In Sickness or in Health? Love, Pathology, and Marriage in the Letters of Acontius and Cydippe (Ovid’s Heroides 20–1)
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The elegiac epistles of Ovid’s Heroides 20-21 recast an iconic tale of pathology and love, which is famously also found in Callimachus’ Aetia Book 3. Here Acontius’ desire for Cydippe is directly linked to her various grave illnesses: whenever she is about to marry her fiance, she is inflicted with a serious disease as a punishment by Artemis, because she once swore (by accident) that she would marry Acontius. In Callimachus, Cydippe is cured as soon as she marries Acontius. In Ovid, they never get to this point, due to the narrative limitations of the epistolary form. This chapter argues that certain features embedded in Callimachus’ episode contribute to a special kind of erotic warfare, militia amoris, between Acontius and Cydippe in the Heroidean letters. The most important of these features is the fact that Acontius descends from the Telchines, described by Callimachus as sorcerers and metal-workers, among other things. The arts-and-crafts element in Heroides 20-21 is key not only to understanding how the ancestry of Acontius relates to the disease of Cydippe, but also to the way in which both of them express their feelings, which appear surprisingly hard throughout their Heroidean letters.