Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Anita Nikkanen, Propertius, Tibullus and Ovid: A Selection of Love Poetry. OCR. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Pp. viii, 171. ISBN 9781474266147. $29.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Christine Kossaifi, CELIS РUniversité Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand (christine.kossaifi@ac-nancy-metz.fr)

Version at BMCR home site


The book under review is one of the Latin OCR-endorsed publications from Bloomsbury; it is designed to support students who prepare the new AS or A-Level Latin examinations to be held in June 2017–2019. The selected elegies are those set for the examination in June 2017–2018 (p. 16): Propertius, 1.1 (AS), 1.3, 2.14 (A level); Tibullus 1.1 (AS), 1.3 (A level); Ovid, Amores, 1.1, 2.5 (AS), 2.7, 2.8 (A level).1

The introduction gives clear insight into the poetic genre and its Greek precursors (oddly dealt with at the end), and the cultural, political and literary context of Rome. It focuses on the three elegists: their lives; genre and style; the uniqueness of Tibullus; rhetorical and poetic devices; and metre. The full Latin text (edition of R. Maltby, Bristol, 19802) is supplemented by English summaries of Propertius 4.7, Tibullus 2.4 and Ovid, 2.19 (prescribed to be read in English for A Level). This pedagogical orientation is completed by brief summaries of the selected poems, which "illustrate the subject matter and features of the genre further" (p. 16). There is no English translation but students are provided with commentary notes, vocabulary and, on the website, quizzes and other instructor resources.3

The orientation is accurate, though missing some important details. For example, the link between the name of the elegiac domina and poetry is well addressed (p. 13) but, unlike the case of the other elegiac mistresses, the Ovidian Corinna is described only as "the name of another Greek poetess." But Corinna of Tanagra's4 traditional connection with Pindar is significant for understanding Ovid's elegiac feminine sensibility and conception of poetry as well as his own poetic gift. On praeceptor amoris (p. 12) and recusatio (p. 15), it might have been helpful to underline again Tibullus' refusal of overt recusatio, his humour in the treatment of his persona as praeceptor amoris (e.g. 1.4.79-80), his poetic models, Virgil'sBucolics and Theocritus' Idylls (the later not even mentioned). The bibliography (Further Reading, p. 34) is not always up to date: the most recent book is Miller's 2002 Latin Erotic Elegy and the numerous Companions to Love Elegy are not mentioned (e.g. Cambridge, Thea S. Thorsen (ed.), 2013; Wiley-Blackwell, B. K. Gold (ed.), 2012, not to mention the companions to Propertius, Tibullus or Ovid).

The Commentary gives all necessary explanations for students to understand the context, the text and its implications, along with grammatical analyses and detailed, even basic vocabulary. When a Latin sentence may be difficult to understand, there is a word for word translation before a better and more natural English translation. A section of the Introduction names and explains standard rhetorical devices, but the commentary does not always refer back to this resource (e.g. the poetic effect of Propertius' 1.3.9, ebria uestigia, is only referred to as "a transferred epithet" in the commentary (p. 61), without citing the term hypallage from the Introduction (p. 27); also Tibullus, 1.3.4, or 1.1.31–32, a assonance) but the importance and significance of word order are underlined and, especially for Ovid, placed in the context of other poems or poets.

This book, which contains but a few typographical errors,5, is a welcome addition to the resources available for teachers, a good tool for future high school students and, in fact, for any Latinist wishing to read again the text of some Latin love elegists.


1.   Although it is not included on the AS/A Level program, it could have been instructive to give an overview on book 3, on which see Ingleheart, Jennifer and Katharine Radice (edd.). Ovid: Amores III. A selection: 2, 4, 5, 14. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2011, reviewed BMCR 2012.03.11.
2.   Why not Maltby's 2002 edition (Tibullus: Elegies. Cambridge: Francis Cairns Ltd., edition and commentary) or even the Oxford 2012 edition (Tibullus. Elegies, Latin text, editorial material by R. Maltby and translation by A. M. Juster)?
3.   The reviewer did not have access to these materials when composing the review.
4.   Besides D.L. Page, Poetae Melici Graeci. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1962, repr. 1967, Corinna's poetry is available for students in Ian Michael Plant, Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, University of Oklahoma Press, 2004, p. 92-98.
5.   P. 7, about Propertius' book 3, read "completed around 23-22 bc" (instead of "23-33 bc"); p. 80, read "makes"; p. 106, suppress one "the".

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