You are not currently logged in. Please create an account or log in to view the full course.

Ovid: Heroides

3. Elegy and Epistolarity

This is the course trailer. Please create an account or log in to view this lecture.

  • Description
  • Cite

About this Lecture


In this lecture, we think about Heroides as a set of texts that spans multiple literary genres – epic, elegy and the letter – focusing in particular Briseis’ letter to Achilles (Heroides 3). As we move through the module, we consider: (i) the status of Briseis as someone who is both literally a slave and a victim of the ‘slavery of love’ (servitium amoris), a duality that combines both the epic and elegiac perspectives on slavery; (ii) the related status of Achilles as someone who is both literally Briseis’ master (epic poetry), and the ‘master’ of her heart (love elegy); (iii) the reversal of the traditional gender roles in Briseis’ letter compared to love elegy: here, it is the woman pursuing the man, and the man who resolutely refuses to engage; (iv) the argument of Catherine Bolton that Briseis’ letter is doomed to failure because the worlds of epic and elegy can never realistically co-exist; (iv) the extent to which Briseis’ letter emphasises the ultimate unreality of the gender roles presented in love elegy, offering a more realistic version of ancient Roman gender relations; (v) the argument of Florence Verducci that Briseis’ letter reveals something of the realities of slavery in ancient Rome; and (vi) the idea that Briseis’ letter has a ‘real’ existence in the world of myth, i.e. we can pinpoint when it was delivered and to whom; (vii) the parallels between Briseis’ letter to Achilles (Her. 3) and Patroclus’ appeal to Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, and the conceit that (Homer’s) Patroclus may have read (Ovid’s) Briseis’ letter before making his (successful) appeal to Achilles.

Suggested reading:
– M. C. Bolton, ‘Elegy upside Down: The Inversion of Elegiac and Epic Elements in Heroides III’, Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History 8 (1997), pp. 218-239
– H. Hanson, ‘Ovid’s Use of the Epistolary Mode in Heroides 3’, Ramus 40.2 (2011), pp. 130-145
– M. Kelly, ‘Ovid's portrayal of Briseis in Heroides 3’, Antichthon 33 (1999), pp. 77-80
– F. Verducci, Ovid's Toyshop of the Heart: Epistulae Heroidum (1985)


In this course, Professor Sharon Marshall (University of Exeter) explores Ovid’s Heroides. In the first module, we think about the relationship between Ovid’s version of the myths of Penelope, Briseis and Dido, and the ‘original’ versions found in Homer and Virgil. After that, in the second module, we think about the self-presentation of Penelope, Briseis and Dido as authors, with a particular focus on the relationship between gender and power. In the third module, we consider the Heroides as a text that spans the literary genres of epic, elegy and the letter, before turning in the fourth module to think about the politics of the Heroides, focusing in particular on it relation to Augustus’ moral legislation. Finally, in the fifth module, we think about the relationship between space and gender in the Heroides, and the extent to which the heroines live up to the ideal of the Roman matrona.


Dr Sharon Marshall is Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter, specialising in Roman epic, love elegy and the Roman novel.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Marshall, S. (2022, August 08). Ovid: Heroides - Elegy and Epistolarity [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Marshall, S. "Ovid: Heroides – Elegy and Epistolarity." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 08 Aug 2022,

Get instant access to over 6,200 lectures