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47.1.Miller

In the last hundred years, our fundamental understanding of who and what the puella is and of her relation to the speaking subject in elegiac poetry has been radically transformed. The speed of these transformations has been dizzying. Two comforting mythologies are often offered to explain this phenomenon: one conservative, the other progressive. In the present paper, I will offer a third position, which is that of metacommentary and historical analysis.

For the more traditionally minded, the rapidly changing paradigms of the last century are proof that too many scholars are the victims of changing intellectual fashion. One moment, they become advocates of the "new criticism," the next persona theory; soon comes feminism, deconstruction, psychoanalysis, and New Historicism. How can all these various –isms be correct? Their very plurality demonstrates that they cannot be pointing to the same fundamental truth. These various "approaches" are nothing more than intellectual fads that are dated as soon as they are articulated. What is needed is a return to philological basics. Give us good texts, a solid understanding of the historical facts, and a real knowledge of the ancient languages and the rest will fall into place (Hubbard, Butrica, McKeown et al.).

The opposite, but equally self-justificatory mythology, makes a very similar argument. Only in this case, rather than a return to philological fundamentalism, we are called on to advance toward a new vision of truth. The ideological nature of previous positions is revealed, and the new position adopted shown to represent a moment of progress, the overcoming of the limitations of the past. "Yes, the Foucauldians have pointed out a fundamental historical conditioning of the concept of the subject, but they have neglected to recognize the reality of desire." "Yes, the Lacanians have undermined the sexual essentialism of traditional Freudianism, but they have remain committed to an ahistorical transcendental subject." "Yes, but" becomes the fundamental mode of argumentation (Miller, Veyne et al.).

Working from within either of these paradigms prevents a critical analysis, because each assumes the truth of their position before the argument begins. I will examine five key moments in the history of the concept of the puella. My purpose will not be to ask whether they are "correct" but rather what are the operative assumptions regarding the puella and the speaking subject that make these positions possible. Only once this fundamental archaeological work has been done is it possible to discuss the value of those positions and get beyond a conservative/progressive opposition. That discussion necessarily sees classical scholarship as actively engaged in the historical moment of its articulation. Such engagement is not a detriment but a condition of its continued vitality. This understanding will argue for synthetic modes of thinking over those that claim an exclusive or privileged access to truth.

I will first examine what I term the romantic moment. These texts see the puella as a real person who is the object of the poet's emotion. Under this rubric, I will look at Sellar, Luck, and Lyne. The second moment will be the new critical, under this I will examine the work of Sullivan, Benediktson, and the early Gold. Here the puella is an aesthetic construct. The third moment is the "return to history." It represents a reaction to the new critical and romantic paradigms and is found in scholars such as Griffin, Green, and even Maleuvre. The fourth is the poststructuralist moment represented by Veyne, Kennedy, and Wyke. In these texts, the puella is a semiotic product. The final moment is explicitly feminist and represented by Greene, Janan, and James. Here the puella is a product a series of complex, gendered power dynamics. In sum, this paper will offer a new synoptic view of the puella in elegiac criticism and chart a course beyond the conservative/progressive opposition outlined above.

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