shepherd, and describes throughout 1.1 a meager farm capable of supporting himself and Delia, in keeping with the Epicurean calculus of moderation (depiciam dites despiciam famem, 78).  Line 43 (parva seges satis est, satis…) echoes Horace’s sentiments in the Satires (cf. 1.120 iam satis est), and the continuation (satis est requiescere lecto) suggests an Epicurean application of the pleasure calculus in the pursuit of ataraxia.  That Tibullus waits so long to introduce his love-interest, Delia, and idealizes her in the context of rustic simplicity (cf. Davis 2013) reflects an Epicurean commitment to serving his amica to the point of death (57-67) in contrast to serving Messalla in the field as amicus.  Tibullus’ idealized presentation thus reflects the recommendations of Philodemus’ On Property Management and was likely accessible and appreciated not only by Messalla himself but also by Vergil, Horace, and others in the larger literary community.

Session/Panel Title

New Frontiers in the Study of Roman Epicureanism

Session/Paper Number

33.4

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