On with the Dance! Imagining the Chorus in Augustan Poetry

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On with the Dance! Imagining the Chorus in Augustan Poetry

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Title: On with the Dance! Imagining the Chorus in Augustan Poetry
Author: Curtis, Lauren
Citation: Curtis, Lauren. 2013. On with the Dance! Imagining the Chorus in Augustan Poetry. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation investigates how Augustan poetry imagines, redefines and reconfigures the idea of the chorus. It argues that the chorus, a quintessential marker of Greek culture, was translated and transformed into a peculiarly Roman phenomenon whereby poets invented their relationship with an imagined past and implicated it in the present. Augustan poets, I suggest, created a sustained and intensely intertextual choral poetics that played into contemporary poetic debates about the power of writing versus song and the complexity of responding to performance culture through multiple layers of written tradition. Focusing in particular on Virgil’s Aeneid, Propertius’ Elegies and Horace’s Odes, the dissertation uses a series of case studies to trace the role played by scenes of embedded choral song and dance in Augustan poetics. The scene is set by comparing how a range of texts respond differently to a single fundamental aspect of Greek choral culture—the figure of the chorus leader—and by establishing Catullus as an important predecessor to Augustan choral discourse. The dissertation then turns to explore how choral language and imagery become involved in some of the central issues of Augustan poetry: Latin love poetry’s construction of female desirability and male anxiety, the creation of poetic authority in Augustan lyric and elegy, and the search for the origins of Roman ritual in Virgil’s Aeneid. Finally, these embedded scenes are juxtaposed with Horace’s Carmen Saeculare, a text composed, remarkably, for choral performance on the Roman civic stage, which is shown to activate the choral metaphor that had been created by the Latin literary imagination. By demonstrating Augustan poetry’s engagement with this aspect of Greek performance culture, the study sheds new light on the relationship between Greek and Roman poetry, shifting the focus from the reinvention of Greek genres and the study of particular sites of allusion towards an understanding of the complex dynamics of reception and reconfiguration at work in these poets’ reappropriation of both a literary and cultural idea.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:11004928
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