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Category Archives: Catullus

The “Slave of Love” in Latin Poetry

A Theory of Romanized Subjectivity: Alienation as Traverse

The aim of here is to take survey of the trope servitium amoris, a slave of love, as it appears in three poems of the Roman Love Poets. And to do so such that it reveals both something of the internal dynamics of its function as a trope in poetic form, but also so that the figure itself can be shown to reflect a subjective change in the way that experience qualifies authentic Roman expression, as an objective limit. It is my thought that within the rise of the servitium amoris trope, one can see an internalization of experience, psychologizing the needs and desires of the lover via a hypothetical servitude, drawn from a real social hierarchy, and also a simultaneous segregation of those affects, a personalization of love, setting the lover apart from all other social forms such that as a privatized experience it can be reintegrated into social contexts, via that form. In brief, by borrowing from the form of institutional slavery itself, and expressing its normalized cruelties and humiliations as a private subjectivity, the poet can claim both a freedom from social norms (through this subversion), and also a re-inscription upon those norms (through homology). Through this trope of servitude, the poet explores a new locus of experience, setting forth its grounds, and circumscribing its limits, and it is through this trope that the poet seeks to contextualize his experience within sociability, giving it a language and authenticity.


The adventure begins with Catullus 63, a poem that even in meter, the Galliambic of traditional Attis worship, seems to break radically from the forms of Latin love contemplation; from the start, by invoking the heavy, drum-like repetitions of a formal ceremony, the poet is both calling towards an ancient past, but also a modern break, fusing a primordial and a metropolitan self. Read more of this post