Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Vergil’s ten eclogues made their young author a renowned figure when they were first made public in approximately 39 b.c.e. Although these poems do not reach the heights of the Georgics (c. 37-29 b.c.e.) or the Aeneid (c. 29-19 b.c.e.), they are the work of a master, not the hesitant stumblings of an apprentice writer. Vergil made the pastoral form, first popularized by Theocritus, his own and paved the way for many English poets who imitated him, among them Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney, John Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Matthew Arnold.
Vergil’s pastoral world is not populated by Dresden-china shepherdesses in a never-never landscape; while his shepherds have their lighthearted moments, they inhabit real Italian hills and farms from which they can be evicted by unjust landlords. Exile, loneliness, and poverty threaten many of the characters in the poems. Even the traditional lovelorn shepherds are tied to Vergil’s world by the naturalness of the landscape in which they lament; the heat of the Italian summer, the shade of the willow tree, the rocky hillsides where sheep pasture—all are part of the total effect of the eclogues.
Much scholarly effort has been directed toward proving that these poems are allegories that deal with contemporary events. It seems more fruitful and more realistic to accept the fact that Vergil is...
(The entire section is 2326 words.)
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