“Nullum Crimen Erit”: Ovidian Craft and the Illusion of Mastery
Ovid’s satirical writings on love offered medieval readers a sophisticated and canonical alternative to Augustine’s integration of desire in the narrative of conversion. In one sense, of course, Augustine’s story of his wandering desires and quest for plenitude replicates the underlying narrative of Roman love elegy. In Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius, the erotic subject is driven by incessant desire for a mistress who is an object of impossible demand, continually evoked but never fully present and available. Ovid claims the erotic stasis of the poet-lover as his literary heritage. In his erotodidactic poems, he addresses what Joy Connolly describes as the “project” within each love elegy: “the search for ways to defer bliss and thus its own ending.”1 Recent scholarship reminds us that medieval readers encountered Ovid in the school curriculum as an ethical writer, treating the behavior of lovers.2 But as Warren Ginsberg notes, poets within that tradition acknowledged and responded to the literary qualities that inform Ovid’s erotodidacticism.3 My focus in this chapter is on the formulation Ovid gives to love and desire within a discipline of craft and mastery. This formulation provided an extraordinary thematic and structural resource for medieval writers, and it posed a continuing literary problem for them to resolve.
KeywordsLove Object Love Poetry Literary Heritage Lacanian Psychoanalysis Ethical Writer
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