November 3, 2022: Classical Studies Speaker Series
Dr. Hunter Gardner, University of South Carolina
"What puellae Are Made of: Latin Poetry's Blason and Contemporary Horror Cinema"
Blason poetry, in which an author (usually gendered male) catalogues the desirable features of a female beloved, is perhaps most well-known from its Renaissance incarnations: Petrarch’s fulsome praise of Laura’s virtues (physical and spiritual; Vickers 1981) as well as Shakespeare’s playful repudiation of the literary device: his sonnet 130 blatantly denies that his mistress has any virtues worth inventorying, though his poem is perhaps best read not as an indication of his beloved’s failures, so much as a meta-poetic challenge to the very tradition of writing blason poetry. Shakespeare, however, is not only responding to a Renaissance mode of love poetry but to Greco-Roman erotic verse that isolates and inventories the physical characteristics of a woman, often reducing her to a series of body parts whose relation to the whole is left disconcertingly opaque (see Stapleton 1996). The most famous of these poems is perhaps Ovid’s Amores 1.5, whose top-down catalogue of Corinna’s physical virtues has been read convincingly as a signal of the poet’s literary values, the virtues of his poetic corpus, rather than bearing any relation to the physical attributes of a flesh and blood woman (Wyke 2002; Keith 1994). There is, however, a dirty underbelly to this literary device, one that (whether taut or sagging) undergirds a fixation on gendered, human embodiment (Zimmerman-Damer 2018), and one that Horace, for instance, exposes in his own catalogue of the revolting rather than desirable parts of woman in his Epodes (Epod. 8; cf. Mart. 9.37; Richlin 1984; Pietropaulo 2021).
In this paper I explore the relationship between these two types of catalogues—the idealizing and the excoriating— in Latin poetry, and then turn to late 20th and 21st c. horror cinema to help better understand the impulse to deconstruct sexual objects and reconstruct them in idealized form: I focus primarily on Bride of Reanimator (Yuzna 1989) and May (McKee 2002), with reference to splatter films of the 1980’s (e.g., Pieces ; cf. The Body Shop ) and the relatively recent production, X (West, 2021), which self-consciously juxtaposes the pornographic elements of the horror genre’s frequent dismemberments with images of aging decrepitude and whose invective matches excoriation of the female body in Latin verse of the late Republic and early Principate (cf. McRoy 2009). What can horror films, and the explosion of theory surrounding the gendered dynamics that govern both the threat and victimization of sexualized bodies in the genre (e.g., Clover , Creed [1993, 2021], Halberstam , Harrington ), tell us about similar operations in Latin poetry that quite literally dissects the objects of its speakers’ lust and loathing?
Location: Walnut Room, IMU
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