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Propertius Book 4 Poem 9 Notes

Classics Notes > Latin Literature of the 1st Century AD Notes

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Evaluate Propertius 4.9 as an aetiological poem Propertius' fourth book of his elegies is dominated by a Callimachean model which leads him to a preference for aetiological poems, of which 4.9 is one. There are several very brief aetiological references throughout the poem to places in the city of Rome, but the main one around which the story is constructed deals with the Ara Maxima. This is by no means a straightforward aetiological poem and subverts many aspects of the myth and foundation stories which became popular in the Augustan re-adaption of history as well as dealing playfully with the figure of Hercules. Firstly it is useful to briefly outline all the aspects of aetiology within this poem. Within the first few lines he makes passing reference to both the Palatine and the Velabrum, which are as yet still uncultivated for human use and sheep are shown grazing on the hill. Next is the origins of the Forum Boarium where Hercules sends his cattle after he reclaims them from Cacus and has killed the thief, "Go, cattle; go, cattle of Hercules, last labour of my club, cattle twice my quest and twice my booty, and hallow with long-drawn lowing the Fields of Cattle: your pasture will be Rome's famous Forum. (16-20)" The reference to this particular Forum works well within the wider context of the poem because in it there was a presence of cults which had association with Hercules at the Ara Maxima. The poem then ends with the deification of Hercules as the local god Sancus; "This hero, since with his hands he cleansed and sanctified the world, Tatius' town of Cures thus installed in his temple as Sanctifier."It is perhaps a little unusual to end the poem in such a way because it gives the impression that the action that has proceeded has been leading up to this moment when in fact the climax has come a few lines earlier with the mention of the great altar. Furthermore he almost seems to be giving precedence to the explanation of a very small local cult over the much more important Roman altar. This seems to be the case because he explicitly links his deification as the god Sancus to his cleansing the world of Cacus, which is the moment he receives his deification in the traditional myth, but the Roman cult is linked to his comical thirst which in many ways gives the impression that is both less important and less serious than the local cults. However these are very brief aetiologies and are relatively unproblematic. The main purpose of the poem is to deal with the Ara Maxima but it, perhaps quite unexpectedly, provides mainly an explanation of the problem of why women are excluded from the feasts of the altar rather than dealing exclusively with the origins of its foundation. The suppression of the female in favour of the male is one of the ways in which Propertius seeks to subtly subvert the aetiologies in this poem; something which can be seen quite clearly when it is compared with Virgil's handling of the same myth in his Aeneid. The tone of Virgil's work is, unsurprisingly, very grand and epic, but this is very much not the case in Propertius and it highlights clearly how he is attempting to subvert the past. For example the cave of Cacus is presented in two very different ways; Propertius describes it with only two words, metuendo and implacidas (fores), but Virgil's description is long and gruesome. "The

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