Names of beloved girls in Latin love poetry

By Bitmap, in 'Reading Latin', Mar 11, 2019.

  1. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Cygnea, Gena
    This is something that dawned on me a bit more than a year ago ... nothing of this is new, it's a bit like stating the obvious, but I found it interesting. A few thoughts on the nicknames of the beloved girls of some Roman poems and how their mere naming underlined how much of an inspiration they were:

    Catullus :: Lesbia
    Lesbia is obviously an allusion to Sappho, the great female Greek poet who was born on the island Lesbos around 600 BC.
    I think there is reason to believe that the ancients considered her to be the greatest female poet of all.
    After the death of her husband, she gathered a circle of women and girls around her whom she taught in subjects like music and poetry.
    Her outstanding talent also seems to have drawn the hatred of some of her contemporaries: the meaning of the modern English words "Lesbian" or "Sapphic" that are obviously based on her name and origin might just be the result of mere slander and defamatory stories put forth by her contemporaries.

    Tibullus :: Delia
    Delia is an allusion to Delos, the island where Apollo was born. Apollo was the god of music (amongst other things) and the companion of the Muses.
    (I don't know enough about Tibullus to give a deeper account on Nemesis)

    Propertius :: Cynthia
    Similarly to Tibullus, Cynthia is an allusion to Apollo because the mountain on Delos, on which he was born, is called Kynthos (Κύνθος).

    Ovid :: Corinna
    Corinna was another great female Greek poet who was a contemporary of Pindar and lived around 500 BC. Unfortunately, we only have fragments of her poems.
    The name Corinna appears for the first time in the fifth poem of Ovid's Amores. This is probably an allusion to Catullus, where the name Lesbia also appears for the first time in the fifth poem.*

    - We know from a speech by Apuleius that the real name of Catullus's girl was Clodia, that the real name of Tibullus's Delia was Plania and the real name of Propertius's girl was Hostia. All those names have the same metrical quality ( υ υ) as the nicknames the poets gave them, so there is reason to believe that that was common practice.

    - Some people argue that Ovid's Corinna might have been a purely fictional character. The name Corinna is akin to the Greek word κόρη (kore) which simply means "girl" -- and Corinna scans in the same way as the Latin word puella υ)!

    * maybe it is mere coincidence, but I've noticed that in the Odyssee, Odysseus also makes his first appearance in book 5.
    Pacifica likes this.
  2. Ronolio New Member

    I wonder if the connections to Apollo for Tibullus and Propertius might have been done because of Augustus' own connections to Apollo.
  3. Pacifica grammaticissima

    • Civis Illustris
    Ah, really? Didn't she write some love poems to women? Well, actually, I know of only one, φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν, which was adapted by Catullus, and maybe I read too much into it out of context. After all, it could have been fictional; maybe some character is speaking rather than Sappho herself.
    That's very interesting! So the fake names could actually be mentally replaced with the true ones without disrupting the meter. That's the sort of thing that seems obvious once you know it...!
    Last edited by Pacifica, Mar 11, 2019
  4. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Cygnea, Gena

    That's what my Greek teacher once told me, and I read it in another German source. However, there seems to be quite a debate on this issue if you look at wikipedia. I do not care much about her sexuality. I'm just saying that I'd imagine when the word "lesbian" acquired that meaning in the early 20th century, I'd imagine it had a pejorative meaning ... so I find it unfair that she was used as the namesake, even she actually loved women - but there's a chance it might not even be true.
  5. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Cygnea, Gena

    Apuleius also mentioned Lucius Ticida, who used Perilla for a girl actually named Metella.
    Unfortunately, Ticidas works seem not to have survived. However, it has just come to my mind that Ovid also used the name in Tristia 3,7
    He sent a letter to a girl called Perilla to compliment her on her education and her poetry, and to encourage her to keep it up.
  6. Dantius Homo Sapiens

    • Civis Illustris
    in orbe lacteo
    There's also Varro Atacinus who wrote to Leucadia, and Cornelius Gallus who wrote to Lycoris/Volumnia/Cytheris (here, the meter doesn't seem to match up between Lycoris, her poetic name, and Volumnia, her real name. Cytheris was her stage name, I believe, since she was an actor of mimes. I don't know the vowel lengths of Lycoris and Cytheris to confirm).
    Neither Varro nor Gallus' poetry has survived to any significant extent.
    Also Lygdamus (perhaps a pseudonym) who wrote to Neaera.
    And, the other way around, Sulpicia who wrote to Cerinthus (perhaps the Cornutus mentioned by Tibullus), and the later Sulpicia who wrote to Calenus. Tibullus also occasionally wrote to a man Marathus.

    Ticida the poet is sometimes identified with the L. Ticida mentioned in pseudo-Caesar's Bellum Africum.
    Also, interestingly, Ticida's Metella is perhaps the daughter of Catullus' Clodia by Q. Metellus Celer. I guess being loved by poets runs in the family.
    Bitmap likes this.
  7. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Cygnea, Gena

    Lycoris and Cytheris are both υ υ
    (they also inflect the same way)
  8. Dantius Homo Sapiens

    • Civis Illustris
    in orbe lacteo
    Well, I guess the pattern holds, then. Cool.
  9. Iáson Cívis Illústris

    • Civis Illustris
    The problem with Sappho is that we have so little of the poems attributed to her in antiquity, and practically no reliable sources for her life. Ancient biography is famously based on conjecture and doubtful deductions from an author's work. For example, her husband's name is given as 'Kerkylas' of Andros in the Suda, but this is often considered to be a misinterpretation of a joke by a comic poet (cf. κέρκος) - and the name is never attested anywhere else.

    Various theories put forward about her poetry include: that it was designed for choral performance; that Sappho ran some sort of music school; that it was intended for the ritual pederastic initiation of young girls; that it was produced for the benefit of men at the symposium; that Sappho herself is a construction generated to give an author to a body of Lesbian folk poetry. Personally I'm tempted by the belief that her poetry genuinely reflects the feelings and experiences of a real individual, at least to some extent, but maybe this is a somewhat old-fashioned view now.

    Korinna is also controversial; scholars are undecided on whether she was really a contemporary of Pindar, or a later Hellenistic poet.
    Bitmap likes this.

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