Propertius (ca. 54 b.c.--ca. 2 b.c.) was a Roman poet who composed four compelling books of elegies in the chaotic years surrounding Rome's transition from republic to empire. The first three of these books revolve mostly around a tormented love affair with a woman called Cynthia. The fourth book of poetry rests on more diverse subject matter and is notoriously the most opaque and elusive. In The Politics of Desire, Micaela Janan radically reassesses Propertius' last elegies, using contemporary psychoanalytic theory to illuminate these challenging texts.
Janan finds that the upheaval of Rome's transformation to empire corresponds to the intellectually unsettled conditions of our own time, so that contemporary methodologies offer an uncannily suitable approach for understanding Propertius. In particular, she uses the work of Jacques Lacan, since it provides the best conceptual tools for examining the relation between political crisis and the struggles of the self, a theme that resonates in these difficult elegies.
This book expands our understanding of an important Roman poet, and its innovative and sophisticated methodological approach makes a substantial contribution to feminist and psychoanalytic criticism. In addition, Janan addresses elegy's relationship to larger cultural questions, and broadens our understanding of the social crisis affecting Rome during the early empire.