First-Person Feminine Latin Poetry: Sulpicia’s Elegidia

Alison Keith (University of Toronto)

This paper focuses on Latin love poetry voiced in the first-person feminine, by a woman who names herself Sulpicia ([Tib.] 3.9, 11, 13–18), discussing the themes that emerge from her poems and relate them to the staple themes of the popular love poetry of Catullus, Gallus, Propertius, Tibullus and Ovid. Yet Sulpicia differentiates herself from the other Latin elegists by speaking in the first-person feminine. What happens to a literary form focused on a man’s desire for an elusive or hard-hearted mistress when the poet-lover is herself female? Which literary conventions are overturned, which reinforced when a Roman woman speaks of love? What social standards are challenged, what norms upheld by a woman’s expression of desire? Comparison of Sulpicia’s themes and imagery with those of other contemporary Augustan authors, all male, illuminates the radical transformations of Roman codes of conduct for elite women in this period.