Thursday, August 15, 2019


Laurel Fulkerson, A Literary Commentary on the Elegies of the 'Appendix Tibulliana'. Pseudepigrapha Latina. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. x, 384. ISBN 9780198759362. $115.00.

Reviewed by Erika Zimmermann Damer, University of Richmond (

Version at BMCR home site

Laurel Fulkerson's new commentary on the third book of Tibullus, called the Appendix Tibulliana and sometimes the Corpus Tibullianum, offers a thoughtful and effective approach to the poetry of Sulpicia, our earliest and most significant female poet of classical Latin. Fulkerson's commentary does much to place Sulpicia precisely where she should be situated, amongst the other poets of the probably later Appendix, as well as in her Augustan poetic context. Overall, the commentary studies 20 poems of three poetic cycles, which the poems suggest are authored by Lygdamus ([Tib] 3.1-6), about Sulpicia ([Tib.] 3.8-12), by Sulpicia ([Tib.] 3.13-18), and two ([Tib] 3.19-20) by other poets. While the third book took shape as a collection probably in the 2nd Century CE, by the 3rd century, it was added to the two books of Tibullus' poetry, and the poems themselves date from the Augustan period into the Flavian era. Fulkerson's commentary does not deal with the 211-line hexameter poem, the Panegyric to Messalla ([Tib] 3.7).

Situated alongside much recent work on the Appendix Vergiliana, Fulkerson's commentary takes part in a new wave of criticism about Latin poetry that broadens our standard corpora beyond the tried-and-true canonical poems of the first hundred and fifty years of the Principate.1 This is a welcome trend and one that Fulkerson's own book, and Pseudepigrapha Latina, the book series it inaugurates, will scaffold. The stakes in this enterprise are high indeed. As Irene Peirano puts it, "perceived as a threat to the philological enterprise, texts that on the basis of either internal or external evidence are suspected of being fakes are taken into consideration only for as long as it takes either to rehabilitate them as authentic or to banish them from the canon as unwanted impostors. . . . in turn, these authorless texts have for the most part 'resisted' literary analysis, tied as this has traditionally been to the process of constructing and reconstructing authorial identity" (2012, 8). Fulkerson's typical acumen demonstrates why it is worth it for us to do literary analysis for texts without clear authors or a sure publication date such as those of the Appendix.

This commentary sensitively brings together critical arguments that have denied that Sulpicia was a female writer, and those that have endorsed her as a woman and a Latin elegist. Although, as Fulkerson puts it, "the political stakes are higher here, and so opinions held more intensely," (57) Sulpicia is, like the other poets of the Appendix, a skilled and compelling writer of elegy in the tradition of the Roman love elegy of Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid. The section on "Women Writing (Latin)" skillfully demonstrates that most arguments adduced in favor of understanding Sulpicia was female and an author or of Sulpicia as poetry produced by a male poet ventriloquizing a woman writing Latin cut both ways, though Fulkerson herself tends to assume that Sulpicia's poetry is what it claims to be, poetry written by a woman (46-53). This portion of the rich introduction could also serve as a useful stand-alone discussion to introduce the question of Roman female writers. Fulkerson's commentary persuasively makes the case that Sulpicia's work (3.13-18) can be fruitfully read within a "plausible community" (53) such as a circle of Messalla, a group of poets, including Lygdamus and Sulpicia, working to compose responsively and to perform their poetry together. That Sulpicia's uncle and guardian was the literary patron Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus suggests that Sulpicia would have had access to material with which to work (papyrus, ink, leisure, time, and the education of memorizing and replicating the work of other poets), mentors to learn from, and a community to provide support (53). Fulkerson's literary commentary to these poems offers many new interpretations at the same time that it generously assembles existing critical thought on Sulpicia's work. Fulkerson's commentary also sheds new light on the poet called Lygdamus and the amicus, and displays a sensible attitude towards these poems that avoids the judgmental extremes of some 20th-century and earlier critics.

Before discussing some of the poems and the commentary itself, I offer a few notes on the organization of the commentary. The introduction presents discussions of meaty topics: the Roman context of Latin amatory poetry and its typical tropes, characters, and topoi; patronage and poetic communities in the Augustan Age; theoretical approaches to elegy that Fulkerson characterizes as romantic/biographical and more broadly historicist, formalist, and feminist and gender theory; names, pseudonyms, and persona within [Tib] 3; chronology and authorship; women writing (Latin); style, meter, and syntax; and the text. In each of these topics, Fulkerson's introduction is well-organized. Her discussion of chronology and authorship is particularly effective. Next come the texts of the elegies, and then the commentary follows. Fulkerson comments on each elegy with an opening discussion that explains its various motifs, themes, and notable features, and ends with the organization of the poem. Every couplet is reprinted within the commentary, and then comments are organized below the couplet, moving from an overview of the entire couplet to commentary on individual expressions. This choice is a thoughtful one that allows scholars and especially students to keep the Latin in mind as they engage with the commentary. Fulkerson offers extensive comparanda, ranging from pre-Augustan poetry into Flavian poets. Her analysis of literary parallels and rarities is a strong point of this commentary, as is her even-handed and careful treatment of other scholars' analyses.

Since not everyone may be familiar with all the poets collected in the Corpus Tibullianum (henceforth CT), I highlight a few poems and the issues Fulkerson's commentary raises about them. Particular poems of this corpus invite a closer look, and Fulkerson's helpful commentary has persuaded me that several warrant far more frequent inclusion in classrooms and in scholarship. The poems in the voice of Sulpicia by the amicus ([Tib] 3.8-12) in particular have an ease and facility because of their use of typical core elegiac vocabulary, and their syntax infrequently crosses the line break from the hexameter into the pentameter. These poems are written in both a man's and a woman's voice that vacillates between 3rd and 1st person, and I could imagine them generating deep conversations about elegiac conventions in all Latin classrooms, from the intermediate level up. Their brevity, with the longest poem at 26 lines, frequent coincidence between sense breaks and line breaks, repetition, and limited vocabulary ease a student's access into classic elegiac tropes and conceits. Where scholarly consensus tends to grant that Sulpicia wrote 3.13-18, there is less agreement about the authorship of these poems; Judith Hallett and others have made the case that these too, or some of them, were written by Sulpicia herself.2 Fulkerson's commentary treats them generously, and even-handedly introduces what other scholars have written.

Fulkerson persuasively underscores distinctive features of the CT, from Lygdamus' lexical choices (use of sive rather than seu, nam as Tibullus but never enim), to choices of vocabulary that challenge the boundaries of what scholars have understood as traditional in Roman love elegy. Here, I can only give snapshots of a few individual discussions, but all warrant study. For example, poem 3.1, attributed to Lygdamus and dating either contemporary with Ovid or later than Martial, offers an elaborate description of a newly polished poetry collection, one that together with poems of Catullus (1), Ovid (Tristia 1.1, 3.1), Horace (Epistles 1.20), Martial (10.20, 12.11), and the Palatine Anthology (4.1), gives a rich description of the material contexts in which these poems were published as presentation copies. Fulkerson's commentary elaborates on both the physical and metapoetic qualities of each of these couplets (3.1.9-14), and shares alternative textual readings scholars have advanced. As she demonstrates, this poem is also conceptually an effective introduction to the rest of the collection because it is set on a given day, the first of March, the festival of the Matronalia, and much of the CT will refer to particular times and days, establishing specific temporal settings that are rare in the amatory elegies of Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid.

Throughout, Lygdamus' lexicon is illuminating, especially regarding the relationship between the poet amator and the puella Neaera. He refers to himself as her vir, to her as a coniunx (3.1.26, 3.2.4, 30, 3.3.32), as a soror (3.1.26), and as a nupta (3.4.610). This use of the word coniunx to refer to Neaera "legitimizes the relationship between L. and N. by placing it in the wider context of Roman marriage" (104). Neaera's mother is said to mourn her son in law, gener (3.2.14), a word that immediately challenges the hegemonic view of the elegiac puella's status as unable to marry the amator. In this richness of legal and familial positions, Lygdamus builds on Tibullus, who innovated by including a much larger family network around the elegiac puella than Propertius had crafted. Nemesis, for example, has a sister (2.6.29); Delia has a mother character (1.6.57), and a lena (1.5.48); Marathus' other lover has a wife and sister (1.9.54, 1.9.59).

Fulkerson's even-handed treatment is effective, as she guides readers to ask "what, precisely, is the legal status of the elegiac relationship?" Throughout Propertius, Tibullus, Ovid, and the Appendix Tibullianum, the poems give so many different, and often opposing, answers that we cannot be certain. As Fulkerson notes, however, "it is rare to find such technical terms outside of L. . . . other elegists prefer more ambiguous terminology" (164). At 3.4.94, Neaera has a father, pater. For those steeped in Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid, this male family member comes as an absolute shock. The existence of a pater questions the ambiguous status of the puella as an unmarriageable courtesan or a freedwoman, as other elements in this elegy do as well. These poems thus interact with the Augustan marital legislations somewhat differently than the work of Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid, and tie into the perpetual question of the relationship between politics, laws, and poetry.

I call attention to a single limiting feature of this otherwise very user-friendly commentary. Fulkerson breaks with more recent scholarly commentaries of Latin poetry, and with some intended for classroom use, by not offering a bibliography of treatments at the opening of each poem. Instead, the discussion of the copious bibliography occurs within individual lemmata. This makes tracking the bibliography a bit more difficult for researchers, but it has the virtue of precision, since scholars know, e.g., that Bömer spoke about these lines, but not necessarily others. This quibble in no way detracts from this excellent literary commentary on Sulpicia and the other poets of the Appendix Tibulliana. Fulkerson's new commentary has more than met its goals to show us "how these poems do and do not fit into the rest of Latin love elegy . . . to explore the book as a book . . . and also treating the somewhat trickier subject of fictive community" (vii). I hope this welcome volume spurs on new seminars and new research on the Appendix Tibulliana, and I wholeheartedly recommend Fulkerson's commentary to scholars of elegy, those interested in the question of women writing Latin, and to all those eager to broaden our canon of Latin writers and Roman poetry books.


1.   See, for example, Irene Peirano (2012) The Rhetoric of the Roman Fake: Pseudepigrapha in Context; Niklas Holzberg (2005) Die Appendix Vergiliana: Pseudepigraphen im literarischen Kontext; Markus Stachum (2014), Tractavi monumentum aere perennius: Untersuchungen zu vergilischen und ovidischen Pseudepigraphen; A. J. Boyle (2008), Octavia: Attributed to Seneca; Lauren Ginsberg (2017), Staging Memory, Staging Strife: Empire and Civil War in the 'Octavia'.
2.   2002a, 2002b, 2006, 2009b, 2011. See also Peter Dronke 2003, Jane Stevenson 2005, and discussion of other attributions at Fulkerson (42).

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