Der Durst des Hercules: Kallimachos, Augustus und die Liebeselegie in Properz 4, 9

This article interprets the thirsty Hercules of Propertius 4.9 as a mixture of a proto-Augustan figure, an elegiac lover, and a Callimachean poet. It argues that this image can be read as a metapoetic symbol of the transformation of Roman elegy from an erotic into a political genre, which Propertius enacts in his entire poetic oeuvre. The article begins by drawing attention to the fact that, by analogy with Virgil’s treatment of the Heracles-Cacus-episode in Aeneid 8, the poem ends like a cletic hymn, which, curiously enough, urges Hercules not to appear in a cultic context but ‘to be present in my book’ (Prop. 4.9.72 libro … inesse meo). It then analyzes parallels between the Hercules narrative of 4.9 and the overall poetic trajectory of Propertius 1-4, drawing particular attention to the portrayal of Cynthia as a notional synonym of Propertius’ erotic elegy in Books 1-3 and to the gradual emergence of Augustus’ infinitely expanding empire as a preferred object of an eroticized longing, which becomes fully apparent in Book 4. Finally, it shows that the poem’s allusions to Callimachus’ Hymns (the Bath of Pallas, the Hymn to Zeus, and the Hymn to Apollo) constitute the core of its metapoetic meaning, and argues that Propertius’ version of ‘Callimachean poetics’ consists in staging a transformation of the elegiac desire for the unattainable into an act of heroic / imperial conquest.

 Alexander Kirichenko. Der Durst des Hercules Kallimachos, Augustus und die Liebeselegie in Properz 4, 9