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“Amor is a God of Peace”: Propertius 3.5 and the Algiers Relief

Andrew C Ficklin

University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

Through the mid-20s B.C.E., the god Amor becomes intertwined with cultural and political developments in Rome. Amidst the growing rhetoric of Pax Augusta and Aurea Aetas, this “Augustan Amor” comes to represent peace and abundance. In this paper I argue that two well-known works, the Algiers relief and Propertius 3.5, engage with this figure from different perspectives, revealing an ongoing debate (cf. Pandey) over Amor’s new role. In particular, I suggest that the opening lines of Propertius 3.5 are a humorous misreading of Amor’s appropriation into early Augustan visual rhetoric.

The Algiers relief depicts Amor within the key Augustan trio of Mars, Venus, and Divus Julius, recently reidentified (Thomas) as a copy of a now lost statue group from the Agrippan Pantheon (ca. 25 B.C.E.). The prevailing message is victory, and the figures represent a transition into peacetime (Zanker 1968, 1988). In general terms, the composition recalls Venus’ pacification of Mars (cf. Lucretius DRN 1.29-34). More specifically, it alludes to variations wherein Amores steal the war god’s arms (cf. Strocka). Yet the statue group reshapes this myth to suit the Augustan program: Mars and Venus remain chaste (cf. Swetnam-Burland; Lorenz), and Amor dutifully hands Mars’ sword to his mother. Working in concert with the group, and as the compositional linchpin, Amor is an agent of pax.

Propertius 3.5 (24-21 B.C.E.) begins with the same association: pacis Amor deus est, pacem ueneramur amantes. Here, too, the image is a conscious reversal of established trends, most notably Ecl. 10.69: omnia uincit Amor, et nos cedamus Amori. Propertius even situates this Amor among the same Augustan deities: poem 3.4—with which 3.5 forms a diptych on Augustus’ Parthian expedition (Fedeli, Conte)—foregrounds “divine Caesar” (1: deus Caesar), “father Mars” (11: Mars pater), and a prayer for Venus to “protect her offspring” (19: ipsa tuam serua prolem, Venus). Rather than placing Amor within this group, however, poem 3.5 holds him apart and reinforces the diptych’s central contrast: Amor’s peace stands directly opposed to Caesar’s war (3.4.1: arma deus Caesar vs. 3.5.1: pacis Amor deus). With this reversal, Propertius trades the exaggerated patriotism of poem 3.4 for playful condemnation: wealth is now “hateful” (3: inuiso…auro), wars are endless (12: armis nectimus arma noua), and anyone who pursues them is a fool (14: stulte). The opening couplet is thus a masterful bridge, for Propertius adopts imperial rhetoric only to turn it against itself. Augustus’ Amor now justifies avoidance of Augustus’ own military program.

Taken together, the Algiers relief and Propertius 3.5 illustrate how the figure of Amor in both art and literature engages with contemporary debates about love and war. While the statue group integrates Amor into a visual representation of Augustan victory, Propertius 3.5 reasserts Amor’s role as counter-cultural patron of elegiac love. In juxtaposing the Augustan Amor with elegy’s familiar tropes, Propertius deconstructs the politicized image, manipulating the incongruities inherent in viewing the god of love as a symbol of imperial conquest.

Session/Panel Title

Augustan Poetry

Session/Paper Number

43.5

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