W. Y. Sellar (essay date 1908)

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SOURCE: “The Eclogues” in The Roman Poets of the Augustan Age: Virgil, Clarendon Press, 1908, pp. 130-73.

[In the essay below, Sellar discusses the order of composition of Vergil's Eclogues and maintains that Vergil's earlier poems are imitative of Theocritian poetry. After Vergil mastered the form, rhythm, and...

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SOURCE: “The Eclogues” in The Roman Poets of the Augustan Age: Virgil, Clarendon Press, 1908, pp. 130-73.

[In the essay below, Sellar discusses the order of composition of Vergil's Eclogues and maintains that Vergil's earlier poems are imitative of Theocritian poetry. After Vergil mastered the form, rhythm, and diction of the pastoral, Sellar notes, he increasingly demonstrated originality in his choice of subject and in the truthful manner in which he treated his subject.]


The name by which the earliest of Virgil's recognised works is known tells us nothing of the subject of which it treats. The word ‘Eclogae’ simply means selections. As applied to the poems of Virgil, it designates a collection of short unconnected poems. The other name by which these poems were known in antiquity, ‘bucolica,’ indicates the form of Greek art in which they were cast and the pastoral nature of their subjects. Neither word is used by Virgil himself; but the expressions by which he characterises his art, such as ‘Sicelides Musae,’ ‘versus Syracosius,’ ‘Musa agrestis’ and ‘silvestris,’ show that he writes in a pastoral strain, and that he considered the pastoral poetry of Greece as his model. He invokes not only the ‘Sicilian Muses,’ but the ‘fountain of Arethusa.’ He speaks too of Pan, and Arcadia, and the ‘Song of Maenalus.’ His shepherd-poets are described as ‘Arcadians.’ The poets whom he introduces as his prototypes are the ‘sage of Ascra,’ and the mythical Linus, Orpheus, and Amphion. He alludes also to Theocritus under the name of the ‘Syracusan shepherd.’ The names of the shepherds who are introduced as contending in song or uttering their feelings in monologue—Corydon, Thyrsis, Menalcas, Meliboeus, Tityrus, etc.—are Greek, and for the most part taken from the pastoral idyls of Theocritus. There is also frequent mention of the shepherd's pipe, and of the musical accompaniment to which some of the songs chanted by the shepherds are set.

The general character of the poems is further indicated by the frequent use of the word ‘ludere,’ a word applied by Catullus, Horace, Propertius, Ovid, and others to the poems of youth, of a light and playful character, and, for the most part, expressive of various moods of the passion of love. Thus at the end of the Georgics Virgil speaks of himself thus:—

Carmina qui lusi pastorum, audaxque iuventa,
Tityre, te patulae cecini sub tegmine fagi.(1)

This reference shows further that the poem which stands first in order was placed there when the edition of the Eclogues was given to the world. But other references (at v. 86-87 and vi. 12) seem to imply that the separate poems were known either by distinct titles, such as Varus, the title of the sixth, or from their opening lines, as the ‘Formosum Corydon ardebat Alexim,’ and the ‘Cuium pecus? an Meliboei?’ It has been also suggested, from lines quoted in the ninth, which profess to be the opening lines of other pastoral poems, that the ten finally collected together were actual ‘selections’ from a larger number, commenced if not completed (‘necdum perfecta canebat’) by Virgil. But these passages seem more like the lines attributed to the contending poets in the third and seventh Eclogues, i.e. short unconnected specimens of pastoral song.

Nearly all the poems afford indications of the time of their composition and of the order in which they followed one another; and that order is different from the order in which they now appear. It is said, on the authority of Asconius, that three years, from 42 b.c. to 39 b.c., were given to the composition of the Eclogues. But an allusion in the tenth (line 47) to the expedition of Agrippa across the Alps in the early part of 37 b.c. proves that a later date must be assigned to that poem. The probable explanation is that Virgil had intended to end the series with the eighth, which celebrated the triumph of Pollio over the Parthini in 39 b.c.,—

A te principium, tibi desinet,—

But that his friendship for Gallus induced him to add the tenth, two years later, either before the poems were finally collected for publication, or in preparing a new edition of them. They were written at various places and at various stages of the poet's fortunes. They appear to have obtained great success when first published, and some of them were recited with applause upon the stage. The earliest in point of time were the second and third, and these, along with the fifth, may be ascribed to the year 42 b.c. The seventh, which has no allusion to contemporary events and is a mere imitative reproduction of the Greek idyl, may also belong to this earlier period, although some editors rank it as one of the latest. The first, which is founded on the loss of the poet's farm, belongs to the next year, and the ninth and sixth probably may be assigned to the same year, or to the early part of the following year. The date of the fourth is fixed by the Consulship of Pollio to the year 40 b.c.; that of the eighth to the year 39 b.c. by the triumph of Pollio over the Parthini. The opening words of the tenth show that it was the last of the series; and the reference to the expedition of Agrippa implies that it could not have been written earlier than the end of 38 b.c. or the beginning of 37 b.c. The first, second, third, and fifth, were in all probability written by the poet in his native district, the sixth, ninth, and perhaps the seventh, at the villa which had formerly belonged to Siron (‘villula quae Sironis eras’), the rest at Rome. The principle on which the poems are arranged seems to be that of alternating dialogue with monologue. The eighth, though not in dialogue, yet resembles the latter part of the fifth, in presenting two continuous songs, chanted by different shepherds. The poem first in order may have occupied its place from its greater interest in connexion with the poet's fortunes, or from the honour which it assigns to Octavianus, whose preeminence over the other competitors for supreme power had sufficiently declared itself before the first collected edition of the poems was published.

In the earliest poems of the series the art of Virgil, like the lyrical art of Horace in his earlier Odes, is more imitative and conventional than in those written later. He seems satisfied with reproducing the form, rhythm, and diction of Theocritus, and mingling some vague expression of personal or national feeling with the sentiment of the Greek idyl. That the fifth was written after the second and third appears from the lines v. 86-87, in which Menalcas, under which name Virgil introduces himself in the Eclogues, presents his pipe to Mopsus:—

Haec nos ‘Formosum Corydon ardebat Alexin,’
Haec eadem docuit ‘Cuium pecus? an Meliboei(2)?’

From these lines also it may be inferred as probable that the second poem, ‘Formosum pastor Corydon,’ was written before the third, ‘Dic mihi, Damoeta, cuium pecus? an Meliboei?’

A tradition, quoted by Servius and referred to (though inaccurately) by Martial3, attributes the composition of the second Eclogue to the admiration excited in Virgil by the beauty of a young slave, Alexander, who was presented to him by Pollio and carefully educated by him. A similar story is told of his having received from Maecenas another slave, named Cebes, who also obtained from him a liberal education and acquired some distinction as a poet. It is not improbable that Virgil may have been warmly attached to these youths, and that there was nothing blameable in his attachment. Even Cicero, a man as far removed as possible from any sentimental weakness, writes to Atticus of the death of a favourite slave, a young Greek, and evidently, from the position he filled in Cicero's household, a boy of liberal accomplishments, in these words: ‘And, I assure you, I am a good deal distressed. For my reader, Sositheus, a charming boy, is just dead; and it has affected me more than I should have thought the death of a slave ought to affect one4.’ It remains true however that in one or two of those Eclogues in which he most closely imitates Theocritus, Virgil uses the language of serious sentiment, and once of bantering raillery, in a way which justly offends modern feeling. And this is all that can be said against him.

There are more imitations of the Greek in this and in the next poem than in any of the other Eclogues5. The scenery of the piece, in so far as it is at all definite, combines the mountains and the sea-landscape of Sicily with Italian woods and vineyards. Corydon seems to combine the features of an Italian vinedresser with the conventional character of a Sicilian shepherd. The line

Aspice aratra iugo referunt suspensa iuvenci(6)

applies rather to an Italian scene than to the pastoral district of Sicily; and this reference to ploughing seems inconsistent with the description of the fierce midsummer heat, and with the introduction of the ‘fessi messores’ in the opening lines of the poem. These inconsistencies show how little thought Virgil had for the objective consistency of his representation. The poem however, in many places, gives powerful expression to the feelings of a despairing lover. There are here, as in the Gallus, besides that vein of feeling which the Latin poet shares with Theocritus, some traces of that ‘wayward modern mood’ of longing to escape from the world and to return to some vague ideal of Nature, and to sacrifice all the gains of civilisation in exchange for the homeliest dwelling shared with the object of affection:—

O tantum libeat mecum tibi sordida rura
Atque humiles habitare casas, et figere cervos(7);

and again,

                                                            Habitarunt di quoque silvas
Dardaniusque Paris. Pallas quas condidit arces
Ipsa colat, nobis placeant ante omnia silvae(8).

The third Eclogue, which is in dialogue, and reproduces two features of the Greek idyl, the natural banter of the shepherds and the more artificial contest in song, is still more imitative and composite in character. It shows several close imitations, especially of the fourth, fifth, and eighth Idyls of Theocritus9. In this poem only Virgil, whose muse even in the Eclogues is almost always serious or plaintive, endeavours to reproduce the playfulness and vivacity of his original. Both in the bantering dialogue and in the more formal contest of the shepherds, the subjects introduced are for the most part of a conventional pastoral character, but with these topics are combined occasional references to the tastes and circumstances of the poet himself. Thus in lines 40-42,

In medio duo signa … curvus arator haberet,

allusion is made to the astronomical studies of which Virgil made fuller use in the Georgics. In the line

Pollio amat nostram quamvis est rustica Musam,

and again,

Pollio et ipse facit nova carmina(10),

he makes acknowledgment of the favour and pays honour to the poetical tastes of his earliest patron, whom he celebrates also in the fourth and eighth Eclogues. The line

Qui Bavium non odit amet tua carmina, Maevi(11)

has condemned to everlasting notoriety the unfortunate pair, who have served modern satirists as types of spiteful critics and ineffectual authors. At lines 10-11 there is, as in Eclogue ii., an apparent blending of the occupations of the Italian vinedresser with those of the Sicilian shepherd. In the contest of song there is no sustained connexion of thought, as indeed there is not in similar contests in Theocritus. These contests are supposed to reproduce the utterances of improvisatori, of whom the second speaker is called to say something, either in continuation of or in contrast to the thought of the first. The shepherds in these strains seek to glorify their own prowess, boast of their successes in love, or call attention to some picturesque aspect of their rustic life.

The fifth Eclogue is also in dialogue. It brings before us a friendly interchange of song between two pastoral poets, Mopsus and Menalcas. Servius mentions that Menalcas (here, as in the ninth Eclogue) stands for Virgil himself, while Mopsus stands for his friend Aemilius Macer of Verona. Mopsus laments the cruel death of Daphnis, the legendary shepherd of Sicilian song, and Menalcas celebrates his apotheosis. Various accounts were given in antiquity of the meaning which was to be attached to this poem. One account was that Virgil here expressed his sorrow for the death of his brother Flaccus12. Though the time of his death may have coincided with that of the composition of this poem, the language of the lament and of the song celebrating the ascent of Daphnis to heaven is quite unlike the expression of a private or personal sorrow. There seems no reason to doubt another explanation which has come down from ancient times, that under this pastoral allegory Virgil laments the death and proclaims the apotheosis of Julius Caesar. It is probable13 that the poem was composed for his birthday, the 4th of July, which for the first time was celebrated with religious rites in the year 42 b.c., when the name of the month Quintilis was changed into that which it has retained ever since. The lines 25-26,

                                                                                        Nulla neque amnem
Libavit quadrupes nec graminis attigit herbam,(14)

are supposed15 to refer to a belief which had become traditional in the time of Suetonius, that the horses which had been consecrated after crossing the Rubicon had refused to feed immediately before the death of their master16. In the lines expressing the sorrow for his loss, and in those which mark out the divine office which he was destined to fulfil after death,—

Ut Baccho Cererique, tibi sic vota quotannis
Agricolae facient, damnabis tu quoque votis(17),—

as in the lines of the ninth, referring to the Julium Sidus,—

Astrum quo segetes gauderent frugibus, et quo
Duceret apricis in collibus uva colorem(18),—

allusion is made to the encouragement Caesar gave to the husbandman and vine-planter in his lifetime, and to the honour due to him as their tutelary god in heaven. And these allusions help us to understand the ‘votis iam nunc adsuesce vocari’ of the invocation in the first Georgic.

Nothing illustrates more clearly the unreal conceptions of the pastoral allegory than a comparison of the language in the ‘Lament for Daphnis,’ with the strong Roman realism of the lines at the end of the first Georgic, in which the omens portending the death of Caesar are described. Nor can anything show more clearly the want of individuality with which Virgil uses the names of the Theocritean shepherds than the fact that while the Daphnis of the fifth Eclogue represents the departed and deified soldier and statesman, the Daphnis of the ninth is a living husbandman whose fortunes were secured by the protecting star of Caesar,—

Insere, Daphni, piros, carpent tua poma nepotes(19).

The peace and tranquillity restored to the land under this protecting influence are foreshadowed in the lines 58-61—

Ergo alacris … amat bonus otia Daphnis;

and the earliest reference to the divine honours assigned in life and death to the later representatives of the name of Caesar, is heard in the jubilant shout of wild mountains, rocks, and groves to the poet—

Deus, deus ille, Menalca.

Although the treatment of the subject may be vague and conventional, yet this poem possesses the interest of being Virgil's earliest effort, directed to a subject of living and national interest; and many of the lines in the poem are unsurpassed for grace and sweetness of musical cadence by anything in Latin poetry.

There is no allusion to contemporary events by which the date of the seventh can be determined; but the absence of such allusion and the ‘purely Theocritean20’ character of the poem suggest the inference that it is a specimen of Virgil's earlier manner. Two shepherds, Corydon and Thyrsis, are introduced as joining Daphnis, who is seated under a whispering ilex; they engage in a friendly contest of song, which is listened to also by the poet himself, who here calls himself Meliboeus. They assert in alternate strains their claims to poetic honours, offer prayers and vows to Diana as the goddess of the chase and to Priapus as the god of gardens, draw rival pictures of cool retreat from the heat of summer and of cheerfulness by the winter fire, and connect the story of their loves with the varying aspect of the seasons, and with the beauty of trees sacred to different deities or native to different localities. Though the shepherds are Arcadian, the scenery is Mantuan:—

Hic viridis tenera praetexit harundine ripam
Mincius, eque sacra resonant examina quercu(21).

Meliboeus decides the contest in favour of Corydon:—

Haec memini, et victum frustra contendere Thyrsin.
Ex illo Corydon Corydon est tempore nobis(22).

These poems, in which the conventional shepherds of pastoral poetry sing of their loves, their flocks and herds, of the beauty of the seasons and of outward nature, in tones caught from Theocritus, or revive and give a new meaning to the old Sicilian dirge over ‘the woes of Daphnis,’ may be assigned to the eventful year in which the forces of the Republic finally shattered themselves against the forces of the new Empire. There is a strange contrast between these peaceful and somewhat unreal strains of Virgil and the drama which was at the same time enacted on the real stage of human affairs. No sound of the ‘storms that raged outside his happy ground’ disturbs the security with which Virgil cultivates his art. But the following year brought the trouble and unhappiness of the times home to the peaceful dwellers around Mantua, and to Virgil among the rest. Of the misery caused by the confiscations and allotments of land to the soldiers of Octavianus, the first Eclogue is a lasting record. Yet even in this poem, based as it is on genuine feeling and a real experience, Virgil seems to care only for the truth of feeling with which Tityrus and Meliboeus express themselves, without regard for consistency in the conception of the situation, the scenery, or the personages of the poem. Tityrus is at once the slave who goes to Rome to purchase his freedom, and the owner of the land and of the flocks and herds belonging to it23. He is advanced in years24, and at the same time a poet lying indolently in the shade, and making the woods ring with the sounds of ‘beautiful Amaryllis25,’ like the young shepherds in Theocritus. The scenery apparently combines some actual features of the farm in the Mantuan district—

                                                            Quamvis lapis omnia nudus
Limosoque palus obducat pascua iunco(26),

with the ideal mountain-land of pastoral song—

Maioresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae(27).

A further inconsistency has been suggested between the time of year indicated by the ‘shade of the spreading beech’ in the first line, and that indicated by the ripe chestnuts at line 8128. The truth of the poem consists in the expression of the feelings of love which the old possessors entertained for their homes, and the sense of dismay caused by this barbarous irruption on their ancient domains:—

Impius haec tam culta novalia miles habebit?
Barbarus has segetes? En quo discordia civis
Produxit miseros(29)!

Virgil's feeling for the movement of his age, which henceforth becomes one of the main sources of his inspiration, has its origin in the effect which these events had on his personal fortunes, and in the sympathy awakened within him by the sorrows of his native district.

The ninth Eclogue, written most probably in the same year, and in form imitated from the seventh Idyl—the famous Thalysia—of Theocritus, repeats the tale of dejection and alarm among the old inhabitants of the Mantuan district,—

Nunc victi, tristes, quoniam fors omnia versat(30),—

and touches allusively on the story of the personal danger which Virgil encountered from the violence of the centurion who claimed possession of his land. The speakers in the dialogue are Moeris, a shepherd of Menalcas,—the pastoral poet, who sings of the nymphs, of the wild flowers spread over the ground, and of the brooks shaded with trees,—and Lycidas, who, like the Lycidas of the Thalysia, is also a poet:—

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Me quoque dicunt
Vatem pastores, sed non ego credulus illis.
Nam neque adhuc Vario videor nec dicere Cinna
Digna, sed argutos inter strepere anser olores(31).

After the account of the fray, given by Moeris, and the comments of Lycidas, in which he introduces the lines referred to in the previous chapter, as having all the signs of being a real description of the situation of Virgil's farms—

qua se subducere colles incipiunt—

Moeris sings the opening lines of certain other pastoral poems, some his own, some the songs of Menalcas. Two of these—‘Tityre dum redeo’ and ‘Huc ades O Galatea’—are purely Theocritean. Two others—

Vare tuum nomen, superet modo Mantua nobis,


Daphni quid antiquos signorum suspicis ortus(32)—

indicate the new path which Virgil's art was striking out for itself. There is certainly more real substance in this poem than in most of the earlier Eclogues. Lycidas and Moeris speak about what interests them personally. The scene of the poem is apparently the road between Virgil's farm and Mantua. There seem to be no conventional and inconsistent features introduced from the scenery of Sicily or Arcadia, unless it be the ‘aequor’ of line 57—

Et nunc omne tibi stratum silet aequor(33).

But may not that be either the lake, formed by the overflow of the river, some distance above Mantua, or even the great level plain, with its long grass and corn-fields and trees, hushed in the stillness of the late afternoon?

The sixth Eclogue was written probably about the same time and at the same place, the villa of Siron, in which Virgil had taken refuge with his family. It is inscribed with the name of Varus, who is said to have been a fellow-student of Virgil under the tuition of Siron. But, with the exception of the dedicatory lines, there is no reference to the circumstances of the time. Though abounding with rich pastoral illustrations, the poem is rather a mythological and semi-philosophical idyl than a pure pastoral poem. It consists mainly of a song of Silenus, in which an account is given of the creation of the world in accordance with the Lucretian philosophy; and, in connexion with this theme (as is done also by Ovid in his Metamorphoses), some of the oldest mythological traditions, such as the tale of Pyrrha and Deucalion, the reign of Saturn on earth, the theft and punishment of Prometheus, etc., are introduced. The opening lines—Namque canebat uti—are imitated from the song of Orpheus in the first book of the Argonautics34, but they bear unmistakable traces also of the study of Lucretius. There seems no trace of the language of Theocritus in the poem.

Three points of interest may be noted in this song: (1) Virgil here, as in Georgic ii. 475, etc., regards the revelation of physical knowledge as a fitting theme for poetic treatment. So in the first Aeneid, the ‘Song of Iopas’ is said to be about ‘the wandering moon and the toils of the sun; the origin of man and beast, water and fire,’ etc. The revelation of the secrets of Nature seems to float before the imagination of Virgil as the highest consummation of his poetic faculty. (2) We note here how, as afterwards in the Georgics, he accepts the philosophical ideas of creation, side by side with the supernatural tales of mythology. He seems to regard such tales as those here introduced as part of the religious traditions of the human race, and as a link which connects man with the gods. In the Georgics we find also the same effort to reconcile, or at least to combine, the conceptions of science with mythological fancies. In this effort we recognise the influence of other Alexandrine poets rather than of Theocritus. (3) The introduction of Gallus in the midst of the mythological figures of the poem, and the account of the honour paid to him by the Muses and of the office assigned to him by Linus, are characteristic of the art of the Eclogues, which is not so much allegorical as composite. It brings together in the same representation facts, personages, and places from actual life and the figures and scenes of a kind of fairy-land. In the tenth Eclogue Gallus is thus identified with the Daphnis of Sicilian song, and is represented as the object of care to the Naiads and Pan and Apollo. While Pollio is the patron whose protection and encouragement Virgil most cordially acknowledges in his earlier poems, Gallus is the man among his contemporaries who has most powerfully touched his imagination and gained his affections.

The Eclogue composed next in order of time is the ‘Pollio.’ It was written in the consulship of Pollio, b.c. 40, immediately after the reconciliation between Antony and Octavianus effected by the treaty of Brundisium, and gives expression to that vague hope of a new era of peace and prosperity which recurs so often in the poetry of this age. In consequence of the interpretation given to it in a later age, this poem has acquired an importance connected with Virgil's religious belief second only to the importance of the sixth Aeneid. Early Christian writers, perceiving a parallel between expressions and ideas in this poem and those in the Messianic prophecies, believed that Virgil was here the unconscious vehicle of Divine inspiration, and that he prophesies of the new era which was to begin with the birth of Christ. And though, as Conington and others have pointed out, the picture of the Golden Age given in the poem is drawn immediately from Classical and not from Hebrew sources, yet there is no parallel in Classical poetry to that which is the leading idea of the poem, the coincidence of the commencement of this new era with the birth of a child whom a marvellous career awaited.

The poem begins with an invocation to the Sicilian Muses and with the declaration that, though the strain is still pastoral, yet it is to be in a higher mood, and worthy of the Consul to whom it is addressed. Then follows the announcement of the birth of a new era. The world after passing through a cycle of ages, each presided over by a special deity, had reached the last of the cycle, presided over by Apollo, and was about to return back to the Golden or Saturnian Age of peace and innocence, into which the human race was originally born. A new race of men was to spring from heaven. The first-born of this new stock was destined hereafter to be a partaker of the life of the gods and to ‘rule over a world in peace with the virtues of his father.’ Then follow the rural and pastoral images of the Golden Age, like those given in the first Georgic in the description of the early world before the reign of Jove. The full glory of the age should not be reached till this child should attain the maturity of manhood. In the meantime some traces of ‘man's original sin’ (‘priscae vestigia fraudis’) should still urge him to brave the dangers of the sea, to surround his cities with walls, and to plough the earth into furrows. There should be a second expedition of the Argonauts, and a new Achilles should be sent against another Troy. The romantic adventures of the heroic age were to precede the rest, innocence, and spontaneous abundance of the age of Saturn. Next the child is called upon to prepare himself for the ‘magni honores’—the great offices of state which awaited him; and the poet prays that his own life and inspiration may be prolonged so far as to enable him to celebrate his career.

There seem to be no traces of imitation of Theocritus in this poem. The rhythm which in the other Eclogues reproduces the Theocritean cadences is in this more stately and uniform, recalling those of Catullus in his longest poem. The substance of the poem is quite unlike anything in the Sicilian idyl. Though this substance does not stand out in the clear light of reality, but is partially revealed through a haze of pastoral images and legendary associations, yet it is not altogether unmeaning. The anticipation of a new era was widely spread and vividly felt over the world; and this anticipation—the state of men's minds at and subsequent to the time when this poem was written—probably contributed to the acceptance of the great political and spiritual changes which awaited the world35.

Two questions which have been much discussed in connexion with this poem remain to be noticed; (1) who is the child born in the consulship of Pollio of whom this marvellous career is predicted? (2) is it at all probable that Virgil, directly or indirectly, had any knowledge of the Messianic prophecies or ideas?

In answer to the first we may put aside at once the supposition that the prediction is made of the child who was born in that year to Octavianus and Scribonia. The words ‘nascenti puero’ are altogether inapplicable to the notorious and unfortunate Julia, who was the child of that marriage. If Virgil was sanguine enough to predict the sex of the child, we can hardly imagine him allowing the words to stand after his prediction had been falsified. We may equally dismiss the supposition that the child spoken of was the offspring of the marriage of Antony and Octavia. Not to mention other considerations adverse to this supposition36, it would have been impossible for Virgil, the devoted partisan of Caesar, to pay this special compliment to Antony, even after he became so closely connected with his rival. There remains a third supposition, that the child spoken of is the son of Pollio, Asinius Gallus, who plays an important part in the reign of Tiberius. This last interpretation is supported by the authority of Asconius, who professed to have heard it from Asinius Gallus himself. The objection to this interpretation is that Virgil was not likely to assign to the child of one who, as compared with Octavianus and Antony, was only a secondary personage in public affairs, the position of ‘future ruler of the world’ and the function of being ‘the regenerator of his age.’ Still less could a poem bearing this meaning have been allowed to retain its place among Virgil's works after the ascendency of Augustus became undisputed. Further, the line

Cara deum suboles, magnum Iovis incrementum

(whatever may be its exact meaning37) appears an extreme exaggeration when specially applied to the actual son of a mortal father and mother. These difficulties have led some interpreters to suppose that the child spoken of is an ideal or imaginary representative of the future race. But if we look more closely at the poem, we find that the child is not really spoken of as the future regenerator of the age; he is merely the firstborn of the new race, which was to be nearer to the gods both in origin and in actual communion with them. Again, the words

Pacatumque reget patriis virtutibus orbem(38)

would not convey the same idea in the year 40 b.c. as they would ten or twenty years later. At the time when the poem was written the consulship was still the highest recognised position in the State. The Consuls for the year, nominally at least, wielded the whole power of the Empire. The words ‘reget orbem’ remain as a token that the Republic was not yet entirely extinct. The child is called upon to prepare himself for the great offices of State in the hope that he should in time hold the high place which was now held by his father. The words ‘patriis virtutibus’ imply that he is no ideal being, but the actual son of a well-known father. Virgil takes occasion in this poem to commemorate the attainment of the highest office by his patron, to celebrate the birth of the son born in the year of his consulship, and at the same time to express, by mystical and obscure allusions, the trust that the peace of Brundisium was the inauguration of that new era for which the hearts of men all over the world were longing.

In turning to the second question, discussed in connexion with this Eclogue, the great amount and recondite character of Virgil's learning, especially of that derived from Alexandrine sources, must be kept in view. Macrobius testifies to this in several places. Thus he writes, ‘for this poet was learned with not only a minute conscientiousness, but even with a kind of reserve and mystery, so that he introduced into his works much knowledge the sources of which are difficult to discover39.’ In another place he speaks of those things, ‘what he had introduced from the most recondite learning of the Greeks40.’ And again he says, ‘this story Virgil has dug out from the most recondite Greek literature41.’ It is indeed most improbable that Virgil had a direct knowledge of the Septuagint. If he had this knowledge it would have shown itself by other allusions in other parts of his works. But it is quite possible that, through other channels of Alexandrine learning, the ideas and the language of Hebrew prophecy may have become indirectly known to him. One channel by which this may have reached him would be the new Sibylline prophecies, manufactured in the East and probably reflecting Jewish as well as other Oriental ideas, which poured into Rome after the old Sibylline books had perished in the burning of the Capitol during the first Civil War.

Still, admitting these possibilities, we are not called upon to go beyond classical sources for the general substance and idea of this poem. It has more in common with the myth in the Politicus of Plato than with the Prophecies of Isaiah. The state of the world at the time when the poem was written produced the longing for an era of restoration and a return to a lost ideal of innocence and happiness, and the wish became father to the thought.

There still remain the eighth and tenth Eclogues to be examined. The first, like the fourth, is associated with the name of Pollio, the second with that of Gallus. The date of the eighth is fixed to 39 b.c. by the victory of Pollio in Illyria and by his subsequent triumph over the Parthini. The words

                                                                                                                                                                                    Accipe iussis
Carmina coepta tuis(42)

testify to the personal influence under which Virgil wrote these poems. The title of ‘Pharmaceutria,’ by which the poem is known, indicates that Virgil professes to reproduce, in an Italian form, that passionate tale of city life which forms the subject of the second idyl of Theocritus. But while the subject and burden of the second of the two songs contained in this Eclogue are suggested by that idyl, the poem is very far from being a mere imitative reproduction of it.

Two shepherds, Damon and Alphesiboeus, meet in the early dawn—

Cum ros in tenera pecori gratissimus herba(43),

(one of those touches of truthful description which reappear in the account of the pastoral occupations in Georgic iii). They each sing of incidents which may have been taken from actual life, or may have formed the subject of popular songs traditional among the peasantry of the district. In the first of these songs Damon gives vent to his despair in consequence of the marriage of his old love Nysa with his rival Mopsus. Though the shepherds who sing together bear the Greek names of Damon and Alphesiboeus, though they speak of Rhodope and Tmaros and Maenalus, of Orpheus and Arion, though expressions and lines are close translations, and one a mistranslation, from the Greek …, and though the mode by which the lover determines to end his sorrows,

Praeceps aerii specula de montis in undas

is more appropriate to a shepherd inhabiting the rocks over-hanging the Sicilian seas than to one dwelling in the plain of Mantua, yet both this song and the accompanying one sung by Alphesiboeus approach more nearly to the impersonal and dramatic representation of the Greek idyl than any of those already examined. The lines of most exquisite grace and tenderness in the poem,—lines which have been pronounced the finest in Virgil and the finest in Latin literature by Voltaire and Macaulay45,—

Saepibus in nostris parvam te roscida mala,
Dux ego vester eram, vidi cum matre legentem:
Alter ab undecimo tum me iam acceperat annus,
Iam fragiles poteram ab terra contingere ramos:
Ut vidi, ut perii, ut me malus abstulit error(46)—

are indeed close imitations of lines of similar beauty from the song of the Cyclops to Galatea. …

But they are so varied as to suggest a picture of ease and abundance among the orchards and rich cultivated land of Italy, instead of the free life and natural beauties of the Sicilian mountains. The descriptive touches suggesting the picture of the innocent romance of boyhood are also all Virgil's own.

The song of Alphesiboeus represents a wife endeavouring to recall her truant, though still faithful, Daphnis from the city to his home. Though some of the illustrations in this song also are Greek, yet it contains several natural references to rustic superstitions which were probably common to Greek and Italian peasants; and the fine simile at line 85 (of which the first hint is to be found in Lucretius48) suggests purely Italian associations. The final incident in the poem, ‘Hylax in limine latrat’ (though the name given to the dog is Greek), is a touch of natural life, such as does not often occur in the Eclogues. On the whole, Virgil seems here to have struck on a vein which it may be regretted that he did not work more thoroughly. If, as has been suggested by Mr. Symonds, in his account and translations of popular Tuscan poems, any of the Eclogues of Virgil are founded on primitive love-songs current among the peasantry of Italy, the songs of Damon and Alphesiboeus are those which we should fix on as being the artistic development of these native germs.

The tenth Eclogue was the last in order of composition, probably an after-thought written immediately before the final publication, or perhaps before the second edition, of the nine other poems. In this poem Virgil abandons the more realistic path on which he had entered in the eighth, and returns again to the vague fancies of the old pastoral lament for Daphnis, as it is sung in the first idyl of Theocritus. Nothing can be more remote from actual fact than the representation of Gallus—the active and ambitious soldier and man of affairs, at that time engaged in the defence of the coasts of Italy—dying among the mountains of Arcadia, in consequence of his desertion by Lycoris (a dancing-girl, and former mistress of Antony, whose real name was Cytheris), and wept for by the rocks and pine-woods of Maenalus and Lycaeus. Yet none of the poems is more rich in beauty, and grace, and happy turns of phrase. As the idealised expression of unfortunate love, this poem is of the same class as the second, and as the song of Damon in the eighth. That vein of modern romantic sentiment, already noticed in the second, the longing to escape from the ways of civilised life to the wild and lonely places of Nature, and to follow in imagination ‘the homely, slighted shepherd's trade,’ meets us also in the lines,

Atque utinam ex vobis unus vestrique fuissem
Aut custos gregis aut maturae vinitor uvae(49),—

and again in these,

Certum est in silvis, inter spelaea ferarum
Malle pati, tenerisque meos incidere amores



The review of the Eclogues in the order of their composition shows that the early art of Virgil, like the lyrical art of Horace, begins in imitation, and, after attaining command over the form, rhythm, and diction of the type of poetry which it reproduces, gradually assumes greather independence in the choice of subject and the mode of treatment. The susceptibility of Virgil's mind to the grace and musical sweetness of Theocritus gave the first impulse to the composition of the Eclogues; but this susceptibility was itself the result of a natural sympathy with the sentiment and motives of the Greek idyl, especially with the love of Nature and the passion of love. He found this province of art unappropriated. He revealed a new vein of Greek feeling unwrought by any of his countrymen. He gave another life to the beings, natural and supernatural, of ancient pastoral song, and awoke in his native land the sound of a strain hitherto unheard by Italian ears. The form of the Greek idyl, whether in dialogue or monologue, suited his genius, as a vehicle for the lighter fancies of youth, and for half-revealing, half-concealing the pleasures and pains personal to himself, better than the forms of lyrical and elegiac poetry adopted by Catullus and his compeers. In the opening lines of the sixth Eclogue,

Prima Syracosio dignata est ludere versu
Nostra, neque erubuit silvas habitare Thalia(51),

Virgil acknowledges at once the source of his inspiration and the lowly position which his genius was willing to assume. He may have consoled himself for this abnegation of a higher ambition by the thought suggested in the lines addressed to the ideal poet and hero of his imagination—

Nec te paeniteat pecoris, divine poeta,
Et formosus ovis ad flumina pavit Adonis(52).

In order to understand the pastoral poetry of Virgil, both in its relation to a Greek ideal and in its original truth of feeling, it is necessary to remember the chief characteristics of its prototype in the age of Ptolemy Philadelphus of Alexandria and in the early years of the reign of Hiero of Syracuse. The pastoral poetry of Sicily was the latest creation of Greek genius, born after the nobler phases of religious and political life, and the epic, lyric, and dramatic poetry which arose out of them, had passed away. In ancient, as in modern times, the pastoral idyl, as an artistic branch of literature, has arisen, not in a simple age, living in unconscious harmony with Nature, but from the midst of a refined and luxurious, generally, too, a learned or rather bookish society, and has tried to give vent to the feelings of men weary of an artificial life and vaguely longing to breathe a freer air53. But there was in ancient times a primitive and popular, as well as a late and artistic pastoral. Of the primitive pastoral, springing out of rustic gatherings and festivals, or from lonely communion with Nature,

Per loca pastorum deserta atque otia dia(54),

and transmitted, from generation to generation, in the mouth of the people, no fragment has been preserved. Yet traces of the existence of this kind of pastoral song, and of the music accompanying it, at a time antecedent to the composition of the Homeric poems, may be seen in the representation, on the Shield of Achilles, of the boy in the vineyard ‘singing the beautiful song Linus,’—a representation which is purely idyllic,—and of the shepherds, in the Ambuscade, who appear τερπóμενοι συριγξι as they accompany their flocks. The author of the Iliad absorbed the spirit of this primitive poetry in the greater compass of his epic creation, as Shakspeare has absorbed the Elizabethan pastoral within the all-embracing compass of his representation. Much of the imagery of the Iliad, several incidents casually introduced in connexion with the names of obscure persons perishing in battle, some of the supernatural events glanced at, as of the meeting of Aphrodite with Anchises while tending his herds on the spurs of Ida,—a subject of allusion also in the Sicilian idyl,—are of a pastoral character and origin. In the lines which spring up with a tender grace in the midst of the stern grandeur of the final conflict between Hector and Achilles. …

the familiar cadences as well as the sweetest sentiment of pastoral song may be recognised.

This primitive pastoral poetry may have been spread over all Greece and the islands of the Aegean, from the earliest settlements of the Hellenic race, or of that older branch of the family to which the name Pelasgic has been vaguely given, and may have lingered on the same in spirit, though with many variations in form and expression, among the peasantry and herdsmen of the mountain districts till a late period. But the earliest writer who is said to have adopted this native plant of the mountains and the woods, and to have trained it to assume some form of art, was Stesichorus of Himera, who flourished about the beginning of the sixth century b.c. But nothing more is heard of it till it revived again at Syracuse in the early part of the third century.

Some of the primitive modes of feeling which gave birth to the earliest pastoral song still survive, though in altered form, in this later Sicilian poetry. The song of the … herdsmen, like the song of the masked worshippers of Bacchus …, may be traced to that stage in the development of the higher races in which Nature was the chief object of worship and religious sympathy. Under the symbols of Linus, Daphnis, or Adonis, the country people of early times lamented the decay of the fresh beauty of spring, under the burning midsummer heat56. This primitive germ of serious feeling has perpetuated itself in that melancholy mood which runs through the pastoral poetry of all countries. From that tendency of the Greek imagination to give a human meaning to all that interested it, this dirge over the fading beauty of the early year soon assumed the form of a lament over the death of a young shepherd-poet, dear to gods and men, to the flocks, herds, and wild animals, to the rocks and mountains, among which he had lived. In the Daphnis of Theocritus, the human passion of love produces that blighting influence on the life of the shepherd which in the original myth was produced by the fierce heat of summer on the tender life of the year. A still later development of the myth appears in the lament over the extinction of youthful genius by early death. It is not in any poem of Theocritus, but in the ‘Lament of Bion,’—the work of a later writer, apparently an Italian-Greek, … that we find the finest ancient specimen of this later development.57 It is from this new form of the old dirge of Linus or Daphnis that the fancies and feelings of the ancient pastoral have been most happily adapted to modern poetry, as in the Lycidas, the Adonais, and the Thyrsis of English literature.

Another traditional theme of ‘pastoral melancholy,’ of which Theocritus makes use, is the unrequited love of the Cyclops for Galatea. This too had its origin in the personification of natural objects58. But, unlike the song of Daphnis, the myth of which it was the expression was purely local, and confined to the shores of Sicily. It also illustrates the tendency of all pastoral song to find its chief human motive in the passion of love. While the original motive of the primitive lament for Daphnis or Linus was the unconscious sympathy of the human heart with Nature, the most prominent motive of artistic pastoral or idyllic poetry, from the ‘Song of Songs’ to the ‘Hermann and Dorothea’ and ‘The Long Vacation Pastoral’ of these later times, has been the passion of the human heart for the human object of its affection, blending with either an unconscious absorption in outward scenes or a refined contemplation of them59.

But there is another very distinct mode of primitive feeling traceable in Theocritus, which dictates the good-humoured, often licentious, banter with which the shepherds encounter one another. As the pastoral monologue continued to betray the serious character of the Lament out of which it sprung, so this natural dialogue continued to bear traces of that old licence of the harvest-home and the vintage-season, which

Versibus alternis opprobria rustica fudit(60).

The ‘lusit amabiliter’ of Horace's lines, which soon became inapplicable to the biting and censorious Italian spirit, expresses happily the tone of the dialogue in the fourth and fifth Idyls of Theocritus, which Virgil attempts to reproduce in his third Eclogue. This source of rural poetry was known to the ‘Ausonian husbandmen’ as well as to the country people of Greece and Sicily: and its native force passed not only into the Greek pastoral idyl, but into the Sicilian comedy of Epicharmus and the old comedy of Athens, and, through a totally different channel, into Roman satire. There is, however, another form in which the pastoral dialogue appears both in Theocritus and Virgil, namely, of extemporaneous contests in song. Probably these more artistic contests and the award of prizes to the successful competitor had their origin in the bantering dialogue of the shepherds; as the tragic contests at the Dionysian festivals had their origin in the rivalry with which the masked votaries of Dionysus poured forth their extemporaneous verses, in sympathy with the sufferings of their god.

Such were the first rude utterances of the deeper as well as the gayer emotions of men, living in the happy security of the country districts or the ‘otia dia’ of the mountains in Greece, Sicily, and perhaps Southern Italy, which the art of Theocritus and his successors cast into artistic forms and measures suited to the taste of educated readers. How far, in the manner in which he accomplished this, Theocritus had been anticipated by ‘the grave muse of Stesichorus,’ and whether this wild product of the mountains was of a native Siculian or an Hellenic stock, it is not possible to determine. A citizen of Syracuse, in the palmy days of Hiero, before there was any dream of Roman conquest; deeply susceptible of the beauty of his native island, but, like a Greek, seeing this beauty in relation to human associations; familiar with the songs and old traditions of the land, as well as with the fancies of earlier poets; living his life in friendly association with his literary compeers, such as the Alexandrine Aratus61 and Nicias, the physician and poet62,—he sought to people the familiar scenery of mountain, wood, brook, and sea-shore with an ideal race of shepherds, in whom the natural emotions and grotesque superstitions of actual herdsmen should be found in union with the refinement, the mythological lore, the keen sense of the beauty, not unmixed with the melancholy, of life, characteristic of a circle of poets and scholars enjoying their youth in untroubled and uneventful times. All his materials, old and new, assumed the shape of pictures from human life in combination with the representations of the sounds, sights, and living movement of Nature. The essential characteristic both of his pastoral Idyls and of those drawn from city-life, such as the second, fourteenth, and fifteenth, is what has been well called the ‘disinterested objectivity63’ of Greek art: and this is the chief note of their difference from Virgil's pastorals. Even where, as in the seventh, the poet introduces himself on the scene, he appears as one, and not the most important, of the personages on it. He does not draw attention to his own feelings or fortunes, only to his playful converse and rivalry in song with the young shepherd-poet Lycidas, ‘with the bright laughing eye and the smile ever playing on his lip64.’

It may be urged against these Idyls that, as compared with the best modern Idyls, in prose or verse, they are, for the most part, wanting in incident or adventure; and this charge is equally applicable to Virgil's pastorals. But there is always dramatic vivacity and consistency in the personages of Theocritus, and this cannot equally be said of those introduced into the Eclogues. It might be urged also against the representations of Theocritus, and still more against those of Virgil, that the ‘vestigia ruris’ have been too carefully obliterated. Yet, though not drawn immediately from life, this picture of Sicilian shepherds and peasants, possessed with the vivid belief in Pan and the Nymphs, singing the old dirge of the herdsman Daphnis among the mountain pastures, or the love-song of the Cyclops and Galatea on the rocks overhanging the Sicilian sea, or the song of Lityerses among the ripe corn-fields65, challenging each other to compete in song or plying each other with careless jest, tending their flocks rather as a picturesque pastime than as a toilsome occupation, and living a life of free social enjoyment in the open air, was a genuine ideal of the Greek imagination, not, perhaps, too far removed from the actual reality.

Before the time of Virgil there had been no attempt to introduce this form of art into Italy. Though the germ of a rude rustic poetry existed in the ‘Fescennine verses,’ no connexion can be traced between them and the highly artificial pastoral of the Augustan Age. The Eclogues of Virgil are in form and even in substance a closer reproduction of a Greek original than any other branch of Latin literature, with the exception of the comedy of Terence. The ‘Lament of Daphnis,’ the song of unrequited love, the bantering dialogues of the shepherds and their more formal contests in song, reappear in Latin tones and with some new associations of individual and national life, but in such a manner as to recall the memory of the Sicilian idyl rather than to suggest a new experience from life. And yet Virgil is not satisfied, like the authors of Latin comedy, with presenting to the imagination types of Greek life, Greek sentiment and manners, and Greek scenes. He desires not only to reproduce in new words and music the charm which had fascinated him in Theocritus, but to blend the actual feeling and experience of an Italian living in the Augustan Age with this ideal restored from a by-gone time. The result is something composite, neither purely Greek nor purely Italian; not altogether of the present time nor yet of a mythical foretime; but a blending of various elements of poetic association and actual experience, as in those landscapes of the Renaissance which combine aspects of real scenes with the suggestions of classical poetry, and introduce figures of the day in modern dress along with the fantastic shapes of mythological invention. The scenes and personages of the Eclogues are thus one stage further removed from actuality than those of the Greek pastoral. They do not reproduce, as Keats has done, the Greek ideal of rural life, and they do not create a purely Italian ideal. There was, indeed, latent in the Italian imagination an ideal of a homely rustic life, finding its happiness in the annual round of labour and in the blessing of a virtuous home, and that ideal Virgil loved to draw with ‘magic hand;’ but that was altogether unlike the ideal of the Greek imagination. The life of industry and happiness which Virgil glorifies in the Georgics,—that of the ‘primitive, stout-hearted, and thrifty husbandmen’ of Horace,—whose pride was in their ‘glad harvests,’ their ‘trim fields,’ their ‘vineyards,’ and in the use which they derived from their flocks, herds, and beehives, had nothing in common with that of the ‘well-trimmed sunburnt shepherds’ whom Greek fancy first created, and whom Keats has made live for us again, enjoying the fulness of actual existence in union with the dreams of an ‘Elysian idleness66.’ Least of all could the pastoral life of Arcadia or Sicily have been like the habitual ways of men in the rich plains of Mantua. The district of Italy most like the scenes of the Greek idyl was Calabria, where, among the desolate forest-glades, the herds and flocks of some rich senator or eques were now tended by barbarous slaves, with whose daily existence the ideal glories of pastoral song were not likely to intermingle.


It is easy for those who wish to depreciate the art of Virgil to point out very many instances of imitation and artificial treatment in the Eclogues, and to establish their manifest inferiority to the Greek idyl in direct truth and vividness of representation. They are not purely objective, like the Greek idyl, nor purely subjective, as the Latin elegy generally is. They are very much inferior to the Greek originals in dramatic power; and the idyl is really a branch of dramatic poetry. Like the pure drama, it depends on the power of living in the thoughts, situations, and feelings of beings quite distinct from the poet himself. Some of the Eclogues, those in which the passion of love and the Italian passion for the land are the motives, are dramatic in spirit, though the conception of the situation is not consistently maintained. But in most cases, where he is not merely imitative, the dramatic form is to Virgil as a kind of veil under which he may partially reveal what moved him most in connexion with his own personal fortunes, and may express his sympathies with literature, with outward nature, and with certain moods and sentiments of the human heart. It is not in virtue of the originality and consistency of their conception, but of their general truth of feeling and the perfection of the medium through which that feeling is conveyed, that those who admire the Eclogues must vindicate their claim to poetic honour.

The reserve with which all his personal relations are indicated, and the allusive way in which the story of his fortunes is told, are in keeping with the delicacy and modesty of Virgil's nature. He tells us nothing directly of his home-life or occupations, though his attachment to the scenes familiar to him from childhood is felt in the language with which Meliboeus felicitates Tityrus on the restitution of his land, and in that in which Moeris and Lycidas discourse together. We know of no actual Galatea or Amaryllis associated with the joy or the pain of his youth; though his subtle perception of the various moods of the passion of love can hardly be a mere poetic intuition, unenlightened by personal experience. The eminent men with whom he was brought into contact, Octavianus, Pollio, Varus, and Gallus, are not individualised; though the different feelings of reverential or loyal respect, of colder deference, or admiring enthusiasm, which they severally excited in him, can be clearly distinguished. In the undesigned revelation of himself, which every author makes in his writings, there are few indications of the religious and moral feeling and of the national sentiment which are among the principal elements in Virgil's maturer poems; but we find abundantly the evidence of a mind open to all tender and refined influences, free from every taint of envy or malice, serious and pensive, and finding its chief happiness in making the charm, which fascinated him in books, in Nature, and in life, heard in the deep and rich music of the language, of which he first drew out the full capabilities:—

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Saepe ego longos
Cantando puerum memini me condere soles(67).

The Eclogues also present Virgil to us as not only a poet, but, as what he continued to be through all his life, a student of the writings of the past. Like Milton he was eminently a learned poet, and, like Milton, he knew the subtle alchemy by which the duller ore of learned allusion is transmuted into gold. The tales of the Greek mythology and the names of places famous in song or story act on his imagination, not so much through their own intrinsic interest, as through the associations of literature. It is under this reflex action that he recalls to memory the tales of Pasiphae, of Scylla and Nisus, of Tereus and Philomela; introduces Orpheus, Amphion, and Linus as the ideal poets of pastoral song; and alludes to Hesiod, Euphorion, and Theocritus in the phrases ‘the sage of Ascra,’ ‘the verse of Chalcis,’ ‘the Sicilian Shepherd.’ It is in this spirit that he associates the musical accompaniment of his song with the names of Maenalus and Eurotas, of Rhodope and Ismarus; and that he speaks of bees and thyme as ‘the bees and thyme of Hybla,’ of doves as ‘the Chaonian doves,’ of vultures as ‘the birds of Caucasus.’ He also characterises objects by local epithets, suggestive rather of the associations of geographical science than of poetry. Thus he speaks of ‘Ariusian wine,’ of ‘Cydonian arrows,’ ‘Cyrnean yews,’ ‘Assyrian spikenard,’ and the like. The interest in physical enquiries appears in the allusion in Ecl. iii, 40,

In medio duo signa Conon, etc.,

and in the rapid summary of the Epicurean theory of creation at vi. 31, etc.,

Namque canebat uti magnum per inane coacta, etc.

In these last passages it is not so much by the scientific or philosophical speculations themselves, as by their literary treatment by former writers, that Virgil appears to be attracted. Perhaps the frequent recurrence of these localising epithets, where there is nothing in the context to call up any thought of the locality indicated, may appear to a modern reader an unfortunate result of his Alexandrine studies; yet the grace with which old poetic associations are evoked and new associations created by such lines as these,

Tum canit, errantem Permessi ad flumina Gallum
Aonas in montis ut duxerit una sororum,

or these,

Omnia quae Phoebo quondam meditante beatus
Audiit Eurotas, iussitque ediscere laurus,
Ille canit(68),

attests the cumulative force which ancient names, identified with the poetic life of the world, gather in their transmission through the literatures of different ages and nations.

In the Georgics and Aeneid, as well as in the Eclogues, Virgil shows a great susceptibility to the beauty and power of Nature. But Nature presents different aspects and awakens a different class of feelings in these poems. In the Eclogues he shows a great openness and receptivity of mind, through which all the softer and more delicate influences of the outward world enter into and become part of his being. The ‘molle atque facetum’ of Horace denotes the yielding susceptibility69 to outward influences, and the vivacity which gives them back in graceful forms. In the Georgics, the sense of the relation of Nature to human energy imparts greater nobleness to the conception. She appears there, not only in her majesty and beauty, but as endowed with a soul and will. She stands to man at first in the relation of an antagonist: but, by compliance with her conditions, he subdues her to his will, and finds in her at last a just and beneficent helpmate70. In the Eclogues she takes rather the form of an enchantress, who, by the charm of her outward mien and her freely-offered gifts, fascinates him into a life of indolent repose. If the one poem may in a sense be described as the ‘glorification of labour,’ the other might be described as the ‘glorification of the dolce far niente’ of Italian life. The natural objects described by Virgil are often indeed the same as those out of which the representation of Theocritus is composed; but in Theocritus the human figures are, after all, the prominent objects in the picture: the speakers in his dialogue, though not unconscious of the charm proceeding from the scenes in which they are placed, yet are not possessed by it; they do not lose their own being in the larger life of Nature environing them. Theocritus shows everywhere the social temperament of the Greeks. It is an Italian, not perhaps without something of the Celtic fibre in his composition, who utters his natural feelings in the lines,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ibi haec incondita solus
Montibus et silvis studio iactabat inani(71).

In Virgil's representation neither the scenes nor the human figures are so distinctly present to the eye; but there is diffused through it a subtle influence from the outward world, bringing man's nature into conformity with itself. The genius in modern times, which shows most of this yielding susceptibility to the softer aspects and motions of Nature, is that of Rousseau; but in the manner in which he gives way to this sentiment there is a want of restraint, a strain of excited feeling, suggestive of the contrast between this transient intoxication of happiness and the abiding unrest and misery of all his human relations. In reading Virgil there is no sense of any such jarring discord; yet it is rather as a pensive emotion, not unallied to melancholy, than as the joy of a sanguine temperament, that his susceptibility to outward impressions is made manifest.

The objects through which Nature exercises this spell are, as was said, much the same as those out of which the landscape of Theocritus is composed. Virgil, like Theocritus, enables us to feel the charm of ‘the sparkling stream of fresh water,’ of ‘mossy fountains and grass softer than sleep,’ of ‘the cool shade of trees,’ and of caves ‘with the gadding vine o’ergrown.’ The grace and tender hues of wild flowers—violets, poppies, narcissus, and hyacinth—and of fruits, such as the ‘cerea pruna’ and the ‘tenera lanugine mala,’—the luxuriant vegetation clothing the rocks and the ideal mountain glades,—

Ille latus niveum molli fultus hyacintho(72),—

the plants and trees,—osiers and hazels, ilex and beech,—the woods, and meadow-pastures, and rich orchards of his native district, have communicated the soul and secret of their being to the mellow tones of his language and the musical cadences of his verse. He makes us hear again, with a strange delight, the murmur of bees feeding on the willow hedge, the moan of turtle-doves from the high elm tree, the sound of the whispering south wind, of waves breaking on the shore, of rivers flowing down through rocky valleys, the song of the woodman plying his work, the voice of the divine poet chanting his strain. By a few simple words he calls up before our minds the genial luxuriance of spring, the freshness of early morning, the rest of all living things in the burning heat of noon, the stillness of evening, the gentle imperceptible motions of Nature, in the shooting up of the young alder-tree and in the gradual colouring of the grapes on the sunny hill-sides. If the labour of man is mentioned at all, it is in the form of some elegant accomplishment or picturesque task—pruning the vine or grafting the pear-tree, closing the streams that water the pastures, watching the flocks and herds feeding at their own will. The new era on which the world was about to enter is seen by his imagination, like the vision of some pastoral valley, half hidden, half glorified through a golden haze. The peculiar blessings anticipated in that era are the rest from labour, the spontaneous bounty of Nature, the peace that is to reign among the old enemies of the animal kingdom.

The human affections which mingle with these representations of Nature are the love of home, and the romantic sentiment, rather than the passion, of love. The common human feeling of the love of home Virgil realises more intensely from his love of the beauty associated with his own home. Many of the sayings of Tityrus and Meliboeus bear witness to the strong hold which their lands and flocks had on men of their class:—

nos dulcia linquimus arva—
ergo tua rura manebunt, Et tibi magna satis—
Ille meas errare boves ut cernis—
Spem gregis a, silice in nuda conixa reliquit—
Ite meae, quondam felix pecus, ite capellae(73).

In the passage of the same Eclogue, from 68-79,

En unquam patrios … salices carpetis amaras,

Virgil tells, in language of natural pathos and exquisite grace, of the poor man's sorrow in yielding his thatched hut, his well-trimmed fields, his corn crops, his pear-trees and his vines, the familiar sight of his goats feeding high up among the thickets of the rocks, to some rude soldier, incapable either of enjoying the charm or profiting by the richness of the land.

The three poems—the second, eighth, and tenth—of which love is the theme are all of a serious and plaintive cast. There are few touches in Virgil's art descriptive either of the happier or the lighter and more playful experiences of the passion, which are the common theme of Horace's Odes. Still less does he treat the subject in the style of Propertius and Ovid. The sentiment of Virgil is more like that of Tibullus; only Virgil gives utterance, though always in a dramatic form, to the real despair of unrequited affection (indigni amoris), while the tone of Tibullus is rather that of one yielding to the luxury of melancholy when in possession of all that his heart desires. They each give expression to that modern mood of passion, in which the heart longs to exchange the familiar life of civilisation for the rougher life of the fields, and to share some humble cottage and the daily occupations of peasant life with the beloved object74. In Virgil also there appears some anticipation of that longing for lonely communing with Nature in her wilder and more desolate aspects which we associate with romantic rather than with classical poetry.

Though, unlike all other Latin poets, Virgil avoids all reference to the sensual side of this passion, there is no ancient poet who has analysed and expressed, with equal truth and beauty and with such a chivalrous devotion, the fluctuations between hope and despair, the sense of personal unworthiness, the sweet memories, the heart-felt longings, the self-forgetful consideration and anxieties of an idealising affection. In such lines as these, expressing at once the sense of unworthiness and the rapid sinking of the heart from hope to despair—

Rusticus es Corydon, nec munera curat Alexis(75),

and again—

Tanquam haec sint nostri medicina furoris(76);

in the lines in which Damon traces back his love to its ideal source in early boyhood—

Saepibus in nostris, etc.;

in the fine simile at viii. 85—

Talis amor Daphnim, qualis cum fessa iuvencum, etc.;

in the tender thought of the dying Gallus for the mistress who had forsaken him—

A, tibi ne teneras glacies secet aspera plantas(77),—

there is a delicate and subtle power of touch not unworthy of the master-hand which, with maturer art, delineated the queenly passion and despair of Dido.

The supreme excellence of Virgil's art consists in the perfect harmony between his feeling and the medium through which it is conveyed. The style of his longer poems has many varied excellences, in accordance with the varied character of the thought and sentiment which it is called on to express. But the strong and full volume of diction and rhythm and the complex harmonies of the Georgics would have been an inappropriate vehicle for the luxurious sentiment of the Eclogues. The attitude of the poet's mind in the composition of these earlier poems was that of a genial passiveness rather than that of creative activity. There are few poems of equal excellence in which so little use is made of that force of words which imparts new life to things. A few such expressions might be quoted, like that given by Wordsworth as ‘an instance of a slight exertion of the faculty of imagination in the use of a single word’—

Dumosa pendere procul de rupe

and we notice a similar exertion of the faculty in the line—

Hic viridis tenera praetexit
harundine ripam

But this actively imaginative use of language seldom occurs in these poems. The general effect of the style is produced by the fulness of feeling, the sweetness or sonorousness of cadence, with which words, used in their familiar sense, are selected and combined. Such epithets as ‘mollis,’ ‘lentus,’ ‘tener’ are of frequent recurrence, yet the impression left by their use is not one of weakness, or of a satiating luxury of sentiment. The soft outlines and delicate bloom of Virgil's youthful style are as true emblems of health as the firmer fibre and richer colouring of his later diction. What an affluence of feeling, what a deep sense of the happiness of life, of the beauty of the world, of the glory of genius, is conveyed by the simple use of the words fortunatus, formosus, divinus in the lines—

Fortunate senex, ergo tua rura manebunt—
Nunc frondent silvae, nunc formosissimus annus—
Formosi pecoris custos, formosior ipse—
Tale tuum carmen nobis, divine poeta—
Ut Linus haec illi divino carmine pastor.

The effect he produces by the sound and associations of proper names is like that produced by Milton through the same instrument. Thus, to take one instance out of many, how suggestive of some golden age of pastoral song are the following lines, vague and conventional though their actual application appears to be in the passage where they occur:—

Non me carminibus vincet nec Thracius Orpheus,
Nec Linus, huic mater quamvis atque huic pater adsit,
Orphei Calliopea, Lino formosus Apollo.
Pan etiam Arcadia mecum si indice certet,
Pan etiam Arcadia dicat se iudice victum(79).

More even in his rhythm than in his diction does Virgil's superiority appear, not only over all the poets of his country, but perhaps over all other poets of past times, except Homer, Milton, and Shakspeare, in those passages in which his dramatic art admits of a richly musical cadence. Our ignorance of the exact pronunciation of Greek in the Alexandrian Age makes a comparison between the effect that would have been produced by the rhythm of Theocritus and the rhythm of the Eclogues in ancient times difficult or impossible. Yet it may be allowed to say this much, that if the rhythm of the Eclogues does not seem to us to attain to the natural and liquid flow of the Greek idyl, yet its tones are deeper, they seem to come from a stronger and richer source, than any which we can elicit from the Doric reed. Rarely has the soothing and reviving charm of the musical sounds of Nature and of the softer and grander harmonies of poetry been described and reproduced more effectively than in these lines:—

Hinc tibi, quae semper, vicino ab limite saepes
Hyblaeis apibus florem depasta salicti
Saepe levi somnum suadebit inire susurro;
Hinc alta sub rupe canet frondator ad auras;
Nec tamen interea raucae, tua cura, palumbes,
Nec gemere aeria cessabit turtur ab ulmo(80):

and in these which suggest the thought of that restorative power of genius which a poet of the present day has happily ascribed to Wordsworth81:—

Tale tuum carmen nobis, divine poeta,
Quale sopor fessis in gramine, quale per aestum
Dulcis aquae saliente sitim restinguere rivo(82):

and in these again, which give both true symbols and a true example of the ‘deep-chested music’ in which the poet gives utterance to the thought which has taken shape within his mind:—

Quae tibi, quae tali reddam pro carmine dona?
Nam neque me tantum venientis sibilus austri,
Nec percussa iuvant fluctu tam litora, nec quae
Saxosas inter decurrunt flumina valles(83).

The objections often urged against the poetical value of the Eclogues may be admitted. They are imitative in form. They do not reproduce scenes and characters from actual life, nor are they consistent creations of the imagination. They do not possess the interest arising from a contemplative insight into the hidden workings of Nature, nor from reflection on the problems of life. Their originality, their claim to be a representative work of genius, consists in their truth and unity of sentiment and tone. If it be said that the sentiment which they embody is but a languid and effeminate sentiment, the admiration of two great poets, of the most masculine type of genius that modern times have produced, is a sufficient answer to this reproach. The admiration of Milton is proved by the conception and workmanship of his ‘Lycidas,’ the most richly and continuously musical even among his creations. Of Wordsworth's admiration there is more than one testimony,—this, from the recently published Memoir of the daughter of his early friend and associate in poetry, perhaps the most direct: ‘I am much pleased to see (writes S. Coleridge) how highly Mr. Wordsworth speaks of Virgil's style, and of his Bucolics which I have ever thought most graceful and tender. They are quite another thing from Theocritus, however they may be based on Theocritus84.’ The criticism which the same writer applies to ‘Lycidas’ suggests the true answer also to the objections urged against Virgil's originality. ‘The best defence of Lycidas is not to defend the design of it at all, but to allege that the execution of it is perfect, the diction the ne plus ultra of grace and loveliness, and that the spirit of the whole is as original as if the poem contained no traces of the author's acquaintance with ancient pastoral poetry from Theocritus downwards.’ To the names of these two poets we can now add the name of one of the most illustrious, and certainly one of the least effeminate, among the critics and men of letters whom this century has produced—Macaulay; who, after speaking of the Aeneid in one of his letters, adds this sentence, ‘The Georgics pleased me better; the Eclogues best,—the second and tenth above all85.’

The appreciation of Wordsworth is a certain touchstone of the genuineness of Virgil's feeling for Nature. It is true that the sentiment to which he gives expression in the Eclogues is only one, and not the most elevated, of the many modes in which the spirit of man responds to the forms and movement of the outward world. But the mood of the Eclogues is one most natural to man's spirit in the beautiful lands of Southern Europe. The freshness and softness of Italian scenes are present in the Eclogues, in the rich music of the Italian language, while it still retained the strength, fulness, and majesty of its tones. These poems are truly representative of Italy, not as a land of old civilisation, of historic renown, of great cities, of corn-crops, and vineyards,—‘the mighty mother of fruits and men;’—but as a land of a soft and genial air, beautiful with the tender foliage and fresh flowers and blossoms of spring, and with the rich colouring of autumn; a land which has most attuned man's nature to the influences of music and of pictorial art. As a true and exquisite symbol of this vein of sentiment associated with Italy, the Eclogues hold a not unworthy place beside the greater work—the ‘temple of solid marble’—which the maturer art of Virgil dedicated to the genius of his country, and beside the more composite but stately and massive monument which perpetuates the national glory of Rome.


  1. ‘I, the idle singer of a pastoral song, who in the boldness of youth made thee, O Tityrus, beneath the shade of the spreading beech, my theme.’

    The lines of Propertius—

    Tu canis umbrosi subter pineta Galaesi
                        Thyrsin et attritis Daphnin harundinibus,

    might suggest the inference that the seventh was composed at the time when Virgil was residing in the neighbourhood of Tarentum. But, at the time when Propertius wrote, Virgil was engaged in the composition of the Aeneid, not of the Eclogues. The present ‘canis’ seems rather to mean that Virgil, while engaged with his Aeneid, was still conning over his old Eclogues. Yet he must have strayed ‘subter pineta Galaesi’ some time before the composition of the last Georgic. It has been remarked by Mr. Munro that the ‘memini’ in the line

    Namque sub Oebaliae memini me turribus arcis

    looks like the memory of a somewhat distant past. Could the villa of Siron have been in the neighbourhood of Tarentum? (a question originally suggested by Mr. Munro); may it have passed by gift or inheritance into the possession of Virgil, and was he in later life in the habit of going to it from time to time? or was the distance too great from Mantua for him to have transferred his family thither?

  2. ‘This taught me “the fair Alexis was loved by Corydon,” this too taught me “whose is the flock? is it the flock of Meliboeus?” ’

  3. viii. 56. 12.

  4. Ep. ad Att. i. 12.

  5. Dr. Kennedy refers to no less than seventeen parallel passages from Theocritus, many of them being almost literal translations from the Greek poet.

  6. ‘Look, the steers are drawing home the uplifted ploughs.’

  7. ‘O that it would but please you to dwell with me among the “homely slighted” fields and lowly cottages, and to shoot the deer.’

  8. ‘The Gods too were dwellers in the woods, and Dardanian Paris. Leave Pallas to abide in the towers which she has built; let our chief delight be in the woods.’

  9. Dr. Kennedy refers to twenty-seven parallels from Theocritus.

  10. ‘Pollio loves my song, though it is but a shepherd's song.’ ‘Pollio himself too is a poet.’

  11. ‘Who hates not Bavius may he be charmed with thy songs, O Maevius!’

  12. ‘Menalcas Vergilius hic intelligitur, qui obitum fratris sui Flacci deflet, vel, ut alii volunt, interfectionem Caesaris.’ Comment. in Verg. Serviani (H. A. Lion, 1826).

  13. See Conington's Introduction to this Eclogue.

  14. ‘No beast either tasted the river or touched a blade of grass.’

  15. Compare M. Benoist's note on the passage.

  16. ‘Proximis diebus equorum greges, quos in traiciendo Rubicone flumine consecrarat ac vagos et sine custode dimiserat, comperit pertinacissime pabulo abstinere ubertimque flere.’ Sueton. lib. i. c. 81.

  17. ‘As to Bacchus and to Ceres so to thee shall the husbandmen annually make their vows; thou too wilt call on them for their fulfilment.’

  18. ‘The star beneath which the harvest-fields should be glad in their corn-crops, and the grapes should gather a richer colour on the sunny hill-sides.’

  19. ‘Graft your pears, Daphnis: your fruits will be plucked by those who come after you.’

  20. Kennedy.

  21. ‘Here the green Mincio fringes its bank with delicate reeds, and swarms of bees are buzzing from the sacred oak.’

  22. ‘This I remember, and that Thyrsis was beaten in the contest: from that time Corydon is all in all with us.’

  23. Cf.

                Ergo tua
    rura manebunt—
                Ille meas errare
                Multa meis exiret
    victima saeptis.
  24. Candidior postquam tondenti barba cadebat—

    Fortunate senex.

  25. See Kennedy's note on the passage.

  26. ‘Though all your land is choked with barren stones or covered with marsh and sedge.’—P.

  27. ‘And larger shadows are falling from the lofty mountains.’

  28. M. Benoist.

  29. ‘Shall some unfeeling soldier become the master of these fields, so carefully tilled, some rude stranger own these harvest-fields? see to what misery fellow-countrymen have been brought by civil strife!’

  30. ‘Now in defeat and sadness, since all things are the sport of chance.’

  31. ‘Me too the shepherds call a bard, but I give no ear to them; for as yet my strain seems far inferior to that of Varius and of Cinna, and to be as the cackling of a goose among tuneful swans.’

  32. ‘Varus, thy name provided only Mantua be spared to us.’

    ‘Daphnis, why gazest thou on the old familiar risings of the constellations?’

  33. ‘And now you see the whole level plain [sea?] is calm and still.’

  34. i. 496.

  35. Compare Gaston Boissier, La Religion Romaine d’Auguste aux Antonins: ‘Il y a pourtant un côté par lequel la quatrième églogue peut être rattachée à l’histoire du Christianisme; elle nous révèle un certain état des âmes qui n’a pas été inutile à ses rapides progrès. C’était une opinion accréditée alors que le monde épuisé touchait à une grande crise et qu’une révolution se préparait qui lui rendrait la jeunesse. … Il regnait alors partout une sorte de fermentation, d’attente inquiète et d’espérance sans limite. “Toutes les créatures soupirent,” dit Saint Paul, “et sont dans le travail de l’enfantement.” Le principal intérêt des vers de Virgile est de nous garder quelque souvenir de cette disposition des âmes.

  36. Any child born of this marriage in the year 40 B. C. must have owed its birth, not to Antony, but to Marcellus, the former husband of Octavia.

  37. The application of the words ‘magnum Iovis incrementum’ by the author of the Ciris (398) to Castor and Pollux suggests a doubt as to Mr. Munro's interpretation of the words, accepted by Dr. Kennedy; though at the same time there is nothing improbable in the supposition that Virgil gave a meaning to the words which was misunderstood by his imitator.

  38. ‘And will rule the world in peace with his father's virtues.’

  39. Fuit enim hic poeta, ut scrupulose et anxie, ita dissimulanter et clanculo doctus, ut multa transtulerit quae, unde translata sint, difficile sit cognitu. Sat. v. 18.

  40. Quae a penitissima Graecorum doctrina transtulisset. Ib. 22.

  41. De Graecorum penitissimis literis hanc historiam eruit Maro. Ib. 19.

  42. ‘Receive a song undertaken at your command.’

  43. ‘When the dew on the tender blade is most grateful to the flock.’

  44. ‘I shall hurl myself headlong into the waves from the high mountain's crag.’

  45. ‘But I think that the finest lines in the Latin language are those five which begin—

    Saepibus in nostris parvam te roscida mala.

    I cannot tell you how they struck me. I was amused to find that Voltaire pronounces that passage to be the finest in Virgil.’ Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, vol. i. pp. 371, 372.

  46. ‘It was within our orchard I saw you, a child, with my mother gathering apples, and I was your guide: I had but then entered on my twelfth year, I could just reach from the ground the fragile branches: the moment I saw you how utterly lost I was, how borne astray by fatal passion.’

  47. ‘I loved you, maiden, when first you came with my mother wishing to gather hyacinths from the mountain, and I guided you on the way: and since I saw you, from that time, never after, not even yet, can I cease loving you; but you care not, no, by Zeus, not a whit.’

  48. Compare 85-86 with Lucret. ii. 355, etc.:—

    At mater viridis saltus orbata peragrans.
  49. ‘And would that I had been one of you, and had been either shepherd of your flock or the gatherer of the ripe grape.’

  50. ‘I am resolved rather to suffer among the woods, among the wild beasts' dens, and to carve my loves on the tender bark of the trees.’

  51. ‘First my Muse deigned lightly to sing in the Sicilian strain, and blushed not to dwell among the woods.’

  52. ‘Nor need you be ashamed of your flock, O Godlike poet; even fair Adonis once fed his sheep by the river-banks.’

  53. Compare the following passage from one of the prose idyls of G. Sand: ‘Depuis les bergers de Longus jusqu’à ceux de Trianon, la vie pastorale est un Éden parfumé où les âmes tourmentées et lassées du tumulte du monde ont essayé de se réfugier. L’art, ce grand flatteur, ce chercheur complaisant de consolations pour les gens trop heureux, a traversé une suite ininterrompue de bergeries. Et sous ce titre, Histoire des bergeries, j’ai souvent désiré de faire un livre d’érudition et de critique où j’aurais passé en revue tous ces différents rêves champêtres dont les hautes classes se sont nourries avec passion.’ François le Champi.

  54. ‘Among the lonely haunts of the shepherds and the deep peace of Nature.’

  55. ‘One may not now hold converse with him from a tree or from a rock, like a maid and youth, as a maid and youth converse with one another.’

  56. Compare the account of the origin of pastoral poetry in Müller's Literature of the Greeks.

  57. ‘But I attune the plaintive Ausonian melody.’ Incertorum Idyll. I. 100-101. (Ed. Ahrens.)

  58. Compare Symonds' Studies of Greek Poets, First Series, The Idyllists.

  59. Wordsworth's great pastoral ‘Michael’ is a marked exception to this general statement. So, too, love can hardly be called the most prominent motive in Tennyson's ‘Dora.’

  60. ‘Poured forth its rustic banter in responsive strains.’

  61. Idyl vii. 97, vi. 2.

  62. Idyl xi. 2-6, xiii. 2.

  63. Preface to Poems by M. Arnold, First Series.

  64. vii. 19, 20. …

  65. x. 41. …

  66.                                                                                             ‘Next well-trimm’d
    A crowd of shepherds, with as sunburnt looks
    As may be read of in Arcadian books;
    Such as sat listening round Apollo's pipe,
    When the great deity, for earth too ripe,
    Let his divinity o’erflowing die,
    In music, through the vales of Thessaly.’

    And again:—

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    ‘He seem’d,
    To common lookers on, like one who dream’d
    Of idleness in groves Elysian.’
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Keats, Endymion.
  67. ‘Often, I remember, when a boy I used to pass in song the long summer days till sunset.’

  68. ‘Then he tells in song how Gallus as he strayed by the streams of Permessus was led by one of the sisters to the Aonian mount.’

    ‘All those strains, which when attuned by Phoebus, Eurotas heard, enraptured, and bade his laurels learn by heart, he sings.’

  69. Compare for this use of mollis in the sense of ‘impressible’ Cicero's description of his brother Quintus (Ep. ad Att. i. 17): ‘Nam, quanta sit in Quinto fratre meo comitas, quanta iucunditas, quam mollis animus et ad accipiendam et ad deponendam iniuriam, nihil attinet me ad te, qui ea nosti, scribere.’

  70. ‘Fundit humo facilem victum iustissima tellus.’

  71. ‘There all alone he used to fling wildly to the mountains and the woods these unpremeditated words in unavailing longing.’

  72. ‘He, his snow-white side reposing on the tender hyacinth,—’

  73. ‘We leave the dear fields’—‘Therefore you will still keep your fields, large enough for your desires’—‘He allowed my herds to wander at their will, even as you see’—‘Ah! the hope of all my flock, which she had just borne, she left on the bare flint pavement’—‘Go on, my she-goats, once a happy flock, go on.’

  74. This is the tone of the whole of the first Elegy of Tibullus, e.g.

    Ipse seram teneras maturo tempore vites
                        Rusticus et facili grandia poma manu.
    Nec tamen interdum pudeat tenuisse bidentem, etc.
  75. ‘You are but a clown, Corydon, Alexis cares not for gifts.’

  76. ‘As if this could heal my madness.’

  77. ‘Ah! may the rough ice not cut thy tender feet.’

  78. ‘Shall I see you from afar hang from some bushy rock.’

    ‘Here green Mincio forms a fringe of soft reeds along his bank.’

  79. ‘I shall not yield in song either to Thracian Orpheus or to Linus, though he be aided by his mother, he by his father, Orpheus by Calliope, Linus by the fair Apollo. Even Pan, should he strive with me with all Arcadia as umpire, even Pan would say that he was vanquished, with Arcadia as umpire.’

  80. ‘On this side, with its old familiar murmur, the hedge, your neighbour's boundary, on all the sweets of whose willow blossom the bees of Hybla have fed, will often gently woo you to sleep; on that from the foot of a high rock the song of the woodman will rise to the air; nor meanwhile will your darlings, the hoarse wood-pigeons, cease to coo, nor the turtle-dove to moan from the high elm-tree.’

  81. Poems by Matthew Arnold. Memorial Verses:—

    ‘He found us when the age had bound
    Our souls in its benumbing round,’ etc.
  82. ‘Such charm is in thy song for us, O Godlike poet, as is to weary men the charm of deep sleep on the grass, as, in summer heat, it is to quench one's thirst in a sparkling brook of fresh water.’

  83. ‘What gifts shall I render to you, what gifts in recompense of such a strain: for neither the whisper of the coming south wind gives me such joy, nor the sound of shores beaten on by the wave, nor of rivers hurrying down through rocky glens.’

  84. S. Coleridge's Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 411.

  85. Life and Letters, vol. i. p. 371.

H. J. Rose (essay date 1942)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8743

SOURCE: “Molle atque facetum” in The “Eclogues” of Vergil, University of California Press, 1942, pp. 24-44.

[In the following essay, Rose reviews contemporary issues surrounding Vergil's Eclogues, commenting in particular on the criticism of Horace and on political and economic factors that may have influenced Vergil's poetry.]

In trying to appreciate an ancient work, or any work not of our own age and country, it is often useful to discover what the critics said about it when it was new. It is our good fortune to have a contemporary mention of the Eclogues by no less a connoisseur than Horace, who says, in a passage mentioned at the end of the last chapter, that the Muses who delight in the country-side have granted to Vergil molle atque facetum. Since, in the comparatively small Latin vocabulary, a word is apt to have a confusing variety of meanings, or at least shades of meaning, we may begin by asking exactly what Horace meant by the epithets he applied to his friend's compositions. Certainly he did not mean that they were, or that their style was, soft and comical. Mollis can indeed mean “soft,” that is to say, it can be used of sundry things which are so described in English, with reference to that quality to which our adjective refers. Vergil himself uses the word of grass, for instance; it is commonly enough used of a man who is what we call a “softy,” generally with the further implication that he is rather nastily immoral.1 But this is certainly not the only appropriate translation of the word. The legs of a thoroughbred colt are not soft, but rather hard and firm; yet Vergil again calls them mollia,2 and the context makes it perfectly clear that he means “springy,” “not stiff.” If, then, a style is called mollis, it means, not that it is lacking in vigour, but that it is flexible, subtle, delicate. What facetus means we shall perhaps see most clearly if we look at its opposite, inficetus. This can mean “lacking in wittiness,” for a good saying is haud inficete dictum, a thing uttered not without wit; irridicule can be used in much the same sense. But three good authors testify that this is far from exhausting the meaning. Cicero tells a story of a man who was neither inficetus nor uneducated, but nevertheless was outwitted by a subtle Syracusan.3 He is manifestly emphasising the victim's shrewdness, not his power of making or seeing a joke. Catullus has a grievance against the taste of his age, which commonly compares a certain damsel, according to the poet afflicted with too big a nose, ill-shaped feet, eyes of rather indeterminate colour and coarse speech, with Lesbia (that is to say, Clodia), one of the most beautiful and fascinating women of the time.4 His words are, o saeclum insipiens et inficetum, “O age devoid of taste and of perception.” And, to go back from these moderns (for such they are) to the most ancient surviving well of Latin pure and undefiled, when Diniarchus, in Plautus,5 sees that wily courtesan Phronesium for the first time after an absence of some length, she asks him why he is so inficetus as not to offer to kiss her; why, in modern phrase, he is such a boob. If therefore Vergil's poetry, in the Bucolics, has point and elegance, if it shows quick perception of what it would describe, it may be called facetum without our casting about to find jokes in it. Perhaps it may be said that the word comes fairly near meaning “humorous.”

So much for what Horace thought of Vergil. Can a modern reader, supposing him to be tolerably well seen in the Latin tongue, that is to say, fairly well educated, and of passable abilities, nec inficetus et satis litteratus, like the man in Cicero's anecdote, honestly say that he finds in the pastoral poetry of our author the qualities of a flexible, delicate style and quick, rather humorous perception of a situation? If we would make trial, it happens that there are two of the poems which are peculiarly handy material for such research, in that they offer none but purely literary difficulties. To appreciate them, perhaps almost as fully as Vergil's contemporaries did, we do not need to solve the numerous really thorny problems which we shall have to face later on, but only to know something of the literature which he knew and to get rid of some monstrously bad criticism, too bad to be worth repeating or refuting if it did not clog the pages of a very popular edition of Vergil, that of John Conington.6 This editor, in his preface to and notes on the second Eclogue, expresses himself in part as follows:

A shepherd gives utterance to his love for a beautiful youth. … Parts of this Eclogue are closely modelled after the eleventh Idyl of Theocritus. … We should be glad [with Ribbeck] to believe it to be purely imaginary, though even then it is sufficiently degrading to Virgil [he then quotes some ancient scandal from the scholia, not worth mentioning even to rebut]. … The beeches (v. 3) and mountains (v. 5) … point to Sicily, not to Mantua, and Sicily is expressly mentioned in v. 21. … The strains of Corydon … are unpremeditated. … If Corydon is a slave, we must suppose with Keightley that, in falling into the Cyclops' language [i.e., in 19 sqq.] he is really thinking of the advantage he gets from having so much under his charge.

Of this precious critique it may be said that the first sentence, the statement that Sicily is mentioned, and the remark about the eleventh Idyll of Theokritos are true in fact. The rest well illustrates an important principle of criticism, that people who cannot appreciate poetry ought not to talk about it. This “degrading” effort happens to be one of the most exquisite and delicate offerings ever made to the Muses of the country-side; it is to the manners of the age, which the poet had no sufficient ground for ignoring, that we must attribute the choice of subject, a passion involving sexual inversion, then probably commoner than now and certainly more freely talked about. The object of Corydon's fancy is in any case a mere lay figure, who never appears on the scene at all; what matters is Corydon's feeling and the way he expresses it. The poet sets the scene for us in two lines:

Corin the shepherd for Alexis burned,
His master's minion; hopeless was his love.

The rest of the poem consists of the complaints which he uttered amid thick-growing beeches (line 3), which cast a deep shade; there was none to hear him except the woods and hills. Since, as we shall see later, there is little or no hilly country near Mantua and few or no beeches, which do not much love hot plains, it is pretty clear that Corydon's haunt is where one would expect a shepherd's to be, on one of the hill-pastures—of which more must be said in a later chapter, when we discuss, not so much where Vergil's father had his estate as what parts of the country the poet in his boyhood had opportunity to become acquainted with. For the present, all that is required is to suppose some region with hills and a certain amount of woodland in it. We may add, if the mention of the singer looking at his reflection in calm sea-water is to be taken literally, that it must not be far from the sea; but it will presently appear that this is a false clue.

The poem falls into a number of irregular stanzas, not marked off by any refrain nor keeping to a fixed number of lines. After the introduction of five verses, in which Vergil speaks in his own person to explain what it is all about, there are eight which describe the lover at noonday, five which contrast old loves with new, nine dealing with the Cyclops, six about the homely country-side, leading up to six more about Corydon's pipe and five concerning some wild kids which he has caught, then eleven which treat of the joys of the country. Now comes the awakening of the singer to his own folly; this is expressed in four lines, which are followed by a last appeal, in nine; and finally, five verses which tell of Corydon's resolve to mend his ways balance the five which brought him and his troubles before us at the beginning of the poem. Except that the Cyclops-song is roughly in the middle of the work, there is no very elaborate arrangement, in fact Vergil himself tells us that there is none. Corydon, he says (line 4), used to sing haec incondita, the disordered matter which follows. Dramatically, this is good, for who expects a sorely troubled rustic to produce, offhand, a masterpiece of balanced self-expression? Yet, for the dramatic monologue is a piece of art, the author must not plunge so far into ultra-realism as to make his work totally incoherent, and therefore uncouth and uninteresting. There are clearly defined limits to the imitation of human speech in art, whether the medium be play, poem, novel, or song. One can hear grunts and groans, half-finished sentences and phrases disconnected from what goes before and after, periods which start and never end, and all the vices of ill-trained or emotionally disordered speakers, to say nothing of singers, without either learning Latin or opening a book of verse. It needs but to walk abroad in any country and listen to the speech of its inhabitants. It is for the artist, whether in verse or prose, to make us catch what his more sensitive ears have already perceived, the music which sings behind and through the broken sounds of “real” life. And so Vergil subtly hints at a regular arrangement, blending the fits and starts of his shepherd's singing with the geometrically correct pattern which would lie at the back of a professional poet's or rhetorician's mind if he sat down to compose, on his own behalf, a plea to a hard-hearted love. At the back of his mind, and not on his page, unless he were a very uninspired hack; for as geometry, though an admirable basis for any visible scheme, whether it be the conventional designs of embroidery or the outlines of a great building, yet will not of itself give an artistically satisfactory shape unless the imagination of the artist supplements it, so such rhetorical devices as symmetry, indispensable to the artist in words, must rather lie concealed than appear, if he is to give us anything better than a cold and artificial utterance, uninstinct with the breath of life.

But let us look again at the opening verses. They are worth it, if only for a kind of sentimental value; for although it is probable that we still have a little of the poetry Vergil composed before he wrote the Bucolics, yet these are the very first which we are sure came from his pen.

Formonsum pastor Corydon ardebat Alexim,
delicias domini, nec quid speraret habebat.

The very sound of them, as of all good hexameters written in the two languages capable of them, is delightful to the ear. Long practice on Vergil's part must have gone to acquiring the power to fit together the words of his native speech into such perfect and smooth melody. And yet longer practice, several generations of it, had gone, before his first beginnings or even his birth, to the same task, from the days when Ennius set out to prove that this difficult Greek metre could be adapted to Latin and incidentally showed that he, small blame to him, did not yet quite know how. By the time of Catullus the Latins had learned, with many experiments and failures, how to write a good hexameter. Vergil was taking the further step of learning, and teaching, how to write a good group of hexameters, all of the same general pattern and yet no two exactly alike. But I must not stray too far into the intricacies of ancient metre, if only because I am myself no expert on the subject.7 Let us rather consider the words our poet uses, and how he fits them together.

He is writing verse, and so his word-order is freer than that of prose, which in turn is freer than the order in English, for Latin has no grammatical meanings to express by the arrangement of its words; being inflected, it can entrust all that to the case-endings and verbal terminations, leaving the question which word should come first and what ones next to be settled by the more subtle rules of rhetoric. So Vergil begins with two words which serve as a kind of title to the whole poem, formonsum pastor, almost “Beauty and the Shepherd.” He thus has said already that his shepherd did something which somehow affected or had relation to one more than commonly good to look upon. While giving the names of his two characters (he puts the shepherd's first, by the figure known as chiasmus), he tells us what the something was; Corydon was made in love with the beauty, ardebat. That, and not the prose amabat. Vergil has no desire to be elaborate here, but to tell us quite simply what subject he has chosen. As in the opening verses of the Aeneid, he is perfectly easy to understand. Here his perfect taste contrasts sharply with that of his imitator Statius, for example, who begins his Thebaid with two and a half clever lines which say no more than “I tell the story of the Theban Brothers,” and then writes fifteen more to add “beginning with a mention of Oidipus.”8 But neither here nor there is Vergil prosaic in his plainness. To write poetry it is necessary to know how to handle verse, as to compose music it is needful to have mastered harmony and other technicalities; and part of the lesson is the difference in phraseology and vocabulary between good verse and good prose. If prose happens to scan, that does not make it verse, but simply bad or at least inferior prose. There was once a mathematician who, to his own great annoyance when the error was pointed out to him, began a chapter of his treatise thus:

No finite force, however great,
Can stretch a string, however fine,
Into a horizontal line
Which shall be absolutely straight.

This, since it had the scansion and rime-system of a stanza of In Memoriam, obviously was not good prose, such as a scientific treatise deserves. But certainly it was not poetry, which does not deal in that kind of truth. I should hesitate also to say that it was verse, for it was not in English poetical diction. “Horizontal line” is a term of art, appropriate to a technical essay, and for that very reason inappropriate to verse. Vergil, by the time he wrote the Eclogues, knew when and how to leave the language of Latin prose for that kind of Latin poetical speech which suited his style and subject; ardebat was one bit of it, and another came in the next verse, quid speraret where prose would have said quod; “had not how to hope” for “had nothing to hope.”

It is a pity that so many moderns, trying to run before they can walk, seem to despise such necessary learning when they set about composing poetry in their own tongues. I could give, but that the task would be somewhat tedious and invidious, examples, not from those pretenders to art who appear to prefer the promptings of their own untutored senses to the whole experience of the centuries of English poetry, but from writers of real merit who err unbecomingly from ignorance of just such elementary things as Vergil knows and observes in these two lines. But aesthetic criticism, unless very good, is very wearisome and it is more germane to the present subject to consider what manner of songs they were which Corydon sang love-lorn under his shady beeches.

He begins with a straightforward appeal to Alexis' pity and asks if his love would have him die: mori me denique coges? The source here, as so often in the poem, is Theokritos, who makes a disconsolate lover9 ask a hard-hearted mistress if she would have him hang himself. Vergil, in adapting the phrase, shows that he knows how to do it, and makes the necessary alteration to fit a close rendering to the conventions of his own tongue. Greek can without offence use in verse the plain word for “hang”, … Latin cannot; it belongs to prose to say suspendio necare, laqueo uitam finire, or the like. When it is absolutely necessary to speak of that way of putting an end to one's own or another's life, Vergil knows how to do it, or did by the time he composed the Aeneid; Queen Amata there10

nodum informis leti trabe nectit ab alta.
Bound to a beam the knot of hideous death.

But here it is not necessary, so he contents himself with the plain mori, which is as good in verse as in prose. Corydon goes on to borrow from another passage in Theokritos and combine it with a third. The language of the next two lines smacks, as it is meant to do, of a totally different noonday scene in the seventh Idyll, the Harvest Festival. There, Theokritos and some of his friends are gathering, on a hot day in late summer, at the estate of certain of their acquaintance in Kos. As he trudges along the dusty road under the noonday sun, Simichidas (that is, Theokritos) is asked by another wayfarer what he is doing out at such a time, “when even the lizard sleeps in the dyke.” This is manifestly a country proverb for intense heat and, like many such sayings, contains a jocular exaggeration; my own experience of Greek and Italian weather does not include any day when the lizards found it too hot to sun themselves.11 Vergil, then, gives us the Theokritean lizard.

Now even cattle seek the cooling shade,
Now even lizards hide beneath the thorn,
While Thestylis, for reapers tired with heat,
Pounds thyme and garlic in an odorous mess.

Corydon being away from roads and farmsteads in his lonely pasture, there are no dykes for the lizards to run into, so the poet makes them shelter under thorn-bushes. As to Thestylis, while I would not go so far as to measure a poet's excellence by the strength of the scents arising from his verses, I do think that the best artists in words know how to appear to all the senses through the devious channel of the ear. In the hot Italian noon, smells carry far, and the national fondness for strong and pungent herbs is not a thing of yesterday, nor the day before. But to return to Theokritos, whom we have left for a moment, since Thestylis and her salad-making are none of his invention, he puts into the mouth of a girl using love-magic by night a pretty piece of inverted “pathetic fallacy.”

Now sleep the waters and the storm-winds sleep,
But not the cares that ravage my poor heart.(12)

Vergil takes the hint, and takes it after the manner of a great and a Mediterranean poet. The other period of calm and stillness is noonday, the hour of the siesta, which is no modern innovation, but part of classical usage.13 In this heavy-scented time of sleep Corydon has no peace, as Theokritos' Simaitha has none:

But in the glare, while still I track thy steps,
With me cicalas make the bushes ring.

A few lines follow of contrast between this new love and the older ones, a sunburned country lad called Menalcas and a cross-grained girl named Amaryllis,14 with a word of warning to Alexis not to put too much trust in his lovely white complexion, carefully sheltered of course from the sun, as was the manner of city beauties of both sexes. Alexis had, it would seem,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              a skin
As clean and white as privet when it flowers,(15)

but Corydon reminds him that no one gathers privet-flowers, but prefers the dark uaccinium, whatever that may be:16

alba ligustra cadunt, uaccinia nigra leguntur.

This bit of botanising morality over, we come to the most misunderstood thing in the poem. I cannot get the sweetness of it into English, but perhaps a translation will carry with it some slight remnant of the humour.

Thou scorn’st me, askest not what man I be,
How rich in herds, how wealthy in milk as white
As snow; mine are the thousand lambs that roam
Sicily's hills, and still my pails are full,
In summer's heat and winter's cold the same.
My songs are those that once Amphion sang,
The Theban herdsman, for his cattle-call,
On Attic Aracynthus. For my face,
’Tis none so ugly, for I saw it late
Reflected off-shore in a windless sea.
Judge thou; if mirrors lie not, I dare cope
Even with Daphnis' self, that comely wight.

This passage contains a designed absurdity, which Vergil's learned readers (he did not write for the unlearned) were meant to notice, though the later commentators, Servius and the rest, did not and missed the joke entirely. Corydon has been at some pains to remember the name of Amphion and his upbringing among shepherds, and even to get him on the right hill with his herd;17 Arakynthos is the name of some high ground in Boiotia, also of a mountain in Aitolia, which does not now concern us,18 and its suffix shows that it is a very ancient name, older than the coming of the Greeks to the country. But the singer is led by association of sounds to think of and distort another famous Theban name, that of Aktaion, and so proudly brings out the fine-sounding Greek line

Amphion Dircaeus in Actaeo Aracyntho,

thus putting the hill on the wrong side of the frontier, for Actaeus can only mean “Attic.” For the rest, he ministers to his own self-respect by bringing himself and his doings into association partly with the sons of Zeus and Antiope, but still more with Polyphemos. He is for the moment not poor Corin the slave-herdsman, but the amorous giant, scorned, not by a brat from the city, but by Galateia the mermaid. The Sicilian hills are of course part of the setting and throw no light whatever on the scene of the poem, the thousand lambs are an improvement on the Theokritean Cyclops' flock, which had a thousand head altogether,19 and the milk seems to be a poeticising of the original's cheese; for some reason, it does not seem to have been elegant to call cheese by its name in Augustan verse,20 but no one minds in a Greek pastoral. The singer continues with another Cyclops-passage, this time from a less-known Idyll, the sixth, where the giant says,

For truly even in looks I am not so bad as they make me out; indeed it was but t’other day that I peered into the sea, when it was calm, and to my judgement my beard showed handsome and also my one eye, while from my teeth there came a glitter whiter than from Parian marble; but lest the evil eye should hurt me, I spat thrice into my bosom, as old Kotyttaris had taught me.

All this borrowing is but pastoral convention; Theokritos is a shepherd, so is Corydon, and one shepherd may be assumed to know another's verses, supposed to have been heard, not read.

But modern commentators have introduced new merriment into the lines, at least for those readers who have any feeling for literature and any power to see the fun lurking behind bad criticism, by their ridiculous assumption that Corydon is singing here in his own person and the consequent solemnity with which they inform us that a man of ordinary stature could hardly use the sea for a mirror and that Corydon is not in a position to own property on a large scale and is not, or should not be, in Sicily. Some day perhaps there will arise a critic who will take Victorian literature for his subject and interpret it through the eyes of a.d. 3000 or so. He will find, it may be, a passage in which one of the characters, in a drawing-room of the ’nineties, sings “I am the Bandalero,” and will gravely take the novelist to task, pointing out that on page 63 he mentioned that the singer was a very honest tradesman and no bandit, while pages 123 and 258 make it clear that he had never been in Spain and was quite ignorant of Spanish. And the criticism will be quite as good as that on Vergil, or on Corydon, for choosing to sing here the song of the love-lorn Cyclops instead of describing naturalistically the feelings of an Italian herdsman. Instead of blaming an ancient author for doing, without elaborate explanations, what a modern perhaps would not do in like case, it is better to examine ancient literature a little more closely, including a poem which we know served Vergil as a model, the sixth Theokritean idyll, already mentioned. In that, two shepherd-boys have a friendly singing-match while their flocks rest at noon by a spring. Both of them sing of the Cyclops, one addressing him and teasing him about Galateia, the other assuming his part and singing his song for him. Whether or not real Sicilian shepherds were fond of ballads about their local monster, it is pastoral convention to suppose they were, and for my own part I am very ready to take Theokritos' word for a fact which he must have known if it was a fact, since I can see no sufficient reason why he should invent it if it was not. But be that as it may, once he had become a classic, anyone else writing about shepherds and their songs had his paramount authority for such a theme to put into their mouths, just as he had for expressing their songs and their conversation alike by hexameters. To quarrel with Vergil for following authority in this respect, still more to imagine that he is not following it but making his pastor speak of himself in this Gargantuan manner, is to show oneself incapable of understanding what a pastoral poet would be at, or at least to condemn him for writing in this vein at all; in which case, why be at the trouble of reading him?

Corydon goes on to praise the unkempt country-side, sordida rura, and here I think we have less of the learned Vergil than of Vergil the country-bred boy. It is hardly the scholar so much as the rustic who knows the exact kind of plant from which to pluck a tough switch for driving a flock of kids. It was the uiridis hibiscus, which our botanists say is marsh mallow.21 But it is worth looking at this passage a little closely to see how convention mingles with realism. This Greek-derived genre ought to have a Greek flavour; therefore the shepherds of Corydon's acquaintance do not worship any Italian deity such as Faunus or Inuus, but are devout followers of Pan. It is true that to the theologians of Vergil's day the Greek and the Italian gods were identical.

Here in the woods we’ll mimic in our song
Pan, him who first conjoined with wax the reeds,
Who cares for sheep and for the shepherd cares.

There follows a section, pretty but not very remarkable, for Vergil, on the joys of the country, especially its flowers and fruits. Now comes the awakening. Corydon reminds himself that he is of the country and could offer Alexis nothing that would really please him, or if he could, would be outbid by his master (who for the purposes of the poem has a Greek name, Iollas, like the rest). But, as he rouses himself to a sense of his own folly and consequent neglect of his work, there comes a half-humorous consolation in the shape of a last appeal.

Whom do you fly, poor fool? the gods themselves
And Dardan Paris in the woods have dwelt.
Let Pallas have her towns, she founded them,
The woods be all our joy. The raging lioness
Follows the wolf, the wolf the playful kid,
The kid the clover, each his own desire;
So Corin for Alexis. Look, the ploughs
Are lifted and the oxen drag them home,
The sun descends, the shadows double long,
Yet love consumes me; love no measure knows.
Poor Corin, why so moonstruck? See, your vines
Hang on their elms half-pruned. There’s work to do;
At least take withies, take a pliant reed,
Weave thee a basket. This Alexis lost,
Thou’lt find another will not be so coy.

Vergil is an Alexandrian on one side of his literary ancestry, and Alexandrians, when they quote or half-quote, do their reader the compliment of supposing that he knows the context of the quotation and can apply it if necessary. It is easy to do so here, for Corydon is simply giving us more of Polyphemos:22

Eh, Cyclops, Cyclops, whither have thy wits wandered? If thou’ldst go and weave cheese-baskets and gather fodder to take to thy lambs, it were better sense in thee. Milk the cow that’s at hand; why run after the one that flees? Thou’lt find another Galateia, belike, fairer than this one.

Having just said that gods and princes lived in the woods, that is to say, the untilled land used for pasture and forestry, Corydon once more adds his favourite giant, also of the “woods,” being a herdsman like himself. Well, then; if the matter is looked at aright, is there not something fine in being a lovesick herdsman, like the great ones of fable, Apollo when he longed for Admetos' society, Paris while yet unrecognised of his royal kin, Polyphemos while he wooed Galateia? Come, come; things are not going so badly for a poor rustic if he is matched with gods, heroes, and giants in his very woes. Corydon goes away with something of a swagger, thanks to his music and his fancies, thinking of himself as somehow great and desirable, in the same class as the uncouth but mighty monster who, as some say, did after all win his Galateia and become by her the father of the whole race of Gauls.23

Compared with the second Eclogue, the third is slight and has less originality, yet it is not without a contribution of Vergil's own to this branch of poetry. Essentially, it is an adaptation of Theokritos' fifth Idyll, whereof a little, part of the opening quarrel between the herd-boys, was quoted in the last chapter. Menalcas and Damoetas meet, pass from rude jests to downright abuse of each other, and in the course of their dispute mention music, which makes one challenge the other to a contest then and there. There is a preliminary wrangle as to what the stake shall be; one wants to wager a heifer, the other dare not for fear of his parents, who always count the beasts at night. Finally they agree to stake a pair of carved wooden bowls. Palaemon, another herdsman, appears on the scene just as they need an umpire, and they begin to cap couplets very prettily, until Palaemon finally decides he cannot prefer either and the match is a draw. A later chapter will have more to say about the fashion of the contest; for the present we may note that, being the kind of imitator he is, Vergil is not content to follow one Theokritean model. He commences with the opening line of the third Idyll and ends with the drawn match of the sixth. He is not at his best in the more colloquial parts of the work, for Latin hexameters, pastoral or other, pay a price for their stateliness in that they cannot be quite natural, as the more flexible Greek can, without ceasing to be pleasing in sound and rhythm. Four men of great talent tried the hexameter for writing about everyday matters of life and conduct, and of these, Lucilius produced some of the worst specimens of Latin metre ever read or heard, but kept the naturalism of language to a greater degree than most of his imitators; Persius combined a designed ruggedness of metre with the most extraordinarily contorted style that has come down to us under the name of a respectable author; while Juvenal produced rather machine-made lines embodying rhetoric of the most effective, bitter, and completely artificial. Only Horace ever managed to be both natural and elegant, and his secret was born and died with him. Vergil had not that kind of genius. He could not write like Terence in a non-Terentian metre, nor, probably, would he have succeeded in those measures which Terence himself used. He gets away therefore from the slanging-match as soon as he decently can, to imitate yet another passage of Theokritos, the description of the cup in the first Idyll. He does not here translate the Greek passage nor imitate it closely, but uses it as a starting-point for giving us his own idea of a piece of artistry in wood by an imaginary craftsman. Soon after, when the umpire arrives to decide the match between the shepherd-boys, Vergil again slips away from his immediate subject into three lines (not undramatic nor without significance, as shall presently be shown) of pure poetry. Palaemon speaks:

Say on, for now soft grass provides our seat,
The birthtime's coming for each field and tree,
The woods in leaf, the year at its most fair.

To anyone who knows Italy, the picture is complete; the grass is fit to sit upon, as it is only in the cooler parts of the year or the country.24 It is springtime.

The two lads now begin to sing against each other, one starting with two lines and the other answering with two of like style and subject. The matter of the forty-four verses which they sing varies from love to literature, and so to the troubles of countrymen (snakes, treacherous streams, burning heat), then back to love again, ending with a pair of riddles which are distinguished by the fact that no one hitherto has succeeded in solving them to the general satisfaction.25 The literary references include one to Pollio, which we shall have occasion to deal with in a later chapter, and one to that famous couple Bavius and Mevius, poetasters so obscure that we should not know they ever existed but for their having annoyed Vergil and Horace, of whom the latter devoted a little poem to calling Mevius a “stinker” and genially wishing him ill luck on a voyage,26 while the former here pairs them (it would indeed appear that they were close friends)27 and remarks that he who does not hate the one is at liberty to love the other, but only a fool big enough to use foxes for draught-cattle or try to milk hegoats would do either.28

But the end of the poem contains a wholly original touch. Generally the umpire in these contests is a mere lay figure, at most giving the author's opinion on the songs of the competitors. Vergil's Palaemon suddenly comes to life—indeed he had given signs of it in his charming little description of the spring weather—and in a few lines (the best of the ancients liked their psychology and character-drawing brief and good) is sketched for us as a romantic and amatory poet, probably young, not much older than the singing shepherds themselves. His judgement is no more than a modest refusal to judge, and makes it clear that his mind has been busy at least as much with his own thoughts and desires as with what they have been singing.

Non nostrum inter uos tantas componere lites;
et uitula tu dignus et hic, et quisquis amores
aut metuet dulcis aut experietur amaros.(29)
So great a quarrel is not mine to end;
Ye both deserve the heifer; so do all
Who fear love's honey or who taste its gall.

The umpire's absence of mind is betrayed by two little points. In the first place, the fears and woes of lovers have hardly been mentioned, and love has by no means been the only theme. In the second, the heifer has not been wagered. Before Palaemon came up, the stake had been decided, and the offer to make it a heifer declined; he does not know what they are singing for, but merely assumes that so earnest a contest must be for a considerable prize. Then who is the third, indeterminate claimant, the person, “whoever he is,” to render Vergil's perfect verse into very plain prose, “that either shall fear love in its sweetness or taste it in its bitterness”? The two competitors, after a pious couplet apiece, to Iuppiter and Apollo respectively, have started with the names of loves—Galatea, Amyntas, Delia. It is obvious enough that they are bragging of affairs which have no existence but in their own imaginations, for they are still very young, and no great credence can be placed in the sincerity of a passion which calls a mistress first Galatea and then Phyllis. Of love's bitterness neither has said or hinted anything. But Palaemon is of a different cast of mind, a kind of shepherd whose existence has been assumed at least since Theokritos wrote his third Idyll, the passionate lover. The convention, like many others, may well go back ultimately to truth and nature, but in any case it exists. As the serenader in Theokritos (if we may call that a serenade which is not sung in the evening) addresses a hard-hearted and unresponsive Amaryllis, so we may suppose Palaemon to have spent much thought and song over his love, whoever she may be, and it needs but a few notes of music to set his mind on that familiar theme once more. I much doubt if he has heard more than the amatory lines which came early in the contest, unless it be a passing Phyllida amo ante alias, “Phyllis is my chief love,” from Menalcas. Therefore, when the singers pause, as they do unbidden, it dawns on the poor umpire that he has not really been listening, and is in no position to decide which has done better. So he hastily declares a draw, and assures them that they have sung enough:

claudite iam riuos, pueri; sat prata biberunt.
Shut off the waters, for the fields are moist.

No one, at this time of day, can be sure that he sees in Vergil all, or nearly all, that Horace saw and admired. On the contrary, it is probable that we miss many delicate points of language and allusion that were perfectly clear to him and to other educated contemporaries of the poet. But I think we may fairly claim to see those qualities which he mentions and which I have tried to point out. There is in these two poems, perhaps the simplest and least interesting of the ten, a power of passing easily from theme to theme and from mood to mood, from the desperate earnestness of Corydon's passion to the slightly ridiculous figure of Corydon himself; from the rough chaff of Damoetas and Menalcas to their dainty singing and from that again to the slight but vivid sketch of their umpire, with his love of poetry and beauty and his preoccupation with his own affairs. This may serve to show why Horace styled his friend's work molle, flexible. And as to the humour, surely that is present in works which handle with so light a touch matter over which it would be quite easy to grow sentimental and rhetorical, letting us see at once that Corydon's woes are a trifle absurd and that, for the moment, they are the most important things in the universe to Corydon. For it is the destiny of the little man that his affairs, however intensely he may feel them, still remain little in comparison with the scheme of things and that to make them out important must always be just a shade absurd to the impartial observer. It is not snobbishness but sound judgement which lies behind the old precept of critics, that the proper subjects for tragedy are kings and princes, not common folk.

Now this sense of humour, a rare thing among Latins, which Vergil shows that he had, is nothing but a particular form of the sense of proportion, which is none too common in any people or age. That sense is put to an acid test in the next group of Eclogues we have now to examine. Vergil could see that his imaginary shepherds were not space-filling figures and became less, not more impressive when they tried to make themselves out to be such. Could he continue to see troubles and misfortunes in so sane a light when they were his own? Was he capable of realising that although he or his household might suffer, the world at large could not be expected to join in their complaints; in fact, that Publius Vergilius Maro, his father and his friends, might weigh little heavier in the scales of the world than a slave-herdsman, who might be very wretched, or very angry, and yet leave the district of Mantua generally content and prosperous? Such detachment needs, not merely native humour or sense of proportion, but more than a slight tinge of philosophy, inborn or acquired. Now Vergil had had a philosophic training, and, if the little poem which generally stands fifth in the Catalepton is really his, as many think, he had been an enthusiastic pupil. He was, or had been, an Epicurean, and Epicurus, like most of the later teachers and their followers, made it his chief task to liberate the mind from the disturbances which it would otherwise suffer in this mortal life. So Vergil, if indeed it was he, had thought when he looked for the reward of “a life set free from every care”30 as a result of his studies under his teacher Siron. If we are to judge how he faced his share of earthly miseries, we must first make up our minds what exactly these were and then ask concerning his reaction to them. We of today, used as we became to two or three fresh crises every month till the last of them once more plunged Europe into open and declared hostilities, do not need much imagination to realise how easy it was for a man of Vergil's generation to fall a prey to what we inelegantly term “jitters,” while Latin more plainly styled it formido, fear. Economic distress, again, is nothing new, although Vergil's word for it is egestas, and it was extremely common when Octavian, afterwards the Emperor Augustus, was fighting for his position and his supremacy. Both these evils seem to have come the poet's way, and he spoke his mind about them after his fashion. …


  1. For example, Paris is mollis when he runs away from Diomedes (Horace, carm., I, 15, 31); a lustful woman accuses Horace of being mollis (epod., 12, 16), meaning that he is not a vigorous lover; mollis inertia, epod., 14, 1, is unmanly idleness; molles querelae are womanish complaints, carm., II, 9, 17; valiant soldiers are non molles uiri, epod., 1, 10. Catullus puts mollis alongside an even plainer word in lampooning Thallus, 25, 1, and examples in Martial are not far to seek, e.g., III, 73, 4.

  2. Georg., III, 76: mollia crura reponit, “puts his feet down springily.”

  3. Cicero, de off., III, 58.

  4. Catullus, 43.

  5. Plautus, Truc., 355. See further Excursus I, below.

  6. I use the fifth ed., revised successively by Nettleship and Haverfield. Both these good scholars seem to have been withheld by mistaken piety from pruning the original editor's appallingly bad criticisms. For some good comments on the form of this Eclogue, see R. Maxa, Die strophische Gliederung an der zweiten und zehnten Ekloge des Vergilius nachgewiesen, Trebitsch, 1882.

  7. For consideration of some curious features of Vergil's prosody, see W. F. J. Knight, Accentual Symmetry in Vergil (Oxford, Blackwell, 1939).

  8. Statius, Theb., I, 1-17.

  9. Theokr., III, 9, απαγξαsθαί με ποηsειs; (so, not ποηsειs.) Cf. in general E. Pfeiffer, Virgils Bukolika (Stuttgart, Kohlhammer, 1933).

  10. Aen., XII, 603.

  11. Theokr., Id. VII, 22; see Rose in C. R., XLI (1927), p. 100.

  12. Theokr., Id. II, 38–39. …

  13. See for instance Ovid, Amores, I, 5, 2.

  14. Cf. Rose, op. cit., p. 99.

  15. Tennyson, Walking to the Mail. See, for the identification of botanical names in Vergil, J. Sergeaunt, The Trees, Shrubs and Plants of Virgil (Oxford, Blackwell, 1920); on pp. 67 sq. the author explains the meaning of ligustra here and cites the English parallel.

  16. Sergeaunt, pp. 56 sqq.

  17. Cf. Propertius, III, 15, 41-42: uictorque canebat/paeana Amphion rupe, Aracynthe, tua.

  18. See Steph. Byzant., s. u. ’Aρα κυνθοs, who cites Rhianos; Serv. on Ecl., II, 24.

  19. Theokr., Id. XI, 34.

  20. Hence Vergil calls it pressi copia lactis, Ecl., I, 81; contrast, e.g., Theokr., Id. V, 87; XI, 36.

  21. Theokr., Id. VI, 34 sqq.

  22. Sergeaunt, p. 54.

  23. Theokr., Id. XI, 72 sqq.

  24. Rose, Handb. of Gk. Myth., pp. 39 sq., note 55. The story is of course quite late and artificial, but may have been known to Vergil.

  25. See Excursus II, below.

  26. The riddles are (lines 104-107):

    D. Dic quibus in terris, et eris mihi magnus Apollo,
                                  tris pateat caeli spatium non amplius ulnas.
    M. Dic quibus in terris inscripti nomina regum
                                  nascantur flores, et Phyllida solus habeto.

    Servius gives two interpretations of the former riddle, one that it alludes to the tomb of a certain Caelius, luxuriosi cuiusdam, qui uenditis omnibus rebus et consumptis tantum modo sibi spatium reseruauit quod sepulchro sufficeret. This is obviously a piece of scholiast's invention, made to suit the occasion, and may safely be neglected. His other solution is that it means the famous well at Syene which was said to have the sun directly at its zenith at noon of the summer solstice, or simpliciter … cuiuslibet loci puteus, since the sky would show no more than three cubits wide from the bottom of it. This is yet more absurd, and a better than either is the modern guess (attributed in De la Rue's note to “Ciacconius et Cerdanus”) that caeli here means mundi in the sense of the ritual pit, or rather pits, so called. Unfortunately we have no information of how wide they were, but it is quite possible that Vergil knew and that some of them, e.g., that dug in founding a city, were no wider than 4[frac12] ft. Servius is much more plausible on the second riddle; the flowers are hyacinthi, and nomina regum is a rhetorical plural for nomen regis, the markings on the plant, by one explanation, spelling the name of Aias.

  27. Hor., epod., 10.

  28. For refs., see my Handb. of Lat. Lit., p. 345.

  29. Lines 90-91: qui Bauium non odit, amet tua carmina, Meui,/atque idem iungat uolpes et mulgeat hircos. Servius glosses by faciat ea quae contra naturam sunt; the metaphors smack of country proverbs.

  30. Simple though Vergil's language is, the lines have been erected into a crux by certain interpreters, ancient and modern, partly because aut and haut or haud tended to be confused in writing as they were in pronunciation, the h becoming silent in late Latin. Servius explains well enough: et tu et hic digni estis uitula et quicunque similis uestri est; nam supra unus dixerat “triste lupus stabulis, maturis frugibus imbres, arboribus uenti, nobis Amaryllidis irae” (80 sq.), item aliter, “dulce satis umor, depulsis arbutus haedis, lenta salix feto pecori, mihi solus Amyntas” (82 sq.), ad cuius amatoris similitudinem pertinet “aut metuet dulces,” etc. But Filargirius writes amazing rubbish: si metuet dulces, experietur amaros, sin autem non metuet amaros, experietur dulces. He apparently read haut for the second aut. Hirtzel, following Graser, reads haud both times; I leave the honoured shades of these scholars the task of determining what, if anything, the lines may then be supposed to mean.

  31. Catal., 5, 10; for the reading, see chap. iv, note 38, end.

Excursus I

(Cf. Note 6)

The phrase molle atque facetum has a little literature of its own, ancient and modern, with the findings of which I am partly but not wholly in agreement. Setting aside commentators on Horace himself and on Vergil, we may begin with Quintilian, inst. orat., VI, 3, 2, who says truly: facetum quoque non tantum circa ridicula opinor consistere, neque enim diceret Horatius facetum carminis genus natura concessum esse Vergilio. decoris hanc magis et excultae cuiusdam elegantiae appellationem puto. ideoque in epistula Cicero haec Bruti refert [the letter in question is lost save for this quotation] uerba; ne illi sunt pedes faceti ac deliciis [?] ingredienti molles; quod conuenit cum illo Horatiano, e.q.u. Brutus' acquaintance, that is, had not exactly witty feet, but a subtle and delicate way of walking, especially under the circumstances which the probably currupt deliciis is meant to indicate. Among moderns, the following have all had something to contribute. L. Bayard, in Rev. de Philologie, XXVIII (1904), No. 3, p. 213, takes both words as adjectival, agreeing with epos in the preceding line (Horace, sat., i, 10, 43, after discussing the merits of Fundanus in comedy, Pollio in tragedy: forte epos acer/ut nemo Varius ducit; molle atque facetum e.q.s.), but admits that, even so, Horace refers or may refer to matter as well as style. A molle epos might be a verse or poem which treated of molles, or mollia, certainly. R. Pichon, ibid., XXXII (1908), pp. 64 sq., adds that mollis is especially used by elegiac poets of their own works. Going into the matter more thoroughly, Professor C. N. Jackson (Harvard Studies in Class. Phil., XXV, 1914, pp. 117-137), notes the use of both adjectives in rhetoric and concludes that both are appropriate to the elegance and delicacy of the genus tenue affected by the Atticising writers of the day, whereof Pollio was one. This is true, but may not at once be converted into the proposition that wherever a writer, especially a master of words like Horace, uses them of literature he means no more than that; the generic sense is not swallowed up by the specific and technical. Moreover, as M. B. Ogle shows (Am. Four. Phil., XXXVII, 1916, pp. 327-332), mollis is used with a wider range of meaning, even in rhetoric. It was not the word his contemporaries would use of the rather harsh style of Pollio, and it is by no means employed only of the genus tenue. Agreeing on the whole with him, Charles Knapp (ibid., XXXVIII, pp. 194-199) quotes with approval the explanation of Arthur Sidgwick and one or two others of facetum as “playful,” which is not far from the meaning “humorous” which I incline to give it.

Excursus II

(Cf. Note 26)

I find that it is necessary to point out in more detail that Palaemon in Ecl., III, 55-57, means spring and not summer, for by no means the worst of the writers on Vergil, A. Klotz in Neue Fahrb. f. das klass. Altertum, XLV/XLVI (1920), p. 148, still insists that the latter season is meant. Let us analyse and interpret the lines closely. I have spoken of the first, dicite, quandoquidem in molli consedimus herba. The grass is soft, therefore the weather has not been hot for long; and the shepherd-boys are near home, 34, therefore they are not in a hill pasture; therefore they are in the lowlands and yet they can sit on the grassy ground in comfort and their flocks have apparently plenty to feed upon (that Aegon's ewes are milked twice in an hour, 5, is of course Menalcas' scandalous exaggeration, but it is not the sort of joke which could be made of beasts with a poor yield of milk; cf. 30, where a young cow has milk enough for two calves and two milk-pails over). 55, et nunc omnis ager, nunc omnis parturit arbos. Parturit, not parit, so the “birth-pangs of the sheath” (κáλυκοs εν λοχευμαsιν, Aesch., Agam., 1392) are not yet come; in other words, everything is showing signs of growth, but nothing is mature yet. 56, nunc frondent siluae, the woods are leaving, nothing being said of the size of the leaves; nunc formosissimus annus, which in itself should be enough for anyone who has read the ancient authors; spring and no other season is the proverbially lovely time.

Bruno Snell (essay date 1953)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6011

SOURCE: “Arcadia: The Discovery of a Spiritual Landscape” in Virgil: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Steele Commager, Prentice Hall, Inc., 1966, pp. 14-27.

[In the essay below, originally published in 1953, Snell investigates Vergil's manipulation of the pastoral Arcadian setting in the Eclogues, contending that Vergil synthesized Theocritus' s Arcadia with the mythological world.]

Arcadia was discovered in the year 42 or 41 b.c. Not, of course, the Arcadia of which the encyclopedia says: ‘The central alpine region of the Peloponnesus, limited off on all sides from the other areas of the peninsula by mountains, some of them very high. In the interior, numerous ridges divide the secetion into a number of small cantons.’ This humdrum Arcadia had always been known; in fact it was regarded as the home of Pelasgus, the earliest man. But the Arcadia which the name suggests to the minds of most of us to-day is a different one; it is the land of shepherds and shepherdesses, the land of poetry and love, and its discoverer is Virgil. How he found it, we are able to tell in some detail, thanks to the researches of Ernst Kapp.1 The historian Polybius who came from the humdrum Arcadia cherished a great affection for his country. Although there was not much of interest to be related of this land behind the hills, he could at least report (4.20) that the Arcadians were, from the days of their infancy onwards, accustomed to practice the art of singing, and that they displayed much eagerness in organizing musical contests. Virgil came across this passage when he was composing his shepherd songs, the Eclogues, and at once understood it to refer to the Arcadian shepherds, for Arcadia was shepherds' country and the home of Pan, the god of the herdsmen, inventor of the syrinx. And so Virgil located the lives and the poetic contests of his shepherds in Arcadia. ‘You Arcadians,’ he says (10.32), ‘who are alone experienced in song.’ He mentions two Arcadians ‘who are equal in song, and equal to giving response in turn’ (7.5). He remarks on mount Maenalus in Arcadia ‘which ever hears the love songs of the shepherds and Pan blowing his pipe’ (8.23). He calls upon Arcadia to judge a contest between the singers (4.58). The shepherds whom Virgil introduces in his earliest eclogue are not Arcadian but Sicilian (2.21): this setting comes to him from the idylls of Theocritus, the Hellenistic poet who served as the model for all Roman pastoral poetry. Since the shepherds of Theocritus, too, indulged in responsive singing and competitions, Virgil had no difficulty in linking them with the Arcadians of Polybius.

Theocritus who was born in Syracuse had written about the herdsmen of his own country. Meanwhile, however, Sicily had become a Roman province, and her shepherds had entered the service of the big Roman landlords. In this new capacity they had also made their way into Roman literature; witness Lucilius' satire on his trip to Sicily. But they could no longer be mistaken for the shepherds of song and love. Thus Virgil needed a new home for his herdsmen, a land far distant from the sordid realities of the present. Because, too, pastoral poetry did not mean to him what it had meant to Theocritus, he needed a far-away land overlaid with the golden haze of unreality. Theocritus had given a realistic and slightly ironical description of the herdsmen of his country engaged in their daily chores; Virgil regarded the life of the Theocritean shepherds as a sublime and inspired existence. If we look at the beginning of his earliest bucolic poem: ‘The shepherd Corydon loved fair Alexis,’ it has a different ring from anything comparable that Theocritus might have said. In Greek these names were hardened by daily usage; in Virgil they are borrowed words, cultured and strange, with a literary, an exotic flavour, like the names of the mythical heroes which Virgil had drawn from Greek poetry. The effect of this upon the persons of the shepherds was decisive. Later, when Virgil himself had become an example to be followed, the shepherds of European literature were called Daphnis and Amyntas, but they too were awkwardly out of place in the Cotswolds, or the Cornish heath. In the end, when Johann Heinrich Voss by-passed Virgil and re-established Theocritus as his model, he gave the protagonists of his idylls the good German peasant names Krischen and Lene.

Virgil, then, did not aspire to furnish a realistic portrayal of everyday life, but searched for a land which could harbour herdsmen named Corydon and Alexis, Meliboeus and Tityrus, a land which might be a fitting domicile for everything that seems to be implied in such poetic names. In the tenth Eclogue, the latest in date of writing, which more than any other pastoral piece by Virgil stresses the Arcadian milieu, the poet Gallus has been set down in Arcady and there finds himself in the company of the gods and shepherds. The Roman god Silvanus and two Greeks, Apollo god of song and Pan the deity of the Arcadian herdsmen, express their sympathy with his unhappy love. How would this be possible in so near and familiar a setting as Sicily? This scene too has its precedent in Theocritus, but there (1.77ff.) the gods Hermes, Priapus, and Aphrodite are shown paying a visit to the mythical shepherd Daphnis, not just to an ordinary human, much less to an identifiable contemporary of the writer. Theocritus' scene is mythical, and he keeps that mythical atmosphere clear of any intrusions. In Virgil's Arcadia the currents of myth and empirical reality flow one into another; gods and modern men stage meetings in a manner which would have been repugnant to Greek poetry. In actual fact this half-way land is neither mythical nor empirical; to the Roman Virgil and his Roman public, Apollo and Pan convey even less of their divinity, as objects of genuine faith, than they had to Theocritus and his Hellenistic audience. Arcadia is not an area on the map, either; even the person of Gallus appears misty and unreal, which has not, of course, prevented the scholars from trying to penetrate through the mist and identify the historical Gallus.

The air of unreality which hangs over Virgil's poems is thus explained by the fact that he seeks to approximate the world of Theocritus and that of myth, and that therefore he manipulates the traditional mythology with a greater licence than would have been possible for a Greek. The tragedians of the fifth century, to be sure, had begun to elaborate the ancient tales and to interpret them anew, but they had nevertheless maintained the fiction that they were discussing events of the hoary past. Plato's inventions in the mythical genre are often no longer connected with the ancient motifs, but they are always profoundly significant tales, genuinely mythical in tenor and aim. Callimachus says that when he first put his writing-tablet on his knees, Apollo gave him some useful hints for his poetry. But that is obviously a joke; and when he reports that the lock of Queen Berenice was placed among the stars, he bases that on the belief of his time that a great man may after his death be received among the gods. But nobody, prior to Virgil, seriously shows men of the present in close contact, and on an equal footing, with divine beings.

When the early age, during which the Greeks had accepted myth as history, came to a close the tragic writers and the historians of the fifth century divorced the two fields from each other. Myth retired beyond the world of man, and though at first it retained its old function of providing a standard of explanation and interpretation for human experiences, tragedy turned it into a poetic counterpart of reality. With the emancipation of myth came two important changes. On the one hand the ancient heroes and events were interpreted realistically—the psychological approach to the myths is part of this trend—in order to render them more useful to men in their daily lives; and secondly new dramatic situations were invented to the end of adapting the old myths to the stage. Hellenistic poetry carried the psychological interpretation of mythical characters even further, and it made the setting more naturalistic than ever before; but as against this, it also discovered new aesthetic possibilities for the myths. From these up-to-date versions of the ancient tradition, poetry learned to turn its aesthetic energies into the glorification and embellishment of the objects of commonplace reality. In the end, Theocritus domesticated the Sicilian shepherds and made them acceptable to his sensitive art. Virgil, in a certain sense, set about reversing this order of events, and in fact he finally wound up restoring the grand form of the epic. The Eclogues contain the first indications of his role which was to exalt the realistic writing which served as his point of departure, viz. the idylls of Theocritus, by suffusing it with elements of myth. Myth and reality are thus once more joined together, albeit in a manner never before witnessed in Greece.

Virgil arranges the meeting between his friend Gallus and Pan and Apollo because Gallus is a poet. As a poet he is on excellent terms with the Arcadian shepherds; Virgil had transferred his shepherds to Arcadia because the inhabitants of that country, as Polybius had informed him, were especially well versed in song. The shepherds of Theocritus, too, delight in song; but the ancestry of the musical herdsman is older yet. To trace it all the way back, we must turn to the age before Homer, for on the shield of Achilles (Il. 18.525) we find shepherds rejoicing in the sound of the syrinx. We have already mentioned the fact that it was the Arcadian deity Pan who was responsible for the invention of this instrument. Bucolic poetry, also, is of an ancient vintage. It appears that, about the year 600 b.c., Stesichorus introduced it into the repertory of Greek literature, with a choral ode in which he told the story of Daphnis. Daphnis was loved by a nymph; but when, in a bout of drunkenness, he became unfaithful to her, he suffered the punishment reserved for him: he was blinded. This account is obviously based on a simple rustic tale, localized in the vicinity of Himera, the city where Stesichorus lived. In his version, as we might expect in a Greek poetic treatment, the folk-tale is changed into a divine myth, for Daphnis is said to be the son—or, according to others, the beloved—of Hermes, and he tends the cattle of Helios. Our information about the poem is, unfortunately, late and imperfect, but we know that an important section of it was a lament for Daphnis. From that time onward the shepherds have been in love, usually without hope of success; either they indulge in their own suffering, or they wring a poetic expression of sympathy from their friends. We cannot say for sure how Stesichorus formulated all this, but it may be supposed that he endowed the pastoral life with some of the subdued lustre which Homer allows to the figure of Eumaeus, the faithful swineherd of Odysseus. The familiar and selfsufficient world of the simple shepherd is rendered in a myth which, though evidently sprung from a folk-tale, is for all that no less real than the myths which tell of heroes and heroic deeds.

More than three hundred years later, Theocritus composes yet another lament for Daphnis. This time it is given out as a song of the Sicilian shepherd Tityrus (7.72), and again as a composition of the herdsman Thyrsis (1.66). Theocritus takes some pains to present a realistic picture of the life led by Sicilian shepherds. But in one respect they are anything rather than country folk: their mood is a literary one. Theocritus engineers a kind of masquerade; he wishes us to recognize poets of his own circle behind the rustic disguise. He adopts the classic motif of the singing and playing shepherd, and develops the scope of the pastoral poem by voicing the literary themes of the day. All this is done in a spirit of good-natured jesting; the dissonance between the bucolic simplicity of the pasture and the literary refinement of the city is never completely resolved, nor was it ever intended to be, for the whole point of Theocritus' humour lies in this dissonance. In the lament for Daphnis we read: ‘The trees mourned for him, those which grew along the Himera river, when he melted away like snow on mount Haemus or Athos or Rhodope or on the furthest Caucasus.’ This is the speech of the literati, for it is not customary with shepherds to discuss Haemus or Athos, Rhodope or Caucasus; it is the grand style of tragedy.

This high-flown diction must not be compared with the Greek geographical nomenclature with which Horace, who is our best example for this technique, equips his poems. To a Roman ear his place names do not convey the parody of tragedy, but respect for a noble tradition. And that is the spirit in which Virgil purloined his characters from Theocritus. The Roman poets use these strange-sounding names, dignified, as they thought, by the Greek passages in which they had occurred, to add to the stateliness of their speech; for the Latin tongue has no poetic diction of its own. The names help to lift the writing to a higher plane of literary art. As far as the Romans were concerned, if we may venture a paradox, all these mountains lie in Arcadia, in the land of Corydon and Alexis, of Pan and Apollo. It would not be fair to suggest that in the Augustan period such places had already degenerated into a kind of scenic backdrop for a poetic stage which may be exchanged at will. But it is certain that they have nothing whatever to do with any real landscape outside the theatre, where you might find ordinary, nonfictional men.

When Theocritus has his shepherds enumerate these mountains, he creates roughly the same impression as when Menander puts his quotations from tragedy in the mouths of uneducated slaves. With deliberate irony he makes his Sicilian shepherds live above their intellectual means. But when Virgil read these passages and others like them, he accepted them in the spirit of the more solemn context from which they had originally come, as expressions of genuine feeling. The tension between the real and the literary world which Theocritus had exploited for its peculiar charms, is brought to nought, and everything shifts back to the even plane of an undifferentiated majesty.

In Theocritus, Daphnis is the shepherd from the myth of Stesichorus. In other works he is just an ordinary herdsman, like Tityrus or Corydon. But he is always either the one or the other. Virgil mentions him already in his earliest eclogue: there he is unquestionably the mythical shepherd (2.26). In two other passages (7.1 and 9.46) he is a common herdsman. But what is his identity in the fifth Eclogue? As in other bucolic poems, two shepherds, Menalcas and Mopsus, want to stage a singing contest. They sing of the death and apotheosis of Daphnis, i.e. apparently the Daphnis of the myth. But this Daphnis had been the friend of Menalcas and Mopsus (line 52); thus he also belongs to the immediate environment of the competing herdsmen. Now at the end of the poem we discover that Virgil is using one of the two men as a mask for his own person. Once Virgil had placed his shepherds in Arcadia, it seems, it was but a short step to blend the bucolic with the mythical. This transition was, of course, facilitated by the fact that Theocritus himself had used the figure of Daphnis in both capacities.

In Theocritus, as in Virgil, the shepherds are less concerned with their flocks than they are interested in poetry and love. In both writers, therefore, they are gifted with passion and intellect, but in different ways. Theocritus' herdsmen, notwithstanding their pastoral status, often prove to be urban intellectuals in disguise. Virgil's shepherds, on the other hand—and it is charming to follow the steady progress from ecologue to eclogue—become increasingly more delicate and sensitive: they become Arcadian shepherds. Theocritus, too, stands at a distance from his shepherds; being a man from the city, he looks down upon them partly with a feeling of superiority, partly with an open mind for the straight simplicity of their primitive life. The simplicity is more ideal than fact, and so his shepherds, in spite of all realism, remain fairly remote from the true life in the fields. But this remoteness is as it should be, for a genuine summons back to nature would silence the whole of pastoral poetry; as it turned out, that is exactly what happened in a later age. Above all, these shepherds are not really taken seriously. Their quarrels have something comical about them; how different from the harsh wrangling between Eumaeus and Melanthius in the Odyssey! The violent head-on conflicts which we find in tragedy, even between kings, do not exist in Theocritus, and Virgil goes even further in smoothing the differences. From Theocritus on the shepherds display a courtly behaviour, and this courtliness, or courtesy, remains true of all bucolic poetry. The rustic life is made palatable to good society by its acquisition of manners and taste; if there are any embarrassing features left, the poet neutralizes them by making them appear droll, by smiling at them. Virgil is even more intent than Theocritus on toning down the crudeness and coarseness of the shepherds; as a result, he has less occasion to feel superior to them. Furthermore, while endowing the herdsmen with good manners and delicate feelings, he also makes them more serious-minded. But their seriousness differs from that of a Eumaeus; they have no strength to stand up for their genuine interests, nor do they ever clash with one another in open conflict. They are no more conversant with the true elemental passions than the heroes of the Aeneid were to be. And it is significant that in those ages when Arcadian poetry was in fashion, and when courtly manners were the order of the day, the Aeneid has always been more highly favoured than the Iliad or the Odyssey.

Virgil's Arcadia is ruled by tender feeling. His herdsmen lack the crudeness of the peasant life as well as the oversophistication of the city. In their rural idyll the peaceful calm of the leisurely evening hours stands out more clearly than the labour for their daily bread, the cool shade is more real than the harshness of the elements, and the soft turf by the brook plays a larger role than the wild mountain crags. The herdsmen spend more time playing the pipe and singing their tunes than in the production of milk and cheese. All this is incipient in Theocritus, but the Alexandrian still shows some interest in realistic detail. Virgil has ceased to see anything but what is important to him: tenderness and warmth and delicacy of feeling. Arcadia knows no reckoning in numbers, no precise reasoning of any kind. There is only feeling, which suffuses everything with its glow; not a fierce or passionate feeling: even love is but a delicate desire, gentle and sad.

Virgil, the discoverer of Arcadia, did not set out to explore new lands. He was no adventurer of the spirit who listens to the call of foreign shores. With utmost modesty he admits that he is proud to have been chosen by the Muse to introduce the Theocritean pastoral among the Romans (6.1). It was not any wish to be an innovator or reformer which caused him to swerve off the path of Theocritus. We must assume that when in his reading of Theocritus he found the grotesque tale of Polyphemus who tried to find a cure for his love in singing, the figure of the Cyclops changed under his very eyes, while he was yet perusing the tale, and turned into a lonely shepherd who voices his longing (Ecl. 2). Theocritus says (11.12) that the herds of Polyphemus had to make their way home by themselves in the evenings, because the herdsman forgot all else over his singing. Virgil interprets this as a picture of the golden age when the flocks were able to return to the stables of their own accord, without any herdsman to look after them (4.21). Or again: Virgil has read that during the noon heat lizards sleep in the thornbush. He had found this in Theocritus, where someone expresses his amazement that another person is up and about during that hour, ‘while even the lizards take their siesta’ (7.22). Virgil has a shepherd who is unhappily in love sing as follows: ‘While the flocks seek the cool shade and the lizards hide in the bushes, I must continually sing of my love’ (2.8). Thus the sensible beasts have become the happy beasts. Theocritus concludes a jocular prayer to Pan (7.111) with these words: ‘If you do not comply with my prayer, I hope you will pasture your flocks during the winter in icy Thrace on the Hebrus, and during the summer among the Ethiopians in the furthest south.’ In Virgil, Gallus mourns (10.65ff.): ‘Nor will my unhappy love subside if I drink from the Hebrus in mid-winter or if I plough through the snowfalls of the Thracian winter, nor if I pasture the sheep of the Ethiopians under the sign of Cancer (i.e. in mid-summer).’ The drastic punishment threatened to the shepherd's god is transformed into the sorrows of the unhappy lover who roams through the whole wide world and cannot find a hardship extreme enough to free him from his tortures. These subtle changes are numerous; little by little, without drawing our attention to it, Virgil varies the Theocritean motifs. The transformation is so slight that it took a long time before it was noticed how far Virgil had progressed in his Eclogues beyond the pleasantries of the Hellenistic poet. He admired and acknowledged the work of Theocritus, he dwelt lovingly on his scenes; but because he read them with the eyes of the new classicistic age, he slowly came back to the classical Greek poetry, with its earnestness, its deep feeling, its drama. Virgil had not intended to be original; he merely re-moulded Theocritus in the image of what he considered to be characteristically Greek. This was the route by which Virgil discovered Arcadia: without searching for it, without proclaiming his arrival; and so we, for our part, have no easy time in discovering that it was he who discovered the land, and what its discovery means to us.


About six hundred years before Virgil, the early Greek lyrists had awoken to the fact that man has a soul; they were the first to discover certain features in the feelings of men which distinguished those feelings sharply from the functions of the physical organs, and which placed them at opposite poles from the realm of empirical reality. For the first time it was noticed that these feelings do not represent the intercession of a deity or some other similar reaction, but that they are a very personal matter, something that each individual experiences in his own peculiar fashion, and that originates from no other source but his own person. Further they had found out that different men may be united with one another through their feelings, that a number of separate people may harbour the same emotions, memories, or opinions. And finally they discovered that a feeling may be divided against itself, distraught with an internal tension; and this led to the notion that the soul has intensity, and a dimension of its own, viz. depth. Now everything that we have so far remarked about Virgil's Arcadian world may be summed up by saying that Virgil developed these three basic modes which the early lyric had ascribed to the soul, and interpreted them afresh.

Under Virgil's hands, the spontaneity of the soul becomes the swirling tide of the dream, the creative flux of poetic fancy. The feeling which transcends the individual and forges a link between many men becomes Virgil's longing for peace and his love for his country through which even the beasts and the trees and the mountains are welcomed as fellow-creatures. And finally, the dissonance and depth of the emotions unfold into the conscious suffering of the sensitive man, his awareness that his tender and vulnerable soul lies at the mercy of a harsh and cruel world.

Later on Virgil himself appears to have sensed the futility of pursuing further such an indulgence in the feelings; but the three functions of the soul which he had brought into the open: poetic reverie, unifying love, and sensitive suffering, point far into the future. It was not merely because of his prophecy in the fourth Eclogue that Virgil was, in the Middle Ages, regarded as a pioneer of Christianity. His Arcadia is set half-way between myth and reality; it is also a no-man's land between two ages, an earthly beyond, a land of the soul yearning for its distant home in the past. However, in his later years Virgil avoided the regions discovered by him. For in his later poems he acquired a temper of severe manly restraint which led him to draw closer to the classical Greek expressions of feeling and thought; but many a trace of his earlier sensibility remained.

Along with his new understanding of the soul, Arcadia also furnished the poet with a radically new consciousness of his artistic role. Virgil, for his own person, was too modest to boast loudly of his achievement, but in his portrait of Gallus in the tenth Eclogue he gives us a general idea of his views on the special function of the poet. The reasons, he hints, why the poet takes his stand among the gods, and why he receives the sympathy of nature, is because his feelings are more profound than those of other men, and because therefore he suffers more grievously under the cruelties of the world. Virgil does not actually spell out these ideas which were to become so important in modern poetry, but even his hinting at them is new. At the beginning of the sixth Eclogue Virgil for once formulates a programme of poetic art, but, as is his manner, he is careful not to make too much of himself or his poetry. Following the traces of Callimachus, he refuses to have anything to do with the great epic—later, of course, he was to reverse himself—and he confines himself to the delicate pastime of brief compositions. But in this connexion he accidentally drops a remark which is quite unlike anything that Callimachus ever said; he expresses the hope that his lines, insignificant as their theme is, may be read by someone ‘captured by love.’ This sympathetic affection is the mark of the poet, and the poet seeks to transmit his compassion to his reader.


… Horace does not speak of Arcadia, but he too envisages a realm to which the poet alone has access and which is closed to ordinary mortals; a place where dignity of intellect, delicacy of soul and bodily beauty thrive and flourish. The poet who seeks this place is a stranger among men. This land in which the Roman poet finds the objects of his striving is the realm of Greek culture and literature. It follows, of course, that the Greek motifs lose their ancient contact with reality; the Muses cease to be real divinities, the priest is no longer a practising priest, the mystery cult is no longer a genuine worship, and the teacher has no actual disciples before him. Each image acquires a metaphorical meaning, and in this land of literary hopes everything, as in Arcadia, must be taken with a grain of salt. Myth and reality intrude upon each other; concrete existence gives way before significance. The heritage of the Greeks is turned into allegory, and literature is transformed into a kingdom of symbols.

This uncovers a deep cleavage between the factual and the significant. The concrete world of experience finds itself face to face with a new world of art. True, even in Greek literature allegory and symbols had not been unknown, but they had been innocuous and unproblematic by comparison. A Greek writer who speaks of Hephaestus may actually mean a fire. The evolution of that formula might roughly be sketched as follows. In an early period it was possible to say: ‘Hephaestus destroyed a city,’ in the firm belief that the god's fury was in the fire. Then came the enlightenment which taught that there were no gods, and that Hephaestus ‘signified’ fire, for only fire was real. In the same fashion it became possible to ‘explain’ all other gods. Finally there was the theory of poetry which stipulated that the writer must use a picturesque and dynamic style, and that it was more beautiful and more poetic to use the name Hephaestus rather than speak of fire. Rationalism on the one hand, poetic theory and the desire for embellishment on the other, were responsible for the metonymic use of the names of the gods.

These considerations prevailed also upon Virgil and Horace, but in one essential the Romans differed from the Greeks. A Greek poet, so long as he is a believer, recognizes a reality in the name; for one who has ceased to believe, the name becomes a sylistic device or merely poetic play. But the Romans employ these names to create their Arcadia, the land of the spirit and of poetry; without the names, the land could not exist. It is true that the names had already lost much of their original impact in Attic tragedy; since the myth is not related, but acted out or played, the gulf between reality and signification was apparent even then. The drama, that which is happening on the stage, leads us beyond its own limits to a spiritual meaning; it expounds a problem which cannot be expressed directly. But despite this, the outlines of the mythical figures do not vanish behind a mist of unreality; on the contrary, they stand in the very centre of a grimly tangible plot.

Another reason why the characters of Attic tragedy could never be mere allegories is that they were always accepted as real creatures of flesh and blood. Although the ancient myths are no longer enacted as if they were history pure and simple, and although the straightforward limitation of mythical events was gradually forsaken in favour of an added emphasis upon the intellectual and spiritual sides of the action, the dramatic figures remain with their feet firmly planted on the ground. They are no longer regarded as real, but every effort is directed at making them appear possible. And as the belief in the reality of the myth dwindled, poetry tried hard to preserve at least a semblance of reality by resorting to the devices of realism and psychology. Allegory, on the other hand, does not insist on this kind of semblance; within its realm, the function of a figure is only to convey one specific meaning. In Virgil the nymphs and the Muses, Pan and Apollo are very close to the level of allegory, for they embody the idyllic life of Arcadia, the peace which fills its pastures and the romantic poetry to which its shepherds are dedicated.

Thus the ancient gods are, so to speak, reduced to the form of sigla: they are deprived of their primeval mysterious power, and all that is left to them is an ideality which no longer springs from religious awe but from literary erudition. They have taken on a Utopian quality, embodying the spiritual truths which are not to be found in this world. A similar change in the thinking concerning the gods is indicated in many examples of the classicistic painting and sculpture which flourished in Attica at the time of Virgil. We do not know enough about the Greek literature of this epoch to be able to tell to what extent Virgil was indebted to it in his allegorization of the gods. But what was least as important was this, that for the Romans the gods and the myths of the Greeks had never been real. They adopted them as part of their cultural heritage from Greek literature and art, and they found in them the world of the spirit which the Greeks had discovered. Among the Romans, therefore, these figures are emphasized chiefly for whatever meaning they may hold for the life of man; they are allegories in the real sense of the word, for they signify something entirely different from what they had originally meant. They are like loan words taken into another language, which are called upon to translate a strange legacy for the benefit of the heirs and their thought and feelings, if such a thing is possible in matters of the mind. The gods become allegories at the very moment when Greek literature gives birth to a literature of the world.

A similar development occurred also in the East. Allegorical interpretation helped Philo to incorporate Greek myth and Greek wisdom into Hellenistic Judaism, and Clement of Alexandria performed the same office for Christianity. Much was accepted, but the religious and philosophical core was rendered harmless by this reformulation. The world of the Greek spirit was, perforce, a strange in the cultures which absorbed it, and the allegorical interpretation was needed to permit the Greek heritage to be accepted by nations and ages whose beliefs were in many respects diametrically opposed to Greek thought.

The special importance of Virgil, which distinguishes his accomplishment from the Jewish and the Christian assimilation of Greek culture, and which places him squarely in the Roman tradition leading from Ennius to Catullus, is the fact that he uses the arts viz. poetry, to channel the Greek heritage into the body of Roman thought. But further than that, his Eclogues represent the first serious attempt in literature to mould the Greek motifs into self-contained forms of beauty whose reality lies within themselves. Thus art became ‘symbol.’ Comparable tendencies do not exist in Greek literature. At most we might establish a certain similarity with the myths of Plato; but even this last comparison serves only to stress the special quality of Virgil's achievement. Plato's myths, too, had been concerned with ‘significance’ rather than with reality. But they are not self-contained poetry; on the contrary, their objective is to illustrate something else. They refer to a specific argument which Plato would like to express rationally, but for which his language does not suffice. That is why Plato deprecates his myths and calls them mere play. In Greek literature this species of myth-making had no successors.

Arcadia was a land of symbols, far distant from the quarrels and the acrimony of the present. In this land the antique pagan world was permitted to live on without injury to anybody's feelings. Arcadia was so remote that it was no more in danger of clashing with the See of Rome or with the Holy Roman Empire than it had run afoul of the Imperium Romanum of Augustus. Only when Europe began to be dissatisfied with the goods handed down to her, and when she took thought upon her own spiritual substance, did Arcadia run into trouble. But that was also the time when the genuine Greece was restored to her rightful place.


  1. E. Panofsky, ‘Et in Arcadia ego,’ Festschrift E. Cassirer. Cf. Hermes, LXXIII (1938), 242.1.

“Arcadia: The Discovery of a Spiritual Landscape.” From The Discovery of the Mind by Bruno Snell. Translated by T. G. Rosenmeyer. Copyright 1953 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and Basil Blackwell & Mott, Ltd. Reprinted by permission of the Harvard University Press and Basil Blackwell & Mott, Ltd. The pages reprinted here are only part of a chapter entitled “Arcadia: The Discovery of a Spiritual Landscape.”

Charles Paul Segal (essay date 1965)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 13171

SOURCE: “Tamen Catabitis, Arcades—Exile and Arcadia in Eclogues One and Nine,” Arion, Vol. IV, No. 2, Summer, 1965 pp. 237-66.

[In the following essay, Segal studies the literary relationship between Eclogues One and Nine, emphasizing that Vergil's treatment of political issues in these poems is that of a poet rather than of a historian.]

One of the difficulties hampering students of Vergil's Eclogues has been a certain loss of perspective about the relations between poetry and biography. While no one would deny that Vergil's writing of the Eclogues has some definite relation to certain political circumstances, that relation is one of a poet and not an historian. It is the ability to transform personal experience into larger, more intensely significant terms wherein lies the distinguishing quality of the poet's genius. The poet's experience of the “actuality” around him is, as other men's, rooted in the succession of historical events; but, if he chooses—or feels compelled—to make poetry of these events, it is because they supply him with profound insights into issues which often far transcend their historical source and may be (in fact, usually are) of a totally nonhistorical character.1 The poet, then, transforms historical reality into poetic reality; and it is with this transformed reality that the study of poetry is properly concerned, however much it may be aided by historical or biographical information. This distinction, though fundamental, has often become obscured in recent decades of “scientific” scholarship, though it has been restated sporadically by scholars of a rather more humanistic outlook, as for example by Plessis half a century ago:

(Les Bucoliques) sont des oeuvres d’actualité—ce qui ne veut pas dire de circonstance,—et d’une actualité sentie par une des âmes les plus anxieuses et les plus belles qui ait jamais été; ce sont les tristesses et les rêves d’un grand coeur et d’une grande intelligence.2

Increasing numbers of scholars in recent years have abjured the “biographical fallacy” and its limitations; but the biographical approach still weighs heavily on students of the Eclogues and perhaps most heavily on students of Eclogues 1 and 9.3 Vergil's farm—its location, confiscation, restoration—the identification of Tityrus or Meliboeus or Menalcas with Vergil, the chronological relation between the two poems, the ambiguous praise of Octavian (if indeed he is the iuvenis in E. 1) by the young poet—audax iuventa, “bold in his youth,” as he says looking back on his poem a decade or so later (Georg. 4.565-66)—these are questions which have been discussed with such energy and subtlety that they have often (though by no means always) distracted scholars from approaching the two works as poetry. Furthermore, though scholars have examined the poetic qualities of each poem individually, studies of the relation between the two poems have all too often limited themselves to the “biographical” issues.

In the following pages I shall offer some detailed literary analysis of each poem separately, but my major concern will be the relation between the two poems and some of the larger implications of this relation in the light of the poetic character of the Eclogues considered as a unified work. This unity is, to be sure, of a looser kind than that found within a single poem. Yet these ten poems, written within the space of three years (if we can believe the biographical tradition) with their cross-references and recurrent characters, real and imaginary, are cast in a single mood and style. Indeed, it has been suggested that they may be the first book of single poems in Latin literature to have been put together with a conscious sense of the design and artistic unity of the whole.4


Eclogues 1 and 9 are obviously intended as pendants one to the other. Both involve exile from a peaceful, familiar world; and both develop a contrast (stronger and more pathetic in E. 1) between a shepherd facing exile and one who is still at rest within the pastoral world. Both too (in this like E. 6 and 10) end on the theme of rest and the fall of evening. Some deliberate verbal echoes make the connection even more explicit (though again the parallels provide no certain evidence for the chronological relation of the two poems). Most obviously, E. 9.50,

Insere, Daphni, piros: carpent tua poma nepotes

(Graft your pear-trees, Daphnis; your descendants will pluck the fruit)

recalls E. 1.73,

Insere nunc, Meliboee, piros, pone ordine vitis

(Now, Meliboeus, graft your pear-trees; set your vines out in rows),

save that this latter sentence is bitterly ironical, while the former is more neutral in tone, though as will appear later, also not lacking in a certain pathos. Further, in E. 1.16-17 Meliboeus speaks of a foreboding of his disaster which he failed to recognize:

Saepe malum hoc nobis, si mens non laeva fuisset,
de caelo tactas memini praedicere quercus

(I remember, if my mind hadn’t been turned awry, that oaks struck by lightning foretold this woe to us.)

In E. 9.14-16, at roughly the same point in the poem, Moeris too describes an omen, though one which he successfully recognized:

Quod nisi me quacumque novas incidere lites
ante sinistra cava monuisset ab ilice cornix,
nec tuus hic Moeris nec viveret ipse Menalcas.

(But had not a raven from the hollow oak on my left hand warned me in advance to cut short somehow my new proceedings, neither your Moeris here nor Menalcas himself would be among the living.)

The difference between these two passages is symptomatic of general differences between the two poems. Though the disaster intimated by the omen of E. 9 makes that of E. 1 seem trivial by comparison, still the omen served its purpose. The warning was heeded and the disaster averted. Bad as things are, then, there still seems to be, in E. 9, some kind of favoring order. Hence one can still hope and look forward to better times:

Carmina tum melius, cum venerit ipse, canemus

(We’ll sing our songs better when he comes himself, E. 9.67.)

Eclogue 1, on the other hand, ends less positively. Meliboeus, the exiled shepherd, is left in far greater despair than his counterpart, Moeris, in E. 9. In E. 9 too the threat of dispossession by no means suppresses the shepherds' delight in song, whereas the situation hangs more oppressively over the characters of E. 1. In E. 9, in other words, the pastoral world, the remote and imaginative song-filled hills of Theocritus, can assert itself still. In E. 1 this world is clouded over far more by the intrusive realities of Roman politics.

Yet to whatever degree the two poems complement one another, both, taken individually and as a pair, present a leitmotif of the Eclogues, the interplay between the real and the imaginary, between the familiar, often troubled present and the distant, hope-filled future.

This mixture of contrasting elements is perhaps the major stylistic device of E. 1 and, as will be suggested more fully later, is in part responsible for its opening the collection. The first exchange at once sets the oppositions into motion: two speeches of five lines each, both beginning with a vocative (Tityre, 1; O Meliboee, 6). The first speech complains of exile; the second exults in good fortune. The contrast of exile and settledness, however, is developed even within the first speech:

                    Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui musam meditaris avena:
nos patriae finis et dulcia linquimus arva.
nos patriam fugimus: tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.

(Tityrus, you, as you lie under the cover of a spreading beech, practise your forest muse with light oaten flute: we leave the borders of our country and our sweet fields. You, Tityrus, easeful in the shade, teach the woods to echo the fair Amaryllis, 1-5.)

Not only is there the pointed contrast, “You under a beech … ; we in exile … ” (lines 1 and 3), but also the carefully balanced Tityre, tu (1) … tu, Tityre (4) frames the statement of exile in the central portion, lines 3-4. With “Tityrus” in line 4, the last line and a half moves back into the pastoral peace, now lost to the speaker, of lines 1 and 2:

                                        tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.

This circular a-b-a movement in the first five lines is, in small, the pattern of the whole poem.5 Thus from the good fortune of Tityrus (6-10) we move again to Meliboeus' misfortune (11-18), then back once more to Tityrus' success at Rome (19-25), with its ramifications both into the past (27-41) and the future (46-58, 59-63), then once more to Meliboeus' misfortune (64-78), and finally to Tityrus' promise of rest (79-84). This movement can be tabulated sketchily as follows:

1-5 a-b-a Meliboeus' introduction
6-10 a Tityrus' good fortune
11-18 b Meliboeus' misfortunes
19-63 a Emphasis on Tityrus' success and its background:
1) 19-45: his past life leading up to his visit to Rome
2) 46-58: Meliboeus' description of the good things Tityrus is to enjoy in the country (Fortunate senex)
3) 59-63: Tityrus refers again to his success at Rome
64-78 b Meliboeus' lament for his exile; At nos hinc (64) marks the contrast with what precedes
79-83 a Tityrus' promise of rest. Hic tamen (79) answers At nos hinc (64).

The middle section is complex, and I make no attempt here at a complete analysis. The fact that Tityrus' good fortune is described by the dispossessed Meliboeus (Fortunate senex, “happy old that you are,” 46) in the most “pastoral” part of the poem is a dramatic device which adds considerably to the pathos, for we see a future projection of Tityrus' pastoral life, with its untroubled continuities, through the eyes of one condemned to give up this life as he has known it in his own past.

Tityrus, on the contrary, has been deeply and favorably impressed by the city and tends to demean his rustic surroundings by comparison to it:

Urbem quam dicunt Romam, Meliboee, putavi
stultus ego huic nostrae similem … 
sic canibus catulos similis sic matribus haedos
noram, sic parvis componere magna solebam.
verum haec tantum alias inter caput extulit urbes
quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.

(The city which they call Rome, Meliboeus, I thought in my foolishness to be like ours. … So did I know that puppies are like dogs and kids like mother goats, thus was I wont to compare great things with small. But this city lifts its head as far among other cities as cypresses are wont to do among the winding osiers, 19-24.)

There is a further pathetic irony here in that the terms of Tityrus' comparison, and especially his last line,

quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi,

vaguely seem to recall Meliboeus' lament in the opening lines, and intensify in Meliboeus the awareness of the beauty of exactly that which Tityrus is depreciating; and thus his response is,

Et quae tanta fuit Romam tibi causa videndi?

(And what great reasond did you have for seeing Rome? 26.)

There is a characteristic Vergilian delicacy and sensitivity, and a touch of humor too, in the tanta which effectively distinguishes the two men and the two situations. Tityrus, while demeaning the rustic world, unconsciously praises it; and Meliboeus, whose mind responds far more readily to the praise than the depreciation, can conceive of leaving it only under the compulsion of the weightiest reasons (quae tanta … causa, “what so great reason”).6

Tityrus too has a more prosaic attitude than Meliboeus toward his rustic world. For him it is a place of work and hard-earned savings (peculi, 32) and frustrations (pinguis et ingratae premeretur caseus urbi, “and the cheese is pressed out for the ungrateful city,” 34). The exile is far more prone to idealize what he must leave, and he dwells lovingly on the familiar features of his beloved country with lush adjectives which he seems scarcely able to refrain from applying to every noun. The bees are “Hyblaean,” sleep is “soft,” the rock is “lofty,” the doves “hoarse,” and in a single line (52) the founts “sacred” and the coolness “shaded.”

The last two lines of the poem are again deep in the peace of the pastoral world:

Et iam summa procul villarum culmina fumant
maioresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae

(And already from afar the tops of the houses send forth their smoke and longer shadows fall from the tall hills)

and thus mark a circular return, though with a heavier, more somber resonance, to the untroubled liquids of the first two lines.7

Within this large movement there are several related groups of contrasts. First, as already suggested, that between country and city. The city is, of course, Rome (19) and hence connotes all the threatening realities (en quo discordia civis/ produxit miseros, “To what a pass has discord brought the wretched citizens,” 71-72) which are driving Meliboeus out of the pastoral world. Civis in 71, and miles in 70, are significant words in pointing up the realities which the urbs threatens; they would ordinarily have no place in a traditional pastoral setting.

The city-country antithesis carries with it another contrast of a somewhat more subtle nature, that is, a difference between simplicity and artificiality of language. All the descriptions of the country are put into the mouth of the exiled Meliboeus. His language, lavish of adjectives as it may be in 46-58, is nevertheless direct and straightforward, whereas Tityrus tends toward syntactical complexity (note the harsh and unnatural syntax of 27-30) and rhetorical exaggeration (see 7ff., namque erit ille mihi semper deus …; 22ff., sic canibus catulos similis …) which reaches its peak (or should one say nadir) in the inflated commonplaces and periodic structure of 59-63 (Ante levesergo … quam nostro …). It is not that Vergil had not quite completed his farewells to the inanes … rhetorum ampullae (“the empty jars of the rhetors,” Catalepton 5), nor that “this verse [62], with its fortissimo in the dynamic movement of the poem, completes the breakthrough to the sublime.”8 Rather, Vergil, with a typically subtle humor, is using style to enhance the dramatic movement and the characterization. Tityrus' language can be attributed to the fact that he is, naturally, exultant. Yet it is perhaps also as if he has brought back from the city some of its complexity and artificiality. So too what is rhetorical artifice for Tityrus in 62 is bitter reality for Meliboeus in 64-66. Meliboeus, who has never been to the city but, because of the city and its wars, is being driven from his “sweet fields” (dulcia arva, 3) speaks with a directness and nobility that enhance the pathos of his situation. Simplicity of expression such as his is the natural vehicle for interpreting the simple beauty of the country. Meliboeus is the true poet, the one to describe the beauties of the country; Tityrus, whose mind seems as prosaic as his language, talks of savings and cheese. Yet he who appreciates this beauty and can respond to it and give it expression in its proper terms, he who possesses the true “forest muse” (silvestrem musam) with its “light oaten flute” (tenui avena, 2) is the one to be exiled.9

Through the stylistic differences in the speech of the two rustics also, city and the powerful “god” it contains are made even more remote from Meliboeus' world. They belong not only to a different geographical area, but also to a different verbal area, a mode of speech that is unfamiliar and distant. They thus appear as spiritually as well as spatially removed.

There is yet another important set of contrasts running throughout the Eclogue: the interplay between past and future. Meliboeus sees all his happiness as belonging to the past. His flock is quondam felix, “happy once” (74), while for the future he sees only darkness: “Shall I ever, a long time after (longo post tempore) look with wonder upon my native country … ” (67-69); “I shall not in time afterward (posthac) see you …, my goats; no songs shall I sing” (75-77). Conversely he uses the same future tenses of Tityrus (ergo tua rura manebunt, “Your fields, then, will remain,” 46), but his companion's future Meliboeus sees as unblemished happiness since he will stay in the country. Tityrus himself can regard as assured the calm link between past and future, for he has been told, “Pasture your oxen as before, my children” (pascite ut ante boves, pueri, 45). But for Meliboeus this link is broken, and he leaves behind his past happiness with his patria.

Yet just as Vergil ends the poem with the settled, not the exiled rustic, so in the concluding lines he leaves the complex movement from happy past to uncertain future for the calm certainty of the present. For this one night, at least, Meliboeus is promised rest: Hic tamen hanc mecum poteras requiescere noctem (79); and the poem ends with the same present-tense timelessness with which it began (cf. sunt, fumant, cadunt, 80-83; recubans, meditaris, doces, 1-2, 5).

Tityrus can still occupy the timeless present which is the heritage of every pastoral shepherd: action free equally from bondage to a past and from responsibility for future consequences and hence removed both from regret and from guilt. Action for Tityrus, then, is static, without results or limits, as Meliboeus unhappily points out in his opening lines (recubans, meditaris, lentus, doces; and the languour reaches also to the tree, the patula fagus, 1). But the present tenses used by Meliboeus of himself—linquimus, fugimus—only carry him farther away from Tityrus' happy world. And so the last lines of the poem, with the verbs of pastoral nonaction-in-action, are indeed a final attempt to regain peace, to reaffirm Arcady. But peace and Arcady belong now only to Tityrus.

Thus despite the temporary effort toward calm and rest the tensions between sadness and peace, settledness and disposession are unresolved. Rest is promised, it is true, but exile is no less pressing. The morrow still awaits. This atmosphere of suspension amid contraries, of rest amid disturbance, sets the tone for the Eclogues. The momentary pause of these last lines creates the silence in which the collection can be entered. Yet the temporary duration of the silence is not forgotten, nor with it the sense of the effort required to create a world of peace and beauty apart from the surrounding threats of disturbance and violence.10

In such a world—the world before Actium—the poet is indeed an exile. He can respond to and express the beauty he can find in the world; yet he cannot claim this beauty as a stable and permanent possession. It is a precarious holding from which he may be all too easily dislodged.


Like Eclogue 1, the Ninth Eclogue is a dialogue between two shepherds, one dispossessed, the other apparently unthreatened by the troubles in the region. Yet there is a crucial difference. Lycidas, the unthreatened shepherd, makes a genuine attempt to console his friend. Unlike the self-centered Tityrus, his counterpart in E. 1, he does not simply receive congratulations on his good luck. In fact, the poem contains no reference to the happier fortune of Lycidas. Thus the contrast that is so strongly developed in E. 1 never fully materializes here. There is still some dramatic movement in the attempts of the rather enthusiastic and cheerful Lycidas to brighten the mood of his more somber and stolid friend. Yet Lycidas, though he is more sympathetic than Tityrus, is also less vivid. This lack of full characterization should not necessarily be regarded as a weakness in the poem (there has indeed been a tendency, unjustified, as I hope to show, to disparage the literary merits of E. 9);11 it is probably a deliberate attempt on Vergil's part to restrict the dramatic element.

By so doing, Vergil helps diminish the reality of the entire situation and hence the intensity of the sense of loss. Measured against E. 1, this reduction is significant. The setting especially is not so clearly localized as in E. 1, with its explicit reference to Rome. Even lines 7-9 of E. 9, despite the claims of commentators hunting for Vergil's farm, present a fairly generalized description: hills sloping down gently, water, old beech trees; and, to confuse further any precise identification, the sea is in sight (note aspice, “behold,” 57).12 Also the relation of Moeris to Menalcas is left rather vague. It is presumably a master-servant relation, but it is never made quite clear whether Moeris is slave or free (contrast the emphasis on Tityrus' acquisition of his freedom in E. 1.27ff.). Then the fact that the loss of the farm primarily concerns a third person, the absent Menalcas, contributes to this same effect of rendering more remote the sense of disaster.

This lessening of the immediacy of the misfortune allows the poem to assume a more “literary” character than E. 1. The shepherds can take time to exchange songs, and they are not so crushed that there is a sense of incongruity between their singing and the darker mood created by the news of dispossession. In the same way the large number of translations from Theocritus which the poem contains and rather obtrusively exhibits reduces the dramatic immediacy and calls attention to the artificial, “literary” framework of the poem itself. There is thus a degree of poetic self-consciousness, heightened by the references back to the Fifth Eclogue in lines 19-20 (cf. E. 5.20 and 40), which is almost totally absent in E. 1. While the First Eclogue, then, attempts to present the situation in direct, dramatic form, the Ninth deflects attention to the intervening frame.

Paradoxically, the very beginning of the Ninth Eclogue is characterized by a greater dramatic vividness than that of the First. While E. 1 begins with the regretful fluidity and drawn out, almost sensuous melancholy of Meliboeus' lament,

Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi,

E. 9 begins abruptly with a question in an almost flippantly conversational style and in a short, choopy rhythm:

Quo te, Moeri, pedes? an, quo via ducit, in urbem?

(Where do your feet carry you, Moeris? Is it where the road leads, to the city?)

Vergil is translating almost literally from Theocritus' Seventh Idyll, after which the setting of the poem as a whole is modelled. But the verse of Theocritus occurs well along in his poem (VII.21); and Vergil has modified the tone considerably: …

(Where are you heading on foot, Simichidas, at mid-day?)

Vergil's line is far more elliptical, and its rhythm more harsh (he has two spondees—excluding the final foot—to Theocritus' one, and has broken up the utter simplicity of the Theocritean movement by placing the vocative later in the line and by interrupting any easy balance between the two coordinate phrases with the parenthetical quo via ducit). There is nothing like the easy dactylic flow of Theocritus' final four feet or the limpid syntax of his whole line. The addition, in urbem, “to the city,” never a good sign for a Vergilian rustic as we have seen from E. 1, also adds a certain suggestion of foreboding, or at least unpleasantness.

Vergil can translate Theocritus better than this when he chooses. Here he has deliberately roughened Theocritus' verse for his own purposes. Thus by announcing, as it were, in the first line both his source and his intention to differ from his source, he lays the foundation for a significant contrast between his poem and its Theocritean model.

The tone of this difference develops quickly in the following lines. Moeris' speech, like Lycidas' question, is excited, abrupt, not especially adorned by poetical felicities. The words seem to pour out without any order, as if he is too excited to organize his thoughts; and indeed his first words come about as close to suggesting incoherence as the formal hexameter permits:

O Lycida, vivi pervenimus, advena nostri
(quod numquam veriti sumus) ut possessor agelli
diceret: ‘haec mea sunt; veteres migrate coloni.’ (2-4).

A somewhat exaggerated, yet justifiable, translation would punctuate with dashes:

O Lycidas, we have lived to see—a foreigner—our own—a thing we never feared—that he should take possession of our little plot and say, “This is mine; you old settlers, depart.”13

Instructive again is the contrast with the formal, plaintive tone of Meliboeus in E. 1 with its circular movement and studied repetitions. Equally important is the contrast with the Theocritean original, for the questioner in Theocritus goes on to observe that it is no time to travel: even lizards and tree-frogs sleep (22-23); and his friend, he conjectures with a lyrical comment, is going to a banquet or a revel: “Ah, as you walk every stone sings as it strikes against your sandals” (… 25-26). He receives the reply, preceded by a gracious compliment about his own poetic superiority, that the friend, Simichidas, is going to a harvest-festival, the Thalysia, from which the poem derives its title in the ancient editions. The tone of Vergil's Moeris, however, is but one of several related differences: his journey has a different character and a different destination.

This tone, however, now changes in the reply of Lycidas in lines 9-10. Here the peaceful description of the country, with the reference to the old rustic traditions and sense of continuity in the old beech trees, veteres, iam fracta cacumina, fagos (9), introduces a note of quiet and stability which the poem is not to lose again. Thus even the reality of the loss of the farm to the rude arms of the soldier in Moeris' reply is tempered by the “literary” language which Moeris uses:

                                    sed carmina tantum
nostra valent, Lycida, tela inter Martia quantum
Chaonias dicunt aquila veniente columbas.

(But our songs, Lycidas, have as much power amid the arms of Mars as they say the Chaonian doves have when the eagle comes, 11-13.)

The poetic proper adjectives and the contrived word order of line 13 (matched by a similar arrangement in line 15) distance the experience and remind the reader again of the poetic frame.14 This frame obtrudes again even more strongly in the references to Eclogue V in 19-20, in the symmetrical quotations from Menalcas' songs in 23-25 and 27-29, in the two following songs of the shepherds themselves (39-43, 46-50), and in the allusions to the contemporary poets, Varius and Cinna, in line 35.

There is, it is true, a certain alternation, somewhat analogous to the movement in E. 1, between the pressing realities of the present and the realm of pastoral song. Most immediately, in each pair of songs the first is purely pastoral (so 23-25, 39-43), the second concerned with the political situation (27-29, 46-50). Vergil thus shifts quickly from the depths of the timeless pastoral world to Mantua and Rome of the present. Yet the fact that the references are parts of songs makes the shift less abrupt than would otherwise be the case; the “dissonance” is thus softened. Even the reference back to E. 1.73 in line 50 (insere, Daphni, piros) can here hardly carry with it the bitterness and irony of disappointment of that context, but occurs in a joyful song celebrating the beneficent star of Caesar. Hence the poem does not carry through the a-b-a alternation of E. 1. Instead the threatening realities of the introductory lines, though not entirely obliterated, are attenuated as the poem spins about itself its own world of pastoral song.

In its own terms, however, and with its difference of emphasis E. 9 contains as subtle a movement between reality and pastoral as E. 1. Much of this movement comes from Vergil's use of Theocritus. Since Theocritus VII is the most directly autobiographical of the Idylls, Vergil, by using it, may mean to indicate that he too is writing an autobiographical poem. The quotations from the Fifth Eclogue and the explicit reference to Mantua in line 27 confirm this suggestion.

At the same time, as the first line implies, Vergil is signaling deep differences between himself and his model, and these differences are made more pointed as the poem develops. Vergil translates from Theocritus' Third Idyll in lines 23-25 and returns to Idyll VII in 32ff., lines 33-34 being a close translation of Theocritus VII. 37-38:

                    me quoque dicunt
vatem pastores; sed non ego credulus illis

(The shepherds say that I too am a poet, but I am not inclined to believe them.) …

The next two lines (35-36) are a freer adaptation from Theocritus VII. 39-41. Yet in what directly precedes this five-line close imitation of his Greek model, Vergil marks a sharp contrast with Theocritus. Moeris in 27-29 has sung of the dangers of Mantua, “too near to poor Cremona,” and then Lycidas utters a two-line blessing (30-31) as a prelude to further songs:

Sic tua Cyrneas fugiant examina taxos,
sic cytiso pastae distendant ubera vaccae,
                    incipe, si quid habes.

(So many your bee-swarms escape the Corsican yews, so may your cows, well-grazed, stretch full their udders: begin with what you have.)

The corresponding passage in Theocritus (VII. 31-34) is as follows: …

(This is the road for the Harvest Fesival, for our companions are making an offering-feast in honor of Demeter as the first-fruits of their bounty. For the goddess in rich measure filled their threshing floor to the full with good grain.)

In Vergil blessing alternates with disaster, and the first half of the blessing is itself a warning about sinister yews from remote Corsica. Rather than the unambiguous richness and exuberant fertility of Theocritus, then, Vergil presents a complex intermingling of hopefulness and danger. Characteristically too what good fortune Vergil does envisage refers to a remote and uncertain future; Theocritus' bounty is a tangible and established fact in the present.

In the two songs that follow (39-43, 46-50), as already noted, close imitation of Theocritus contrasts with the star of Caesar. Yet it is interesting that it is the troubled Moeris who sings the mythological themes of Hellenistic pastoral. The exiled shepherd has been silently meditating (tacitus … mecum ipse voluto, 37) on pastoral fancies about Galatea and the Cyclops. Moeris, even in the midst of his misfortunes, has forgotten neither pastoral song nor pastoral manners. So he grants his friends request, and with this rather gallant touch Vergil seems to assert a minor triumph of the poetic-pastoral spirit over the harsh facts of discord and force.

But later Moeris does remark sadly that he has forgotten all his songs (though he attributes his forgetfulness to age rather than to his present troubles: see 51ff.); and he then utters one of the most beautiful verses in the Eclogues:

                                                                                Saepe ego longos
cantando puerum memini me condere soles

(I remember that as a boy I often laid long days to rest with singing, 51-52.)

The joy of poetry is looked on with the vague nostalgia of something past and lost. The phrase is Vergil's own, and is eminently suited to the complex tone of this Eclogue. But again Vergil may be intentionally drawing a contrast with Theocritean pastoral. The language seems to have been suggested by Theocritus XI, 39-40, that is from the same general context as Moeris' song in 39-43. In the Theocritus passage, the Cyclops boasts of his skill in song: …

(singing of you, my dear honey-apple, and myself together often late into the night.)

Vergil has taken the mythical, comic singer from his untroubled erotic context and made him a mortal facing age and sorrow in a disordered, violent world.

In keeping with the tone of E. 9, however, Vergil does not let this somber trait of Moeris go too far or dominate too much of the poem. He only touches on it here with a single fine stroke, and then has Lycidas try to coax him into song again. Lycidas' speech, his last in the poem, again draws heavily on Theocritus:

Causando nostros in longum ducis amores.
et nunc omne tibi stratum silet aequor, et omnes,
aspice, ventosi ceciderunt murmuris aurae.

(By your excuses you only put off our desires. And now all the sea lies flat and silent, and look, all the breezes with their murmuring gusts have fallen, 56-58.)

Vergil's model, however, is a song, not direct speech, and a song of love, newly written by one of the rustic poets:

(Warm love of him burns me. And the halcyon-birds will lay to rest the waves and the sea and the south wind and the east wind which stirs up the bottom-most sea-weed—the halcyons who most of all birds are beloved by the grey-eyed Nereids and by all who have their prey from the sea. VII. 56-60.)

The original is not only a song of love, but passes quickly into the realm of myth and mythical beings like the Nereids. It comes too at about a third of the way through the poem. In Vergil the words are direct speech, have no mythological allusions, and come at the end of the poem. He thus again takes the graceful calm of Theocritus and overlays it with a suggestion of complexity and melancholy. He seems to be glancing too at another Theocritean context where the silence of the sea does carry somber, even tragic overtones, that is, Theocritus' Second Idyll, the Pharmaceutria:

(Behold, the sea grows silent, silent the winds; but silent not my pain within my breast. II. 38-39.)15

And Vergil may have learned something from the expansive view out into a calm, but remote and indifferent realm with which Theocritus ends this poem: …

(Farewell, Moon-goddess of the brilliant throne, farewell you other stars, attendants following the chariot of still Night. II. 165-66.)

Within the framework of Vergil's own poem, then, his lines on the sea and the winds create a broad, quiet, more somber atmosphere after the conventional exchange of pastoral song—a hint at something remote, a more than human silence that seems to anticipate some of the mysterious and awesome nightfalls of the Aeneid:

                    Et iam nox umida caelo
praecipitat suadentque cadentia sidera somnos.

(And now the damp night falls from the sky and the falling stars urge sleep, Aen. 2.8-9.)


Iamque fere mediam caeli nox umida metam
contigerat, placida laxabant membra quiete.

(And now damp night had attained the mid-point of its goal in the sky, and peaceful limbs were being loosed in rest, Aen. 5.835-36.)16

This suggestion of a larger and darker perspective is deepended in the next two lines:

hine adeo media est nobis via; namque sepulcrum
incipit apparere Bianoris.

(This is the middle of our road; for the tomb of Bianor begins to appear.)

Again a close translation of the Seventh Idyll:

(And we did not yet reach the middle of our road, nor did the tomb of Brasilas appear to us, 10-11.)

Yet in Theocritus this passage comes at the very beginning of the poem to help create the setting and perhaps refers to a real place. Vergil uses it at the end of his poem in close conjunction with a later passage from Idyll VII, and (despite the ancient commentators) he probably has no real place in mind. He uses the tomb, after the solemn lines about the sea, to create a deeper mood of sadness, a reminder of death that is in keeping with the suggestions of melancholy in the poem, the vicissitudes of fortune (5) and the losses entailed by age (51). (Note too that Vergil's sepulcrum is a more sinister reminder of death than Theocritus' natural sιμα.) He thus sounds a new, typically Vergilian note that will influence later conceptions of pastoral: Death too in Arcady, Et in Arcadia ego.17

Vergil closes his poem too on a note of suspension and vague hope. Lycidas, after his reference to the tomb in 59, suggests that they sing right where they are, amid the rich foliage of the pastoral setting:

                                                  hic, ubi densas
agricolae stringunt frondes, hic, Moeri, canamus.

(Here, where the farmers trim the thick leaves, here, Moeris, let us sing, 60-61.)

But the timeless moment of pastoral is not for those who have such a journey as Moeris. Thus Lycidas—almost inadvertently, it would seem—recalls Moeris' destination and the pressing reality of the journey: tamen veniemus in urbem (“even so we shall come to the city,” 62). His words, with their echo of in urbem of the first line, evoke again the awareness of exile and unrest. His next line too contains a mildly ominous element, also associated with travel: the fear of nightfall and rain:

aut si nox pluviam ne colligat ante veremur,
cantantes licet usque (minus via laedit) eamus.

(Or, if we fear that night may first gather rain, we may go straight on singing—the road is less irksome thus, 63-64.)

The sinister, or at least unpleasant, suggestion—carried largely through the vivid colligat—appears even through the bright naiveté and hopeful playfulness of a Lycidas. Despite the generosity and cheeriness of Lycidas, whose touching simplicity in offering help and a song strikes a more genuine and pathetic note than Tityrus' offer in E. 1, his more experienced companion cannot accept: Desine plura, puer (“cease from further efforts, my boy,” 66) Moeris replies. His puer brings out, sadly, the difference between the two shepherds, a bit like Meliboeus' closing amaras, “bitter,” in E. 1.78: the youthful singer who will remain among the densas frondes of 60-61, and the older man, travelling reluctantly in urbem. Amid such contrasts songs must be put off, at least for the moment: Carmina tum melius, cum venerit ipse, canemus (“We’ll sing our songs better when he comes himself,” 67).

This uncertain, hesitant ending is again in the most marked contrast with Vergil's model, for Theocritus' poem ends with laughter (128, 156) and an elaborate and graceful enumeration of all the beauties that the pastoral world holds, including Nymphs and Polyphemus (128-57). Indeed Theocritus' final lines leave a picture of the benign fertility of the grain-goddess and a “mellow fruitfulness” that is almost Keatsian in its richness: …

(I wish I might fix in her grain-heap a huge winnowing-shovel while she laughs holding in either hand sheaves and poppies. VII. 155-57.)

Vergil thus creates a different kind of pastoral world, one which he subtly, but inevitably contrasts with that of his Greek predecessor. Theocritus' shepherd world is peaceful, happy, in close touch with the realm of myth; Vergil's is precarious and disturbed. The Roman poet, writing in the closing decades of the “Age of Agony,” (as Toynbee has termed the period from about 300 to 31 b.c.) must come to closer grips with the realities of violence and disorder about him. He cannot so freely indulge in the exuberant richness that characterizes large parts of Theocritus' Seventh Idyll, and indeed nearly all the Idylls. Or, if he does turn to a beautiful and untroubled Arcady, he must come back, back to war-torn Italy, to Rome or to Mantua “too close to poor Cremona.”

There is thus a divided tendency in Vergilian pastoral. On the one hand the pressures of the realities lead the poet to transform Theocritus' Sicily or Cos into a totally imaginary Arcadia, an Arcadia such as never existed in Greece or anywhere else. On the other hand, the poet cannot enter too far into his Arcady. Neither his purpose nor the pressing nature of the realities themselves will allow him. Hence he must check his song, resist the attraction which such an Arcady exerts: Desine plura, puer, et quod nunc instat agamus (“Cease from more singing, my lad, and let’s attend to what is now at hand,” E. 9.66). He might, of course, not have resisted; but then the Eclogues would lack the complexity of tone, the delicate mixture of beauty and sorrow that mark their poetic maturity and comprise half their beauty.

What has not often enough been made clear by those who emphasize the “realism” of Theocritus over against the dreamy unreality of Vergil is that even the “realistic” parts of Theocritus involve no actual break with his pastoral world. There is little discontinuity for the Greek poet between the erotically tinged realm of myth and the realm of “realistic” rusticity (also, usually, erotically tinged). In Theocritus' First Idyll, for instance, it is an easy and smooth movement from the song of Daphnis, dying of love, to the frolicsome female and lusty male goats of the shepherd in the last two lines. There is a certain contrast for an effect of pathos, it is true; but the rustics still stand partly in the mythical world, or at least the rustic “realities” are not at variance with the myth and do not disturb the frame into which the myth is set. For Vergil, however, there is a harsh discrepancy between the remote peace of pastoral Arcadia and the realities of the present, for these realities actually do threaten the pastoral world in a way in which Theocritus' touches of realism never do. For Theocritus the contrast between myth and “realism” may be amusing or pathetic, but it is never ominous or destructive.

The realm of myth for Theocritus too is much more present, much more an autonomous world than it is for Vergil. However vague and “unreal” Vergil's pastoral setting is, he has nothing that corresponds to the Polyphemus-Galatea Idylls or the Hylas Idyll. In works like Idylls I or VI or XI, where the myth is especially strong, Theocritus' rustics stand in some indefinable ground between the real and the imaginary, whereas Vergil's shepherds, however idealized, are always to some extent real people with real problems or sufferings. Theocritus, on the other hand, can dispense with the pastoral element almost entirely, as in Idylls II or XIV or XV. Here, in his treatment of love in a Greek town or his portrayal of middle-class life, Theocritus can be totally “realistic”—but he is not simultaneously pastoral. He can write Idylls which, properly speaking, are not bucolic at all. His range is wider than Vergil's, and this has led to an incorrect estimate of Theocritean and Vergilian “realism.”

Most recently Snell has exaggerated Vergil's “dreaminess,” his need for a “far-away land overlaid with the golden haze of unreality”18 and has made of him “a nostalgic refugee from sombre realities.”19 Though such statements have some validity, they oversimplify Vergil's complexity. Vergil certainly longs for peace; yet he has a keen sense of the discrepancy, the “dissonance” (to use Snell's own term) between the longed-for serenity and the realities which prevent such hopes from being more than the shelter and rest offered for a single night, as in E. 1, or the hesitant glance toward the future, as at the end of E. 9. Not only is it not true of Vergil that “the tension between the real and literary world which Theocritus had exploited for its peculiar charms is brought to nought, and everything shifts back to the even plane of an undifferentiated majesty,”20 but, on the contrary Vergil (at least in E. 9) actually uses Theocritus' pastoral settings as a foil for the disturbed and threatened world from which his shepherds are brusquely exiled.

It is, in fact, just because Vergil's pastoral world is totally an artificial creation that it is so threatened by the realities “outside.” Vergil's Arcady, unlike Theocritus' Greek or Sicilian landscapes, comes into being by opposition to and removal from these realities, but Vergil does not forget that the realities are there. Thus, while another Vergilian scholar, Klingner, is justified in stressing that “for Vergil the world of Theocritus' shepherds has hardened into a pastoral art-world (Kunstwelt) enclosed within itself,”21 it should be remembered that the price of the ideality of this artificial world is exactly its fragility:

Hac te nos fragili donabimus
ante cicuta

(First we shall present you with this fragile pipe, E. 5.85)

Vergil himself says of the instrument which sang Eclogues 2 and 3, two of the least trouble and most purely “pastoral” of the Eclogues.

Vergil's use of Theocritus should not, then, be looked upon as a mere exercise in translation for a poet with abundant leisure. It is rather in the nature of a creative borrowing and transformation by a poet who delights in allusion. The ancients themselves were aware of the extent to which Vergil deliberately modified his models. So, for example, Aulus Gellius:

Sicuti nuperrime aput mensam cum legerentur utraque simul Bucolica Theocriti et Vergilii, animadvertimus reliquisse Vergilium quod Graece quidem mire quam suave est, verti autem neque debuit neque potuit. Sed enim quod substituit pro eo quod omiserat, non abest quin iucundius lepidiusque sit.

(For example when just recently the Bucolics of both Theocritus and Vergil were both read together at table, we noted that Vergil left out something that was marvellously delightful in the Greek, but which he should not and could not have translated. But yet what he put in its place succeeds in being even more pleasing and graceful. Noct. Att. 9.4.4-5.)

Of modern critics, W. F. J. Knight has suggested an analogy with Pound's use of Propertius.22 And elsewhere Knight remarks,

In the Eclogues Vergil used the particular past of the Idylls in order to vitalize and generalize his own particular experience. He is a good poet partly because he takes that method, the best and perhaps the only good method, to make experience artistic. Poets must, for some mysterious reason, place themselves in a true relation to world poetry, by fixing themselves where they belong in its stream.23

And Vergil's ability to use Theocritean passages in complex new ways is well illustrated by the Eighth Eclogue, where Vergil not only adapts several Theocritean Idylls, but within his first song deepens the seriousness and sadness of Damon's love-plaint by fusing the rustic banter of Theocritus III with the somberness and pathos of Theocritus I (the lament for Daphnis). This tendency to combine different elements into a new and rich synthesis has long been noted as a characteristic of Vergil's art and is already well pronounced in the Eclogues, perhaps most notably in the Sixth.24 There is, as already suggested, a possible example of this technique in the Ninth Eclogue too in the lines on the sea (57-58) with the probable reminiscene of Theocritus II.

This tendency of Vergil suggests a further motive in his use of Theocritus VII. Theocritus' poem is not simply an autobiographical account, but is concerned primarily with poets and poetry. Hence in using it, Vergil may be suggesting that the farm and the dispossession, however vivid and distressing in themselves, are but parts of a larger issue, that is, the nature of pastoral poetry, and in a sense all poetry, in a time of violence and disruption. The conflict between Arcady and Rome (or Mantua) is not only a conflict between peaceful Theocritean pastoral and Vergilian lament, but also, and more generally, part of a larger and sempiternal tension between the creative independence of poetry and the demanding, often chaotic, realities of the external world. It is a conflict, then (and one that occurs throughout Augustan literature) between order and disorder, between man as creative agent and man as passive victim of circumstance, between the formative act of will and mind and the fortuitous succession of events that are meaningless in themselves and dissolve the meaning and coherence that still remain.

That Vergil in the Eclogues is aware of these tensions and often self-consciously aware of poetry in its autonomous, creative power is intimated in the Sixth Eclogue and perhaps to some extent in the Tenth also. The various quotations of the Eclogues from one another also point to this poetic self-consciousness. That poetry itself is a major concern in the Ninth Eclogue appears from the emphasis given to song and singing throughout. Yet “songs” are mentioned only after the Eclogue has been introduced by the non-poetic realities of expulsion and war. Lines 1-6 have the movement of prose (in so far as this is possible in Vergil) rather than of verse; and it is significantly only after Lycidas' beautiful description of the country in 7-10 that the theme of song and the power of song emerges: omnia carminibus vestrum servasse Menalcan (“I heard … that your Menalcas had saved all with his songs,” 10). Moeris, however, knows, sadly, of the weakness of song against force, and corrects his friend:

Audieras, et fama fuit; sed carmina tantum
nostra valent, Lycida, tela inter Martia quantum
Chaonias dicunt aquila veniente columbas.

(So you heard, and such was the tale. But our songs, Lycidas, have as much strength against the weapons of Mars as they say Chaonian doves have at the approach of the eagle. 11-13.)

Even so, the poetical coloring of this statement suggests that there is yet hope for poetry; and the two friends proceed to quote from Menalcas' songs and discuss their own poetic abilities with abundant references to words for song and singing like carmen, canere, cantare (see, e.g. 19, 21, 26, 33, 38, 44).25 Yet Moeris, with his sober knowledge of the limitations of song reflects nostalgically on the time when he sang songs till sunset (52) and complains that he has now forgotten all his songs (nunc oblita mihi tot carmina, 53) and even has lost his voice. Lycidas, however, urges that they continue singing as they travel (canamus, 59; cantantes … cantantes, 64-65), but Moeris persists in his refusal and closes the poem with hope for songs in the future (carmina, 66).

The theme of song thus dominates the poem, but with a difference between the two singers. Moeris, the elder, has been more exposed to the realities which exist “outside” the realm of pastoral song. He has a sense of cruel forces in the world, of vicissitude and old age (note the parallel forms of expression, quoniam fors omnia versat, “because chance turns all things about,” line 5, and omnia fert aetas …, “age carries off all things …,” line 51). He knows too from experience how feeble song is against the violence of the world “outside” (11ff., and note the military image in victi, “conquered,” line 5); and he knows how easily the capacity for song is lost (52f.). Indeed in his words and in his situation he is the reminder of that “fragility” of the Vergilian pastoral world.

There is a corresponding difference in the subjects chosen by two friends. Lycidas refers to Menalcas' song about Nymphs and flowers (19) and quotes a song of his about Theocritean shepherds at play (23-25). Moeris, on the contrary, quotes from Menalcas' song about the woes of Mantua (27-29). Then in the second pair of songs, Moeris quotes his own song about Galatea, while Lycidas quotes from Moeris' song in honor of the star of Caesar. Lycidas' songs (i.e those he chooses to quote from Menalcas and from Moeris, lines 23-25 and 39-43) are direct, simple, exuberant; they belong to the untroubled rustic world of Theocritus, from whom they are largely close translations. Moeris' song of 23-25, on the other hand, deals with harsh political realities. Vergil thus creates an opposition between two kinds of pastoral song, one belonging to the Hellenistic past, the other to the troubled present. It would be oversimple to identify Lycidas with Theocritus (or Theocritean pastoral) and Moeris with Vergil, for Moeris too, after all, does quote an old song of his own on Galatea, dimly remembered though it is (39-43). What Vergil is perhaps suggesting, however, is that pastoral in his age must embrace the experiences of a Moeris as well as the gay enthusiasm of a Lycidas. His shepherd can no longer be simply a carefree singer but will know the insults of force, will have a sense of change and age, will be aware of the precarious fragility and vulnerability of song and the realms song can create.

It is perhaps for these reasons that the full realization of the pastoral form in Latin had to await Vergil, a poet with the technical skill to adapt Theocritean diction and rhythms into Latin, yet also with the depth of feeling and power of allusive fusion to remake the Hellenistic form into something expressive of the Roman gravitas and dignitas. Such a poet has (figuratively speaking) to reconcile Moeris and Lycidas, and this means to create a pastoral framework which can include also Rome and Mantua, wars and confiscations, a form in which the Greek feeling for pure beauty, for the formal qualities of image, rhythm, and sound for their own sake, can be fused with the Roman concern with the practical realities of administration, war, and empire and the sufferings they entail. Thus the eagerness and sunny flippancy of Lycidas (line 1) ripen into the deeper, more comprehensive experience and more complex hesitation of Moeris (lines 66-67). Or, to put it differently, the poet begins the Ninth Eclogue as a tentative Theocritus and ends it definitely, though delicately, as Vergil.

It is, however, perhaps because the realities of Rome can be kept in the background that the Eclogues succeed, within the limits of their intention and their form, more fully and unambiguously than does the Aeneid (which is not to say, of course, that they are greater). The small and intimate scale of the Eclogues, their personal tone and “literary” character enable the poet to keep firm control on the amount of “reality” and Romanitas that he need absorb into his poetry. When he is to attempt to absorb the totality of the Roman ideal into poetry, the results could not but be aesthetically less uniform and more controversial. But, as the ancients too realized, perfect evenness and freedom from flaws are not a final criterion of poetic greatness.26


The relation between the First and Ninth Eclogues, then, may be more significant than the fact that both concern the loss and restitution of a farm. Both poems, as has been seen, deal with the confrontation between a peaceful, undisturbed pastoral world and the hard political realities of the Roman present. In larger terms their theme is the problem of the writing of poetry, indeed the creation of anything beautiful, in an atmosphere of disruption and disorder. Hence the singer's loss of his songs recurs as an important subject at the end of both poems: Carmina nulla canam (“No songs shall I sing,” E. 1.77); Nunc oblita mihi tot carmina (“Now I have forgotten so many songs,” E. 9.53).

Of the many attempts to establish the chronological relation between the two poems, none have been decisive (though a strong tendency favors the priority of E. 9); and it is perhaps more fruitful and more in accord with Vergil's poetic intention to regard the poems as parallel in theme rather than sequential in time. So too Vergil's change of the names of his characters in the two works need not indicate, as has been claimed, a desire to plead his cause afresh or to intercede for both slave and free alike,27 but may merely signify that he is treating different aspects of the same general theme. Eclogues One and Nine would thus span the collection (of E. 10 something will be said presently), again not necessarily, as has been suggested, because Vergil is trying to separate his personal troubles as far as possible from the triad, E. 4, 5, 6, in the center of the collection,28 but rather because he thus frames the other poems, and especially the more purely “pastoral” Eclogues Two and Three and Seven and Eight, with a sense of the precariousness and threatened circumstances out of which such poetry is achieved, the difficulties from which is it wrested.29 In this way too he colors the rest of the collection with the poignancy of beauty amid loss and sadness, the quality that so strongly predominates in E. 1 and 9.

There are reasons too why Vergil would have chosen E. 1 to begin the collection. Its position cannot be wholly accounted for by the explanation that it serves to dedicate the book to Octavian, for, as a host of commentators have noted, it offers as much criticism as praise of the young ruler (see especially lines 70ff.). One explanation can perhaps be found in the relation of the theme and tone of the poem to the pastoral framework of the Eclogues as a whole. Thus while concerned with the interplay between the imaginary and the real, the First Eclogue modulates with greater pathos than the Ninth from the beauty of the pastoral world to the disturbances in the poet's Italy. This pastoral beauty is seen with a heightened intensity precisely because it has to be left behind. Because of the “distancing” effects in the Ninth Eclogue discussed above, the pain of this loss is mitigated there, whereas the confrontation between pastoral and reality is sharper in E. 1 than in any other of the Eclogues. Perhaps, then, Vergil intended to begin with an emotionally involving situation and to reserve his more “intellectual” and more aesthetically selfconscious treatment of the same theme for the later place in the collection.

Yet at the same time the gentle note on which E. 1 begins and the circular, a-b-a movement of the introductory passage serve not only to present a microcosm of a characteristic movement in the Eclogues, but also to lead slowly and gradually into the pastoral world being opened, while lightly suggesting some of the complexities involved in the existence of that world.

The Ninth Eclogue, on the other hand, while beginning more harshly than the First, does not develop the threats of loss and exile so vividly. There is still a scelus (17), a sense of evil and disaster, but they remain further in the background than the impius miles of E. 1.70. The movement of E. 9 too, as befits a journey poem, is linear rather than circular; and the concluding lines make only a muted reference back to the disturbances at the beginning. This less pessimistic mood is again in keeping with the place of E. 9 in the collection, for it comes after the large constatements of order in the three central poems, E. 4, 5, and 6. Indeed not only does it quote from the Fifth Eclogue, but in the song about Caesar's star (46-50) expresses hope for a more beneficent order of things. The attitude toward Octavian seems more optimistic too; but regardless of any chronological development, Vergil seems to have created a deliberate counterpoise between the First and Ninth Eclogues. He thus introduces an element of movement into the collection, a movement from the temporary rest of a single night to a more assured and stable, if still indefinite order, possible now after the vision of the magnus saeculorum ordo in E. 4 and the larger themes, the paulo maiora (E. 4.1) of Eclogues Five and Six. In the Ninth Eclogue, though we return again to the “mixed” atmosphere of violence in pastoral Arcadia, something can be envisaged, if only in song and poetic vision (cf. ecce Dionaei processit Caesaris astrum, “Lo, the star of Caesar, descendant of Dione, has come forth,” 47), that seemed impossibly remote in the despairing atmosphere of the first poem of the collection.

Eclogue Nine too has a certain calm, lacking in E. 1, which is fitting at the point where the collection draws to a close. It is less dramatically intense than that poem, but has a wider scope, as in the expansive lines on the sea (57-58). The characters, though less vivid, convey a larger sense of the general condition of human life (see lines 5 and 51). Since the threat of exile is less explicitly visualized, the two shepherds, threatened and unthreatened alike, can still communicate through the medium of pastoral song. Vergil thus creates a sense of aesthetic completeness, characteristic of the individual poems, in ending his collection in an atmosphere of greater calmness and breadth of view.

The calmer and larger tone of the Ninth Eclogue also helps prepare for the Tenth. This poem, like E. 1 and 9, is concerned with exile; but, as in E. 9, the experience is at a certain remove, indeed far less serious than in either of these two poems. The spontaneous sympathy which Lycidas feels for Moeris in E. 9—rather more than Meliboeus is able to evoke from Tityrus in E. 1—also leads into the sympathy that the poet and the whole of Arcadia feel for the deserted lover in E. 10. The development is a natural one within the collection, for after poems like E. 2, 6, or 8 the pastoral world appears as colored with a certain gentleness and tenderness. By Eclogue Ten it is clearly as Snell called it, “a spiritual landscape.” Hence the poet can confidently claim, Non canimus surdis, respondent omnia silvae (“We sing not to things deaf; the forests echo back all,” E. 10.8). Hence too the lament of the pastoral world over the fading lover (13ff.). There is a similar passage in the First Eclogue (38-39), but the contrast is instructive, for there the description is shorter (only one-and-one-half lines), and only trees and fountains are involved. In the Tenth Eclogue all of Arcadian nature, trees, two major mountains, the rustic folk, even the sheep (stant et oves circum, 16) weep for Gallus (note too that in E. 1 the pines and fountains do not weep for Tityrus; they simply call him back: vocabant, 39). Thus what is a pretty conceit in the First Eclogue becomes expanded in the Tenth to suggest an element of feeling deeply pervading the pastoral world.

This pastoral world of E. 10, then, gains a reality and autonomy of its own. It is an imaginative creation of the individual poet, but it has something of the large independence that tradition conferred on the myths of Theocritus. This world, then, is no longer threatened by the reality outside, but can in fact attract these “real” figures into its own framework and even console them in their griefs.30 Gallus would himself become an Arcadian shepherd (50ff.), though there is a slightly humorous suggestion that he sticks a bit at the reality of the transformation (cf. iam mihi per rupes videor, 58).

Yet there is seriousness amid the humor too, for the welcoming of the exiled poet in a gentle Arcadia is the inverse of the theme of E. 1 where the restored shepherd has himself been affected by the artificiality of the city while the “authentic” poet-shepherd, the one whose language and sensibilities fit and enrich the pastoral world, is exiled. Recompense is thus made for the violence done to the pastoral folk of E. 1. The Gallus-episode serves to reinstate the worth both of the poet and of the Arcadian landscape in which he lives after the losses and indignities of E. 1 and 9. Sympathy replaces insensitivity, war yields to love (omnia vincit amor, E. 10.69; contrast E. 9.5, nunc victi, tristes, quoniam fors omnia versat, “Now defeated, saddened, because chance turns all things about”). The victory of love for Lycoris, with the poetic consequences it inspires, over “the mad love for war” (insanus amor duri me Martis in armis/ tela inter media, E. 10.44-45)31 is a validation of poetry in a troubled world and cancels the ineffectuality of the poet against force and brutality in the Ninth Eclogue (cf. tela inter Martia, 9.12. The arms which once unjustly drove the poet-shepherd out of his peaceful haunts are now to be cast away by a warrior who would abandon Mars for a poetic Arcadia.

The end of Eclogue X provides another, and final, statement of reassurance to the threats of exile in E. 1 and 9. Gallus' exile is described in deliberately exaggerated rhetoric that recalls the tone of Tityrus in E. 1 (E. 10.56-58; cf. E. 1.59-63). But, as in the First Eclogue too, the wanderings to distant places are followed by the calm of nightfall and the placid regularity of shepherd life:

Surgamus: solet esse gravis cantantibus umbra,
iuniperi gravis umbra; nocent et frugibus umbrae.
Ite domum saturae, venit Hesperus, ite capellae.

(Let us rise; shade is wont to be harmful to singers, harmful the shade of the juniper; growing crops too are harmed by shadows. Go on homeward, full-fed, the Evening Star comes, go on my goats, E. 10.75-77.)

The echo of E. 1 is obvious and intentional. Yet here the “heavy shadow” follows directly upon a description of new growth in the spring:

Gallo, cuius amor tantum mihi crescit in horas
quantum vere novo viridis se subicit alnus

(… Gallus for whom my love grows hour by hour as fast as a green alder shoots up when spring is fresh, E. 10.73-74);

and the goats are full-fed and are being driven home. The shepherd still has his goats and his domus to which to drive them. This shepherd-poet is far from the cry of Meliboeus in E. 1.74,

Ite meae, quondam felix pecus, ite capellae.

(Go on, my goats, once happy flock, go on.)

The prayer of E. 9.31,

Sic cytiso pastae distendant ubera vaccae

(Let the cows, grazed on clover, stretch full their udders)

is thus fulfilled, though in the most imaginary and least real setting of the Eclogues. And yet perhaps the poet who promises a time of better song (E. 9.67) has come.32

It is characteristic of the Eclogues, as should now be clear, that they should end with this mixture of spring and shadow, exile and home, unfaithful and faithful love (see E. 10.73). Yet the assurance of settledness and fullness in the last line of the collection, spoken by the poet in propria persona and thus bridging the gap between pastoral framework and reality, seems to answer the tentative note on which the Ninth Eclogue ended. In the Tenth Eclogue, not only the theme of song and exile, but also that of fertility and growth are given a final positive turn. Its conclusion, with the saturae capellae, is far closer to the richness and bounty of Demeter at the end of Theocritus VII, Vergil's model for E. 9. The assurance of settledness and fertility which could not be given there is given (though not unambiguously: there is still the gravis umbra) at the end of the whole collection. It is as if the Ninth Eclogue ends on a suspended cadence to which the Tenth finally gives a resolution, but still in a minor key.

On the whole, then, the last two poems are positive, optimistic, expansive; but they, and Eclogue I too, partake of the “mixed” quality characteristic of the Eclogues as a whole, the sense of joy amid sadness, beauty amid loss. The counterpoise between Eclogues 1 and 9 articulates this quality in terms of the movement and symmetry of the collection, spanning the whole with a suggestion of the tension between pastoral and reality and the larger conditions under which and in the midst of which this poetic world comes into being. That tension is given no easy or oversimplified resolution. The poet seems to wish, in E. 10, to make the final impression hopeful and positive. Yet exile still has a central place in the poem, and with it a sense of deliberate unreality, an element of wishfulness; and these themes, in their close relation to the contrasts and uncertainties of E. 1 and 9, evoke at the very end of the collection a quality of suspension, though hopeful and fruitful suspension, between fundamental contraries of human life.

Vergil's problem in adapting the untroubled limpidity of Theocritean pastoral for the Roman scene is analogous to that faced by other Roman poets trying to create things of beauty in times of war and disturbance. Lucretius prays to Venus to bring peace to Rome:

Nam neque nos agere hoc patriai tempore iniquo
possumus aequo animo

(For we cannot work with calm spirit at a time of woe for our country, De Rer. Nat. 1.41-42.)

Horace too looks with admiration on a poet of the Greek past who, though “fierce in war,” could yet sing, amid battles and dangers, of wine, song, and love (Odes 1.32.6ff.).

But Vergil, in balancing E. 1 by E. 9 and partially resolving the uncertainties of E. 9 in E. 10, affirms a hope and belief in order and beauty. Moeris' carmina tum melius, tentative as it is, is nevertheless a positive statement in the face of a negative world. Despite exile and disorder, still joy, beauty, and song predominate in the Eclogues; and in ending with E. 9 and 10 Vergil affirms a regenerative sense of life's continuities and possibilities, something of what Yeats, in another poem written in troubled times, spoke of as “gaiety transfiguring all that dread.”33 Vergil's “gaiety,” however, is of a very mixed and complex nature; and it should be recalled that the Aeneid too, like Eclogues 1 and 9 a poem of exile and dispossession, ends with mixed triumph and shadows, but shadows of a far more sinister kind than those of the Eclogues (vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras, “with a groan his life fled in anger to the shadows [or, “to the shades”] below”).34 This sense of the sadness and losses of life, the Vergilian lacrimae rerum, already permeates the Eclogues, richly interwoven though they are with bucolic landscape and song. The presence of these “shadowy” elements, even in Arcady, is part of the complex greatness of Vergil's art. They are, indeed, essential to his, as to all, poetry, for they comprise that in the face of which poetry is almost always written, yet that which great poetry never forgets.35


  1. Vergil's characteristic fusion of personal elements with larger themes in the Eclogues is stressed by F. Klingner, Gnomon 3 (1927) 581.

  2. F. Plessis, in Plessis et Lejay, Oeuvres de Virgile (Paris 1913) xvii.

  3. Biographical problems in E. 1 and 9 still receive a large share of the energy of Vergilian scholars, as can be seen from G. Duckworth's survey, “Recent Work on Vergil (1957-63),” CW 57 (1963-64) 198 and 200; see also the earlier survey (1940-56) in CW 51 (1958) 124. C. Vandersleyen, LEC 31 (1963) 266 has well protested, “Cette désolante explication autobiographique est répandue dans la majorité des éditions, scolaires ou autres.” The most recent study of the Ninth Eclogue also focuses largely (though not exclusively) on biographical and historical matters: G. Cipolla, “Political Audacity and Esotericism in the Ninth Eclogue,Acta Classica 5 (1962) 48-57.

  4. On the unity of the Eclogues see Klingner, Gnomon 3 (1927) 582, and, most recently, Brooks Otis, Virgil (Oxford, 1963) 128-43.

  5. For a similar circular movement in the introductory portion of the poem, compare also the Eighth Eclogue, where the introduction, also of five lines, begins, Pastorum Musam Damonis et Alphesiboei, and ends (line 5), Damonis Musam dicemus et Alphesiboei.

  6. The point of the tanta seems to be missed by G. Stégen in his discussion of the passage, “L’unité de la première Bucolique,” LEC 12 (1943-44) 13-14. He refers the “so great reason” to Tityrus' leaving of Amaryllis who is mentioned twenty lines before(!) and again (by Meliboeus) some ten lines later. For the opposition of city and country, in favor of the country, see also E.2.60ff, esp., Pallas quas condidit arces / ipsa colat; nobis placeant ante omnia silvae (“Let Pallas Athene herself inhabit the citadels she has founded; but let woodlands please us before all else”).

  7. For a similar use of a circular movement compare also E.2, which both begins and ends with “shadows” (lines 3 and 67) and with the heat of passion (ardebat, 1; urit, 68) set against the peace and steadiness of nature and farm work (cf. 8-9, 10-11 with 63-65, 66-67, 70-72; also at mecum raucis, etc., 12-13, with me tamen urit amor, 68). Here, however, the circular form has its own special function, i.e., to suggest the hopeless continuity of Corydon's passion despite his rather vacillating efforts to cast it off. Compare too the theme of the disconsolate heifer in E.8: immemor herbarum … iuvenca, vs.2; cum fessa iuvencum / … quaerendo bucula, vss. 85ff.

  8. F. Klingner, “Das erste Hirtengedicht Virgils,” in Römische Geisteswelt, ed. 3 (Munich 1956) 307.

  9. The contrast between the two shepherds, by far in favor of Meliboeus, has been stated by René Waltz in an essay which deserves more attention than it has received, “La Ire et la IXe Bucolique,” Rev. Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire 6 (1927) 31-58. The contrast has recently been stressed again by L. A. MacKay, Phoenix 15 (1961) 157.

  10. The tension between peace and disorder is brought out (though with some overstatement) by Vandersleyen (above, note 3) 270: “Ainsi par la confrontation entre les deux hommes, entre ce bonheur et malheur, le poème se charge progressivement d’une douleur qui éclate à la fin en chagrin, colère, ironie amère. Est-ce là l’esprit d’une bergerie? Ou un remerciement, alors que le privilégié est ridicule et honteux de lui-même?” With Vandersleyen, I cannot agree with interpretations that make E.1 into a laudation of Octavian, as does Hanslik WS 68 (1955) 18-19.

  11. E.g. Waltz (above, note 9) 51; Stégen, LEC 21 (1953) 334. Contra: Sellar, Vergil (Oxford 1897) 142.

  12. A glance at Duckworth's survey, CW 57 (1963-64) 200, shows that the search for the country described in E.9 goes on apace.

  13. On Moeris' incoherence see Waltz (above, note 9) 45.

  14. Conington's view, in the introduction of his edition (ed. 3, London 1872, I 6-8), that Vergil's “literary” epithets like Chaonias are the result of his youthful bookishness and lack of experience of the world, thus needs strong qualification. Vergil uses such epithets often with dramatic intention (as in E.1) or with a touch of humor (as in E.2. 24, Amphion Dircaeus in Actaeo Aracyntho), or for the “distancing” effect conveyed here.

  15. Vergil's adaptation of Theocritus II in E.8 helps support the possibility that he has that poem in mind here; at least he knew it well and admired it. The closing lines of Theocritus II seem to have impressed another of Vergil's contemporaries: see Tibullus 2.1.87-88.

  16. For Vergil's early sensitivity to scenes of nightfall, the transitional, penumbral states he is to depict so often in the Aeneid, compare E.8.14, Frigida vix caelo noctis decesserat umbra.

  17. On later treatments of this theme of death in Arcady see E. Panofsky, “Et in Arcadia Ego: Poussin and the Elegiac Tradition,” in Meaning in the Visual Arts (New York, 1955) 297ff.

  18. Bruno Snell, “Arcadia: The Discovery of a Spiritual Landscape,” in The Discovery of the Mind, tr. T. Rosenmeyer (Cambridge, Mass. 1953) 282.

  19. Ibid. 293.

  20. Ibid., 286-86. A different, and on the whole more satisfactory, view has been expressed recently by J. Heurgon, “Virgile, la poésie et la vérité,” L’Information littéraire 10 (1958) 68-72 and esp. p. 69: “Les guerres civiles l’injustice des spoliations, l’angoisse générale s’imposent de plus en plus à lui. C’est ce progressif et irrésistible envahissement de son art par l’actualité, sous le voile de l’allégorie d’abord, mais parfois aussi directement exprimée, qui me paraît merveilleusement lisible dans la diversité des Bucoliques.” In fairness to Snell, however, it should be granted that he does, at one point (p. 292), qualify his position and speak of the “genuine political reality” which the Eclogues reflect and the “important political and historical function” they exercised (on this latter point not all would agree). But Snell's overwhelming emphasis is in the opposite direction. Vergil's relation to historical realities in the Eclogues has been sensitively treated by Otis (above, note 4) 128ff, though his conclusions on E.1 and 9 differ from those reached here.

  21. Klingner, Gnomon 3 (1927) 582.

  22. W. F. Jackson Knight, Roman Vergil (London, 1945) 79.

  23. Ibid., 121.

  24. For Vergil's synthesis of diverse elements in E.6 see the recent study by Zeph Stewart, “The Song of Silenus,” HSCP 64 (1959) 170-205. For a good example of the ways in which Vergil can use different Theocritean contexts to modify the tone of an Eclogue see Klingner on E.2, Gnomon 3 (1927) 579-81.

  25. Hanslik (above, note 10) 10-11 argues that the two songs, 39-43 and 46-50, are both songs of Menalcas and not of the two shepherds. But his argument is unconvincing, resting as it does on the assumption that whatever is translated from Theocritus (including lines 32-36) must belong to Menalcas (=Vergil); and he must give a forced and unnatural interpretation to line 55. Some scholars, however, while not going so far as Hanslik, have taken lines 31-36 as a quotation from a song of Menalcas and not part of Lycidas' own words: so H. J. Rose, Mnemosyne 7 (1954) 58-59. I find this assumption awkward for the movement of the dialogue (esp. in lines 32-33) and disturbing to the symmetry created by the balance of 21-23 and 27-29.

  26. See, for instance, Ps.-Longinus, De Sublimitate 33-34, 36.

  27. For these suggestions see Hahn, TAPA 75 (1944) 224-26.

  28. Ibid., 239-41.

  29. Heurgon (above, note 20) 70 has suggested that E.9, at the end of the collection, serves as a farewell to older poetic forms and an invocation to the new ones to come. And he notes that Vergil's “farewells” are never abrupt and final, as Catalepton 5 shows.

  30. L. Alfonsi, “Dalla II alla X Ecloga,” Aevum 35 (1961) 193-98, has also pointed out some interesting parallels between the Second and Tenth Eclogues, suggesting that the Arcady that is tenuous and hesitant in E.2 is clear and strong in E.10. Thus in E.2. 28-30 the lover tentatively invites his beloved to the sordida rura and humilis casas of a rather lustreless pastoral life, whereas in E.10 the lover himself is eager to enter Arcadia and finds there not “lowly huts,” but brightly colored flowers, cool springs, soft meadows (E.10. 35-43).

  31. Whether Martis should go with amor or with armis is a little uncertain. Conington argues persuasively for the connection with amor, and this seems to me the more natural reading, both for the word order and the sense. In either case the attitude toward war is not favorable, and it certainly comes out inferior to love, as line 69 makes unambiguously clear: omnia vincit Amor.

  32. With E.9.31 compare E.10.30: nec cytiso saturantur apes nec fronde capellae (“nor are the bees sated on clover nor the goats on leaves”). But in E.10 it is love, not exile, which creates this effect, and this love is to be consoled and answered within the framework of the poem (lines 73-74):

    Gallo, cuius amor tantum mihi crescit in horas
    quantum vere novo viridis se subicit alnus

    (… Gallus, for whom my love grows hour by hour as fast as a green alder shoots up when spring is fresh.)

  33. Yeats, “Lapis Lazuli,” in Last Poems (1936-39). Indeed, the structure of Yeats' poem might be compared to that of the Eclogues as a whole. It begins with a sense of uncertainty and dissolution amid the threats of war (“I have heard that hysterical women say / They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow, … ”); and it ends with the reaffirmation of “gaiety,” though with a complex mixture of sadness, age, decay in the “discoloration of the stone,” the wrinkles in the Chinamen's eyes, the expectation of “mournful melodies”:

    One asks for mournful melodies;
    Accomplished fingers begin to play.
    Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
    Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

    (The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, New York, 1956, 293). The Yeatsian, and modern, restlessness, however, knows not the suspended bucolic peace that ends the Eclogues.

  34. On a larger meaning in the “shadows” at the conclusion of E.1 (and, one should add, of E.10 too) see Elder's fine remarks in HSCP 65 (1961), unfortunately relegated to a footnote (p. 124, note 36):

    Consider the first Eclogue. Here Vergil probes, as he will in the Aeneid, the absorbing contemporary problem of the individual and social upheaval. The Eclogue offers no pragmatic answer; Tityrus is safe but Meliboeus is ruined. Yet the poem finally breathes out a peace and a harmony, not economic but emotional, and that is owing to the bucolic closing. The shadows of the oncoming evening and the mountains are regular and constant, and against them transitory man and his ephemeral problems are dwarfed.

    Peace and order are there, to be sure, and the regular cyclical movements of nature; but also the touch of sadness and uncertainty that goes with all things that end. Hence the melodious, but somber intimation at the conclusion of E.10, gravis cantantibus umbra, / iuniperi gravis umbra. Panofsky (above, note 17) 300, speaks of this “vespertinal mixture of sadness and tranquillity” as “perhaps Virgil's most personal contribution to poetry.”

  35. I am indebted to Professor Charles Babcock, my colleague at the University of Pennsylvania, for a number of helpful criticisms and suggestions.

L. P. Wilkinson (essay date 1966)

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SOURCE: “Virgil and the Evictions,” Hermes: Zeitschrift Für Klassiche Philologie, Vol. 94, No. 3, July, 1966, pp. 320-24.

[In the essay below, Wilkinson examines the relationship between the subject of Eclogues One and Nine and political events in Vergil's life. Wilkinson stresses that despite the influence of Vergil's personal situation (such as the threat of eviction of his family) on his writing, these Ecloguesshould not be read as straight allegories.]

An apology is needed for returning to the question of the Ninth and First Eclogues. But it does seem that an intelligible story emerges if we interpret the poems in the light of pastoral convention and with the aid only of a few pieces of what seem really reliable external evidence, disregarding anything that may be based on conjecture by later commentators and biographers.

After Philippi, at the end of 42, it was agreed that Antony should go and pacify the East while Caesar Octavian remained in Italy to settle the veterans on confiscated land. In 41 trouble broke out between the Antonians and Caesarians leading to the Perusine War, which the Antonians lost early in 40. Antony's man Pollio, hitherto in charge of Cisalpine Gaul, then withdrew to Venetia, and the task of assigning the lands was handed over by Octavian to Alfenus Varus1. The duty of taxing such Transpadane townships as were exempted from confiscations was given to the poet-statesman Cornelius Gallus2. Cremona was one of the centres designated for confiscations, and detailed execution of this operation was in the hands of one Octavius Musa as limitator. In a note on Ecl. 9, 7-10 Servius Auctus says knowledgeably: “To this spot Octavius Musa had extended his surveying-poles, that is to say, through fifteen miles of Mantuan territory, since that of Cremona was insufficient.” Whether (as Servius alleges) because Musa had a grudge against her, or simply for administrative convenience, Mantua was losing land next,

Mantua, vae, miserae nimium vicina Cremonae.

There was no general reprieve; for at G. 2, 198 Virgil refers to

qualem infelix amisit Mantua campum.

What can we learn about this affair from Eclogue 9? Moeris there represents the veteres coloni who are being either evicted (‘migrate’) or, as in his case, apparently still working the farm but paying produce to its new owner (1-6). Menalcas, a poet, has tried to intercede for them. He was rumoured to have largely succeeded, but local confusion and violence3 were stronger than orders from a central authority; and in the new quarrel caused by the intercession both Moeris and Menalcas were lucky to have escaped with their lives (7-20). Lines 19-20 refer not to his actions but to the subjects of his poems. It is important to note that we are not told that Menalcas has himself lost any land, nor that he has any relationship to Moeris other than champion4. The whole passage could refer, as Servius supposed, to Musa's 15-mile strip.

At 27-29 we hear of a petition of Menalcas to Alfenus Varus bound up with a poem which is necdum perfecta and will only be finished if it succeeds:

Vare, tuum nomen, superet modo Mantua
nobis, … 
cantantes sublime ferent ad sidera cycni.

If only Mantua is spared the swans of song will bear his name to the skies. ‘Mantua’ could naturally mean the city itself with its neighbourhood, as distinct from Mantuan territory such as Musa cut off, and the reference would be to a further stage in the confiscations. Servius auctus quotes on l. 10 a passage from a speech by ‘Cornelius’ (sc. Gallus) against Varus which is surely authentic and could come from Pollio's history of the civil war5: cum iussus tria milia passus a muro in diversa6relinquere, vix octingentos passus aquae quae circumdata est admetireris reliquisti. The text is not quite right: Kroll inserted a cum before admetireris, but perhaps the latter should be transferred to follow the initial cum. Anyway, the sense is clear7: “when you were assigning land, having been ordered to leave three miles in every direction from the wall, you scarcely left 800 paces of water which lie around it.” This must refer to the lagoon which still surrounds Mantua on three sides. The intention had obviously been to leave the city something to live on, not largely water. And Gallus had a good motive, besides humanity or partiality, for opposing Varus' interpretation or encroachment: it gave him a smaller area of exempted municipium to tax.

So far I have said nothing of Virgil. But the poet has gone out of his way to indicate that Menalcas is he, as he did at 5, 85-87: ll. 19-20 are a direct reference to 5, 40, and ll. 23-25 and 39-43 are translations from Theocritus8. His departure may have been for Rome, to appeal at the highest level. Now if it is true that the Virgil home was at Pietole9, three miles to the south-east of Mantua, then he was vitally concerned in this dispute, whereas in the earlier stages he had simply tried to use the influence he had acquired as a poet with influential people in order to help his countrymen. If Gallus prevailed, his land might be restored. This could well be the occasion of the anxiety expressed in Catalepton 8,

si quid de patria tristius audiero.

By whom could Varus be iussus? Only by Octavian, whose overriding power is perhaps hinted at in the reference to his adoptive father at ll. 47-5010. Before whom could Gallus make a speech against Varus? Only before Octavian, and probably at Rome. Hic illum vidi iuvenem. And Octavian's verdict (translated into pastoral terms) was,

pascite, ut ante, boves, pueri; summittite

Tityrus in 1 represents, as Leo saw12, the reprieved peasants (in my submission those in the three-mile zone round Mantua), Meliboeus the unfortunates outside it. I agree with those who believe that there was only one eviction, or threat of eviction, of Virgil's family: that 1 is later than 9, but comes first in the collection as a compliment to Octavian, as ancient etiquette, if not modern also, would dictate.

But what about the scenery? That in 9, 7-10 does seem less conventional and idealised than the rest:

certe equidem audieram, qua se subducere
incipiunt mollique iugum demittere clivo
usque ad aquam et veteres, iam fracta cacumina,
omnia carminibus vestrum servasse Menalcan.

“Indeed I had heard that from where the hills begin to fall and descend in a gentle slope, as far as the water and the old beech trees with their broken tops—all this your Menalcas had saved with his songs.” If that is a real locality, it is nowhere near the city of Mantua; and all those excursions to Valeggio or Calvisano or Carpenedolo or Montaldo should be renamed ‘In Quest of Moeris’ Birthplace:’ they have no bearing on that of Menalcas-Virgil13. And what about the aequor that stratum silet and l. 57? It is imported, as everyone knows, from Theocritus 2, 38, and is the sea, nowhere near Mantua. And the tomb of Bianor three lines later? It is introduced to remind us of Theocritus 7, 10, but the name comes, as has recently been perceived, from a Hellenistic epigram14. Similarly in 1 the swampy, pebbly patches on Tityrus' land (56-58) would suit the disputed land round the Mantuan lagoon; but those shadows that fall from the high hills in the last line were remembered from some other landscape. The poet simply wanted a peaceful evening close.

It must be accepted that these Eclogues are not straight allegories: they are Theocritean pastorals with occasional outcrops of reality. We must not expect the details all to fit. We may even have dust thown in our eyes15. In his introduction to 7 Conington remarks: “The scenery is, as usual, confused. Arcadian shepherds are made to sing in the neighbourhood of the Mincius, while neither the ilex, the pine, the chestnut, nor the flocks of goats, seem to belong to Mantua.” There is no need to suppose, with one scholar, that these shepherds are descended from Arcadians captured by Mummius; nor, with another, that because Gallus says in 10, 44-45 that he is a soldier on campaign, whereas elsewhere in the poem he appears to be in Arcadia, he must be holidaying there on leave.

Virgil, however relieved, was now in an embarrassing situation. Varus was presumably still in office. Mantua had been reprieved, so in a sense he owed him the swans' praises; but it had in fact been reprieved through Gallus. Eclogue 6 is his solution. He would use the famous prologue to Callimachus' Aitia as basis for a witty and elegant recusatio. He would recommend unspecified epic-style poets who would be more worthy of the task (cf. Horace's recusatio to Agrippa, c. 1, 6: Scriberis Vario). He had in fact been urged to write pastoral (non iniussa cano); and in any case, if he put Varus at the top of the page, any applause it earned would redound to his credit, so the debt was paid in a sense (9-12). And with a fulsome, empty compliment about Apollo and no further ado he turns to his pastoral. Pergite, Pierides.

This proves to have no connection at all with Varus; but whatever the significance of Silenus' repertoire of songs, it cannot be denied that it gives quite exceptional honour to Gallus, the only poet mentioned by name. This is true even if only lines 64-73 refer to him and there is no substance in the arguments of Franz Skutsch that the other subjects of Silenus' songs are taken also from works of his1. It was to Gallus that the debt of song was really owed, and it was paid both here and, with interest, in 10. Neget quis carmina Gallo?


  1. Serv. auct. on Ecl. 6, 6 and 9, 27.

  2. Serv. auct. on Ecl. 6, 14.

  3. Cf. Appian 5, 12, 49ff.; Dio 48, 9, 4ff. Undique totis usque adeo turbatur agris. Ecl. 1, 11.

  4. W. Kroll realised this, but his words have been little heeded. Rhein. Mus. 1909, pp. 50-53. Nostri agelli (2) simply means that of the coloni, vestrum Menalcan (10), your friend or champion. Ipse (67), though it does presumably refer to Menalcas, does not mean ‘the master’ here. The obvious interpretation after what has gone before is that when Menalcas comes he will be able to refresh their memory of the songs they have partly forgotten. But if ipse does mean ‘the master’, it must hint at Octavian, who will make all right again.

  5. K. Büchner, P. Vergilius Maro RE. col. 30. R. syme appears to overlook the evidence of this passage when he writes of Alfenus Varus: “Virgil dedicated to him the Sixth of his Eclogues; hence, in the Virgilian Lives and the scholiasts, the allegation that he was a land-commissioner.” (The Roman Revolution, p. 235, n. 8.)

  6. Peerlkamp for indivisa.

  7. Or should be. Tenney Frank however (Vergil p. 125) disregards ‘vix’ and translates “you included within the district …”.

  8. Probably not from completed Eclogues that have not come down to us, but analogous rather to the cases of Sherlock Holmes which are casually referred to but do not occur in the corpus. H. Oppermann (Hermes 67, 1932, pp. 202-203) rightly says that Lycidas also represents Virgil to the extent that it is he who at ll. 32-36 adapts Theocritus 7, 37-41, where the speaker, Simichidas, is Theocritus himself. But to say, as he does, that Moeris also represents Virgil, is to force the meaning of carmina nostra, which is simply “songs such as we sing”.

  9. The late XV century MSS. of the Vita Probiana say Andes was ‘XXX’ miles from Mantua. But Roman numerals are easily corrupted, and Egnatius' scarcely later. … Princeps of 1570 gives ‘III’. The Vita Donatiana says “abest a Mantua non procul”. If XXX were right, Virgil could hardly have called himself so emphatically a Mantuan. Pietole is the traditional place. How could it ever have maintained a claim to a man so famous in his lifetime if it had not the support of truth embodied in common knowledge?

  10. F. Klingner, Hermes 62, 1927, pp. 149ff.

  11. 1, 42; 45.

  12. Hermes 38, 1903, pp. 1ff.

  13. A recent one, “Virgil's Home Revisited”, by K. Wellesley, is described in the Proceedings of the Virgil Society, 1963-1964, pp. 36-43.

  14. A. P. 7, 261; S. Tugwell, C. R. 1963, pp. 132-133. So much for Servius' imaginings. Similarly in 2 the name Alexis may be simply borrowed from an epigram by Meleager (A. P. 12, 127) about a beautiful boy, which comes next before a pastoral one by him about love for Daphnis; in which case what Suetonius and others tell us about a boy Alexander given to Virgil is probably fiction.

  15. H. J. Rose's objection, “I dislike calling a favourite poet a gratuitous liar” is singularly inept (The Eclogues of Vergil, p. 64). His whole chapter on “The Poet and his Home” is strangely literal-minded. Contrast Conington's Introduction, pp. 9-17.

John B. Van Sickle (essay date 1967)

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SOURCE: “The Unity of the Eclogues: Arcadian Forest, Theocritiean Trees,” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 1967, Vol. 90, pp. 491-508.

[In the essay that follows, Van Sickle analyzes the significance of Arcadia in Vergil's Eclogues and argues that it serves as a poetic symbol used to emphasize the unity of the work as a whole.]

The idea of a Liber Bucolicorum, the principle of artistic unity by which the Eclogues form a book, is a kind of philosopher's stone of classical scholarship.1 Accounts are legion and contradictory.2 The book itself, however, closes with a representation of the unities of its making: to sit, to weave, and to love a poet (10.70-74). From the Arcadian vantage point of the tenth poem, the poet sees his own work as a whole and gives expression to his own recollective, assiduous, passionate self-consciousness in the symbol of Arcadia. The Arcadian is a key, offered by the poet, to the unity of the book.

The origin of the poetic symbol, Arcadia, is another philosopher's stone. Arcadian poetry has been sought in sources outside the Eclogues and also has been considered the invention of Virgil in them.3 Prudently taking a middle course, Karl Büchner has suggested that Virgil made Arcadia the land of poetry because of the well established tradition that it was home of Pan. Büchner cites Meleager's oath by Pan the Arcadian and also Lucretius' treatment of Pan (4.524-94).4 Surely also he should have adduced the Pan of the seventh Idyll of Theocritus (7.103-14) and above all the Pan of the first Idyll. He was an object of deference and present awe for the rustics (1.1-6, 15-19); but in the song Daphnis dying summoned him from Arcadia to inherit the singer's pipe (1.123-26). Without looking beyond Virgil's most familiar source we can find Arcadian material. The question of the origin of Arcadia as a poetic locus can thus be assimilated to the question of how Virgil used Theocritus. If we understood the one, we would understand the other as well.

This paper proposes, in short, to reformulate three familiar problems into one: the unity of the Liber, the origin of Arcadian poetry, and the Virgilian imitation of Theocritus. A new reading of Theocritus is also implicit in the enterprise, though we can give no more than hints of that here.

The familiar problems are symptoms of a fourth, more fundamental problem that is latent in recent studies of pastoral and that, once recognized and stated, will be well on its way to solution. Scholars have been finding statements of poetics piecemeal in various Eclogues and in Idylls. The tendency has been to speak of a poetics in, say, the first or seventh Idyll or in the ninth or fourth, sixth or seventh Eclogue, as if poetics could be the property of one or another poem. This is criticism by a principle of divide and conquer. In fact, every bucolic Idyll and every Eclogue contains a poetics, which is to say that it reflects on its own nature as poetry. Each poem reflects on its own peculiar way of shaping and knowing; some also reflect their relation to others and even a quality of the whole. Pastoral poetry is symbolist in the sense that, far from representing country matters, it uses country matters to represent a new kind of art, to mediate experience.5 Pastoral is poetry in reduced circumstances, cut off from the public media and heroic mediators of other times. Its heroes are poets, with the significant exception of the fourth Eclogue; and through this momentarily expansive vision comes another, the discovery of Arcadia as a poetics of the whole. In order to read the Eclogues, then, it will be necessary and enough to look with new attentiveness and discrimination at the Arcadian elements in the book.

Arcadia is a poetic symbol, poetics of gradually realized, carefully proportioned, and deeply felt relations within and among poems. In the book, first it is a distant hope, then a fuller remembrance of past voices. It collects itself at last, circumstantially and visibly, into a poetic locus. Three poems, Four, Seven, and Ten, broach, enlarge, and perfect the idea. Set at equal intervals in the book, they establish a framework for the poetry of the others.

The fourth Eclogue begins with talk of going somewhat beyond the usual matter of Sicilian Muses (4.1-3), though the Sicilians take part in much of the poem. The furthest stretch of imagination in the fourth, however, is expressed as an ambition of the poet alone for a poetry such as would surpass even Pan, even if the singing match were held in Arcadia itself (4.53-59, contrast Id. 1.1-6). The poetic trajectory, from Sicilian toward Arcadian, foreshadows what the Eclogues as a whole accomplish.

In the seventh poem, a palpable Sicilian, Daphnis (7.1), had taken a seat easily if paradoxically on the banks of a north Italian river (7.13). In this purposefully mixed context, so reminiscent yet far from the sixth and eighth Idylls and representative of the gradual change of pastoral from Sicilian to Arcadian, the narrator is no longer the poet of the fourth and cohort of Sicilian Muses, but rather now a figure from an earlier Eclogue. He represents an internal memory within the book, and the voices he recollects are the first Arcadians.

Finally, in the tenth poem, Gallus dies in the Theocritean myth of a poet's death. Yet we hardly have to be reminded that Gallus is a rather different lover dying under new circumstances. In the first Idyll, after a cryptic reminder of Love's triumph (1.95-98), Daphnis called Pan to come from Arcadia to take the pipe (1.122-30). In the Eclogue, Pan and a motley company of Italians, Virgilians, and hapax legomena—the new Arcady—come of their own accord (10.19-26), like the he-goat to the place of song in the seventh poem (7.7, cf. 11), or the goats to the child in the incipient golden age of Four (4.21). The presence of Pan is a crucial element in the new, Arcadian reading of Theocritus.

That, in barest outline, is the Arcadian forest which Virgil fabricated from Theocritean wood: Sicilian toward Arcadia; Sicilian and Italian as a context for Arcadians; Gallus (Daphnis, Arethusa) among Arcadians. The fourth Eclogue first articulates a change of locus, while the unique manner of its construction effects the departure. The fourth is the most historicizing and public, most Catullan and Lucretian, said to be the least Theocritean of the Eclogues. We cannot treat all these matters here, but we shall consider one characteristic of the fourth Eclogue that raises questions about the nature of Arcadian poetry, about Virgil's relations to Theocritus, and about the poetry of Theocritus itself. Speaking of change and growth in poetry, the fourth Eclogue uses number and numerical symmetry so boldly that it poses a question about numerical composition in other—Theocritean and Virgilian—products of the Sicilian Muses. Arcadian poetry, Virgil's imitation of Theocritus, appears to take numerical, as well as the more familiar, forms.

The structure of the fourth Eclogue is a function of the single number seven, a more exclusive principle than in other pastoral. It has seven sections, disposed symmetrically and corresponding to units of sense:6 thus 3-7-7-(4 × 7)-7-7-4, for a total of 63 lines. Such a structure imposes itself, is meant to impose number as part of poetic experience, whether we should then think of poetry aspiring to music or to philosophy.7 The poem deliberately breaks through to a new order of art, consonant with its new themes, raising a new question of order in the poetry left behind.

The fourth Eclogue speaks of leaving Sicilian norms; in fact among the Idylls, not to mention other Eclogues, we find nothing with quite the same numerical singleness. The second Idyll is Theocritus' most elaborately visible exercise in symmetries of number. After a proem of 16 lines, the incantations of the feverish girl fall into four-line stanzas, arranged by groups of three for a total of nine stanzas. Then her song of the cause of her passion falls into five-line stanzas, arranged in two groups of six for a total of twelve. The example of this paradox of more than usual order in a speech of more than usual agitation was not lost on the eighth Eclogue, with its Maenalian, Arcadian verses (8.21, cf. 68; 25, cf. 72; and so on). The symmetries of the third Idyll, a paraclausithyron, turn on a bold dissymetry (3.24).

One manner of symmetry in the fifth Idyll, the great contest, is immediately apparent and resembles that of the second Idyll: in the contest, each singer has fourteen catches; but a further mode of symmetry in the poem is less obvious. Komatas, who wins the singing match, has fourteen catches, plus a last word, in which he says that his rival is fond of quarrelling … (5.137). This echoes his earlier charge—in effect framing the contest—that the rival and former student loves to jeer … (5.77), while Komatas himself does not boast and all that he says is true. Their exchange (You’re a babbler! No! I purvey truth! But you love to jeer.) occupies the exact center of the poem (5.74-77), so that the entire structure turns on a question of the love of truth versus love of strife.8

In the fifth Idyll, the truth-teller wins; truth also is a poetic touchstone in the seventh, where young Simichidas is hailed as a sprout of Zeus, fashioned all for truth (7.44). …

Truth conspicuously is absent from the Eclogues, though it might be expected where the third Eclogue imitates the form of the fifth Idyll (as we shall see in a moment), or where the fourth Eclogue translates the just cited praise of Simichidas in one of its most striking lines (4.49):9

cara deum suboles, magnum Iovis incrementum.

If Virgil's child is made for any end, it would seem to be the honores mentioned in the line before, or else for growing, as the epithets suboles and incrementum suggest: natural and political processes, not truth. Instead of a concrete term, ερνοs (7.44), Virgil uses an abstract word in the separative pattern framing the god's name—incrementum—which refers to processes, instruments, and products of growth in the language of philosophy, linguistics, history, and agriculture—later too of rhetoric.10 In the place of truth, Virgil authenticates his prophecy by reference to the utterances of the Parcae (4.46-47), fata, mere reflection thus of words—here an imitation of Catullus.11

Among the remaining Idylls, that one which our editions place fourth seems remarkably lacking in symmetry or number. A. S. F. Gow speaks of the “absence of restriction in the subject matter.”12 Gilbert Lawall, in an article called “Animal Loves and Human Loves,” and now in his Coan pastoral book, speaks rather of “apparently random conversation.”13 He suggests that in fact “juxtaposition of polar types of erotic behavior produces both the poem's irony and its thematic coherence.”14 Mr. Lawall's proposal marks a considerable advance. He entertains as he instructs; and yet he concentrates on theme to the neglect of other, complementary modes of organization.

The fourth Idyll begins with two groups of 14 lines each, followed by a group of 14 plus one. It concludes with groups of six, eight, and six, making a total of 63 lines. Within the first three groups, form and content progress together. Talk gets started with the famous challenge, Ειπε μοι (4.1), that starts off 14 lines of strict stichomythy. This gives rise in turn to a two-line, then three-line strophic responsion as the new manager, Corydon, gradually gains confidence. He defends his practical capacities against a querulous critic who is nostalgic for what used to be. From this crescendo of self-justification (4.1-14, 15-28), Corydon rises in the third group to a climax. He vindicates his own skill at music in a nine-line spurt, the longest single stretch of speech in the poem. The critic melts. Corydon even ventures a snatch of song with the name of a town and an echo of Homeric language in line 32, which is the poem's exact center: praise of Croton and a recollection of “bonny Zacynthus” which is not integrated with the syntax of the rest.15 Lawall observes that this Idyll lacks the song which forms a core in others.16 In fact the fourth Idyll is engaged in poetic preliminaries, like the third, circumstantial, positioning, and testing, with a rustic prick of passion toward the end and only a hint of song at the center.17

Four of the Eclogues also place a crucial motif at the exact center. In the first Eclogue, it is the epiphany of the young god at Rome: hic illum vidi iuvenem (1.42). The second Eclogue, at the exact mid-point, displays a coveted poetic tool, fistula, invented by Pan, prominently set off as the first word in the line and framed within a five-line section by the name of Amyntas, who covets it (2.37). It is interesting that this poetic center of the poem is by no means the highest pitch of its art (cf. 2.45-55). The voices of lover and narrator do not quite yet coincide.

The more obvious symmetries of the third Eclogue point to the fifth Idyll, while a bold echo of the fourth Idyll introduces a run of testy, positioning talk. Again, transfer of control over material is at issue, as in Idyll 4. When the apparent dialectic finally resolves itself into mere responsion, a judge comes on the scene, ostensibly as in the fifth Idyll. But the Theocritean judge was a city man who broke into speech only after the contest (5.138). He was a woodcutter (5.64) who cut off song, declared a victor, and showed unseemly eagerness for the slice of the prize (5.140). We may suspect that he favored the singer who would sacrifice a tender capretto over the one whose prize would be a tough he-goat. Virgil's judge, by contrast, is a neighbor from the country, party to the desires of Camenae. He speaks both before and after the contest, acclaiming both singers, and any lover, worthy to win; making an affirmation more than a judgment. In keeping with these innovations, Virgil's rustics are less acrimonious from the start, turn quickly toward poetical responsion (3.28), and, once the contest begins, show skill at comprehensive variation only, though their Theocritean counterparts were contentious to the last (5.116-23, 142-43). Virgil's innovations altogether represent a symmetrical, incremental poetics.18 The poem is preoccupied with moments when speech of different kinds begins: dic mihi (3.1) and dicite, spoken by the judge near the center (55), then dic quibus … dic quibus (104, 106), a mutual, dark hint at further speech.19 At the exact center, the judge bases his invitation to the contest on the favorable analogy of nature's own production (3.56-57):

et nunc omnis ager, nunc omnis parturit arbor,
nunc frondent silvae, nunc formosissimus annus.

It is the season if not yet the decisive moment for new art.20 Natural fecundity occasions facundity in a way unparalleled in Theocritus or the other Eclogues, though by very universality the third anticipates the confident language of poems Four, Five, and in a way also Six.21 The Theocritean judge in the fifth Idyll spoke neither at the center nor on behalf of both poets, nor did he set poetry any such universal example; on the other hand, nature, not truth, appears at the center of the Eclogue.

One other Eclogue places an important motif in the exact center. It is clear that the ninth Eclogue moves counter to the seventh Idyll, taking singers toward the city and away from favorable conditions for song like those the Theocritean travellers were entering. Two singers flee the composite Sicilian, Italian locus, murmuring fragments of Italian, Sicilian songs and salvaging nothing else but two kids of dubious ownership.22 Their master poet is absent; the disaster would appear total, but for the fact that he, though not they, will reappear in the Arcadia of the tenth Eclogue.23 The ninth Eclogue, then, as if replying to the fortune and the structure of Tityrus in the first, sets a statement of poetics in the center. Young Lycidas, whose name and poetic principles recall the seventh Idyll (7.35-41), rejects an honorific title in poetry—vatem, “bard”—set at the beginning of line 34, emphasized like fistula before it. Singers may be compelled to repeat the journey to the city, but they reject a more ambitious, perhaps then implicitly Tityran, art.

The young god at Rome, pipe of Pan, conscious liaison with nature—all represent a new poetry, though the centering structure still recalls Theocritus. The fourth Eclogue makes change explicit, going to an extreme with the poetry of Rome, nature, and more elaborate number, broaching Arcadia in defiance of Pan. The eighth Eclogue offers a garland to the poetic, public man already honored in the third and fourth poems (8.6-13, cf. 3.84-89, 4.11-14); yet the Arcadian verses of Eight oppose their formal rigidity to interior turbulence and loss of the woods. Eight has been justly called a kind of caricature of the dream of Four.24 The poem closes with an effort to force Daphnis from the city. In the ninth Eclogue, the effort of the eighth, ab urbe (8.110, etc.), collapses, giving way to in urbem (9.1), and yet Lycidas rejects poetic ambition, specifically the poetics of the first and fourth (E. 9.30-36 reaffirms the poetic limits of Id. 7.35-41, but E. 4.1, 49, reversed, exceeded them). In the seventh Eclogue, too, a withdrawal from public to interior, private concerns, Arcadian voices, took place. The Arcadian series, which began with a challenge to Pan, completes itself in the tenth poem with a reported epiphany of the god (10.26-27). Arcadia first appears on the crest of poetic ambition, in public language and innovating structure, 63 lines in contradiction of the seventh Idyll. It reappears detached from the public, but as a fuller poetic idea, in the seventh poem, 70 lines; and finally is a complete poetic locus, far from Sicily, Italy, or Rome, in the tenth poem, 77 lines. Seven is the numerical principle of the poem in which Arcadia first appears and it measures the growth of the idea in the Arcadian series. Progression by sevens carries on from the innovation of Eclogue 4 to represent the growth of a principled structure, Arcadia, the poetry book. Nothing so concerted took place among the Idylls, although the third and fourth amount to consecutive multiples of nine—54, 63: the passion and then the nostalgia for Amaryllis.

Scholars have been talking of a poetics in the middle of the Arcadian series, in Eclogue 7. It is agreed that the contest of Seven weighs two different conceptions of bucolic: but most recently the winner has been called Arcadian, ipso facto Virgilian, while the loser was said to be uncouth, realistic, Theocritean.25 Such would be the Theocritus of the handbooks. Yet Virgil himself emphasized that both singers were Arcadians (7.4); and both sing in the mingled context of Idyll 6 and Idyll 8, while the winner has affinities with the seventh and the loser with the first Idyll. I would suggest therefore that the poem be taken more at its word. It says that there was a wish to recollect alternation in verse: alternos … meminisse (7.19). This alternation which the seventh Eclogue intends to recall must simply be that of the dialectic which runs through all the poems, from the polarity of Tityrus and Meliboeus to its final transformation into Gallus and Arcadia. The singers of the seventh poem must be Arcadians precisely because they do represent and recollect the polarities of other poems. Through memory of other poems, the poet's own revision of his own work, the seventh Eclogue makes an important step toward realization of Arcadia and the book. The judgment of the seventh prefigures the opposition and yet unity of Gallus and Arcadia in the tenth poem. At the same time, Theocritean associations of the contestants call attention to a polarity between the first and seventh Idylls and to the opposition between their echoes in the fifth Eclogue, and, further, between the ninth and tenth Eclogues.

The fourth Eclogue enunciates the terms of imitation and departure from Theocritus. The seventh Eclogue brings them into focus. If Eclogue 4 may be said to gainsay the seventh Idyll, the principle of the Idyll reasserts itself in Eclogue 5, but especially in Eclogues 7 and 9 (9.30-36), and in the Arcadian elements of Eclogue 10.

In Eclogue 7, the contest exemplifies two tendencies in the poetry of Virgil. The name of the loser, Thyrsis, suggests the bacchant's wand and recalls the singer's name in Idyll 1. Ambitious, expecting even to become a vates, he has as deities Priapus, Liber, and Jupiter, mentioned as the god of abundant rain (7.25-28, 33, 60, 58). The winner, Corydon, has a name that suggests the larks of the seventh Idyll (7.23) and the hazels of the first Eclogue, where Meliboeus assisted at the difficult birth of two kids (1.14). The poetic ambition of Corydon is circumspect; his deities are the nymphs, Phoebus, Delia (7.21-24, 29; cf. 61-64). On the hint of Corydon and Thyrsis, we prick out, retracing, a dialectic of Bacchus and Apollo through all the poems.

Thyrsis claims to be going to be a vates (7.28; cf. the refusal of 9.34). His language actually echoes the fourth Eclogue, as Servius observed (7.25, 27; 4.19, 49), so that his defeat implicates Four as well. He is a swelling poet who vows to erect a golden phallus in a modest garden: the effect is almost a parody of the rise of the golden race (7.36, 4.9). His energies also recall the Mopsus of the fifth poem, who pushed on from the familiar pastoral shade to a grotto (5.6), who was testy (5.9), competitive (5.15), somewhat crass—or perhaps one might say detached, esthetic, in his apprehension of poetry (5.13-15, 81-84)—and who was content to embroider on Daphnis as Theocritus left him, which is to say dead: a completed, closed tradition in literature. Thyrsis was the name of the singer of the first Idyll. In the Eclogues it also has further associations with the Dionysiac singer of the sixth and also then with Tityrus, of the first and sixth, with his equivocal libertas (1.27). Tityrus, Silenus, and Damon of the eighth poem, and Gallus of the sixth and tenth, are lovers of women, but not all as the Arcadians love.

On the other hand, Corydon has affinities with Menalcas of the third, fifth, second, ninth, and tenth poems. Menalcas composed at least the introduction to the second, placing the fistula in the center, and he took part in the third. In the fifth, he is more restrained than Mopsus, finer since for him poetry is a restorative (5.46); yet he declares his part in the second and third poems (5.86-87), and goes beyond Theocritus to sing of Daphnis resurrected, surpassing the first Idyll with echoes of the seventh (E. 5.72-73; Id. 7. 71-73). Since his figure unifies the first half of the book, he will appear appropriately as an Arcadian in the tenth Eclogue (10.20).26 Corydon's self-limiting poetics are consonant too with the rule of Apollo in Eclogue 6, directing and restraining Tityrus and Silenus (6.4-5, 82), while his poetic tool is still the fistula that Corydon offered in the second poem. In short, the contest initiates a train of associations and reflections that draws all the poems together.

So much was in the memory of Meliboeus. It has been said that he, not Tityrus, was the more poetic soul in the first Eclogue.27 Yet Tityran libertas, with all its compromising, public connotations,28 was clearly a condition both for the tranquillity and also for the energy and authority that a major creative enterprise demands. A Tityran, Roman, Dionysiac poetics grows through Eclogues 3, 4, and 5, mounting the challenge of a new Marsyas to Apollo; broaching the idea of Arcadia in Catullan, Lucretian language, over against Apollo, Calliope, even Pan (4.53-59)—Roman poetry over against Theocritus (E. 4.1, 49; Id. 7.37-44). These poems see a god who is not Pan (1.42, 5.64).

Apollo is reasserted in the sixth poem, with a Callimachean reaction to ambitious, public poetry (6.3-5). Apollo's famous tweak of Tityrus' ear has the effect of purging libertas of its public, too Roman connotations; it finds its full, natural expression in Silenus, limited only by time and by form (6.82-86). Eclogue 6 returns to the origins of poetry, to the pure dialectics of passion and form, as well as to a beginning of the book (1.2, 6.8). Origo, with its suggestion of etiology, is the poem's most important word. Eclogue 6 makes a shift to natural, interior energies, propagative after a run of what might be called propaganda.

The seventh Eclogue takes stock of rise and fall, alternation. In the sixth, Tityrus of the first poem reappeared and, freed of dependence on the city, sang a song far bolder than the didactic, echoic praise of Amaryllis he was said to be meditating when first sighted (1.1-5); thus pergite Pierides (6.13). His sensitive, poetical alternate, Meliboeus, returns in the seventh, not to distinguish between Virgil and some other poetry but between the expansionist and the recollective—which is the ultimately Arcadian—in Virgil himself. Artistic unification and conscious intent to recall are the poetics of the seventh poem, and of Arcadia. In the introduction to Seven, Corydon and Thyrsis had driven their herds together, both young, Arcadians both, and there was intention to recollect poetry. Unifying separate materials and newly sorting them out, remembering all and making distinctions within, is the process of this poem, symbolized by the apparent reference to a gathering of herds (7.2-3, cf. 19). It was a certamen, a means or a process of sifting out, making distinctions in poetics.

The magnum Iovis incrementum of the fourth Eclogue (4.49), which is to say the growth from Sicilian toward Arcadian, required 63 lines. Then the certamen … magnum (7.16) takes place in 70 lines. The extremus … labor (10.1), that implies both unity and an end, has 77 lines. The fourth poem establishes seven as a principle of form; in the series, seven becomes the numerical token of Arcadia, one extreme in the dialectics of a new art, the Apollonian counter to some Dionysian element as yet unplumbed. In the book, the sixth Eclogue is the most Dionysian, and if it has yet to receive a satisfactory reading, this is because we are not readers comme il faut, not off in some perfect fit of love, as Virgil imagined his reader (6.9-10):

 … si quis tamen haec quoque, si quis
captus amore leget … 

whether it be love of poetry or of the singer (6.13-26). Number and Apollo are easier to study.

The postulate of number in pastoral has already given scandal to some. The erection of a golden Priapus in that modest garden (7.36) ought to give scandal of another sort—or the commerce of Silenus (6.26) or the traffic of Pasiphaë (6.52-60). The life of pastoral consists in maintaining a grasp of both extremes; for pastoral is like the etymological Pan of Plato's Cratylus: not only that it “declares and always moves all,” …, so that it is rightly the poetry of the goatherd, …, but especially that it too, like the god who is speech or the brother of speech, is both false and true, smooth in its upper parts, rough and goat-like in its lower parts.29

We set out to theorize, to formulate the genesis of Arcadian from Theocritean in Virgilian pastoral. We postulate and we find evidence of unity, coherence, and dialectical consistency, a considerable and important enterprise in poetry. Yet our very position, positiveness, generates its contrary, demands a notice of the opposite if we are to be anything like readers of the Eclogues. The poems are keen on their own ambivalence, on the paradox of great in small, work as play, design in chance, the fortuitousness of contrivance, truth in a reflected image: si numquam fallit imago (2.27), res est non parva (3.54), forte (7.1), mea seria ludo (7.17), pauca (10.2), maxima (10.72), hints of slight reeds and more than Orphic powers of poetry.30 The fourth Eclogue, like the seventh and tenth, is equivocal about itself and its poetic enterprise. At the beginning, paulo maiora canamus raises the question of what is in fact large or small, what constitutes change in poetry.31 Interpreters have vacillated between excluding the fourth poem from pastoral altogether and finding ways to reduce and assimilate it to a humble pastoral convention. When Pope asserted that his four pastorals “comprehend all the subjects which the critics upon Theocritus and Virgil will allow to be fit for Pastoral,” he meant to exclude much of the matter of poems Four and Six, though he imagined his shepherds in a kind of golden age (Discourse on Pastoral Poetry). Taken in the context of the entire book, the opening of Four poses a question, whether the Arcadian is a very slight or a very great change from the Sicilian, whether this paulo is to be taken as descriptive, or prescriptive, or ironical understatement. Is birth itself a very great or a slight matter? The pastoral equivalent, or hint, of heroism perhaps? These are matters for a longer discourse. The fourth Eclogue poses the acute paradoxes of humility in high locations, the heroic brought low, one child gripping the whole cosmos (4.52), an indeterminate present moment controlling the entirety of historical and mythical future and past (5, 6, 8-9, 11-17).

A particular instance of the general paradox is the word incrementum, mentioned above. Itself abstract and prosaic, it is placed here in a separative pattern as old as Homer, forming a spondaic ending (the only one) in the forty-ninth verse of a poem constructed on the number seven, echoing and reversing a crucial poetic statement of Theocritus, part of a verse which Eduard Norden singled out for its great art in the midst of a very artful poem.32 In the context, the word can hardly be called elevated, nor yet colloquial and prosaic; nor can one refuse to call it either. Contraries persist, will not simply cede or be reduced to one another. The matter is both tenuis and non parva, like the poetry of the other poems, both small and great, rus and urbs. The dialectics cannot be simplified without violence to what was meant to be both still and still moving (E. 10.70-77).

Love defeated the Dephnis of the first Idyll, a symbol of limit to the poetic grasp of passion. Priapus and Aphrodite came, equivocal comforters. Daphnis called on Pan in vain; he said goodbyes to Arethusa (Id. 1.117). Love also defeats Virgil's obstreperous poet; but now some comfort is to be had. At least the mortal discontent of Gallus becomes the eternal content of Arcadian song. The myth of poetry of the first Idyll passes into Arcadian dimensions; Arethusa returns from her exile. In the tenth Eclogue, the poetics of the seventh Idyll come to terms with the poetics of the first. The new formal circumstances, poetic feeling, promise a certain immortality in art.

Number and numerical symmetry have their importance in Virgil's reading of Theocritus and in the formation of the poetic book, but always in strict conformity with more apparent content. They blend easily into the shadows of the familiar trees. Yet, from the reader, numbers in pastoral invite a readiness to entertain opposites simultaneously, an awareness that every assertion will find its contrary in some other part of the whole. Arcadian number exacts a science, of the inner dialectics of poetry itself, whatever affinity one or another cipher may seem to show with some half-mythical figure of Sicily or of Croton.33


  1. This study took impetus from an observation by Mr. David Kuhn on the usefulness of an idea of the whole when one is trying to grasp the separately elusive elements of a poem; the study kept constantly in mind a lucid expression of the idea of the Liber by Professor Wendell Clausen in “Callimachus and Latin Poetry,” GRBS 5 (1964) 193; finally, in the face of a certain aporia—mutual contradiction among various studies of individual poems—it seemed necessary to attempt some sort of apperception of the whole, if only to understand the parts, as Dante puts it in the letter to Can Grande, dedicating the Paradiso: “volentes igitur aliqualem introductionem tradere de parte operis, oportet aliquam notitiam tradere de toto, cuius est pars.”

  2. For examples, Karl Büchner, RE 15A (1955) 1256-57, s.v. “Vergilius.” If, with Clausen (above, note 1), we imagine “a certain amount of rewriting,” the tangle of chronological arrangements of the Eclogues becomes more than ever illusory, while the arrangement in the book takes on importance as the product of the poet's extremus labor.

  3. For a useful summary and dismissal of earlier proposals, see Günther Jachmann, “L’Arcadia come paesaggio bucolico,” Maia 5 (1952) 161-67, first published as part of Miscellanea Max Pohlenz (1952).

  4. Büchner (above, note 2) 1261-62; Jachmann (above, note 3) 170, suggests that even the mention of Arcadia in E. 4.58-59 implies traditional associations of Arcadia with poetry. The association with Pan and song at least is certain, suitable for what Virgil does with it but hardly anticipating him. For a more penetrating view of the relationship between silvestris Musa in Lucretius (4.589) and Virgil (E. 1.2), see Philip Damon, “Modes of Analogy in Ancient and Medieval Fiction,” UCPCP 15 (1961) 281, 286. Cf. also Lucr. 5.1398 with E. 6.8, and contrast E. 6.8 with E. 1.2. Tityrus' second Muse is more ambitious after the expansion of E. 3, 4, and 5. We never hear a simple song of Amaryllis.

  5. Interpreting a symbolist poem, C. M. Bowra, The Heritage of Symbolism (Schocken, New York, 1961; first publ. 1943) 31, writes of Les Pas by Valéry, “The steps belong not to a human mistress but to poetry, the poetic impulse, for which the poet waits.” Mallarmé after all entitled The Afternoon of a Faun an Eclogue. Symbolism, however, is not a recurrent fashion but a perennial, half-hidden tradition in poetry. Every poem is about its own making. Poetry is both much more and less than the scholars style it. For “poetics” in pastoral, see notes 23 and 25, below.

  6. For a sketch of the form and content of E. 4, see J. B. Van Sickle, “The Unnamed Child: A Reading of Virgil's Messianic Poem,” HSCP 71 (1966) 349-52, Summary of Dissertation. Among other things, the lines that mention Arcadia and Pan each have seven words: “… etwas vom Zauberspruch,” Büchner (above, note 2) 1202, line 48.

  7. Given such attention to number on the part of the poet, it will not do to say with Professor E. L. Brown (Numeri Vergiliani=Coll. Latomus 63 [1963] 16), among others, that the first three lines of E. 4 “may be reserved without undermining the structure. …” Mr. Brown himself does not choose to reserve them when, for example, he numbers the lines of the Eclogues all consecutively and finds that line 216 falls at the imitation of Aratus, ab Iove principium (3.60), and that Pergite Pierides (6.13) follows a second cycle of 216, or that surget gens aurea (4.9) coincides with consecutive line 276, another important Pythagorean number (Brown, p. 67). Between mentions of Jove at 3.60 and 4.49, just 100 lines elapse. Professor Otto Skutsch has pointed out to me that if we exclude 8.75, the extra refrain, then the lines of Eclogue 8 fall into three groups of 36 each, consisting of 36 and 36, the songs, and 36 of refrains and introduction. The songs themselves are composed of stanzas of 3 × 3 verses, 3 × 4, and 3 × 5, apparently a formal analogue to the enigmatic talk of distribution, terna … triplici (8.73). In the book as a whole, there are thus 828 verses, so that 5.85 is number 415 of the whole, the first line of the second half, the point at which Menalcas gives the retrospective pipe, recalling poems two and three, and Mopsus replies with the staff, foreboding new journeys. Idyll 1 is distributed into sections of 63 + 63 (+ 19 of refrain) + 7, and Idyll 4 has 63 lines.

    17+T.P. 98

  8. Cf. Plato, Phaedo 91A, for a distinction in modes of argument. … The nature of Theocritean truth may perhaps best be inferred from the instruction offered in the fifth Idyll.

  9. Eduard Norden, Die Geburt des Kindes (Leipzig 1924) 129, calls E. 4.49 the richest in art of all the verses.

  10. The earliest uses of incrementum include Cic. De fin. 2.88, moral philosophy, 45 b.c.; Varro, De ling. Lat. 8.17, about the same time, of changes in words (cf. Schanz-Hosius 1.161, 191); Cic. De senec., about one year later, in a description of Cato's agricultural interests, first recorded use of the plural (ThLL wrongly cites Ovid, M. 3.103 as the first); Varro, Res rust. 2.4.19, of 37 b.c.; and cf. Livy 1.33.8, 5.54.4, 27.17.4, etc. On the origins and meanings of words in -men and -mentum see Jean Perrot, Les dérivés latins en -men et -mentum (Paris 1961). For an appreciation and partial summary of Perrot, J. W. Poultney, AJP 85 (1964) 206-9. On the relationship of an idea of incrementum to E. 4, see Van Sickle (above, note 6). E. 4.1, 49 reverses Id. 7.35-41, but then E. 7.25-28 implies reversal of E. 4, and E. 9.30-36 reaffirms Id. 7.35-41.

  11. Catullus 64.327 etc., first noted by Macr. Sat. 6.1.41; studied briefly by Professor E. K. Rand, “Catullus and the Augustans,” HSCP 17 (1906) 21; cited as requiring further study by Büchner (above, note 2) 1260, cf. 1206; treated by Van Sickle (above, note 6).

  12. A. S. F. Gow, Theocritus2 2 (Cambridge 1952) 76.

  13. G. W. Lawall, “Animal Loves and Human Loves,” RFIC 94 (1966) 47, and Theocritus' Coan Pastorals: A Poetry Book (Cambridge, Mass., 1967) 42, where reference is made to the “seemingly uncontrolled, realistic flow of conversation.”

  14. Lawall (above, note 13) RFIC 94.50, and now in the Pastoral Book, 51.

  15. In the Pastoral Book (above, note 13) 50, Lawall paraphrases Miss Wildberger, Theokrit-Interpretationen (Diss. Zürich 1955) 43-48, on “the gradual elevation of subject matter and tone, as the conversation moves away from the initial discussion of the flock and turns to the herdsmen's poetic and emotional interests. In this central part of the poem, the rustics are no longer merely commonplace figures drawn from the real countryside, but conscious artists whose interests extend beyond the horizons of their limited rustic world.” Consciousness of art, of its gradations, powers, and limits, would seem to be more controlling even than this suggests. The wandering into distant, musical matters has its immediate analogue in the straying of the calves which follows: a symbolist device reflecting the movement of the language. The calves nibble tender shoots, and it takes shouting, harsh language to return them, the poem, to a balance.

  16. Lawall (above, note 13) RFIC 94.45, Pastoral Book 42.

  17. Lawall (above, note 13) RFIC 94.48, Pastoral Book 49, on the thorn in the foot as a rustic counterpart to Eros' shaft.

  18. Caution must be exercised in speaking of the “gentler pastoral atmosphere diffused over the whole poem,” which a recent writer attributes to Idylls 1 and 5. In One to be sure; but less true of Five or Four: Charles P. Segal, “Vergil's Caelatum Opus,AJP 88 (1967) 296, see also 292 (comments on E. 3 that would describe Idyll 4 almost as well) and 281-99 (detailed treatment of the dialectical turn toward song of the Eclogue's first half).

  19. Segal (above, note 18) 297-99 interprets the riddles in terms of other themes and alternations in the poem (cf. 281); he also observes the centering effect, 292. After the Sicilian, proto-Arcadian E. 2, Camenae (3.59) would seem to anticipate Italian, perhaps Roman, matters: the turn to Pollio at 3.84, and to Pollio and much else in 4.1-17. In E. 7, after the recusatio of 6.4-5, song will be a matter of volition, not love, and of Muses, not Camenae (7.19).

  20. Professor Martin Ostwald pointed out to me that nunc (3.56) would be more generic, more diffuse than the incisively repeated adverb of time in E. 4.4, 6, 7 et passim, iam.

  21. Not only Pollio, but Jove (3.60, 4.49) and the exotic balm, amomum (3.89, 4.25).

  22. Damon (above, note 4) 289 speaks of 9.57 ff. as “the one instance of true pastoral singers addressing a silent, unresonant nature. … This is a terrain without echoes, one which wastes pastoral song as the trivium (3.26-27) does.” Menalcas used to leaf over springs (9.20); now farmers are stripping the leaves (9.61). Migrate (9.4) recalls the exile of Meliboeus. I am happy to acknowledge the usefulness of several conversations on the Eclogues held in Rome with Professor Michael Putnam in the spring of 1964. He first brought to my attention, as I recall, the paradox of the displaced songs of E. 9.

  23. Charles Segal, “Tamen Cantabitis, Arcades—Exile and Arcadia in Eclogues One and Nine,” Arion 4 (1965) 255, observes that Idyll 7 “is not simply an autobiographical account, but is concerned primarily with poets and poetry. Hence in using it, Vergil may be suggesting that the farm and dispossessions, however vivid and distressing in themselves, are but parts of a larger issue, that is, the nature of pastoral poetry, and in a sense all poetry, in a time of violence and disruption.” Segal moves well beyond the conventional impasse in studies of Virgil's land question (cf. note 2, above) and is consonant with the approach of a Lawall (note 13, above) to Theocritus. His particular interpretation of the ninth Eclogue, however, is far more optimistic than Damon's (note 22, above). In a sense, Segal takes the viewpoint of Lycidas, sanguine about the possibilities of song, anticipating the guarded optimism of tamen cantabitis (10.31), the Arcadian solace. Damon takes more the viewpoint of Moeris, the dismantling of the Italian, Sicilian locus.

  24. Charles Fantazzi, “Virgilian Pastoral and Roman Love Poetry,” AJP 87 (1966) 181; suggestive comments on the ironies of E. 6 and 10, p. 184.

  25. “The suggestion has been made that in some of the Eclogues, again the Sixth and also the Seventh, Vergil is attempting to sketch his ‘poetics’ of pastoral or even his view of poetry in general.” Segal (above, note 18) 279. Hellfried Dahlmann, “Zu Vergils siebentem Hirtengedicht,” Hermes 94 (1966) 228-29, suggests that the contrast is between Virgilian and derb, realistik Theocritean.

  26. Cf. above, note 7.

  27. Segal (above, note 23) 241-43, with an especially nice touch in tanta (1.26), p. 241.

  28. On the relationship of Liber and Libertas, see remarks and references in Robert J. Rowland, Jr., “Numismatic Propaganda under Cinna,” TAPA 97 (1966) 417. See also Chap. II, “Political Catchwords,” in Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution (Oxford 1960).

  29. Plato, Crat. 408C-D, translation by H. N. Fowler (Loeb Classical Library, 1953).

  30. On the paradox of forte at the beginning of so carefully contrived a poem as Seven, E. E. Beyer, “Vergil: Eclogue 7—A Theory of Poetry,” AClass 5 (1962) 39. Segal (above, note 23) 254, notes a fragility in pastoral, represented in the instrument of E. 2 and 3 by Menalcas at 5.85. Not only fragile, but broken by the end: thus the patulae … tegmine fagi (1.2), the densas, umbrosa cacumina, fagos (2.4), have become the veteres, iam fracta cacumina, fagos of a disintegrating locus (9.9). Segal (p. 255) also notes the poet of the sixth Eclogue “aware of poetry in its autonomous creative power.”

  31. In Virgil's works, paulo occurs only here; paulatim (4.28) occurs also at E. 6.36, G. 1.134, 3.215, and seven times in the Aeneid; both are frequent in Lucretius, paulo 15 times, paulatim 23 times. B. Axelson, Unpoetische Wörter (Lund 1945) 95, comments: “Auch im Gebrauch von paulo post (post paulo) treffen Lukrez und Horaz zusammen: bei jenem steht es 6,1240, bei diesem an vier Stellen, von denen eine der Lyrik angehört (carm. 3, 20, 3); bei den anderen Dichtern [list p. 17] findet man es nicht.” A note adds that paulo ante is more frequent in Lucr., occurs twice in Juv., elsewhere only at Cat. 66.51, Sil. 9.89, to which add Statius, Th. 6.756, 11.653; paulo post occurred also at Plaut. Ps. 380, Tri. 191, and in Cinna, Zmyrna ap. Serv. G. 1.288 (cf. RE 8.1227, line 32, and Cat. 64.269, 62.35 Schrader). Paulo prius occurs at Plaut. Ci. 546, Men. 681, 873, Ps. 896. Note the other comparatives with paulo collected by H. C. Gotoff, “On the Fourth Eclogue of Virgil,” Philologus 111 (1967) 67, note 4; add also Lucr. 3.602, ut gravior paulo possit dissolvere causa. Ovid uses paulo four times, all with the comparative. It does not occur in Propertius or Lucan. Paulum occurs five times in Lucretius, twice in the Aeneid (3.597, 4.649), and at Cat. 38.7, 10.25 (cf. paulo at 68.131). In short, paulo is used in comedy, satire, and especially in Lucretius. Links between the language of comedy and bucolic hardly surprise: take only the example of Plaut. Amph. 197, 201-2, “ea nunc meditabor quo modo illi dicam … sed quo modo et verbis quibus me deceat fabularier, prius ipse mecum etiam volo hic meditari”; cf. E. 1.2, 6.8, 9.37 (and Lucr. 1.143). The relations, however, between Virgil and Lucretius are more complex, more direct and programmatic: see note 4, above; and B. Farrington, “Vergil and Lucretius,” AClass 1 (1958) 45 ff.; G. Radke, “Aurea Funis,” Gymnasium 63 (1956) 82-86; Van Sickle (above, note 6); and for an unsorted compendium of Lucretian tags in Virgil, W. A. Merrill, “Parallels and Coincidences in Lucretius and Virgil,” UCPCP 3.3 (1918) 135-247. Among the phrases on which Virgil's use of Lucretius turns is paulo maiora lacessunt (Lucr. 2.137), in a crucial passage on the direct relationship between small and greater in nature, which permits analogical investigation of the invisible: cf. C. Bailey, Lucretius 1 (Oxford 1949) 58-59. Paulo maiora (E. 4.1) raises the question of small and great in language; here the poet, not the atoms, exercises a facultas: poetry assumes for itself the natural power to make trees change (silvae, 4.3). For a comparably Orphic metaphor, E. 3.111, see Segal (above, note 18) 302. An invisible process in language, bucolic, is to make itself visible; it is to grow to get beyond the limits of words. Not everyone may understand the incrementum in the bucolic silvae proposed at the beginning (4.1-3); everyone can get the message of the mother and child, smile at the end (4.60). A smile is with the lips, yet beyond words. The very structure of the poem is, in this sense, self-denying, ironic. Attempts to recapture ironic tones in the language of the Eclogues are thus fundamental and useful (cf. suggestions by Fantazzi [above, note 24] 184). In particular, Gotoff (Philologus 111.67-68), supporting Deubner's perception of a light tone in E. 4.1-3, points to a real ambivalence of poetic language, and of the poet's attitude to his work. Yet, as it stands, Gotoff's reading of the fourth is as one-sided in its way as are the readings of the ninth mentioned above, notes 22 and 23.

  32. Norden (above, note 9) 129, comments on the spondaic ending and unexampled parison; for incrementum, see also note 10, above. An older treatment of it by Tenney Frank, “Magnum Iovis Incrementum,CP 11 (1916) 334 ff., loses itself in dichotomies which the linguistic phenomenology of Perrot (above, note 10) has nicely resolved; words in -mentum mean both process, instrument, and product: both the middle terms and the end, sometimes also the principle.

  33. Delivered in slightly shorter form December 28, 1967, at the ninety-ninth annual meeting of the American Philological Association, Boston, Massachusetts. I am particularly grateful to the Editor of the Association and to its anonymous referee for encouraging me to give a more telling formulation to these ideas. I am grateful too for the interest of several of the Virgilians who heard my paper. I have heeded the counsel of Professor J. P. Elder in not expanding the present version, for the sake of stating the thesis but with the understanding and expectation that development will be required. It has been my experience that working with the present principles one can easily expand, concentrating on individual poems or parts of poems, assimilating and reformulating the most diverse critical methods. This paper then is only meant as a starting point. If inveterate Virgilians point to the strands left loose, traces omitted, exaggerations, and ellipsis, the dialectic with them and the poems will be well on its way and the purpose of this study well served. But it has also been my experience that memory is all too fallible, time short, the essentials for a valid reading of the Eclogues and of the best contemporary poetry lacking: omnia fert aetas, animum quoque.

Eleanor Winsor Leach (essay date 1968)

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SOURCE: “The Unity of Eclogue 6,” Latomus, 1968, Vol. XXVII, No. 1, January-March, pp. 13-32.

[In the essay below, Leach studies the Song of Silenus in the Sixth Eclogue and explores the principles of unity in its thematic elements and mythological language. Furthermore, Leach demonstrates how these uniting principles may be applied to the poem as a whole.]

Principles of unity in Eclogue 6 have been sought on many different bases, but chiefly by investigation of the rationale governing the selection and arrangement of myths in the Song of Silenus1. Scholars have generally agreed that both the myths and Vergil's stylistic treatment of them recall aspects of Alexandrian poetic convention, and also that the use of such a series of myths goes beyond the limits of decorum in the pastoral form. Among recent explicators, Otto Skutsch considers the poem composed of legends popular in Alexandrian literature2; Zeph Stewart sees definite suggestions for a range of popular Alexandrian genres: didactic, theological, epyllion, tragedy and metamorphic poems3, and J. P. Elder finds a compendium of bucolic themes supporting an introduction that has to do with Vergil's inspiration as a pastoral poet4.

Although genre study can provide important insights into the poem, it does not seem to me to give a complete interpretation. The several theories I have mentioned all argue for a kind of topical continuity in the myths, but one in which we may still fail to see a coherence of verbal design. As Stewart remarked, an illuminating explanation of the poem must show its various elements—the myths, the introduction, the poetic initiation of Gallus on Mount Helicon—existing in a balanced unity5. To this I would add that explanation must go beyond simple relationships of subject matter in the myths and explore the cryptic, yet very precise, language in which they are presented. The reading I offer here seeks to discover principles of unity in the themes and language of the myths and to show how these principles extend to the poem as a whole.

The Eclogue centers about major topics of pastoral: man, nature and poetry. I shall study the interassociation of these topics under three heads: 1) a relationship between man and nature depicted in the myths and emphasized by thematic grouping and contrast and by the use of repeated verbal suggestions; 2) questions concerning pastoral poetry and nature as its subject which are developed in the introductory section of the poem; 3) a relationship between the poet and nature implied by the juxtaposition of the first two patterns and developed in the myth of Gallus on Helicon.

In recounting the myths of Silenus, the poet frequently reminds us that he is abstracting elements of a much longer song, one lasting from morning until sunset6. The effect of the reminders is chiefly to call attention to the highly selective manner of the mythological narration. Of the variety of actions or scenes potentially present in each myth, Vergil chooses only one or two to call to our attention. But such abbreviation tends to create precision, rather than vagueness of reference. The vast possibilities of meaning in the myths are subjected to the poet's own interpretation and the reader's attention is focused on a particular, limited aspect of each7. At times only one action is presented: the stones cast by Pyrrha, the girl wondering at the apples of the Hesperides. In other cases two or three actions are juxtaposed as when we hear of the theft and punishment of Prometheus or the feast of Philomela and the changed limbs of Tereus.

A useful comparison may be made between the technique of presentation here and some aspects of second and third style mythological landscape paintings. In many paintings a single action represents a story; yet is developed chiefly for its possibilities as a visual image. A monochrome Artemis and Acteon from Herculaneum that combines elements of sacral-idyllic painting with mythology8 gives a symbolic rendering of a dramatic situation. A baetylus shrine in the center dominates the landscape. To the left a horned Acteon has turned away from the shrine, apparently in haste, while on the right Artemis gestures, seeming to call up two dogs. Acteon has been arrested at the shrine where he has come either to challenge or to violate the goddess9. The moment is one of transition between his guilty act and his punishment. Between the figures themselves, however, there is no real dramatic interchange. Their association is created by the surrounding details of the painting, by the shrine which stands between the two, representing their antagonism, and by the sacral-idyllic mood of the landscape which points up Acteon's tole as violator of divine sanctity and superiority.

The principal difference between the dramatic representation here and that we find in vase painting is of course the participation of the figures in a landscape in some manner related to the action itself. The use of setting and of iconographic detail create an interpretation, or in fact, force the spectator to create it for himself. The picture will seem clear or meaningless depending on the spectator's ability to associate the details.

A more complicated use of dramatic abstraction in mythological landscapes develops in some works of the third style. Peter von Blanckenhagen speaks of a type of «continous narrative» painting where «events separated in time are represented as occuring simultaneously at the same place in the same setting … where in the same setting one or more identical persons appear more than once»10. Among the most familiar examples of this type is the Polyphemus from Boscotrecase where the Cyclops serenades Galatea in the foreground while in the background he is stoning the ship of Ulysses11. In an interpretation of the myth of Acteon different from that mentioned above, one continuous landscape provides the background for three scenes: the hunter's viewing the goddess at her bath, her angry pursuit and finally the attack on Acteon by his own dogs12. As von Blanckenhagen has pointed out, such paintings make no attempt at logic of composition or narrative. Their settings are universalized, divorced from time and place. He interprets this development as something particularly Roman13.

Although Eclogue six is much earlier than such paintings, it is analogous in its use of dramatic abstractions and perhaps also in its placing the task of interpretation on the reader14. In the Silenus Song, iconographic details define the myths: the comrades of Hylas at the spring, the daughters of Protois shaking imagined horns on their heads. A visual image, comparable to that of the paintings, is suggested and in some cases the image implies a landscape which itself figures in the dramatic action.

The importance of landscape as a unifying factor in the myths has been observed by Elder who remarks on the way that Vergil has given this part of the poem a pastoral coloring by consistent use of bucolic detail. He finds here, as in the other poems, a «pastoral background that remains constant, the trees streams and mountains giving … an ultimate emotional stability—the harmony against which each pastoral incident may be set and proportionately evaluated»15. This point is important, but might be both qualified and extended. Vergil creates his unity by eliciting the bucolic possibilities in each myth; yet he does not merely show a juxtaposition of man and nature. Nature is more than a background here; it is a part of the iconography of each myth, and appears in close inter-action with each subject. Thus it is seldom constant and stable, but a part of the shifting play of human emotions, representing in some cases the object of man's desires, in others his aversion. In several instances we find man leaving his human shape to take on one of the forms of nature. It is directly in this precise and dramatized presentation of the inter-action of man and nature that we must begin to seek the themes of the Silenus myths.

The first part of the song creates the landscape which is, in a sense, the setting for a continuous narrative of all the myths. Strikingly it neither includes man nor makes provision for his point of view. Vergil's choice of a scientific over a mythological description of the origins of the world gives a peculiarly impersonal quality to nature. Many scholars have observed that the material does not adhere to the doctrines of any one school of thought, that it is, in fact, a mixture of the cosmologies of Lucretian Epicureanism and of Empedocles16. Such a conflation makes the description suggestive of science in the broadest sense as a way of thinking implicitly different from myth17. Silenus shows natural forms arising from a coalescence of the elements, with each part of the world spontaneously taking its place within a general order18. There is emphasis on the inter-relationship of natural phenomena. Verbs that tend to personify natural forces provide a sence of action and response within nature (37-39)19:

iamque nouum terrae stupeant lucescere
altius atque cadant summotis nubibus imbres;
incipiant siluae cum primum surgere … 

A sense of spontaneous action suggests the presence of natural law as nature displays a coherence of its own, a coherence that excludes both man and the gods. The climax of the account leaves man conspicuously absent and we see only the animal creatures wandering through their new environment (40):

rara per ignaros errent animalia montis.

As Silenus continues, the objective landscape is peopled with human figures in a series of three legends drawn from early mythological history, often categorised as stories of the origins of man himself (41-42):

hinc lapides Pyrrhae iactos, Saturnia
Caucasiasque refert uolucris furtumque Promethei.

As Servius first observed20, these myths are not cited in chronological order. They may even seem contradictory for they are not all commonly found in the same accounts and provide three distinct ideas of the nature of mankind. The stones cast by Pyrrha show man as a creature of the physical world. The theft of Prometheus implies a divine creation and a divine nature, while the Saturnia regna has less to do with creation than a harmonious balance between man and his environment. Still, the two creation myths are not entirely opposite. The stones cast by Pyrrha imply a transformation of nature, an elevation of inanimate objects to the human level. Solitary man needed human companionship for nature alone was inadequate. The theft of Prometheus goes even further in suggesting man's need for something from the gods to raise him above other living creatures, while the punishment—the Caucasian vultures—calls to mind solitude amidst a wild, cruel nature. Both allusions show a separation between man and nature, and give images of human restlessness within the confines of a purely natural world.

The second and central allusion, the Saturnia regna is in apparent antithesis to those framing it, for the golden age implies man's active, although sentimental, desire for affinity with nature and a peaceful, harmonious acceptance of its limitations21. Its central position and juxtaposition with the other myths reminds us that no view of nature and man is absolute. Yet Saturnia regna itself is an ambiguous term, for it tends towards an ideal organization or government rather than a spontaneous life in nature. Instead of a more natural man, Saturnia regna suggests a more humanly oriented nature. Vergil's manner of reference makes all three myths capable of suggesting both the harmony and disharmony of life in the natural world.

An even greater distance between man and nature appears in the myth of Hylas. Although this allusion has been taken as a reference to man's first journey, the journey is not the point stressed. Here are elements of a developed landscape scene—one that was in fact to become popular in landscape painting22—a direct confrontation of man and nature. Hylas is a character who enters the natural world, yet Silenus does not mention the nymphs and the seduction, but only the spring that was the landmark of his fate and the grief of the comrades in their fruitless search. The lamenting cry, Hyla, Hyla, echoes along the shore. Hylas has vanished in a way that his baffled comrades do not understand and they are rendered helpless by a nature that poses barriers to knowledge and returns no answer save the echo of the human voice.

The legends of Pasiphae and of the daughters of Protois are structurally and thematically bound together. The opening comment is pertinent to both (45): et fortunatam, si numquam armenta fuissent. The armenta may recall the animalia of the creation scene. Pasiphae is a human being consciously seeking a closer bond with nature and frustrated by the distance between. She is at once compelled by animal instincts and restrained by her human form. Vergil's account centers about her pursuit of the bull, emphasizing the bafflement of the unhappy queen to whom nature can only be a source of discomfort. To the bull, however, nature is a source of pleasure. Vergil shows the animal's joy in its proper environment—the luxury of his soft hyacinth bed (53), his peaceful feeding in the shade (54) and his pursuit of cows from the herd (55). The queen's human form is brought before us in the words (47) a, virgo infelix. If this phrase is, as Servius tells us23, an echo of the Io of Calvus, it makes a clear point. By repeating another poet's lament for a woman transformed into a cow, Vergil ironically suggests that Pasiphae is to be pitied because she would welcome just such a metamorphosis—a release of animal energy into its natural form. Being restrained, Pasiphae can only attempt to restrain in turn the life of the bull. She orders the nymphs to close the paths from the groves and meditates strategies to lure him home (55-60). Her desire for nature seeks to distort the ways of nature itself, as well as to overcome the natural law separating the human from the animal worlds. Intellectually the queen has already undergone a metamorphosis24; she has already transgressed that law, yet physical nature still poses a barrier to her desires.

A variation on the theme of intellectual metamorphosis appears when Vergil contrasts the frustration of Pasiphae with the humiliation of the daughters of Protois who believe they have been turned into cows. Fear and repugnance take the place of desire. We see them shaking the imaginary horns on their heads (51), fearing the loss of human identity in animal form. For them the assumption of such form is not freedom, but bondage, and they dread bending their necks to the yoke (50): collo timuisset aratrum. Thus the two legends, each containing elements of the grotesque, are complimentary in showing how human dignity demands the preservation of a distance between man and nature. In certain aspects of the natural world man may see an image of his baser self, his animal nature, and may desire or fear its ascendency over his rational being. Intellectual metamorphosis, the extreme form of these desires or fears, is to the spectator a kind of comic madness.

The myth of Atalanta is one of the most narrowly focused, for Vergil chooses only one detail, the reaction of the maiden seeing the golden apples (v. 61):

tum canit Hesperidum miratam mala puellam;

The appearance of the apples is already a traditional moment for poets alluding to Atalanta. Theocritus describes her seeing, her confusion and her love (3.40)25. …

Catullus also makes the apples, in themselves a traditional erotic symbol, represent a realization of desire (C. 2a)26:

tam gratumst mihi quam ferunt puellae
pernici aureolum fuisse malum,
quod zonam soluit diu ligatam.

Vergil's miratam seems capable of similar suggestions, but is developed and made specific by an addition of his own. His apples are not simply mala aurea, but mala Hesperidum27. They are apples from a magic garden, both natural and supernatural, and the miratam is directed towards this point. Atalanta is halted by the sight of something from outside of nature, which may at the same time represent a natural desire. Her wonder at the apples draws her towards capture and love. Here, as in the myth of Prometheus, we have the sense of man's exceeding the limitations of nature to gain a human end. But if we look forward to the conclusion of Atalanta's story, we find that once more the unusual effort ends in disaster.

The allusion to the sisters of Phaeton follows the pattern laid down by Pasiphae and the Proteids. Where metamorphosis had first been introduced as a state of mind, an illusion or madness, it now becomes a physical reality. The language emphasizes imprisonment and bitterness. Vergil's use of the phrase (62-63), circumdat amarae/corticis, makes the transformation less an escape from, or an allieviation of grief, than a solidification of it into permanent form. The unhappy maidens do not act; they are helpless and passive. The verbs circumdat and erigit make the singer himself the agent of their transformation28. The bitterness is that of the human being whose emotion has betrayed him to an external force. Erigit, a word usually associated with some form of mental stimulation or renewal, even with cheering and consolation, seems ironic in this context,

All these myths have shown man on the borderline of the human and natural worlds. They suggest the twofold character of the human situation which includes both a desire to be natural or yield to nature and a striving to exceed the limitations imposed by the physical world. A turning towards nature seems alien to human dignity and freedom. It is this aspect of the theme that is stressed in the two final myths of Scylla and Philomela where metamorphosis is a punishment for crime29. Even before their transformation, these characters have sunk below the human level with deeds that sever them from the world of men. Vergil places less emphasis on the deeds than on their consequences. Changes of form confirm the alienation from mankind. Not only does the once beautiful Scylla become monstrous30, but also she attacks the ships of Ulysses proving a danger to the human world. The transformed Philomela embodies the melancholy of a one-time human being condemned to animal form. She seeks out lonely places (80): quo cursu deserta petiuerit, and flies sadly before her former home (80-81): quibus ante infelix sua tecta super uolitaverit alis. The idea of man's exclusion from nature seen in earlier myths is ironically reversed here, as the character who has become a part of nature longs vainly to return to the human world.

Although Philomela's crime is the most extreme instance of subhuman conduct, the final words of the description suggest a theme prevalent in several of the myths: that of seeking or wandering. Philomela seeks out desert places. The comrades of Hylas seek him on the shore. The sisters of Phaeton have sought their brother. Ulysses, attacked by Scylla, is himself a wanderer. The condition of man in nature seems lacking in direction and certainty. In the myth of Pasiphae, wandering is most explicit and forms of errare occur twice. Pasiphae wanders in the mountains (52): tu nunc in montibus erras, and the bull himself leaves wandering footprints (57-58): si qua forte ferant oculis sese obuia nostris / errabunda bouis uestigia. Wandering is a condition natural to animals and the tu nunc in montibus erras explicitly recalls the earlier rara per ignaros errent animalia montis, the description of the animals in the newly formed world. Tracking down her hope for the fulfillment of animal desire, Pasiphae follows the bull into a condition of wandering, a condition unsuited to human beings but suggestive of the frustration of man looking for satisfaction in the natural world.

A second pattern of recurrent thematic suggestions centers about the idea of bondage or capture. Bondage is implied by Prometheus in the Caucasus. Atalanta is captured by her wonder. The sisters of Phaeton are surrounded by bark, and Scylla is girt about (succincta) by monsters. The daughters of Protois fear the yoke. In the myth of Pasiphae this theme is also overtly expressed. Pasiphae is captured by madness (47): quae te dementia cepit, and in turn seeks to capture the bull (58-59): forsitan illum / aut herba captum uiridi. Pasiphae is both wandering and in bondage, and this paradoxical condition leads to an interpretation of the series as a whole.

Looking backward we may see the scheme created by Vergil's abbreviation and abstraction. By selecting a dramatic moment for each myth and developing this moment through image and metaphor he has stressed the potentially thematic quality of the myths. On the basis of his abstractions he has grouped the myths so as to bring out their similarities and contrasts within a developing pattern of suggestion. An account of creation gives a sense of man's distance from nature; and the three allusions that follow show him seeking, amidst nature, an identity that belongs peculiarly to man. Close upon these come the myths that demonstrate a loss of human identity through emotional assimilation into the natural world. Then follow those where human characteristics are forfeited through crime. But interassociation is not limited to this grouping. Hylas and Phaeton suggest each other because both deal with grief for bereavement and the condition of the bereaved in the natural world: in one case shut out from nature, in the other absorbed into natural form. Phaeton himself, like Prometheus, is a character who desires something beyond that offered by the limited natural world. The imagined metamorphosis of the daughters of Protois looks forward to the real metamorphosis of the sisters of Phaeton, Scylla and Philomela. Thus the abstractions show all the myths participating in one common problem of the confrontation between nature and man. The themes of wandering and bondage further enforce the sense of common participation. Consistently we are made aware of man's struggle to define his own place in his environnment. Thus the scheme of Vergil's mythology exploits the simple assumption that man occupies a place higher than the rest of creation, yet may descend below his given level31. Man is not inevitably in conflict with the laws of nature; but his desires and impulses bring him up against nature's limitations and put him in bondage.

As we turn from the myths themselves to the framework of the poem, we may see that the ideas of capture, limitation and bondage have already been introduced. The two opening sections show a striking resemblence of pattern and theme. Both the dialogue between the Eclogue poet and Apollo and the capture of old Silenus by the shepherd boys are incidents where the poet accepts an injunction concerning his verse. In the first instance, Tityrus is restricted to a given mode of composition. In the second, Silenus is taken prisoner and bound for the sake of a song. The first section gives an oblique thematic statement which is spelled out by its literal restatement in the second: the binding of the poet. In verse 10 the captivity is transferred from poet to audience as Vergil speaks of a reader held by admiration of his verse: si quis captus amore leget. In the second section an audience is again captivated as the trees move their heads to the Silenus Song and the fauns and wild beasts dance in measure (27-28). The pattern will be repeated later with a different emphasis when Gallus is hailed by the Muses as the poet to inherit the nature-animating power of Hesiod and please Apollo with a celebration of the Grynean Grove.

The Callimachean recusatio of verses 1-12 must be read as a thematic statement and judged for its relevence to its context. I do not believe that its purpose is to express either Vergil's total rejection of epic or his intention of devoting himself to Callimachean verse32. Rather, it prepares for the investigation of pastoral poetry in Eclogue six itself by placing pastoral within a larger literary scheme. The echoes of the Aetia are not entirely straightforward, or at least do not merely repeat the points made there. Callimachus, in his introduction, defines a style that is itself one of the major aims of his work. He chooses a kind of poem susceptable to craft and finish, indeed one where these qualities may predominate. The metaphors he uses to describe poetic style—the thunder of epic, the poet's fat victim and his thin Muse, the small-voiced cicala and the braying of asses are clear33, but not especially relevant to the subject matter of the Aetia itself. Vergil draws his literary terms directly from the pastoral context and speaks of subject as well as of style. The pastor who fattens his sheep gives the bucolic setting and iconography; the thinness of the verse suggests the limitation of the bucolic point of view. Deductum carmen is not in itself a literary goal, but the characteristic of a particular mode. Unlike the speaker in the Aetia, Tityrus has not chosen between two modes of writing but has rather threatened to transgress the boundaries of the mode in which he writes, to overstep a kind of natural law of poetry that dictates the province of the shepherd poet34.

At the very outset, then, pastoral poetry is given a very limited, very literary definition. Reges et proelia are excluded. The poet seems isolated within a world of his own making and denied contact with any larger literary sphere. Furthermore, he must ask Varus also to accept the limitations of pastoral, to join with himself in a somewhat rarified milieu. The poet's humorous characterization of himself adds to the concept of pastoral limitation. The Cynthius aurem uellit and the somewhat mocking tone of the god's address suggest a brash young speaker somewhat in need of artistic discipline. Apollo's pull at the ear may remind us of the asses' ears the god gave Midas for his bad judgement in poetry.

Within this highly literary setting, pastoral has been described as a kind of play (1-2)35:

prima Syracosio dignata est ludere uersu
nostra neque erubuit siluas habitare Thalia.

The literary conference of god and poet is itself a game of sorts. In fact the poet seems somewhat akin to the bold Chromis and Mnasyllus who ask Silenus for a song. The sense of sophisticated poetic playfulness is thus carried over to the second section. The shepherd boys have been seeking Silenus for a long time and he has consistently eluded them (18-19): nam saepe senex spe carminis ambo / luserat. The capture is evidence that the game has at last been played right. The boys have surprised Silenus sleeping and have come provided with a sportive nymph. Silenus readily grants their success (24): soluite me, pueri; satis est potuisse videri. His song continues the spirit of the game.

The description of the song gives a stronger and more complicated meaning to ludere (27-28):

tum uero in numerum Faunosque ferasque
ludere, tum rigidas motare cacumina quercus.

What before had been the limited and personal activity of the Eclogue poet is now the animated yet orderly response of nature to song. Song raises nature from its ordinary inamination and raises it to something nearer the human level36. The activity of the poet thus shifts from a self-contained world of literature and literary terms to the wider sphere of nature.

The capture of Silenus completes the definition of the poetic subject. Silenus, a character of rich and varied history in literature and art, is here an arch-figure of pastoral, combining the freedom and playfulness of a Theocritean shepherd with highly developed powers of song and articulate knowledge. He is also a didactic speaker. Vergil plays upon traditional legends of the binding of Silenus found in Greek mythology particularly in connection with King Midas37. But the binding has also a significance developed from its context here. Silenus who speaks the greater part of the poem becomes an intermediary between the literary world of the introduction and the natural world of the myths. In discovering Silenus the poet indicates that he is calling on nature to speak for him; the binding of Silenus is a binding of subject and poem.

In the course of his mythological song, Silenus creates a further association between nature and poetry. The adventure of Gallus on Helicon is parallel to the opening sections in that it also portrays a poet receiving commands for his verse. It would seem significant that Gallus himself is wandering when he approaches the River Permessus to be greeted by the Muses and led to the seat of Apollo (64-65):

tum canit errantem Permessi ad flumina
Aonas in montis ut duxerit una sororum.

In these verses errantem and duxerit assume almost opposite meanings. If errare represents the undirected condition of man in nature, ducere can be associated with the order and direction to be gained through art. Deductum is the word which has described the kind of verse suited to the shepherd poet. Deducere appears here as Linus speaks to Gallus describing the control over nature effected by Hesiod's poems (70-71): ille solebat / cantando rigidas deducere montibus ornos. As before in the passage concerning the Silenus Song (28), rigidas describes the trees that succumb to the power of the poet. The word implies a stiffness and unyielding quality in nature which is overcome by art. Such statements of the poet's power to alter or direct nature have often been read in association with Orphic beliefs in the divine, enchanting power of song38. I think these expressions need not be taken as entirely mystical or magical, nor do they refer entirely to the poet's effect on his hearers. Rather they are metaphors for the orderly way nature may be encompassed in verse. The order that each poet creates in his own poems leads to an orderly vision of nature as a whole.

If we compare the new myth of Gallus with the old myths surrounding it in the Silenus Song, we see a difference between the poet's association with nature and that of mankind. The adventure of Gallus on Helicon is in direct contrast to the frustrations depicted in the other myths. No unqualified myths of rebirth or renewal occur in the series; and this image of a poet's initiation—his assumption of a new intellectual identity—stands out sharply from its context. Gallus is changed from wanderer to poet; he gains a place of his own in nature and a control over the physical world which others have not achieved.

The topic of Gallus' new poem, the origins of the Grynean Grove, is itself suggestive. Like the investiture of a poet, the establishment of a divine sanctuary is a dynamic myth, one of order and harmony, rather than of futility and discord. Whether Gallus had already composed the poem, or only planned it; whether it was known only to Vergil, or to the reading public, seems to me somewhat inessential. The topic itself is most important here. Servius gives testimony to a poem of Euphorion on the same subject39. The Grove may well have been familiar enough for Vergil to suggest its salient characteristics by the mere use of the name. Pausanius praises the actual Grove for its variety of sweet smelling trees. His remarks suggest a kind of locus amoenus40—a paradise of nature created by the god, or even an art garden where nature was ordered by human design. The Grynean Grove must stand for an order surpassing that of ordinary nature, and is therefore capable of representing the achievement of poetry itself.

Within a carefully designed context of contrasts and repetitions, the poet has come to stand out as the person most capable of dealing with nature. Neither yielding nor opposing himself to the world in which he lives, he recreates it in an image of his own making. The poet is not, like man, in conflict with natural law, but rather he demonstrates the possibility of living in harmony with nature. First the master poets, Silenus and Hesiod, give life to inanimate objects. Through the agency of their singing we see not just man descending to the animal level, but nature rising to the human and taking on symptoms of order and design. The master poets are models for the Roman poets41. Just as Hesiod sets the pattern for Gallus, so does Silenus for the Eclogue poet. Hesiod and Gallus sing of nature and the gods; Silenus and the Eclogue poet of nature and man42.

At the beginning the Eclogue poet had been in conflict with a law of poetry just as man conflicts with nature's laws. Being forced to accept his limitations, he demonstrates their value. Once he has accepted his subject, he shows that the poet's function is to speak of nature, to organize the world for man's understanding. He can at one time both satisfy and criticise human desires. The impasse of man and nature seen in the myths can only be broken by the poet whose bondage to nature differs from that of ordinary man. In making nature his subject, the poet rises above its limitations, gaining a freedom that in turn confers order and freedom on nature itself, Art is the chief approach of man to nature, the only means for making nature responsive to man.

In the first verses of the poem, the pastoral world seems, as we have noticed, very limited and isolated. As the poem develops, the boundaries of pastoral expand and it becomes the locus for a broad exploration of the nature of man. Pastoral is of course only one vehicle for the poet's speaking of nature. In mentioning Gallus, Vergil makes us aware of other courses than his own. But he shows also that pastoral has the capacity to present a satisfactory symbolic discourse encompassing all nature. This is the point towards which the recusatio is directed, the Eclogue poet's answer to his divine critic.

But the conclusion of the poem ironically brings back the limitations of the natural world. As the river Eurotas had once cherished the words of Apollo, so do the gods on Olympus wish for the continuation of the Silenus Song. There is no return to the limited literary world of pastoral seen at the beginning of the poem; instead pastoral, myth and nature blend into one larger world which is both the landscape and substance of the Silenus Song. But since this world is natural, Vesper moves steadily on, sending the cattle home from the field (84-86):

ille canit (pulsae referunt ad sidera
cogere donec ouis stabulis numerumque referre
iussit et inuito processit Vesper Olympo.

The one end the song cannot accomplish is that of creating a timeless world. As the poet had earlier accepted his pastoral subject with its own limitations, now the song itself becomes subject to the limitations of the ordinary world. In a final confrontation of art and nature, nature has the last word. No matter how it may be transformed by the poet, the natural world preserves its identity and its independence subscribing the final boundary to the inclinations of man.


  1. For summaries and evaluations of major interpretations of the song see Zeph Stewart, The Song of Silenus H.S.C.Ph. 64 (1959), p. 180-183, and E. De Saint-Denis, Le chant de Silène à la lumière d’une découverte récente, Revue de Philologie (1963), p. 23-35. To the material discussed in these should be added the perceptive commentary of Jacques Perret, Virgile Les Bucoliques (Paris, 1961), p. 67-76, and the important interpretation of Brooks otis, Virgil. A Study in Civilized Poetry (Oxford, 1963), p. 138-140. Both depart from the line of genre study that has characterized most recent work on the poem. Otis sees a chronological order in the series beginning with the Golden Age and fall and progressing through the Age of Heroes to the Iron Age. The poem is thus a history of man's decline and culminates in a series of violent, criminal amores punished by metamorphosis. Although I do not believe that the dominant plan of the entire series is historical, I agree with Otis on the importance of the thematic aspects of the myths. Perret, although he does not aim for a complete interpretation of the poem, lays stress on the importance of nature in the myths and my interpretations coincide with his at many points noted below.

  2. Zu Vergils Eklogen, Rh.M. 99 (1956), p. 193-195.

  3. Op. cit., p. 183-199.

  4. non iniussa cano, H.S.C.Ph. 65 (1961), p. 109-125.

  5. Op. cit., p. 1.

  6. The series of transitional words (31: namque canebat; 42: refert; 43: his adiungit etc.) marking divisions of topic within the song is usually taken to imply that Vergil intends his account of the Silenus Song as a mere summary of material. See e. g. Karl Büchner, P. Vergilius Maro. der Dichter der Römer (Stuttgart, 1961), p. 201, or Stewart, op. cit., p. 1.

  7. With very few exceptions, scholars have approached the myths purely as a series of references intended to evoke the reader's knowledge of the stories or else his knowledge of their association with some particular literary situation, e. g. Stewart, op. cit., p. 179: “The effort is not so much to reproduce what Silenus sang as to give an account of the subject matter”. Rose, The Eclogues of Vergil (California, 1942), p. 103-114, is one of the few who attempts thematic interpretation; but his theory, that the myths represent the interference of the gods in human affairs, is still dependent on interpolated material, rather than upon the language of the text itself.

  8. For descriptions and comments see W.J. T. Peters, Landscape in Romano-Campanian Mural Painting (Assen, 1963), p. 73-74, and Peter H. von Blanckenhagen, The Paintings from Boscotrecase, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archeologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilungen, Sechstes Ergänzungsheft (Heidelberg, 1962), p. 46, note 68. Von Blanckenhagen dates the painting as a work of the second style while Peters sees elements of second and third style combined. In interpreting the composition I disagree with von Blanckenhagen in his opinion that the shrine is the true center of interest in the landscape and Artemis and Acteon are merely «staffage figures».

  9. The version of the Acteon myth depicted here corresponds with Diodorus Siculus 4.81, an account roughly contemporary with the painting. Acteon is punished for boasting that his skill in hunting is greater that that of Artemis, or for an attempt to celebrate a marriage with the goddess or for both reasons. The first of these explanations goes back at least to euripides, Bacchae, 337 f.

  10. Narration in Hellenistic and Roman Art, A.J.A., Series 2, Vol. 78 (1957), p. 78.

  11. For description and analysis of this painting see von Blanckenhagen, The Paintings from Boscotrecase, p. 38-51 and esp. p. 41-42.

  12. Dawson, op. cit., p. 97-98, § 36 and § 37; also p. 118-119.

  13. von Blanckenhagen, Narration in Hellenistic and Roman Art, p. 78-82; also The Paintings from Boscotrecase, p. 43.

  14. The selection and grouping of subjects in the House of the Cryptoporticus and the House of the Epigrams (see peters, op. cit., p. 24-27) suggest that Roman spectators may have expected to be puzzled by paintings and to use their ingenuity to explain the rationale of a group. A great many rooms or houses, especially those of the third and fourth styles contain subjects with some thematic relationship to each other.

  15. Op. cit., p. 118.

  16. For discussion see Stewart, op. cit., p. 184-185.

  17. Vergil's choice of science over mythology is suggested by comparison of the Silenus Song with that of Orpheus in Argonautica 1. 496-512. De Saint-Denis, op. cit., p. 26 and 38-39, believes that the genesis of the Silenus Song lies here and in the song of the bard, Demodocus in Odyssey 8. 266 ff. Undoubtedly these passages are important, but they are still very different in technique. The song of Orpheus is historically oriented, and although it is a summary or list of topics for the song, it nonetheless emphasizes the sequence and inter-relationship of the events told. De Saint-Denis likewise compares Vergil's Song of Iopas (Aeneid 1. 740-746), which also contains allusions to creation but again differs greatly in the style of reference. If the Silenus Song anticipates any part of Vergil's later work, I would suggest that it is the description of the legends on the shield of Aeneas (Ae. 8. 626 ff.) where again a selection of pictorial details creates and illuminates a developing theme.

  18. Perret, op. cit., ad vs. 38, p. 71 comments: «en fait, le soleil, comme les nuages, s’éloigne per à peu de la terre à mesure que les éléments, se dissociant les uns des autres, tendent à occuper leur lieu naturel».

  19. The text of the Eclogues is that edited by F. A. Hirtzel, Oxford, O.C.T., 1959.

  20. Servii Grammatici qui feruntur in Vergilii Bucolica et Georgica Commentarii, ed. Georg Thilo (Leipzig, 1887), p. 71-72. Servius takes the series as a misguided attempt to present a chronological order and suggests that the Saturnia regna could be interpreted as the reign of Jove to preserve chronology.

  21. Otis, op. cit., p. 138, makes the Saturnia regna the keynote of the series. He finds in Eclogue 6 and its history of decline from the Golden Age a counter to Eclogue 4 with its prediction of a Golden Age in the future. I do not believe that the phrase Saturnia regna, balanced as it is by contrasting myths, occupies a position important enough to justify otis' reading. The displacement of chronology seems to me deliberate and important, aimed at puzzling the reader and causing him to seek an explanation.

  22. For Hylas and the journey as an allusion to the Age of Heroes see otis, op. cit., p. 138. The first journey would of course be a landmark in the decline of man. But the Hylas of Theocritus, Idyl 13 is not primarily associated with a journey, nor is the figure found in painting. See Dawson, op. cit., p. 151-152.

  23. Ad loc., p. 74: a, virgo infelix, herbis pasceris amaris. Possibly Vergil's picture of the bull himself feeding on grass (53): ilice sub nigra pallentis ruminat herbas, is intended to continue the allusion.

  24. The idea of intellectual metamorphosis in these myths was suggested to me by W. S. Anderson's study of the vocabulary of metamorphosis in Ovid, Multiple Change in the Metamorphoses, T.A.P.A. 94 (1963), p. 1-27.

  25. The edition used is Theocritus, edited with a Translation and a Commentary, A. S. F. Gow (Cambridge, 1952).

  26. The edition used is C. Valerius Catullus, ed. W. Kroll (Stuttgart, 1959).

  27. Mala Hesperidum: Although Vergil probably was not the first to make the garden the source of the apples, the detail is not very common. It is given by the scholia on Theocritus 3.40 and Servius on Aeneid 3, 113 but not in any extant poet. C. Robert, Hermes 22 (1887), p. 450, conjectures that both scholia go back to a lost passage in Hesiod's Eoae.

  28. Servius, op. cit., ad loc., p. 76: mira autem est canentis laus, ut quasi non factam rem cantare, sed ipse eam cantando facere videatur.

  29. otis, op. cit., p. 138, thinks the passage is climactic because it represents the complete decline of man into Amor indignus toward which the whole series has been tending. That the section of the poem beginning with vs. 42 is chiefly concerned with the power of love is also the opinion of Herbert Holtorf, P. Vergilius Maro. die Grösseren Gedichte, Band I, Einleitung, Bucolica (Frieberg, 1959), p. 187, 193. My chief criticism is that amor, while it may be a sufficient description of the subject matter of the myths has little to do with Vergil's specific dramatization or language. Holtorf is not at all clear in his division of the poem. He does not attempt to explain the interruption of the ancient myths by the Gallus passage or to find a relationship between the Tereus-Scylla section and what precedes it.

  30. The transformation of Scylla belongs, of course, to the myth of Scylla and Glaucus (see Metamorphoses 13, 398-14, 74). But this legend involves no real crime. Vergil would seem to have conflated two myths in order to include both a notable crime and a spectacular metamorphosis.

  31. The principle is more of a locus communis than a matter of doctrine, e. g. Sallust, Catilina, 1; Cicero, De Officiis, 30. 105-106.

  32. This is the most commonly held opinion concerning the meaning of the recusatio. The most recent statement to this point is Wendall Clausen, Callimachus and Latin Poetry, G.R.B.S. 5 (1964), p. 193 f. Clausen thinks that Vergil rejected the possibility of epic because of his own experience of and distaste for war. Clausen furthermore believes that these statements constitute an aesthetic credo for the entire Eclogue Book, arguing that all Vergil's pastoral is Callimachean. But for the Callimachean intentions of the Silenus Song, most critics seem to forget that Callimachus was a «water-drinker» and Vergil's Silenus is most explicitly drunk on wine!

  33. Callimachus. Aetia, Iambi, Hecale and Other Fragments, C. A. Trypanis, trans., Loeb Classical Library, (Cambridge, 1958), p. 6-8. Aetia, 1. 20-24, 29-36.

  34. I believe there is no need to consider, as readers since Servius have done, that the reges et proelia refer either to Vergil's epic plans or to an epic poem. Although the phrase certainly implies an heroic subject, it also looks back to Eclogue Four which incorporates such a subject. Here Vergil has taken liberties with the decorum of pastoral by creating a new and imaginary context, the siluae … consule dignae. Apollo's reprimand is a criticism of something already accomplished and available to the reader. The literary purpose of reges et proelia is to make pastoral less limited and more relevant to the historical world. This interpretation is proposed by Jean Hubaux, Les thèmes bucoliques dans la poésie latine (Brussels, 1930), p. 13-14, but has found few supporters.

  35. Ludere is a common enough term in discussions of poetry, but its meaning is worth consideration. In an enlightening and suggestive article, Ludus Poeticus, Les Études Classiques, 4 (1935), p. 108 f., trans. in Studies in Roman Literature, Language, Culture and Religion (Leiden, 1956), p. 30-32, H. Wagenvoort proposes that the term need not always indicate mere frivolity in poetry. He argues that the idea of the ludus as a kind of training or practice may be extended to certain poems or kinds of poetry where the poet expresses his intention of developing his art in preparation for a greater work in the future. I believe that something of this sort is suggested here. Vergil has written his first pastorals in a Theocritean manner (Syracosio) and progressed, in Eclogue 4 to a more ambitious style of his own invention.

  36. Perret, op. cit., p. 68, sees such an inverse relationship between song and metamorphosis: «au lieu que par le chant humain on voit la nature s’exalter, arbres et bêtes soulevés par un noble ferveur (27-28), c’est ici l’humanité que se fige dans le végétal immobile et se perd dans l’épouvante diffuse de l’animal».

  37. Servius, op. cit., ad loc., p. 66, records the opinion that Vergil acquired the material from Theopompus. See Aelian, V.H., 3.18. There Silenus is very much a nature deity and speaks of the topography and geography of the world. The binding and capture of the nature god and the demand for revelation are adapted by Ovid to the story of Numa's quest for Picus and Faunus on the Aventine (Fasti 3. 291 f.).

  38. See esp. Marie Desport, L’incantation virgilienne. Essai sur les mythes du poète enchanteur et leur influence dans l’œuvre de Virgile (Bordeaux, 1952), p. 49 et al. De Saint-Denis, op. cit., p. 35-40, argues that the chief associations are with Dionysus as the god of wine and of poetic inspiration. He finds a parallel for the scene of Silenus' capture in a 2nd-3rd century mosaic panel from a recently discovered house with a Dionysian scheme of decorations in Tunisia (L. Foucher, Découvertes archéologiques à Thysdrus en 1960, Notes et documents de l’Institut d’archéologie de Tunis (Tunis, 1961), p. 29, which shows a drunken Silenus being bound by three boys with a nymph looking on. De Saint-Denis conjectures that the prestige and influence of the Dionysian religion in 3rd century Tunis might be considered comparable to that which influenced Vergil in composing the Silenus Song. It does not, however, seem to me that the mosaic provides sufficient proof that the Dionysian element is to be considered as the chief unifying feature of the poem. The binding of Silenus is a common motif, here distinctly subordinated to and made to serve the pastoral theme.

  39. Op. cit., ad loc., p. 78.

  40. Servius' description of the Grove, op. cit., ad vs. 72, p. 78, will also support this point: ubi est locus arboribus multis, iunco, gramine, floribus uariis omni tempore uestitus, abundans etiam fontibus. … Even more interesting is his citation of Varro to the effect that fetters were removed from those who entered the Grove and nailed to the trees. Perret, op. cit., p. 74, thinks that Vergil has emphasized the «aspect champêtre» of the sanctuary by his choice of the words nemus and lucus.

  41. Desports, op. cit., p. 169, sees a kind of heirarchy of inspiration among the poets in the Eclogue: «… les chants de Silène et à la suite tous les chants de chacun des poètes énumérés, sont vraiment à considérer de ce point de vue, comme les échos du carmen divin».

  42. Perret, op. cit., p. 70, remarks, «Silène, c’est Tityre promu au rang d’un Génie».

Charles Segal (essay date 1969)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11486

SOURCE: “Vergil's Sixth Eclogue and the Problem of Evil,” Proceedings: American Philological Association, Vol. 100, 1969, pp. 407-35.

[In the essay that follows, Segal analyzes the moral outlook of the poem and asserts that in the Sixth EclogueVergil uses the pastoral mode to point out a correlation between disorder in the universe and man's evil nature.]


Eclogue 6 is one of Vergil's most ambitious and most difficult short poems.1 Grand themes are its concern: passion, violence, cosmic and poetic creation, the relation between man and nature. No one formulation of the many subtle and complex relationships between these themes is likely to prove definitive, just as no one principle of unity for its bewildering exuberance of narrative material has emerged as entirely satisfactory. “No one can feel confident of exhausting all the possibilities of this poem or of understanding all that Virgil intended: it is the original creation of a fertile poetic imagination.”2

There has been a growing dissatisfaction with attempts to interpret the Eclogue in terms of external criteria: the work of Gallus, Vergil's relations to Callimachean poetics or to Alexandrian themes or to contemporary literary genres or works.3 Recent interpreters like Otis, Klingner, and Mrs. Leach have concentrated more fully upon the moral and aesthetic attitudes which the poem implies,4 have allowed a more flexible, less mechanical unity to the whole and especially to Silenus' song, and have recognized that the poem may be far more than a “document of Virgilian literary autobiography.”5 I propose to follow this line of approach, laying perhaps more stress than the above-mentioned scholars on the moral outlook implied in the poem, yet acknowledging that the poem's moral and aesthetic positions—the emphasis upon the creative power of poetry6—are inseparable. Not only does my interpretation posit a firm unity for the Eclogue, but it seeks to give the proem (1-12) a more integral part in that unity than most previous interpreters have done.

The entire corpus of Vergil's work involves a profound knowledge of and struggle with the reality of evil in the human psyche. Asking why history contains such suffering, the Aeneid finds a partial answer, at least, in the passions within man. From the Eclogues to the Aeneid, outward events and settings have a symbolical correspondence with the inner world of human emotional life; and the inner world is as much the subject of Vergil's poetry as the outer.7 Juno, obstructress of a tranquil and stable order, is symbolically identified with these internal disorders and makes use of figures (like Allecto) who are as much symbols of the life of the soul as powerful agents in the external world.8 The Eclogues, as Bruno Snell has argued,9 go even further than the Aeneid in using the forms of the external world to create a symbolical landscape of the emotional life, a “spiritual landscape,” in Snell's phrase. The emotions dealt with in the Eclogues, however, are not always so tender as Snell maintains. The sixth Eclogue especially casts into the terms of pastoral something of that correlation between disorder in the universe and evil within man which is so richly developed in the Aeneid.

One of Vergil's achievements in the sixth Eclogue is precisely the incorporation of these basic moral issues into his poetics and vice versa. Through his concern with the scope and character of creativity in pastoral (and by extension in all poetry), he seeks, as Mrs. Leach observes, “to present a satisfactory symbolic discourse encompassing all nature.”10


The problem of evil is not foreign to the Eclogues. The idea of a scelus, a moral impurity infecting the whole Roman people, was much in the air (see G. 1.501-14, Horace, Epod. 7 and 16).11 The political disorders of E. 1, the callous soldier of E. 9, death (E. 5), and above all the passion of love, are all tokens of the disturbing realities against and amid which the poet weaves his fragile symbolic refuge of art and love (see E. 10.71, E. 5.85).12 The fourth Eclogue desiderates a visionary peace which will obliterate “the traces of our sin (sceleris vestigia nostri, 13) and free the world of fear (14). Yet even here, amid the bounty of the pacified nature of the aurea aetas, some traces of human sinfulness remain (pauca tamen suberunt priscae vestigia fraudis, 31).13 Thus even in this hopeful mood Vergil qualifies any total optimism about human destiny. Scelus recurs in the ninth Eclogue, as the shocked pastoral singer recognizes that invaders from the world of war and politics will dispossess and even kill the helpless Arcadian: heu cadit in quemquam tantum scelus? (17). War, at the end of the first Georgic, reveals the multae scelerum facies (G. 1.506).

Like the Aeneid, the sixth Eclogue correlates internal and external disorder and fixes the source of evil within man. He can, like the poet-shepherd, Tityrus, or like the poet Gallus on Helicon, follow the “orders” (non iniussa cano, 9) of Apollo and receive homage from “Apollo's band” (Phoebi chorus, 66). Or, like Pasiphae, Scylla, Tereus, he can sink into bestial degradation which finds its external ratification in bestial metamorphosis.

While Eclogue 4, like the end of the first Georgic, projects the problem of evil upon the history and traditions of man or the Romans generally, Eclogue 6, like Eclogue 10, examines it within the framework of the private, individual life as writ large in mythical paradigms (Pasiphae, Scylla, Tereus). Yet the sixth Eclogue also raises the question of a fundamental flaw in human nature. The myths of lines 41-42 involve a constellation of ideas centering upon human perversity and the loss of a happy state because of human evil:

hinc lapides Pyrrhae iactos, Saturnia regna,
Caucasiasque refert volucris furtumque Promethei.

In the story of Pyrrha and her husband, Deucalion, Jupiter destroys the human race with a flood because he cannot endure man's evil ways. The stones (lapides … iactos) out of which the new race of men is created are, according to Ovid, a fitting aetiology for the hardness of his lot (Met. 1.414-15):

inde genus durum sumus experiensque laborum
et documenta damus qua simus origine nati.

The Saturnia regna of 41 are obviously connected with a happy time of innocence and purity lost in the harshness of a later time.14 Prometheus in 41, though not necessarily connected with an evil inherent in man, is yet a reminder of an anthropomorphic cunning and pride refractory toward the divine order; and his tale is also connected with the bad character of the female half of the species (see Hesiod, Erga 59-82; Theog. 570-602). Even more important, Prometheus is associated with the development of technology; and technology, as Eclogue 4 makes clear (see E. 4.18 and generally 18-45), accompanies the loss of the simple innocence of the Golden Age.15 The three myths of 41-42, then, all form a cluster of ideas focusing on that antinomy between innocence and sinfulness which is part of the Golden-Age theme. Vergil has perhaps deliberately jumbled the chronology of the three episodes in order to make the reader think about the element they have in common: the flawed character of human existence and man's removal from any absolute purity of life or spirit.

These very concise allusions should not be pressed too hard. Yet combined with the amount of space devoted to Pasiphae and with the eschatological frame of the preceding two Eclogues (in E. 5 see especially 57-64), they indicate a recurrent concern with the moral problem of human nature. By including the myths of Hylas, Phaethon, and Tereus along with those of Pasiphae and Scylla, incidentally, Vergil goes beyond Hesiod's localization of evil in the woman: Vergil distributes it more equitably between both sexes.16

The first two poems of the Eclogue Book pair war (E. 1) and love (E. 2) as both manifestations and causes of evil and disorder. War plays a relatively minor part in Eclogue 6, but it is not entirely negligible. The Apolline warning against reges et proelia (3) may be more than a literary program,17 if, as we have suggested, the moral and the aesthetic spheres are closely joined. War and love, kept separate in Eclogues 1 and 2, are first brought together, though haltingly, in Eclogue 6. Eclogue 10 will establish a still firmer connection, until, in the Aeneid, with its symbolical interplay between the political and psychological, external and internal realms, war and love are coordinate destroyers both of inward and outward order.

For a people destined paci(s) imponere morem, war represents the victory of chaos and unreason. Bella, horrida bella carry an especially ominous ring in the Aeneid (see 6.86, 7.41). Juno, exultant in the triumph of irrationality that she has engineered, bursts open the geminae belli portae (7.607-22) and lets in a mood of murderous violence that is not stilled even in the final outcome of the battles (12.945-52). Juno's minister, Allecto, with all her dark associations of the Underworld, is both the inspirer of inward furor and the inciter to war (7.324-26):

luctificam Allecto dirarum ab sede dearum
infernisque ciet tenebris, cui tristia bella
iraeque insidiaeque et crimina noxia cordi.

Allecto's sister, Tisiphone, rages amid the futile slaughter and “empty wrath” of the poem's most tragic battle (10.755-61); but she also punishes the guilty souls in Tartarus' durissima regna (6.555, 571-72). In the fourth Eclogue the disappearance of war accompanies a confidence in the regeneration of human nature, in man's capacity for order and happiness. Universal peace is a distinguishing trait of the new moral order and a sign of the conquest of evil. The puer will reign over a world made peaceful by the virtues of his father (17).

The sixth Eclogue, in introducing war, sets it against two related opposites: the pastoral world and pastoral-poetic amor. Tristia bella in line 7 may later become something of a cliché, but here it still has considerable force. Tristis itself is a strong word in the Eclogues.18 It is used again in connection with the horrors of war in E. 9.5: nunc victi, tristes, quoniam fors omnia versat.

Vergil places these tristia bella immediately against a line in which the language and careful word-order stress the delicacy, fragility, and contemplative peace of his poetic Arcadia (8):

agrestem tenui meditabor harundine Musam.

The echo of the opening lines of the collection (E. 1.1-2) suggests that Vergil is thinking of the Eclogue Book and his pastoral world as a whole. It also reminds us of the threats to Arcadian peace presented in that initial poem: tu … silvestrem tenui musam meditaris avena: nos patriae finis et dulcia linquimus arva. Yet in E. 6 Arcady is to win out over war. The Tityrus who in E. 1 escaped being exiled from Arcadia by making an unbucolic visit to the urbs, is here chosen to reject warlike themes. No urban iuvenis (E. 1.42), but Apollo himself will keep him within the realm of his pinguis ovis.

War and Arcadia, epic and pastoral, stand against one another in terms of content as well as style. Having framed their antithetical relation in lines 1-8, Vergil goes on to widen that antithesis by introducing poetic amor. If the reader, “caught by love” (captus amore), reads this poem, then “our tamarisks and every grove, Varus, will sing of you” (9-11). The amor of poetry serves both to create another opposition to war and to establish an antithesis with a different kind of amor later in the poem. Yet this amor, though it excludes the violence of war, does not necessarily exclude totally the violence of erotic passion (cf. Corydon in E. 2 and Gallus in E. 10). It thus hints at a dialectical union of the two poles of art which is to be explored more deeply in the interplay between Silenus and Apollo (see 13-30, 82-83, and below, sections III and V).

Poetry turns the tables on war in two ways. First, the language of captus amore uses a military metaphor (captus) for a most unmartial experience.19 Second, pastoral incorporates the warrior. The pastoral world threatened by the warrior in E. 1 can now enclose the warrior Varus, metaphorically, amid its groves and make his name one of those songful echoes which the exiled Meliboeus of the first Eclogue finds such pain in leaving (E. 1.5).

At the same time Vergil recognizes that love and desire do not always lead to peaceful themes. Despite Tityrus' own Apolline call to the deductum carmen, there will be more than enough (super) of others who “desire” (cupiant) to sing of war (6-7). Presumably the reader who is captus amore in Vergil's sense will not feel such “desires.” Here too the poem intimates the divergent paths which love and desire may take.

Deepening and sharpening the opposition between pastoral and epic, Arcadia and Varus, enters the figure of Silenus (13). Mythical, grotesque, fantastic, he stands as far as possible from the flesh-and-blood, responsible Varus.20 Not only is he an Alexandrian symbol of poetry, as O. Skutsch has pointed out;21 he is also a drunken, amorous reveler, a sensualist and a follower of Dionysus.22 As part of this opposition, the line which introduces him (13),

pergite, Pierides. Chromis et Mnasyllus in antro
Silenum … videre,

belongs fully to poetry (Pierides) and to bucolic levity. As a nature-god, Silenus' sphere is totally removed from the urban atmosphere where war and politics have their seat. His audience, Chromis, Mnasyllus, and Aegle, are doubly removed from Roman political realities by their associations with a mythicized nature and by their suggestive Greek names.23

If the ambiguous possibilities of love and poetry are hinted at in lines 6-10, they are fully developed in Silenus. He is an embodiment of the opposites which Vergilian poetry seeks to span.24 Hence his song will embrace that array of diverse myths which has puzzled interpreters. Here too we should not try to reduce to a bare schematic simplicity what Vergil intended to stand as deliberate multiplicity.

Silenus is central to the poem's fusion of the aesthetic and moral realms. He is a poet whose song moves all nature in rhythmic harmony (27-28). Yet he is also a mythical figure who brings into focus the problematical quality of human nature. He is, according to tradition, part animal himself; yet he is possessed of supernatural powers and mysterious wisdom about life and death.25 Pindar makes of him a sort of impassioned dancer.26 His veins are full of Dionysiac spirit, in more than one sense (cf. Iaccho, 15; gravis attrita … cantharus ansa, 17).27 Yet at the end his song is identified with that of Dionysus' opposite, Apollo (82-84).28 He has obvious affinities with the natural world and its earthy appetites: witness his offer to Aegle (26) and his effect on the Fauns and wild beasts (27). Yet the subject of his first song is philosophical (31-40); and serious themes of both philosophical and historical import continue in the stories of Pyrrha, the Saturnia regna, and Prometheus (41-42), with their implications of didactic and theological poetry.29

The scene between Silenus and his captors forms a little drama illustrating his special relation to the energies of nature and his easy participation in its mythical life of rustic demigods. Chromis and Mnasyllus, as Servius (followed by Heyne) suggests, are Fauns or satyrs;30 and hence they are plausible acquaintances of the Naiad, Aegle. Pueri (14) and saepe (19) emphasize the familiar terms on which they and Silenus stand. Aegle, “the shining one,” is, as her name might suggest, “the most beautiful of the Naiads” (21). The young Fauns would bind, though hesitantly (timidis, 20), this mysterious figure; but they are warned off by the somewhat ominous reminder of his strange power: satis est potuisse videri (24): “It is enough to have seemed able (to bind me).”31 The allusion to Silenus' sensual appetite in 26 clearly marks him as one of the gay crew of nature-spirits, figures close to the earth and fully endowed with spontaneous animal energies. Yet he is not merely a participant in nature's life. He also stands apart from nature and exerts a creative power over it, as the next lines (27-28) show. We have here a dichotomy particularly suggestive for the nature of poetry, but relevant equally to the nature of man.

Silenus gives an amusing twist to the rejection of tristia bella in the proem. Martial language figures in the attack upon him: adgressi (18), the chains (vincula), and the “bloody” (sanguineis, 22) mulberries with which the pueri paint his face. But naturally these warlike gestures are all play. Play is the appropriate way to approach such a figure, who is himself playful (luserat, 17). Playfulness of a sort also characterizes the Apolline deductum carmen of pastoral (ludere versu, 1). The language used of Silenus in 18-19 and 22 dramatically heightens the rejection of Varus' tristia bella: the attack on Silenus transforms war into its opposite, a bit of light horseplay appropriate to Arcady and its mythical characters. Grandia are stood on their heads. Yet there is an underlying seriousness, “Ernst im Spiel,” as Klingner remarks of the entire Silenus-scene.32 By neutralizing war (and the language of war, line 3) through play, poetry offers a restorative perspective in which it can survive the threats posed to it by the unplayful reality which appears in Eclogues 1 and 9.

Silenus will sing at length of the terrible passion of Pasiphae (45-60). Yet in his own person he handles love with a healthful frolicsomeness and an open naturalness far from any morbidity (cf. 26).33 Like Vergil himself in the proem, he answers war (or mock-war) with song and love. The balanced phrasing of lines 25-26 presents song and love as equal, coordinate elements: carmina vobis, / huic aliud mercedis erit. Taken together, Silenus' two gifts stand in a balance of appetite and intellect, sense and spirit, which is, once again, both aesthetic and moral in its implications: it applies both to poetry and to the question of human nature.

The binding of Silenus and the extortion of a song, therefore, are on the one hand poetry's attempt to encompass that mysterious, magical realm where Silenus dwells, to fix its forms in song, to “capture” the essence of nature's movements, and ultimately to relate nature's vitality to art's. On the other hand, it is an attempt to confront and grasp intuitively the duality of human nature and seize through imagination and myth the basic forms of experience.34 Silenus may be compared with Proteus in the fourth Georgic, also a deity to be bound, also located between man and nature and encompassing all experience (G. 4.387-414).35

As in the case of Proteus, approaching Silenus has its dangers: solvite me pueri; satis est potuisse videri (24): Behind the laughing face (23) lies the demonic otherness of nature, a realm to which men dare not abandon themselves fully. But Silenus, through his song, belongs both to humanity and to nature. He is, in a sense, the subject of his song as well as the singer, or, in Yeats' terms, both “the dancer” and “the dance.”

Like his counterpart, Proteus, Silenus points to the elusiveness of the creative energies in ourselves, the Dionysiac in the midst of the Apollonian (cf. 82-84)—imagination, playful spontaneity, love—and to the shifting, iridescent quality in the experiences in which these energies are present. To touch these Dionysian energies and the sources in ourselves from which they spring, Vergil has, of necessity, recourse to a symbol: the mythical magic of a charmed locus removed from time and space (the only indications are in antro and hesterno), where Satyrs, Fauns, and Naiads drink wine, play, sing, make love.36 This concern with the shifting quality of our experience and the duality in our nature upon which it is in part founded is perhaps another reason for the poem's emphasis upon metamorphosis. Silenus' realm, no more than Silenus himself, is not easily held firm; its essence is a kaleidoscopic intensity.

Not only human experience, but the natural world envisaged by the poem is full of movement and instability. The first part of Silenus' song (31-40) stresses the changes of state in nature. The soft becomes hard, the liquid elements become firm (33-36), and nothingness (cf. magnum per inane, 31) gives way to the solid matter of the present world. The effect of Silenus' singing is to change the clear, fixed relation between the animate and inanimate in favor of more fluid relationships; he makes the “stiff (rigidas) oaks move their tops” (28). He knows how things find their forms (et rerum paulatim sumere formas, 36). This mastery of the rerum formas applies to the elements of experience as well as to the elements of the physical world. Singing of the creation of the natural world both illustrates poetry creating a world and is a symbol of the encompassing power of poetic creativity. Poetry, like cosmogonic processes, gives form to reality. Silenus, standing between human and animal impulses, a playful dealer in love and war as well as in song, a singer both of nature and of myth, philosophy and love, is the archetype of the poet reaching out to give shape to all of reality. His active power over nature is continued in the active verbs which describe his song (solatur, 46; erigit, 63; and see note 47, below). Yet his art does not just order nature: it also invites nature to participation and shared joyous fusion (27-30).

The poem provides an analogue to the binding of Silenus which puts that action into perspective, namely the attempt of Pasiphae's Nymphs to close in the bull (55-56):

                                                            claudite, Nymphae,
Dictaeae Nymphae, nemorum iam claudite saltus.(37)

In the bull, symbol of nature's animal energies from Minoan times on, Pasiphae seeks to possess something of that power with which Silenus is in touch. The Dictaean Nymphs on whom she calls are kindred to Silenus' Fauns and Naiads. But, of course, she fails. Passion per se cannot make up for the spontaneous animal life of these nature spirits, nor does it give her a controlling intellectual order through which she could hold such energies within the frame of human life.38 Instead her passion distorts her grasp on reality, on the relation between man and nature. Her Dictaean Nymphs thus become a part of her delusion rather than an indication of reconciling man and nature. She is too willing to abandon the human form. In this, she stands at the opposite extreme from the daughters of Proetus with whom she is unfavorably compared (48-51), for in one version of their myth they become mad because of their resistance to Dionysian rites.39

Silenus in a sense stands between Pasiphae and Apollo, comprehending both in his many-faceted nature. Thus his song is in touch with the earthiness of Fauns, wild beasts, trees; yet he is compared to Apollo and Orpheus (29-30). His vincula and the laughter at the dolum of his captors (23) contrast with the serious bondage and furtum of Prometheus (42), as his playful sexual proclivities are the lighter side of what emerges later in Pasiphae, Scylla, Tereus. Everything about him, as we first see him, is formless, slack, dissipated (14-17, where note delapsa and pendebat); yet his concern is with a creative ordering of experience. The contrast between his outward appearance and his power of song is itself an attempt to confront the Dionysian-Apollonian duality of his nature and to resolve what a recent critic has called “the pure dialectics of passion and form.”40 The rhythmic play (in numerum ludere) to which he moves the Fauns and beasts (27-28) expresses just this transcendence of the dichotomy between passion and form, animal energies and spirit. Ludere is a word which applies both to poetry and love.41 Its poetic meaning occurs in the first line of the Eclogue, and both meanings are perhaps present in the allusive description of Silenus' past relation with his rustic attackers: nam saepe senex spe carminis ambo luserat (18-19). Such a being can elicit spirit from matter (27-28), but also knows of the violence in nature's processes (cf. discludere, 35; stupeant, 37). Communicative (albeit reluctantly, 13-26) of Apolline order, he is also a Dionysian participant in those experiences which efface the barriers between man and nature: wine (15-17) and love (26).

Later in the Eclogue a mortal poet is also given the power to move nature. Linus presents Hesiod's reed-pipe to Gallus with the explanation that Hesiod too could “by singing lead the stiff ash trees down the mountains”: cantando rigidas deducere montibus ornos (71). Rigidas … ornos is a verbal and metrical echo of the rigidas … quercus of line 28. Yet there is a subtle difference. There is no mention here of the playing (ludere) of Fauns and wild beasts (27-28). Deducere too implies an element of direction and constraint absent from the simple motare cacumina of 28. Indeed deducere can even have the connotation of leading the trees away or down from their mountains, removing them from their natural setting.42 The Dionysian poet thus seems able to allow nature a greater measure of its inherent spontaneity, a greater freedom on its own terms, than the purely Apolline band on stately Helicon.


Love is an important motif in the Eclogue, extending from the proem (10) through the meeting with Silenus (26) to the song he sings and finally by implication to Apollo at the end (82-83). In love, as in Silenus himself, Vergil reveals contrasting possibilities and thus poses from a different point of view that complexity of experience which the poem seeks to confront.

The two extremes are the poetic amor of line 10 and the passion of Pasiphae (45-60). Pasiphae's tale receives both more space and a more dramatic coloring than any other single episode (e.g. the second-person address of 47, 52, 55-60).43 This emphasis confers a special importance upon her. She is the fullest embodiment of the problematical side of human nature. Although Vergil's generalizing diction and the lyrical call to the Nymphs enable him to keep the tale within the distanced, imaginary frame of Silenus' song, her desire for union with the bull is the poem's most disturbing instance of the potential bestiality in man.

The word amor occurs only in line 10 and line 46. Art and animal passion, both forms of amor, are thus made to contrast. The one subordinates nature to human imagination, filling the groves with song; the other leads the human imagination to run riot in a lustful and deranged union with nature. Silenus unites the best of both realms. He joins song and love (25-26); and his healthy, playful love (cf. also luserat, 19) keeps an exquisite balance between the two extremes.

Amor is usually a negative force in the Eclogues.44 In Eclogue 6, however, though the negative side preponderates, Vergil also lets us glimpse other possibilities, obviously in the amor of line 10, but also within the myths of Silenus' song.

The story of Hylas (43-44) alludes to a passion which balances Pasiphae's,45 though neither Theocritus nor Vergil would regard the homosexual attachment, unlike Pasiphae's bestiality, as “unnatural.” But through its connection with the Argonauts' expedition, it is also connected with the positive side of close male companionship, wherein, of course, erotic ties may play a part. If Vergil has intensified the emotional and lyrical side of the tale in using the repeated, melodious Hyla, Hyla, instead of Theocritus' more formal anaphora…[in] (Idyll 13.59-60), he has also laid greater stress on the human community by having the cry come from the sailors (nautae, 43). In Theocritus it is Heracles, alone in the woods, who shouts (13.58); and there is in fact a sharp and somewhat hostile division between the rest of the expedition and Heracles (cf. 13.69-75). The nautae of 43-44 are also to be connected with another group of marine adventurers, the timidi nautae, victims of Scylla, with whom the singer commiserates in 77. In both cases we have a hint of the human bonds of fear and cooperation—not just erotic love—which may exist among men involved in a common enterprise and subject to the dangers of supernatural forces. In the Hylas episode, however, this humane companionship is left unfulfilled and helpless as the sailors' cries echo along the empty shore.46 There is a strong contrast with the controlled and friendly aspect of nature which appears in the songful echoes of pastoral woods in lines 10-11 and 84.

The sisters of Phaethon are another partial corrective to Pasiphae's subhuman passion. They exemplify a sisterly rather than an erotic love, a strength of affection which makes them worthy of pity rather than reproach. Hence their love unites them with nature in a more positive way than Pasiphae's. The expression solo proceras erigit alnos (63) suggests life and creation.47 There is even a sad, vague beauty in their metamorphosis: not only is the bark “bitter,” but it is “the moss of bitter bark,” musco amarae corticis. This expression is a lovely synecdoche. Musco is chosen not only for the sound and the association with water (cf. muscosi fontes, E. 7.45), but also for the suggestiveness of the genitival construction which appears to make the bark less real, stranger, even gentler. One is again reminded of that shifting between different tactile senses in 31-40. The metamorphosis is very different from the shocking transformation which Pasiphae desires, and it has a beauty to which Vergil, like Euripides before him (Hipp. 737-40), was highly sensitive, as his fine lines in the Aeneid show (10.189-90). Though the girls are surrounded by “bitter” bark, that “bitterness” also has associations with poetic creation and enduring life: the shepherd Linus, “of divine song,” is crowned with “bitter parsley” only six lines later (68, where amarus also stands emphatically at the end of the verse).48

After the account of Gallus on Helicon, Silenus returns to the passionate and disastrous type of love in the Scylla and Tereus narratives (74-81). But the last tale of love to which the poem alludes is the story of Hyacinthus in 82-84:

omnia quae Phoebo quondam meditante beatus
audiit Eurotas iussitque ediscere lauros,
ille canit (pulsae referunt ad sidera valles) … 

Here Apollo himself is the lover, and his love for a mortal leads to a song which once more fruitfully bridges the gap between man and nature and repeats nature's response to Silenus in 27-28. Here too, as in line 10, love and poetry are joined to create an order which overlaps the dualities (man-nature, sense-spirit)of our world.49 The fusion of Silenus' song with Apollo's in 82-84 is the ultimate statement of confidence in the power of art to unify experience. This confidence is affirmed by the active participation of nature: the valleys carry this plaint of death-tainted love to the remote stars. Celestial rhythms end the poem, but all the gods (not just Apollo) have been involved: invito processit Vesper Olympo (86).

In another way too poetry bridges dualities here at the end, for the ending joins the lofty personifications, Vesper and Olympus, with the humble pastoral task of driving home and tallying the sheep (85). Numerumque referre (85) recalls the songful echo, referunt, in the previous line (84), and also the numerum (=“rhythm”) with which the Fauns and beasts danced to Silenus' song in 27. Through these verbal parallels the prosaic terms of pastoral life are made to overlap with the wide-reaching metaphors of echoing nature and divine singers. Rather unexpectedly, the “sheep-pasturing” and the “slight song” of line 5 attain the full measure of dignity which the opening lines claimed for them. Even more, the earthy side of pastoral life seen in 5 and 85-86 has been transfigured through the Silenus episode of 13-30 and the scenes of 64-73 and 82-84. The shepherd's humble pastoral realm in the proem has been touched by the power of mythical singers and encounters with hallowed poets on sacred mountains. The rustic Muse whom the poet meditates in 8 gains both in dignity and solidity as we hear of Gallus being ushered into the Muses' presence (cf. 65, 69). As the poem goes on, the groves and tamarisks of lines 10-11 become increasingly a magical realm of Fauns, Naiads, and mountain Nymphs.


Giving form to the formless, reconciling passion and order involve not only poetry and love, but also nature. Throughout the sixth Eclogue it is the natural world which stands in antithesis to man as the substance and the symbol of recalcitrant matter. The recurrent exclamations of compassion and the adjectives expressing or implying moral evaluation in Silenus' song define the distinctively human qualities of feeling and judging and thereby set into sharper relief the differences between man and nature. We may list here fortunatam, a virgo infelix, and tam turpis of Pasiphae (45, 47, 49), the richly connotative amarae of 62, the exclamatory a timidos nautas in 77, infelix again of Philomela in 81, and beatus in 82.

Vergil is careful to keep before us the concreteness and the multiplicity of the natural world. He attains this effect through the presentation of the power of the elements and the diversity of earth, sea, sun, forests in 31-39, through the sounds and suggestive phrasing of some of his descriptions of natural phenomena, like summotis nubibus imbres in 38 or musco … amarae corticis in 62-63, or the carefully juxtaposed adjectives of 53-54. He gives scrupulous attention to different kinds of trees, all enumerated in concrete detail (see 10, 22, 28, 54, 63, 71, 83).50 Although nature, like almost everything else in the poem, becomes symbolical of the ramifying struggle between passion and order, Vergil also allows it to stand in its own right as the physical setting of our experiences.

He skilfully uses the “pathetic fallacy” to break through the reductive dichotomizing of man and nature. The trees move in response to song (27, 71), the mountains feel joy and wonder (gaudet, miratur, 29-30),51 the river Eurotas is “happy” as it hears Apollo's song (82) and teaches the laurels (83). Yet the artificiality and conventionality of the device keep us aware that this deliberate humanization of nature is only a metaphor, a way of expressing the power of art. Vergil retains the complexity and the truth of our relation to the world in two ways. First, he keeps in the background the ungentled violence of nature which cannot be absorbed into the pathetic fallacy: the deserted shore of Hylas, Pasiphae's bull, Scylla's dangerous sea. Second, by his descriptions of the actual processes of nature (31-40) and the concrete particularity of its phenomena, he allows nature to resist total symbolification and enables it to keep its autonomy and its mystery.52

Like Silenus and amor, nature is also a focal point of fundamental antinomies. It has both negative and positive aspects. The forests (silvae) of line 2 form a place of Arcadian peace where the Muse does not blush to dwell. Related to this image of nature, which is really a metaphor for pastoral poetry and the atmosphere it both needs and creates, are the agrestis Musa of line 8 and the tamarisks (significantly “our” tamarisks) and the echoing grove of lines 10-11.

Yet forests can also reflect the elemental power of nature's processes and a realm less immediately amenable to the gentle Muse. The earth, when it “gapes in amaze” at the new sunlight (37), and the forests, when they “first begin to rise forth” (39), show a vital potency in nature which contrasts with the gentler landscape, the tamarisks and groves of 10-11 and the deductum carmen to which it belongs. So we have the agrestis Musa of 8 and the Grynean grove of Apolline song (73-74), yet also the agri which the maddened daughters of Proetus fill with their lowing (48) and the grove of Pasiphae's bull (55-56). The shore which resounds to Hylas' cry (43-44), the ominous “deep sea” (76) where Scylla preys on “frightened sailors” (contrast Mopsus' joy in the power of the sea in the preceding Eclogue, 5.82-84),53 the “deserted places” traversed by the transformed Philomela (80), are all reminders of nature's vast and threatening power. The beginning of Silenus' song describes a mundus which is tener (34), “new” or “fresh.” The adjective also connotes the delicacy and gentle beauty of the pastoral landscape where the down of apples, myrtle, rushes, grass, thickets, and trees may be tener (E. 2.51, 7.6, 7.12, 8.15, 10.7, 10.53). But this tener mundus comes into being with a force that awakens overpowering wonder (cf. stupeant, 37).

These glimpses of a non-pastoral nature are nevertheless incorporated into a pastoral song. Thus the modest self-limitation and self-deprecation in the proem prove to be a bit of playful, ironic understatement. Vergil here follows an amusing device common in the recusatio (e.g. Horace, C. 1.6). His agrestis Musa shows herself able, after all, to reach beyond her deductum carmen with its groves and tamarisks. Indeed not only the didactic verses of 31-40, but the entire Eclogue anticipates the Georgics in commanding a broad range of natural phenomena and appreciating nature's violence beside her pastoral charm.

In Silenus' song, as elsewhere in Latin poetry, contact with nature's mysterious power often takes the form of wandering.54 Wandering in the mountains can be a sign of disorder, passion, potential violence.55 The rara animalia wandering through ignaros montis in 40 belong to a world still in the process of being created and hence in some sense imperfect. It is “in the mountains” that the luckless Pasiphae “wanders” (52), while her bull's wandering tracks (errabunda vestigia) are to be found in the meadows (55-58). On the other hand, Gallus, “wandering to the streams of Permessus” (64), is led to the Muses' mountain, symbolical center of Apolline order and beauty. Why should the poet too be a “wanderer”? Perhaps Vergil means to suggest that poetry is akin to erotic passion in confronting (but overcoming) the threat of disorder and formlessness. Inspired poetry too, as the figure of Silenus implies, is in touch with nature's vital energies and animal force, but ultimately, unlike Pasiphae, contains the potential for bending them to its will (see 27-28, 71). Against the nameless mountains of the rara animalia (40) and Pasiphae (52) stand the mythical mountains connected with Orpheus, Apollo, the Muses: Parnassus, Rhodope, Ismarus in 29-30; the “Aonian mountains” (Helicon) in 65.

Though nature yields to the Apolline order of poetic form (27-28, 71, 82-84), it also has its own lessons to teach. It is not simply the utter negation of order. In this respect it shares the complexity of its poet, Silenus. The human Pasiphae is inflamed by a shameful and unnatural passion, while the bull's quiescence on the “pale grass” (53-54) stands almost as nature's reproach to her wild search (52). The bull is not even captus amore (10), but herba captus viridi (59). The effect of this animal's ruminatory peace is analogous to the contrast between the regular work on the land and Corydon's dementia at the end of the second Eclogue (67-72), a passage which, in fact, Vergil has in mind here (quae te dementia cepit? E. 2.69 and E. 6.47).56 Nature's peace here reads a lesson to human passion, as poetic amor and the pastoral echoes do to man's delight in war and warlike poetry in the proem (6-11).

From Homer and Hesiod on, a bounteous and harmonious order of nature is a symbol and a proof of a larger moral order.57 This symbolical significance of nature still has validity for Vergil. At a time when the civil wars—the symptom and expression of moral disorder—have interrupted work on the land, order, peace, and the regular cultivation of nature's goods are easily felt to go together. E. 4.18-45 makes just this correlation between moral, political, and natural order. To that set of analogies Eclogue 6 adds order brought through art, while Silenus' cosmogonic song (31-40) and Pasiphae's love expand and intensify the themes of natural and moral order to include nature's remoter processes and man's inner being.


It is significant that it should be Vesper, the personification of one of nature's rhythms, that ends the poem. He commanded (iussit, 86) the bringing in of the sheep and then “strode forth” (processit), though the gods were still held by the song: invito processit Vesper Olympo (86). Processit, like the “rising up” (surgere, 39) of the primal forests, is a reminder of nature's autonomous energies. The Olympians, the gods of light and the day, must give way, and a new power enters to lead in the realm of darkness which does not belong to them. Earlier Apollo had given his commands to the poet (non iniussa cano, 9), and the poet has commanded nature (27-28, 70-71). Now it is nature which commands man.

The poet stands in both an active and a passive relation to the world. He may move trees and animals to his rhythms; yet, as the double nature of Silenus and Gallus' wandering imply, he may also participate in her animal energies. The end of Eclogue 6, like the natural frame at the end of Eclogues 1 and 2, extends to him the possibility of receiving the boon of her beauty and regularity. The sheep here at the end evoke (as in E. 2) the fruitful bond which must exist between man and nature if man is to survive, both physically and spiritually.58 At the same time the closing in of the sheep (cogere … ovis stabulis, 85) points back to the Nymphs' attempt to close in the bull (55-56). That effort, within the frame of Silenus' song and thus in the realm of art and imagination, belongs to a love which violates nature's laws. The shepherd's safe enclosure of his sheep, however, reflects an obedience to those laws in the tranquil round of daily labor and implies an objective reality to which imagination and art are ultimately subject.

Love, however, continues to be present at the end in the figure of Eurotas. He is chosen because the river Eurotas is the setting for the tale of Hyacinthus, and Apollo presumably sang this song to assuage his grief.59 Like Vesper, Eurotas belongs to nature. Yet he also reflects that bridging of the dichotomy between human personality and the impersonality of nature with which the poem has been struggling. He too gave “commands” (iussit, 83). Yet his commands resemble not just those of Vesper, but those of the poets, Silenus, Orpheus, Hesiod: he bids the laurels to learn Apollo's song and proves again the harmony between art and nature, between human feeling and the material world.

As the poem's last two lines reflect a return to a harmonious relation to nature's laws, so the Eurotas reminds us of a kind of love that breaks through the antinomy of passion versus order. The Eurotas, scene of unhappy love, can be beatus. There is an obvious contrast with the infelix of Pasiphae and Philomela (47, 52, 81), which in turn measures the difference between Apolline and Pasiphaean love. The latter leaves only an infamous name; the former, though also tragic in its outcome, leaves the “soft hyacinth” (cf. 54 and Linus' flowers in 68)60 and the beautiful song which makes the Eurotas “happy.” But the “happy Eurotas” also implies some unresolved antitheses. Nature (here the personification of a landscape) can be “happy” as the lover (god or man) cannot; the echoing song brings joy, though it is the outpouring of grief. Pulsae referunt ad sidera valles (84) may suggest the indifference of nature's vast spaces as well as possible sympathy. We may note once again the ambiguity of the “pathetic fallacy” in the poem pointed out above (p. 425).61

The rather abrupt and arbitrary allusion to the Eurotas and the story of Hyacinthus implies that Apollo, the symbol of poetic order, restraint (3-5), and beauty throughout the Eclogue, can also experience love and pain. Even the Apolline realm can be affected by amor. Poetry and love are thus once more associated in a positive sense as they were in the proem (10, captus amore). The order imposed by art is not stark and rigid, not out of touch with suffering.

The allusion to Apollo's love confirms in another way the identification of Silenus' song with Apollo's. The Dionysian satyr and the god of the orderly, intellectual aspect of art are identified, not opposed. Both have a common ground in a susceptibility to love (cf. 26). So the Apolline poet's “wandering in the mountains” (64-65) and the “bitter” parsley which crowns Linus (68) have affinities with the preceding tales of passion and suffering (52, 62), realities which the poet incorporates but holds in tension with his commanding power of form.62

It is Silenus, as we have seen, who is the chief representative of this freer, more flexible, more encompassing view of the order under which art and passion meet and grapple with one another. Hence it is appropriate that the song, with all its intensity and diversity of experience, shold be his. But by fusing Silenus' song with Apollo's and by hinting at Apollo's experience of love, Vergil deepens these responsive connections between art and passion, the ordering human mind and nature's unbound, wayward energies.


In the light of the poem's confrontation of opposites we may look again at the puzzling appearance of Gallus. Gallus, writer of love-elegies, is potentially a representative of passion in its disordered aspect. It is in this function that he appears in Eclogue 10, and we must now briefly consider that poem's connection with Eclogue 6.

In Eclogue 10 love, in its violent invincibility, defeats the pastoral tranquillity for which Gallus longs (see E. 10.36-43). Nunc insanus amor of the next line (44) sets Arcadian peace sharply against the reality of passion. With this insanus amor are to be compared the other statements of love's power throughout the poem: sollicitos amores (6); indigno … Gallus amore peribat (10); crudelis Amor (29); deus ille malis hominum mitescere discat (61). Apollo, Pan, and Silvanus all appear, but to no avail. They recall the fanciful mythology of the Silenus scene of Eclogue 6, and Pan is painted by the “bloody berries” (E. 10.27), like Silenus (E. 6.22). The helplessness of Pan and Silvanus only underlines the defeat of the creative power of imagination and art which triumphed so exuberantly through Silenus in Eclogue 6.

Though Gallus imagines pastoral amours with a Phyllis or an Amyntas (38-41), his language is that of the disruptive passion of the Pasiphaean type (note furor, E 10.38). Even the quiet he thinks of has an erotic tinge in the first two words of molliter ossa quiescant, 33. His thoughts of a serene natural setting (gelidi fontes, mollia prata, nemus, 42-43) are vitiated by the vehemence of his emotional vocabulary in these same lines: consumerer (43) and insanus amor (44).63

The potential wildness of nature which appeared in Hylas' shore or Pasiphae's mountains or Philomela's deserta in E. 6 becomes much more tangible and ominous in E. 10. Now it engulfs not just remote mythical characters, but the “real,” living Gallus (see E. 10.47-52, 55-56). Gallus will wander on the mountains hunting savage (acris) boars (56-57), and he will surround the peaceful Arcadian meadows with hunting dogs (E. 10.57; contrast the meadows of E. 6.53-56).

In using the violent pursuit of hunting to solace his love, Gallus reveals how far his restlessness stands from the peacefulness of an Arcadian romance. Hunting and love can go together, at least in imagination, for the regular figures of pastoral too (see E. 2.29, E. 3.75). But Gallus will hunt with a “Parthian bow” (E. 10.59). The epithet is more than just decoration. It marks another abrupt intrusion of an un-Arcadian reality, the presence of a foreign and brutal world with which Gallus is in closer touch than the shepherds. The Parthian bow is also a small example of the other threat, besides passionate love, to pastoral serenity: that is, war and politics. War and love, as we have seen, both have their place in Eclogue 6. But Eclogue 10 expands the negative power of both. Gallus, both a warrior and a lover, is doubly removed from the Heliconian poet led to Apollo's band in E. 6.63-73. Gallus' initiation into that Apolline realm in E. 6 is both an expression of confidence in the encompassing power of art in that poem and a measure of Gallus' defeat through furor in E. 10.

Yet Vergil does not end Eclogue 10 on an entirely negative note. After Gallus' capitulation omnia vincit Amor: et nos cedamus Amori, (E 10.69), Vergil, with a rare intrusion of the first person (mihi, 73), declares his own amor for his friend.64 The growing (crescit, 73) of this love answers the growing of the trees into which the desperate Gallus carved the tale of his stubborn passion crescent illae, crescetis, amores, (E 10.54; contrast the crescentem poetam, to be adorned with ivy, in E. 7.25).65Amor in 73, unlike the disruptive, dispersive amor of Pasiphae or Gallus' insanus amor, has a creative, unifying force, like the amor of E. 6.10.

As in Eclogue 6, Vergil ends the tenth Eclogue with evening and with the humble pastoral task of driving home the flock (E. 10.76-77). Here, however, the remote mythical figures in the sixth Eclogue—Apollo, Eurotas, Olympus—are subordinated to the small, intimate details of personal life and personal affection. The little basket woven of the slender hibiscus (gracili fiscellam texit hibisco) suggests the creative efforts of poetry and recalls the deductum carmen of E. 6,66 as the humble goats at the end of E. 10 also recall Apollo's command about the sheep in E. 6.4-5. The Pierides are here too (E. 10.72), as in the other poem (E. 6.13). But the basket, symbol of poetry, makes creation a much humbler, yet also a more personal, more human, more accessible activity. The power lies not with mythical figures on Greek mountains, but in the hands of the “I” who speaks of his friend and “sits” (sedet) quietly at his work.

Here Vergil retreats from the lofty claims of Eclogue 6. But he holds to at least one part of the achievement of that poem, the bridging over of the gap between emotional intensity and artistic order. The woven basket, a sign of order and artistic “making,” not only answers the violent amor which drives Gallus from Arcadia; it is followed by an offer of personal amor which grows with the alder in the new springtime (E. 10.73-74). This love, growing in the spring, brings together the poet's participation both in emotional life and in the rhythms of nature. One kind of amor can cut Gallus off from the peace of pastoral glades and founts; another amor can join the poet with his friend and with the freshly burgeoning green of vernal growth.

These alders recall another attempt to connect human emotion and nature. The alders of Eclogue 6 are the trees into which Phaethon's sisters are transformed (62-63). In this episode growth and movement are also present, though more faintly than in E. 10, as an answer to death: solo proceras erigit alnos,E 6.63; viridis se subicit alnus, E 10.74. In both passages a non-passionate, fraternal, or sisterly love is associated with a union with nature. The fact that Phaethon's sisters are usually transformed into poplars, not alders, enhances the possibility of a deliberate connection between the two passages.

Yet in the calmer, less Dionysian atmosphere of the end of E. 10 the poet will retain his poetic and human self-consciousness (cf. poetam, 70; mihi, 73), while still sharing in the warmth of affection associated with those trees in E. 6. But both the amor and the identification with nature's rhythms in E. 10.73-74 mark a greater concession to the realm of nature, feeling, matter. It is as if the lesson of Gallus' disruptive amor has brought the poet closer to a Silenus-like participation in nature than to Apolline-Orphic control over it.

At the same time this very openness of participation in nature raises the possibility that the poet may be more exposed to its dangers and to the mystery of its unfathomed power. The darkness which comes with the regular close of day can be harmful to singer and crops alike: gravis cantantibus umbra, … nocent et frugibus umbrae (75-76). At the close of E. 6, Olympus was unwilling to see the night descend, but there was no sense of a potential danger. Here nature, not art, has the upper hand.

Silenus' play with the Fauns and Naiad of E. 6 implied that amor, poetry, and participation in nature's life go together. But E. 10 is much less sanguine about the power of art to hold passion or nature at a safe distance. Both realities are much less amenable to enclosure in the frame of a Silenus' song, and the “singers” have a healthy appreciation of their subjection to nature (75). Yet the poet's little basket—to which nature, the hibiscus, contributes the material—marks a modest yet courageous gesture of artistic independence. Nature's forbidding desolation and the waves of human passion do not submerge the poet's capacity to realize beauty and love, albeit in little things. The poet of this Eclogue, nevertheless, less innocent and less hopeful about nature's power, knows that he dare not expose himself to night's gravis umbra.67


To return to our starting point, Eclogue 6, like Eclogues 4 and 10, is concerned with the sceleris vestigia nostri, man's capacity for destructive passion in love and incidentally in war (E. 6.7). It knows of tragic passion, but incorporates it into the playful, controlling framework of a song sung by a grotesque character immersed in the fanciful world of Fauns and Naiads. In E. 10 the destructive forces within man, war and love, are in the ascendant; and Apollo—along with Silenus' mythical kindred, Silvanus and Pan—are helpless bystanders of passion's triumph (E. 10.21-27).

Eclogue 6 suggests an answer to the tension between order and passion in man by fusing them in the process of artistic creation and symbolically in the figure of Silenus. In Eclogue 10, however, the fusion fails. War and passion win out. Gallus, carried to Helicon in E. 6, falls a victim to crudelis Amor in 10.

This somber end to the Eclogue Book is a typically Vergilian acknowledgment of the complexities of existence and of the need for a “dialectical” response to them. Moving from the liberating buoyancy of Silenus' joyful spanning of sense and spirit to the irresistible harshness of crudelis Amor, Vergil refuses to dwell entirely in the world of the imagination. The refusal is already implicit in the presence of war and history in Eclogues 1, 4, 9, and passion in Eclogues 2, 6, 8.

This movement from E. 6 to E. 10 is itself, in small, a foreshadowing of the poet's development to the stern, tragic realities of the Georgics and the Aeneid. Yet the amor and the green alder at the end of E. 10, like the captus amore and the rising alders of E. 6.10 and 63, imply an ability to face the chaos of human existence without losing sight of the positive potential of human nature and human creativity. Not all emotion need be destructive, not all love selfish and unnatural.

If the defeat of Gallus foreshadows the disastrous furor of Orpheus in the fourth Georgic or Dido's passion and Aeneas' all too human violence in slaughtering Turnus; if the ominous gravis umbra, dangerous to singers, anticipates in its hint of nature's foreignness to man the savage Ciconian matrons who tear the poet apart to vindicate the claims of nature, nevertheless the poet's personal declaration of love for his lost friend anticipates those redeeming moments of melancholy tenderness that illumine the dark sufferings of the Aeneid: Creusa at the end of II, Anchises and Marcellus in VI, Nisus and Euryalus in IX, Pallas and Lausus in X.


  1. I shall refer to the following by author's name only: Carl Becker, “Virgils Eklogenbuch,” Hermes 83 (1955) 314-49; Karl Büchner, “P. Vergilius Maro,” RE 8A1 (1955) 1219-24 (on E.6): John Conington and Henry Nettleship, edd., P. Vergili Maronis Opera, I4 (London 1881); J. P. Elder, “Non Iniussa Cano: Virgil's Sixth Eclogue,” HSCP 65 (1961) 109-25; Charles Fantazzi, “Virgilian Pastoral and Roman Love Poetry,” AJP 87 (1966) 171-91; G. Karl Galinsky, “Vergil's Second Eclogue: Its Theme and Relation to the Eclogue Book,” C & M 26 (1965) 161-91; A. Hartmann, “Silenos und Satyros,” RE 3A1 (1927) 35-53; Herbert Holtorf, P. Vergilius Maro, Die grösseren Gedichten, I, Einleitung, Bucolica (Freiburg/Munich 1959); Günther Jachmann, “Vergils sechste Ekloge,” Hermes 58 (1923) 288-304; Friedrich Klingner, Virgil, Bucolica, Georgica, Aeneis (Zürich/Stuttgart 1967); Eleanor Winsor Leach, “The Unity of Eclogue 6,” Latomus 27 (1968) 13-32; Brooks Otis, Virgil (Oxford 1963); Jacques Perret, Virgile (Paris 1959); H. J. Rose, The Eclogues of Vergil = “Sather Classical Lectures” 16 (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1942); E. de Saint-Denis, “Le chant de Silène à la lumière d’une découverte récente,” RPh 37 (1963) 23-40; Otto Skutsch, “Zu Vergils Eklogen,” RhM 99 (1959) 193-201; Bruno Snell, “Arcadia: The Discovery of a Spiritual Landscape,” in The Discovery of the Mind, tr. T. G. Rosenmeyer (Cambridge, Mass. 1953) 281-309; Zeph Stewart, “The Song of Silenus,” HSCP 64 (1959) 179-205; John B. Van Sickle, “The Unity of the Eclogues: Arcadian Forest, Theocritean Trees,” TAPA 98 (1967) 491-508; Gordon Williams, Tradition and Originality in Roman Poetry (Oxford 1968); K. Witte, “Vergils sechste Ekloge und die Ciris,” Hermes 57 (1922) 561-87. I wish to acknowledge a special debt of gratitude to my friend Professor John Van Sickle, whose detailed comments on this paper and scrupulous resistance to simplistic approaches to the Eclogues have been both a help and an example. I am especially indebted to his concept of dialectics in the poems, though I have not always interpreted the dialectical movement along lines with which he would agree.

  2. Williams 249; it is worth repeating his quotation (246) from F. Leo, Hermes 37 (1902) 22: “Man wagt kaum mehr es laut zu sagen, aber ich glaube immer noch, wenn ich Vergil tractire, dass ich es mit einem Dichter zu thun habe.”

  3. For discussion and bibliography of the various views and especially those of Franz Skutsch, see Jachmann 288-89, Rose 97 ff., Saint-Denis 20-35, Stewart 181-83.

  4. Otis 137-39, Leach passim, Klingner 106-11. See also Williams 243-49, who takes “strange and tragic love” as “a unifying thread” (248), yet hedges on the question of whether one should look for any unity at all (245).

  5. The phrase is Elder's (121), though his own approach goes beyond the biographical interpretation in a narrow sense.

  6. See Büchner 1219 and 1223-24, Elder 111, Klingner 110, Saint-Denis 40, Van Sickle 504.

  7. Aen. 1.92-101 and 198-209 are the familiar examples: see Victor Pöschl, The Art of Vergil, tr. Gerda Seligson (Ann Arbor 1962) 48-53 and passim.

  8. For the symbolical fusion of inner and outer realms, soul and action, see Pöschl (above, note 7) 17-18; Otis 230-33, 276-77, 322-28; Francis A. Sullivan, S. J., “Virgil and the Mystery of Suffering,” AJP 90 (1969) 168-71.

  9. Snell, passim, especially 301-2, emphasizing Vergil's union of “poetic reverie, unifying love, and sensitive suffering” (301) and the Vergilian idea of the special sensitivity of the poet who “receives the sympathy of nature … because his feelings are more profound than those of other men, and because therefore he suffers more grievously under the cruelties of the world” (302).

  10. Leach 31; Klingner 109 also points out the Eclogue's concern with “etwas Allumfassendes.”

  11. See Otis 139: “The dark amores and metamorphoses of 6 are … symbolic of the moral decline (scelus) of the ‘iron age’ through which Rome had just passed.”

  12. Perret 64 speaks of “la fragilité de l’univers arcadien.” See also my essay, “Tamen Cantabitis, Arcades—Exile and Arcadia in Eclogues One and Nine,” Arion 4 (1965) 254-56; Van Sickle 505, note 30.

  13. Otis 139 stresses “the inverse relation of Eclogues 4 and 6,” though I think he oversimplifies the relation for the sake of his schematic symmetry: scelus by no means dominates E. 6; and the Pasiphae episode, though important, should not be exaggerated out of all proportion to the rest of the poem (see below, Section III). We should not forget the presence of Apollo along with the Dionysian Silenus: see Van Sickle 502-5 and below, note 40.

  14. For the theme of the Saturnia regna see Becker 321, Klingner 107, Leach 19, and Otis 138-39. One should recall in this context Aen. 6.791-94, 7.45-49, 8.324-27, and 11.252-54. On the first three of these passages see my remarks in Arion 5 (1966) 49-50, and most recently R. J. Rowland, Latomus 27 (1968) 832-42 with the bibliography cited in note 2, p. 832.

  15. See Jachmann 293; Aeschyl. PV 436-506. Many of the arts of civilization listed in E. 4.18-45 belong, of course, in the culture-histories with which Prometheus is associated, notably sailing (PV 467-68) and the domestication of animals (PV 462-66). Agriculture and the city, though not specifically attributed to Prometheus, usually have a place in such lists; Soph. Antig. 335-60; Pl. Protag. 322 ad. For possible influence of the Aeschylean Prometheus figure on the Eclogues (somewhat straining the evidence) see William Berg, “Daphnis and Prometheus,” TAPA 96 (1965) 15-20.

  16. See Witte 571-72, who compares Theocr. Id. 13.64-71 and E. 6.47 and 52.

  17. Skutsch 193; Wendell Clausen, “Callimachus and Latin Poetry,” GRBS 5 (1964 193-95. See the valuable reservations of Leach 26-27, with notes 1 and 3, p. 26. Clausen, however, also observes that Vergil's refusal to write about war “was not merely esthetic, it was also (as the reminiscence of the first Eclogue intimates) moral” (194).

  18. In addition to E. 9.5 see E. 2.14 (irae), E. 3.80 (lupus), E. 10.31 (the suffering Gallus).

  19. Elder 112 calls attention to amor in a similar context in Lucret. 1.924-25, amorem/Musarum quo nunc instinctus. Cf. also G. 2.476 and 3.291-92. If Vergil had this passage in mind, the change from instinctus to captus is a typically Vergilian toning down of Lucretian violence. Snell 302 stresses the peculiarly Vergilian (and un-Callimachean) emotionality implied in the phrase: “This sympathetic affection is the mark of the poet, and the poet seeks to transmit his compassion to his reader.” Van Sickle 505 notes the possible ambiguity of the amor of E. 6.10. In the light of the attitude toward war through the Eclogues one may wonder if tristia condere bella does not play on the double sense of condere, viz. “compose” and “put away”: cf. E. 9.52 and Holtorf ad loc.

  20. See Büchner 1220: “Übermutiger Scherz … und laszive Andeutung … spielen in diesem Stück, das aus dem Vollen schöpft, wie sonst nirgends in den Eklogen eine Rolle.”

  21. Skutsch 194.

  22. For Silenus' connections with Dionysus see Hartmann 39 and 43; James A. Notopoulos, “Silenus the Scientist,” CJ 62 (1966-67) 308-9.

  23. Klingner 106 observes the mythical and unreal quality of the setting. On the effect of such names in the Eclogues see also Snell 306.

  24. See my essay, “Vergil's Caelatum Opus: An Interpretation of the Third Eclogue,AJP 88 (1967) 300-4, 307-8.

  25. E.g. Cic. Tusc. Disp. 1.48.114; [Plut.] Cons. ad Apoll. 27 (115B). For the complexity of Silenus see Hartmann 40 ff., esp. 43: “Weit entfernt von der rohen und lächerlichen Figur, die man später ihn gern machen lässt, ist er ein sehr ernst genommener Gott, dem tiefste Weisheit und Erfahrung eignet, der Musik und Tanz liebt” (43). Also Servius on E. 6.13 and Conington's introductory note; Klingner 111, Saint-Denis 37-39, Stewart 197, Holtorf on E. 6.14 (p. 190), and Notopoulos (above, note 22) 308-9. The name of Tityrus also has something in common with satyrs, as appears in the lexicographical equation, satyroi-tityroi-tragoi: see Hartmann 52.

  26. Pindar, frag. 156 Snell3 = 142 Bowra (Pausan. 3.25.2). … See also Lucret. 4.580-89.

  27. Servius on line 17 notes attrita ansa, frequenti scilicet potu. See also the Berne scholia ad loc.

  28. It is now generally agreed that 82-84 mark the identification of Silenus' song with Apollo's, not another item in Silenus' song as F. Skutsch and Leo had held: see Witte 572 and Stewart 196.

  29. See Stewart 186-88.

  30. Most modern scholars seem to assume that Chromis and Mnasyllus are human shepherds. Yet their long-continued familiarity (cf. saepe, 18) with Silenus, their easy association with a Naiad, the liberties they take with Silenus himself tell against this view. It is true that in Theopompus' Thaumasia it is shepherds who capture Silenus (cf. Servius on line 13 and 26 and Aelian, VH 3.18). But that tale is only a loose parallel to Vergil's, and Vergil's freedom in transforming his originals is well known. The presence of sheep in 85 is also inconclusive. Mortals ran a risk from seeing figures like Silenus, and with the present question is therefore connected the interpretation of line 24, for which see the next note. For fuller discussion see my forthcoming paper, “Two Fauns and a Naiad? (Virgil, Ed. VI, 13-26),” AJP 92 (1971).

  31. The two possibilities are given by Servius ad loc.: (1) “It is enough for me to have been able to be seen,” and (2) “It is enough for you to have seemed able (to bind me).” Servius also notes that (1) implies that the attackers must be men to whom Silenus would usually be invisible. This interpretation involves a contradiction (of which Servius seems unaware) with his previous identification (on 13 and 14) of the pueri as Satyrs. Conington arrives at no solution, though he points to videre in 14 as favoring (1). This point, however, is not necessarily valid, for the specialness of “seeing” Silenus would seem to contradict the frequent association between Silenus and his attackers. Further, if the emphasis in 14 and 24 were on seeing, one would expect the active voice in 24. Potuisse could also be taken absolutely (as in Aen. 5.231), but this would not substantially change the meaning of (2).

  32. Klingner 111.

  33. In Pindar, frag. 156 (above, note 26), he is “the Naiad's husband”. …

  34. For a different interpretation of the binding-motif see Leach 24-25.

  35. See Klingner 106.

  36. One might compare Hermann Hesse's use of the Dionysian figure of Pablo (a mysterious jazz-player) and his “magisches Theater” (“Eintritt nur für Verrückte, kostet den Verstand”) to explore (far more morbidly) this area of experience in Der Steppenwolf.

  37. For the attribution of the lines to Pasiphae see Servius ad loc. On the scene see Leach 20-21.

  38. It is interesting that where Pasiphae returns in the Aeneid there is a not dissimilar contrast between the creative, encompassing order of the artist, his pity, and his mastery of darkness and the maze on the one hand (Aen. 6.28-30), and the queen's bestial crudelis amor, the Veneris monimenta nefandae (Aen. 6.23-26) on the other.

  39. Apollodorus 2.2.2; but this version of the myth has been doubted: see G. Radke, “Proitides,” RE 23.1 (1957) 118-19, 123.

  40. Van Sickle 504, who also goes on to assert (505) that E. 6 is “the most Dionysian” of the Eclogues. From another point of view (cf. the proem and Gallus’ “Dichterweihe”) it is also the most Apollonian: this too is part of the “dialectic.” For the importance of Apollo in the poem see Becker 317-18, Elder 115-16, Williams 249.

  41. For ludere see Leach 27 with note 1. For its combination of erotic and literary meaning cf. Catull, 2.2, 2.9 and 50.2, 50.5. Poem 50 probably exploits the double sense.

  42. Holtorf ad loc. (p. 197), however, explains deducere as leading “zum Tanz nach dem Takt des Flötenspiels,” but offers no evidence. For a different interpretation see Leach 28-29.

  43. See Stewart 179, 189-90.

  44. E.g. (in addition to E. 10) E. 2.68, 3.101, 8.18 and 47.

  45. See Witte, cited above, note 16.

  46. See Leach 20.

  47. Stewart 191-92 tries (implausibly) to find a connection with “the activity created uniquely by the dramatist” (192). To Leach 22, “Erigit, a word usually associated with some form of mental stimulation or renewal, even with cheering and consolation, seems ironic in this context.” I agree about the “renewal” or “cheering,” but not about the irony.

  48. On the repetition see Leach 22. For the suggestive connotations of amarus see E. 1.77, 3.110, 7.41 and Segal (above, note 24) 306. Perhaps Doris amara in E. 10.5 anticipates the tone of sadness and defeat in that poem.

  49. For a fuller discussion of the ending see below, Section v.

  50. See Elder 118. Cf. also the contest of trees in E. 7.61-68.

  51. See E. 8.3, where the lynxes are stupefactae at the shepherds' song.

  52. For a similar point on the bees of G. 4 see R. D. Williams, “Virgil,” G & R, New Surveys in the Classics 1 (1967) 22.

  53. Cf. also the quiet beauty of the calm sea (if that is the meaning of aequor) in E. 9.57-58, though there too the dangerous violence of sea is in the background: insani feriant sine litora fluctus (43).

  54. See Lucret. 1.926; Verg. G. 3.291-93. For the theme of wandering generally in E. 6 see Elder 118-19, Leach 28-29.

  55. Cf. E. 8.41, me malus abstulit error. The story of Hylas too suggests wandering: cf. Theocr. Id. 13.66-71. Note too the dangerous wandering in remote places in Ovid's Metamorphoses: 1.479, 3.25, 3.175, 3.370, 4.292-95.

  56. See Büchner 1221, Galinsky 178.

  57. Homer, Od. 19.109-14; Hesiod, Erga 225-47.

  58. For the “overarching frame” of “bucolic elements” in E. 6 see Elder 117-18, with note 36 on p. 124; also Fantazzi 190-91. On the ending of E. 2 see Eleanor Winsor Leach, “Nature and Art in Vergil's Second Eclogue,AJP 87 (1966) 442-45.

  59. See Williams 247.

  60. It may be that the hyacinth in 54 is meant to help prepare for the allusion to the Hyacinthus myth at the end. E. 3 seems to use this kind of anticipation (lines 63 and 106-7): see Segal (above, note 24) 297-98.

  61. Beatus occurs only here in the Eclogues and only twice in the Aeneid, both in emphatic emotional contexts stressing an impossible happiness or a tension between suffering and happiness: o terque quaterque beati, 1.94; sedesque beatos of the Elysian fields, 6.639. Both in this latter passage and in Horace's beata arva (Epod. 16.41-42) the word carries associations of an innocent joy far from the world's trouble or the ordinary state of human existence, but a joy quite remote from present reality. On E. 6.82-83 Galinsky 178 remarks, “But the desire for beatitudo clashes strongly with the actual subjects of Apollo's and Silenus' songs, i.e. the infelices and indigni amores which are described in gruesome detail.”

  62. “Wonder” (mirari) may be inspired in the realms of both art (30, Orpheus) and love (61, Atalanta).

  63. See Fantazzi 183-84 and Perret 64-65, who see in Gallus' defeat the “décomposition de l’univers arcadien” (64): “Mais l’amour est le plus fort, Gallus s’en va, la poésie n’a pu sauver l’un des meilleurs de ses fidèles et pour lui l’Arcadie désormais n’est plus qu’un rêve” (65). Snell 296 underestimates the irony and bitterness in the passage when he speaks of its “sentimental sensuality.”

  64. The interpretation of E. 10.73-74 as referring to “Gallus' love for Lycoris” recently suggested by R. R. Dyer, CP 64 (1969) 233-34, seems to me unconvincing, though his remarks on Vergil's rejection of escapism are valuable and interesting.

  65. On E. 7.25 see Van Sickle 502-3.

  66. On the fiscella Fantazzi 184 remarks, “The key word is gracili, symbolic of his carmen deductum.

  67. It is part of the deliberate tension at the end of the Eclogue Book, however, that these goats are saturae and have a domus (i.e. unlike E. 1). For this positive aspect of the passage see Segal (above, note 12) 261-62, which should now be balanced by the interpretation offered in the present essay.

Michael C. J. Putnam (essay date 1970)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5698

SOURCE: An introduction to Virgil's Pastoral Art: Studies in the“Eclogues,” Princeton University Press, 1970, pp. 3-19.

[In the essay below, Putnam discusses some of the major critical issues surrounding Vergil's Eclogues,arguing that one of the most appealing and pertinent aspects of the collection is Vergil's effort to identify the role of the individual within a restrictive society.]

The notion of Virgil as gentle poet of simple charm has been slow to die.1 We accept melancholy as the poet's dominant characteristic, yet we assume its incorporation in a stance which is poised, reserved, aloof—“classical,” in a word. Though evil continues to scheme and life remains charged with passions, though man be forced into a not always kindly dialogue with nature, his fellow creatures, and himself, Virgil somehow manages (we are assured) to bathe all suffering in a magic glow which reconciles opposites and leaves a sense of virtue and justice triumphant. The ten poems which comprise Virgil's first major work, the Eclogues, have been most subjected to this devitalizing approach. Since the publication of Horace's first book of Satires a few years after the Eclogues were completed, readers have been schooled to characterize Virgil's work—in the words of his great contemporary—as molle atque facetum, smooth and elegant.2 We presume the judgment applies to content as well as to the rhetoric of expression.

The Eclogues are pastorals, and poetry of this form, perhaps more than any other kind of poetry, stands open to easy abuse. It is, by convention, a fantasy; a countryside with singing shepherds and their loves, with heroes like Daphnis (once human, now divine), with epiphanic gods and demi-gods. But Virgil's is no rugged, bleak, literal Arcadia. The closest he comes to projecting his dream upon a real landscape is in the seventh eclogue where the banks of his beloved Mincius offer the hospitable setting for a contest. Even there, however, the shepherds are twice styled Arcades, not to shatter the spell; so it is easy to see how the Eclogues can be labeled “escapist” verses, witnesses of responsibilities evaded and of studied withdrawal from the pressures of society into a “rustic,” simple life.

Other definitions accommodate an allied, nostalgic yearning for the distant in space or time, for a situation of stable perfection, far removed from anything odd or evil, tragic or transitory, a situation impossible to achieve but inspirational or mesmeric to contemplate. I am referring not to the many different shapes the pastoral myth may take but to formal poetry which assumes a deliberately bucolic guise.3 The history of pastoral poetry from Theocritus through the Renaissance to Milton and Arnold shows that its use as a vehicle for ideas, for social comment, for “involvement” while maintaining a detached pose, is the exception rather than the rule. Especially in the Renaissance it is the exceptions like Spenser who, because they resisted easy satire, kept vital the best aspects of what was for more than fifteen hundred years a highly creative tradition.4

Virgil's Eclogues are the first, and in many ways the greatest, example of pastoral poetry used to convey a message as well as to delight. Nevertheless certain misconceptions about them, some of which are superficial, persist. Though filled with problems which we still cannot solve, the Eclogues are not veiled allegories whose mysterious references to contemporary affairs in the fourth and third decades of the last century before Christ cannot be understood today.5 Virgil does use disguises—the first eclogue offers a notable instance in the young god living at Rome—and understatement is the essence of his art. However, when a clue is necessary—for example, in the third and fourth poems the mention of the soldier and man of letters Pollio—it is usually forthcoming.

The Eclogues are no more mere variations on Theocritean themes than they are veiled allegories. It is true that the relationship between the Alexandrian master and his Roman disciple is an intricate one: Virgil has often absorbed the matter and wording of his predecessor.6 But a close analysis of the parallels reveals that Theocritus was only a stepping-stone for Virgil's new approach, which pays little attention to Theocritus’ ethical and aesthetic ideas. In Theocritus the city still represents civilization and society complements rather than challenges nature. The pains of love to which Theocritus' shepherds submit are pleasantly ephemeral when compared to the horror which the bucolic life faces in some of the Eclogues. Even in the “lighter” eclogues Virgil expands upon his master. Compare Eclogue 2 with its model in Theocritus, Idyl 11, a lovesong of the cyclops Polyphemus to the sea nymph Galatea. Juxtaposition brings out a twofold meaning in Virgil's work. There is a “rhetorical” side in which the poet proves, with engaging humor, how one must not sing if he is to succeed as a lover. Such incondita, such rude uncouthness as Corydon mouths—and the deprecatory word is common in Cicero's vocabulary of oratorical criticism7—can scarcely effect the desired result. Yet a distinct implication in the shepherd's words confirms that nature postulates an unswerving rationale whereas man's emotions defy logic and ruin the harmony with his surroundings, which is one justification of the shepherd's lot. In Idyl 11, Polyphemus apparently loses Galatea, but in Eclogue 2, Corydon's lack of success causes him to regain a higher and tougher reasoning.

The structural interrelationship of the ten poems is also still debated. Since poems 3 and 7 are amoebean, or poems 5 and 8 have two long, separate songs, one common argument runs that we are meant by Virgil to view them in pairs. But the superficial resemblances which abound among these poems are no defense of their quality as literature and should not receive undue stress. The seventyh eclogue may have technical similarities with the third; its force largely results from conjunction with poems 6 and 8. That the application of any system of balances to the Eclogues as a group cannot help but project one or more poems for focal consideration8 and that the number of differing proposals is considerable is reasonable evidence that none in particular fulfills the poet's intention. It is more economical to argue that he would have wished us to read the poems in the order the manuscripts assign them, watching the ideas progress and interact from one poem to the next in a culminating design.

One reason for the Eclogues' having gained the epithet “escapist” derives from a more basic misinterpretation. Only a trite reading can see in these poems the delineation of a “pastoral” way of life in its literal, agrarian sense—as if they were pieces written to distract the citified Roman from his urban cares or, to put it more romantically (and borrow a traditional distinction), as if they described some more lasting, model value to be found in “emotional” rural man than in the practical city-dweller. In this formulation the first is somehow associated with intelligence, the second with matter; the one, an inhabitant in a “sophisticated,” private nirvana, the other, mired in the slough of vulgar reality. The Eclogues, however, are not an obscure espousal of an Emersonian triumph of mind over artifice.

This is not to deny the hold of the actual countryside on the imagination of the Roman people, indeed on its most important poets. Rural landscape did provide a necessary foil to the elaborateness and difficulties of city life. As the responsibilities of empire grew, the countryside came more and more to symbolize simplicity and other evaporating virtues of a once essentially agricultural populace.9

Certainly this moral and intellectual dialogue between city and country is a topic of Latin literature at least from the time of Lucilius on.10 It is a constant theme in the works of Cicero. At the opening of De Oratore (I. 24), for instance, Crassus, spokesman for the great orator in the subsequent dialogue, withdraws from the press of Roman political life to Tusculum for the sake of “collecting” himself (quasi conligendi sui causa). Yet however much Cicero, philosopher and litterateur, depends on the country for the quiet of renewal, Cicero, advocate and statesman, cherishes, indeed requires, the bustle of the forum.

There is no doubt on which side of the fence Catullus stands: rusticitas in all its forms is anathema. He, too, has a villa which lovingly receives him after a bout of flu (Carmen 44), but its location near Tibur was a matter of humorous concern to him because it reflected on his social standing and intellectual attitudes (lines 2-4):

nam te esse Tiburtem autumant, quibus non est
cordi Catullum laedere; at quibus cordi est,
quovis Sabinum pignore esse contendunt, … 

For those who do not wish to harm Catullus affirm that you are Tiburtine; those who do, maintain on any terms that you are Sabine.

Catullus' detractors, he tells us, put his villa in the Sabine country and, accordingly, accuse master and house of boorishness. If, on the other hand, it is near enough to Tibur (and Rome) to earn the epithet suburbana, then Catullus is happy. The villa is civilized, like himself.

Lucretius can even go so far as to satirize the constant flitting back and forth between city and villa in which the well-to-do Roman indulges (De Rerum Natura 3, lines 1053-1075). There is no question here of any higher, curative value in country life: the bored Roman is only seeking forgetfulness through change. This restless ennui would not be such a besetting trial, the Epicurean poet claims, if men could analyze their burdens and, other concerns put aside, devote themselves to learning “the nature of things.”

On the contrary, the countryside for Virgil is only in a secondary sense to be viewed either literally or as a garden of Eden. His shepherds are no symbols of youth and innocence, dwelling in a paradise in danger of being lost to that epitome of vice and crime, the city. Rather “pastoral,” for Virgil, has significance on a still deeper level: it means, at least during this decade in his career, the life of the imagination and the poet's concerned search for freedom to order experience. The landscape and its inhabitants are a realization in tangible form of the poetic mind at work. The shepherds are his voices. Their debates are his thoughts on poetry and life in the process of formulation. This is the sense in which “pastoral” will be used in the pages which follow.

The poet and his fictitious world, the creator and the created, uninvolved with reality as they may at first seem, are, in Virgil's view of bucolic poetry, open to the challenges any writer of poetry must face from a sometimes narrow, often alien milieu in which he must exist. In this regard the Eclogues have as much in common with fifth-century tragedy as with Theocritus. Not only is Virgil writing of the spiritual world of the artist, he is emphasizing the need for preserving individual freedom if the highest human values are to survive.

If pastoral poetry delineates the imagination at work, it depends upon a concomitant personal liberty to create in an atmosphere of integrity and order. Virgil evokes the challenges of the complex world of power to his shepherds' retreat not to suggest escape from the battle of life or to depict a charming image of evasion into a magical golden age. His purpose is to show what is at stake in Rome if the life of the imagination loses, and what could be gained if the two opposing conceptions of “pastoral” and power, poetry and history, were to live in harmony. That the notion is idealistic does not detract from the force of either those poems which claim it as true or their pessimistic counterparts which acknowledge the vanity of the search.

Part of the appeal and pertinence of the Eclogues lies in following the poet's search to define the place and status of the individual in an increasingly intricate and more restrictive society, victimized by civil disturbance for almost a hundred years. Virgil is the observer of a people in transition, whose old institutions were decaying but whose power, by astute employment of political and technological acumen, not to speak of military strength, was unparalleled in ancient civilization. This tension forced upon Virgil a question the varying answers to which were to become one of the intellectual concerns of the Augustan literary scene, a question which, though it is allied to the conflict of physis and nomos in fifth-century Greek thought, remains one of the few original formulations of the Roman mind. What is the relationship of society and “nature,” of the institutions which impose an apparent order on life and the landscape which, at the opposite extreme, has come to symbolize freedom from such restraints as well as, paradoxically, a higher form of morality?

The one instance of such an implied comparison usually cited as an example from Greek literature—Socrates' choice of the banks of the Ilissus instead of the city of Athens itself as a setting for discussion in the Phaedrus11—is a far cry, say, from Horace's admonition to Maecenas to abandon the fumum et opes strepitumque Romae, the smoke and commercialism and noise of Rome, for the simplicity of the Sabine farm. This reflects, in part, a basic difference between Socratic and Stoic ethics. For the Stoics, the wise and just man, far from accepting his soul as a microcosm of the state and participating in civic life accordingly, should seek an order beyond mere political convention and detach himself from Realien to achieve morality and wisdom. In Horace's specific case the countryside offers a chance for the integrity of poetry as well. Horace's prayer is, to him, the only way to sanity as well as the only way to remain a poet. For Socrates, lover of his polis, to withdraw from the city is an act of whimsy which can scarcely endure for any length of time: “Country spots and trees will not teach me a thing. Men in the city do” (Phaedrus 230d).

Dr. Johnson, according to Boswell, would have agreed: “Our conversation turned upon living in the country, which Johnson, whose melancholy mind required the dissipation of quick successive variety, had habituated himself to consider as a kind of mental imprisonment. ‘Yet, Sir (said I), there are many people who are content to live in the country.’ Johnson: ‘Sir, it is in the intellectual world as in the physical world; we are told by natural philosophers that a body is at rest in the place that is fit for it; they who are content to live in the country are fit for the country.’” Or, as he says elsewhere, “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life.” The Johnsonian manner is amusing and typical of the eighteenth century. Yet the glorification of the city is the other side of the coin from the bucolic mode and anticipates, paradoxically (for Johnson was no lover of “vulgarity”), the succeeding century's search to free the proletariat, the urban mob, from the shackles which, according to Marx and Engels, had long held it.

But Horace and Virgil were in no sense “unurbane” or unaware that their lives were closely involved with the affairs of Rome, however far away their thoughts might flee. As the republic changed to empire, the pressure of society—indeed the artificiality imposed on life by society as it grew—expanded to such a point that the poets reacted against it. They reversed the mode of thinking we have seen in Cicero, Lucretius, and Catullus and returned to what was partially a traditional stance. One must, however, emphasize again that the countryside of Virgil's Eclogues is not to be interpreted objectively as the habitat of woolly sheep and piping shepherds. Nor is it the territory worked by the sturdy ploughman, that primitive nobleman, outdistanced by culture albeit representative of a Saturnian age long past. Virgil's landscape takes on virtually the opposite of the rustic, though morally upright, role it ordinarily plays as foil to the cultured grace of the metropolis. Even in a poem such as Eclogue 2, which seems at first to deal with the traditional dichotomy, the levels of meaning are still more complex.

In part the Eclogues are meditations on the position of the human personality, always caught in the turmoil of conflicting values and attempting to make “nature” meaningful, to create a rationale for life. They pose for the thoughtful reader many of the same problems as the tragedies of Shakespeare, and demand that he ponder the place of traditional ethical values in a fluctuating, disordered world subject to the necessities of time and death. In some poems the matter is treated gently and the poet withdraws through the lightness of the particular aspect under discussion (Eclogues 2 and 3) or the imaginative virtuosity which emblazons his theme (Eclogue 4). In other, more matter of fact poems the tone borders on despair in the realization that politics and morality are rarely reconcilable or in contemplation of the poet's apparently losing battle against society and history.

Even Tityrus' seemingly ideal happiness in the first eclogue leaves the reader wondering: What about Meliboeus? Is that god who can dispose of things physical and spiritual with something approaching unfair nonchalance really so divine? Will the monolithic state ever understand the plight, not to say rights, of the loser? Can the position of Tityrus be called perfect when it is created and bestowed by a higher power, or stable when Tityrus can allow himself to make only a passing and ineffectual bow to the suffering of Meliboeus? Can callousness or even indifference toward another's grief be a possible characteristic of a true singer of songs, pastoral idyls though they be? Tityrus is Virgil's symbolic victim before his time of that harmful, even evil, aspect of Romanticism which depends upon “a severance of mind from world, soul from circumstance, human inwardness from external condition.”12

Too often in the criticism of Latin literature, a flatly literal interpretation of poetry does the poet the gravest disservice. To see Virgil as Tityrus alone, the happy shepherd-bard, beloved by Rome, with his land restored, is to burden Virgil with a false piece of common criticism: that the poet is himself involved in only one part of his poem while the other part is merely a convenient foil for his own felicity. We tend to decide in advance what we think Virgil wants to do—to perform his first act of homage to Octavian—rather than to consider objectively what he accomplishes.

The opposite view, which sees the figure of Tityrus as pure artifice, entirely false to reality, unresponding and aloof to the tragedy of life, is perhaps too bitter and severe—though we may remember Nietzsche's dictum: “We have art in order not to perish of truth.” Nevertheless Eclogues 1 and 9 are poems which almost “make pessimism seem a hopeful evasion.”13 Yet such is the poet's mastery of the art of restraint that his strongest thoughts are conveyed in an atmosphere of spiritual generosity and external quiet.

The Eclogues postulate the search for an order which is only rarely attained but is, nevertheless, a prerequisite for happiness. Lack of order can be caused by unrequited love, by death, by some indefinable outside force inimical to the bucolic “retreat,” by the violent pressures of political reality. The search for reconciliation between these adverse elements and the pastoral dream is a basic theme in the Eclogues. An idealistic vision such as Eclogue 4 can propose such an exalted union. Poetry itself—the magic incantation of song or the power of disciplined verse—can sometimes harmonize opposites, but although the poet in his own person may try his luck, the result is often irrational passion or terror. Finally, the poet may be forced to acknowledge in himself the tense union of reason and emotion which is his inheritance from Orpheus.

Here, too, Theocritus is only partially a prototype. We often sense that the Alexandrian poet aims to define the power of verse as well as to scrutinize the poet's motivation to sing. Nevertheless, in the Idyls there seems an almost deliberate unconcern with deep issues, as if the poet believed that the chief value of his verse was to entertain, to attract his readers by beauty of setting or richness of sound. The Eclogues are not poems that flee from life, diverting, artificial masquerades for “nature,” soothing antidotes to urban elaborateness. Virgil's poetry is no ritual aimed at turning “complex into simple,” but rather one of deep involvement in issues just as important now as they were in Rome in the decade after Caesar's assassination.

Similar discussions of the relationship of the individual to society and of man to nature, of the world of institutions to a world which parallels Virgil's conception of the poet and his landscape, are not unknown in American literature. In the nineteenth century, in Walden, Huckleberry Finn, or Melville's Typee (which fabricates and then destroys a perfect pastoral dream), these discussions regularly take the form of the claims which a society grown increasingly more machine-oriented and industrialized makes upon a quasi-idealized agricultural existence of oneness with nature. In the twentieth century Frost is one champion of individual man's experiences, feelings, desires—for good or evil, or purely for self-knowledge—against the increasing threat of impersonal, fragmentizing scientific schemata which reduce humanity and its purposes to little more than abstractions. Yet even nature herself, for Frost as for Virgil, is not without menace.

In the Rome of the last half of the first century b.c. the steady expansion of city and empire forced similar considerations upon the two chief poets and their colleagues. How is the individual to survive—or the poet to create—when his freedom remains unconfirmed? What of a government which relies on force (or the possible use of force) and appeals to the populace with hollow slogans, while materialistic goals more and more displace humane values as the yardstick to measure achievement? The answers which Horace and Virgil regularly supply are as damning of the present as ominous for the future. We might summarize this side of the Eclogues as “social commentary,” a poetry of ideas dealing with the writer and mankind at large, the confrontation of the essentially stable life of the free imagination and the forces of history, be they represented by an urban Alexis (Eclogue 2) or by the grandest progress of the ages (Eclogue 4).

There is another kindred aspect to the Eclogues: the collection is also an informal ars poetica which seeks a broadened definition of pastoral as a form, often by bringing it into conjunction with other poetic modes. We are made to examine the appropriate setting for song and the proprieties of expression as well as to contemplate contents of far greater variety than in the Idyls of Theocritus.

In the sixth eclogue the figure of Silenus and the songs he sings illustrate well the added dimensions of Virgilian pastoral poetry: while serving as the promulgator of novelty in bucolic song, he is also poetry itself. The drunken Silenus, part god, part animal, is omniscient; he is an emblem of knowledge and of inspiration, both of which are prime necessities for the poet at work but of no value without the discipline of expression. Just as he must be physically bound by his garlands before he can sing, so too the content of poetry must first be confined by form—infused by madness, yet subjected to craft—before it can become a true carmen, which enchants by mere utterance and moves the tangible with the spiritual. He is a poetic Proteus who from his chains shapes themes of varied sorts to charm his listeners and creations as well as to “free” himself.

Silenus' songs, which Virgil quotes only in summary fashion, embrace one basic topic in different patterns. Amorphous and disordered nature is fashioned and confined by the singer's words. With his carmen he “soothes” the stricken Pasiphaë and with verse controls her madness, which is a complete reversal of life's natural processes. Then, turning directly to poetry per se, he initiates Gallus, former devotee of an “errant” type of verse, into a possibly loftier realm of poetry than elegy. Once purged of direct emotional involvement with his theme, Gallus can sing of origines and define through poetry the world of experience and knowledge. All these songs Apollo approves and reiterates, pastoral, unbacchic god though he is.

Both sides of the Eclogues, exploring the form of pastoral poetry and the meaning of “pastoral” life in general, meet most directly in the ninth and tenth poems. The first of these poems asks and answers a question never before directly posed in the Eclogues, though the reader has been subtly prepared for it: Assuming that the happiness of nature is an essential backdrop for song, how can poetry be written under such conditions as presently prevail in Mantua, a mirror for Italy? When soldiers (and the politicians behind them) impose themselves on the poet's land, not only is freedom lost but the ability to create departs as well.

The tenth eclogue changes the perspective but not the theme. This time the challenge to “pastoral” comes not from armed might but from the person of Gallus, who is not only an historical figure, a soldier and statesman of repute, but also the writer of subjective love elegy, a genre of poetry whose axioms threaten those of the pastoral to the core. Virgil presents him as lovesick, in an almost conventional bucolic setting, craving relief first in death and then in acceptance by the company of shepherds. His reorientation out of the countryside back to the world of elegiac love, where to die is to delight in living, comes ironically, though not unexpectedly. Whatever his reasons (beginning with the disharmony in reality), Virgil's own stand does not survive unscathed. This time the loss to the bucolic life is, if anything, more disastrous than the destruction of the landscape. Now the poet himself, the imaginer of the whole fabric, instead of being forced to leave in search of a way to return (as in Eclogue 9), abandons the shepherd-poet's life of his own volition.

Yet, at the end of the tenth eclogue Virgil is far from denying the validity of his work; rather, he admits the necessity of moving on to another genre of writing, more suitable to his maturing outlook. If in the Georgics, which follow, Virgil appears to embrace a more practical subject and approach, the poetry itself, instead of negating the ideas of the Eclogues, carefully reaffirms their force while expanding their horizon. The Georgics discuss the obstructions nature puts in the path of man, forcing upon him the necessity of trial and hardship to make life viable. If the actual death of the poet is adumbrated in Eclogue 9 and his disavowal of bucolic poetry stressed at the conclusion of 10, the myth of Orpheus, which virtually ends Georgic 4, treats the same topic in a new guise. Human emotion again destroys the ideal. It kills love and the poet, and ruins the possibility of poetry, though the farmer's existence itself is renewed.

The Aeneid is the culmination of the sequence. It, too, starts, as the Eclogues at first seem to do, as poetry of uninvolvement. In this case the hero's commitment is necessary only to an ideal mission. Allegiance to fate's progress precludes immediate submission to suffering or emotion, but gradually Aeneas is forced to confront the humanity which is at first easier to ignore. The supposedly simple heroism of establishing an allegorical model for the greatness of a future empire becomes a much more real struggle entailing carnage and violence which the hero must take part in as well as cause. Finally the power struggle centers on a defeated opponent who should be spared but is not, and emotion once more triumphs over reason.

The basic problems the Aeneid explores—the confrontation of history and the individual, of progress and freedom, of practical action and idealistic pose, of passion and poetry, to name only a few areas of concern—are all suggested to the observant reader not many lines after the start of the first eclogue. In their search for meaning in human life, the Eclogues are in the profoundest sense ethical poems. They do not so much deny “progress” as aver that society can only survive if the moral quality of each of its members is preserved and fortified. Even following the “shepherd's life” man may be subject to the vagaries and pressures of existence, to love and to death. He may yearn by nature for that very social fabric which contains the seeds of his undoing, but there is an immutable element of grandeur within him—call it what you will, the soul, or poetry, or heroism—which cannot be suppressed, much less denied. This forces him to break away from the society which he has helped to create and seek what the existentialists would term his own essence with its challenging union of flesh and spirit, formed by, yet rising above, social mores.

But the fifth and fourth eclogues are visions which claim that this ideal reconciliation between man and society through poetry is possible. The former asserts that Daphnis, poetshepherd whose presence is essential to the landscape, though claimed by death, is nevertheless raised to the stature of divinity. Thence he can bless a pastoral world whose processes have been regularized by his apotheosis. The fourth has a still more idealistic notion. It affirms that the value of history lies precisely in those decisive moments which, by assertion of the superhuman, allow us to see beyond the prison of ourselves as creatures of society to a vista of timeless beauty. Virtus, as the word is used in the fourth eclogue, has its common double sense: it is literally that aspect of heroism which suffers present violence for future peace, that creates (or recreates) spiritual order through physical action. It also symbolizes that power to initiate an era of perfect morality in which mankind is victimized by no crime (scelus). Human nature is envisioned by Virgil above the struggles that derange existence, even above the labor necessary to exist.

Yet the fantasy of the fourth eclogue, by its very unreality, conjures up its opposite. Such a poetic dream, by denying life the drama of striving for the ideal, becomes ineffectual, if fascinating, banter—perhaps deliberately so. By imagining life as it is not, the poet destroys not only suffering but that heroism which makes of suffering an aesthetic as well as a moral act. This division was very much with Virgil in all his works. Nevertheless by accepting Gallus' world of history and the turmoil of love at the end of Eclogue 10, and by emphasizing not the courage of an idealistic, triumphant Aeneas but the anguish of his beaten rival, Turnus, at the conclusion of the Aeneid, Virgil sides, as he does from the start of Eclogue 1, with troubled humanity. The quest for the ideal has no happy conclusion except in the poet's fancy.


  1. A writer in the Times Literary Supplement of August 23, 1963 (p. 640) remarks: “The charm, and significance, of the Eclogues lies … in their tenderness and in their feeling for the countryside, the qualities which were later to flower into the Georgics” (italics mine).

  2. Horace Sat. 1. 10. 44.

  3. For a suggestive treatment of bucolic elements in works which do not stay strictly within the pastoral convention, see William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (London, 1935).

  4. On the importance and achievement of pastoral poetry in the Renaissance, see Hallett Smith, Elizabethan Poetry (Cambridge, Mass., 1952), pp. 1-63, esp. 41.

  5. The allegorical approach is taken by Leon Herrmann (Les masques et les visages dans les Bucoliques de Virgile [Brussels, 1930]) and, more recently, in a series of articles by J. J. H. Savage (TAPA 91 [1960]: 353-75 and TAPA 94 [1963]: 248-67). See the just strictures on this method of criticism by H. J. Rose, The Eclogues of Vergil (Berkeley, 1942), pp. 71ff.

  6. The influence of Theocritus on the Eclogues has been much discussed, though a reappraisal is long overdue. See especially G. Rohde, “De Vergili Eclogarum forma et indole” (Ph.D. diss., University of Marburg, Berlin, 1925) and the review of it by Friedrich Klingner, Gnomon 3 (1927): 576-83. Klingner's chapter “Virgil” in L’influence grecque sur la poésie latine de Catulle à Ovide, Entretiens II (Geneva: Fondation Hardt, 1956), pp. 131-55, is of great value. See also his Römische Geisteswelt (Munich, 1961), p. 265.

  7. See below, chap. 2, notes 3 and 5.

  8. See, for instance, Brooks Otis, Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry (Oxford, 1963), chap. 4, “The Young Virgil.” Otis sees Eclogue 5 receiving particular emphasis from the book's structure. Cf. Carl Becker, “Virgils Eklogenbuch,” Hermes 83 (1955): 314-49, esp. 320ff.

  9. See Viktor Pöschl, “Horaz und die Politik,” Sitz. Heid., Abhandlung 4 (1956): 14 and 17ff.

  10. See chap. 2, n. 2.

  11. On the Phaedrus and pastoral tradition, see Clyde Murley, “Plato's Phaedrus and Theocritean Pastoral,” TAPA 71 (1940): 281-95; Adam Parry, “Landscape in Greek Poetry,” Yale Classical Studies 15 (1957): 3-29; C. P. Segal, “Nature and the World of Man in Greek Literature,” Arion 2 (1963): 45ff.

  12. Erich Heller, The Artist's Journey into the Interior (New York, 1965), p. 103, summarizes Hegel's diagnosis of his age.

  13. The phrase is that of Randall Jarrell, talking of Robert Frost (“The Other Frost” in Poetry and the Age [New York, 1955], p. 27), a poet who shares much in common with Virgil and whose power, until recent decades, has been equally misinterpreted. Frost once remarked that he “first heard the speaking voice in poetry in Virgil's Eclogues” (see R. A. Brower, The Poetry of Robert Frost [New York, 1963], pp. 156-57).

Abbreviations Used in the Notes

AJP American Journal of Philology
Cal. Pub. in Class. University of California Publications
Phil. in Classical Philology
CJ Classical Journal
CP Classical Philology
CQ Classical Quarterly
CR Classical Review
CW Classical World
HSCP Harvard Studies in Classical Philology
JRS Journal of Roman Studies
Journ. War. and Journal of the Warburg and
Court. Inst. Courtauld Institutes
Mem. Am. Aca. Rome Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome
P.-W. Pauly-Wissowa-Kroll Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft
REL Revue des Études Latines
REA Revue des Études Anciennes
RhM Rheinisches Museum für Philologie
Sitz. Heid. Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philos.-Hist. Klasse
TAPA Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association
WS Wiener Studien

R. W. Garson (essay date 1971)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9297

SOURCE: “Theocritean Elements in Virgil's Eclogues,” The Classical Quarterly, 1971, New Series, Vol. XXI, No. 1, May, pp. 188-203.

[In the following essay, Garson focuses on Eclogues 2, 3, 5, 7, and 8, examining their poetics as well as their Theocritean elements.]

Much of the early scholarship on Virgilian borrowings from Theocritus offered mere lists of parallel passages and, where criticism was attempted at all, the Eclogues often attracted such uncomplimentary labels as ‘cento’ or ‘pastiche’. In more recent scholarship the tendency to concentrate on insoluble problems and arithmetical correspondences lingers and, while some critical works of the sixties are characterized by a welcome upsurge in sensitivity, one occasionally suspects that Virgil has had attributed to him concepts which are two millennia ahead of his time. To redress the balance, the following pages adhere to the text of Virgil and aim at being fairly conservative. Despite the volume of literature on the Eclogues, ample scope remains for differing interpretations, for the filling in of details and for a more methodical approach to the specific subject of borrowings from Theocritus. These are the lines along which it is hoped now to contribute, but it will sometimes be necessary briefly to re-state points already made by others in order to present a reasonably comprehensive picture. The accent in this article is on the mechanics of Virgilian composition, and Eclogues 2, 3, 5, 7, and 8, in which Theocritean elements are all-important, will be treated in detail. Where there is a meaningful parallel or contrast, occasional observations about echoes from Theocritus in Eclogues 1, 9, and 10 appear in footnotes.

The Polyphemus idylls are the most obvious source of the second eclogue. Echoes occur in the opening words of the lament (cf. Ec. 2. 6 and Id. 11. 19); in the lover's boasts about his material wealth (cf. Ec. 2. 19-22 and Id. 11. 34-7), about his musical accomplishments (cf. Ec. 2. 23-4 and Id. 11. 38-40), and about his physical appearance (cf. Ec. 2. 25-7 and Id. 6. 34-8). Both lovers invite their beloved to share life together (cf. Ec. 2. 28-34 and Id. 11. 42-9 and 63-6); offer gifts of animals (cf. Ec. 2. 40-2 and Id. 11. 40-1) and flowers (cf. Ec. 2. 45-55 and Id. 11. 56-9); and, finally realizing their madness, they seem to recover their reason (cf. Ec. 2. 69-73 and Id. 11. 72-6). Yet, with all these correspondences, Virgil's basic conception of this poem of lamentation and wooing is totally different from Theocritus', and he contrives to make even his most literal renderings of the Greek subservient to his different design.

Corydon's literary ancestor is, in the deepest sense, Simaetha, not Polyphemus. It is only in the second idyll that Theocritus portrays a serious and irresistible passion in which poet and reader alike are involved. Polyphemus in the eleventh idyll serves as a παραδειγμα to Theocritus, Nicias, and the reader. He is the living proof that love, even ορθαι μανιαι, may be assuaged by song. He is regarded with detachment all round. Occasional sympathy is tempered with amusement at the incongruity of his suit. He is always the monster, and he understands his situation no better at the end of the poem than at the beginning. Corydon, like Simaetha, is presented directly to the reader. His psychic contortions, like hers, illustrate no evident moral. They are traced by the poet for their own sake. There is no grotesqueness about Corydon's appearance or his being. He is an ordinary man suffering, and the sensitive reader will suffer with him. The second eclogue, like the second idyll, is almost a drama of an all-consuming passion, whose futility is realized but not heeded. Yet Simaetha differs from Corydon in that she is hopeful at the beginning. She passes from hope to despair, from acts of magic to bring Delphis back, to a bitter recollection of past joys and to an acceptance of her defeat. Polyphemus, of course, is hopeful throughout. He sings looking towards the sea, from which he expects Galatea to emerge. His boasts and ruses are directed towards a very tangible result. But Corydon has no real hope at any stage—nec quid speraret habebat (2). All the while he is wooing a distant beloved; his only communion is with Nature (3-5), and when his fancy, ever more impassioned, raises him to hope (esp. 51-5), his sudden awareness of his own inadequacy shatters his brief illusion (56-9).

It is a mark of Virgil's ingenuity as a craftsman that, with all these contrasts, he has been able to use so much of the eleventh idyll, which may be regarded as the leitmotiv. It supplies the opening and closing strains of Corydon's song as well as substantial sections of the middle. But the very first echo underlines the difference between the two poems: ωλευκα Gαλατεια (19), an acknowledgement of Galatea's beauty, which is the prize to be won, o crudelis Alexi (6), the despairing cry of a man slighted in love. Polyphemus praises the appearance of the fawns he is keeping for Galatea—πτsαs μαννοφόρωs (41). Corydon in praeterea duo nec tuta mihi ualle reperti / capreoli … (40-1) adds the point that he risked his life to obtain the gift for Alexis. Polyphemus says that if only he could swim he would bring Galatea snowdrops or poppies, and he apologizes clumsily for not being able to bring them together, as they flower in different seasons (56-9).1 The emotional climax of Virgil's poem is reached where Corydon lovingly describes the fruit he fancies he will bring Alexis, and the flowers he will arrange for him. In this section Virgil concentrates his poetic devices—the pregnant use of honos, the address to the bays and the myrtle, which he sees in his mind's eye as already arranged in the basket so as to give Alexis most pleasure (note the proleptic use of proxima in 54), the sweetness of sic positae quoniam suauis miscetis odores (55), which comes so soon after mollia luteola pingit uaccinia calta (50)—a uniquely beautiful impression of texture and colour.

Hamlet is no less serious a play because Polonius and others provide comic relief. Scholars have been signally humourless in not seeing Corydon's three boasts (about his wealth, his musical accomplishments, and his beauty) as being comic relief in an essentially sombre poem. Virgil often wrote ατρεμαs sεσαρωσ in the Eclogues. There is no reason to doubt the truth of Polyphemus' boast that he tends a thousand head of cattle (Id. 11. 34), or that he is outstandingly good at piping (38). Even his claim to attractiveness in Damoetas' song (6. 34-8) is a subjective one and sincerely expressed. The humour, which is tinged with pathos, lies in Polyphemus' failure to realize that Galatea cannot be won over by these attributes. Virgil's adaptations of the above passages at Ec. 2. 19-27 has more often than not drawn grim comment of the following nature: Corydon is speaking as though his master's flocks belonged to him; Virgil is mistaken in placing Aracynthus in Attica; the sea cannot act as a mirror—Corydon must have gone to a rock-pool. But surely the point is that in his hopeless soliloquy Corydon allowed himself the luxury and comfort of fanciful exaggeration, even untruth. One is meant to smile at the incongruity of any one, especially Corydon, having a flock so vast that its female lambs alone number one thousand. Or that an unlettered shepherd should not only associate his musical skill with that of Zeus' son Amphion, who actually built the walls of Thebes by the power of his music, but even utter a neoteric line like Amphion Dircaeus in Actaeo Aracyntho, complete with Greek hiatus and doubly learned allusion in Dircaeus.2 Amid such incongruity the misuse of Actaeo is more likely to be Corydon's than Virgil's. Finally, Daphnis was the ideal shepherd, and so Corydon's claim to equal him in beauty was unutterably extravagant. Bearing this in mind, we do not need to send him off to a rock-pool to see his face. If he says he saw it in the unruffled sea, let us take the location of his mirror only as seriously as the boast itself.3

Touches of humour are not confined to these echoes of Polyphemus. Corydon's strains are described as incondita (‘artless’) in line 4, yet Virgil, the budding poet, knew full well that his learned readers would not fail to notice and appreciate the elaborate construction of the poem—its ordered progression of thought as opposed to Polyphemus' rambling soliloquy, its attunement of sound and sense, its formal balance,4 its inherent antitheses of theme.5 Another touch of humour is a pun in line 18. When Virgil writes uaccinia nigra leguntur he is echoing … Id. 10. 29, referring to violets and hyacinths, but λεγονται in this context is much more likely to mean ‘are accounted’ than ‘are gathered’.

The Polyphemus echo concluding the second eclogue (69-73: cf. Id. 11. 72-6) is troublesome. The Theocritean version is relatively straightforward, as Polyphemus must recover his sanity and, moreover, do so by means of song in order to fit in with the lesson Theocritus is offering Nicias. In answer to the possible objection that the change of tone is, none the less, too sudden and not psychologically motivated, one could seek refuge in the supposition that Polyphemus is only trying a ruse in order to whet Galatea's appetite. In the Virgilian poem the change of feeling is, if anything, more sudden. Various suggestions have been made in order to explain it, e.g. that Virgil was still fumbling in his art and a slave to the Theocritean tradition; that he was seeking to illustrate the same point as Theocritus, namely that singing cures lovers; that Corydon, the experienced lover (see lines 14-15), would readily come to the conclusion that there were lots of fish in the sea; that Corydon returns to weaving baskets out of loyalty to the countryside which he loves so much. These theories vary in their degree of implausibility. It is here suggested, very tentatively, that Corydon may be indulging in self-deception. At line 17 Corydon believes that he can overcome his devotion to Alexis, and at 43-4 he thinks of turning to Thestylis, but the sequel, especially 51-5, 58-9 and 68, proves that he has underestimated Alexis' hold over him. The most natural explanation would be that in the last lines of the poem Corydon has regressed into self-deception, which would be in keeping with the rapidly changing moods of the last third of the poem. The reader is, then, left to imagine that this self-deception will again give way to a realization of hopeless love. The cycle will continue. The painful drama will be re-enacted innumerable times—assidue ueniebat (4).

When Corydon invites Alexis to come and live with him and share his pursuits (28-34), one naturally thinks of Polyphemus' invitations to Galatea (Id. 11. 42-9 and 63-6), even though the details of the invitations must of necessity be different. Polyphemus is inviting Galatea to give up her life in the sea for what he depicts as the greater comfort of life on land, while Corydon even at this stage of his soliloquy suspects that Alexis would require greater sophistication than life in the country could offer. The connotation of sordida rura and humilis … casas would differ in Corydon's eyes and Alexis'. In developing the idea of this great gulf between the two Virgil almost certainly had the twentieth idyll in mind. It opens with a city girl's insolent speech of rejection to a cowherd (2-10). … He in return reflects that in the country he is found desirable … (30-1), and he uses a contemptuous neuter … (31), of Eunica who rejects him. He goes on to give examples from mythology of loves enjoyed by gods in the woodland (34-41), and he taunts Eunica bitterly … (42-3). The main difference in the handling of the theme by Virgil is that the action takes place only in Corydon's mind. After imagining so lovingly all the rustic gifts he would give Alexis, suddenly he becomes aware that he himself, along with his gifts, is inadequate for Alexis—rusticus es, Corydon (56). Rusticus means ‘countryman’ to Corydon, ‘boor’ to Alexis. Corydon then uses an argument similar to that of the cowherd in the twentieth idyll to prove the value of the country, namely that the gods have dwelt there (60-1), but he does so more briefly, more in sorrow than in anger. And with a quiet dignity he reasserts his loyalty to the countryside—Pallas quas condidit arces / ipsa colat; nobis placeant ante omnia siluae (61-2).

Intimately linked with the town/country antithesis is that of white skin resulting from life in the city and the swarthy skin of country folk. In Theocritus' tenth idyll Bucaeus sings of Bombyca's charms: while others call her αλιοκανοτον, he finds her μελιχλωρον (27); then he points out that violets and hyacinths, which are dark, are particularly sought after for garlands. Virgil has taken this theme and adapted it to the antithetical pattern of his poem: quamuis ille niger, quamuis tu candidus esses? (16), and alba ligustra cadunt, uaccinia nigra leguntur (18). It is, also, fitted into his recurrent theme of competition, especially between lovers. Here Corydon compares the swarthy Menalcas favourably with the white Alexis. Elsewhere there is rivalry or implied rivalry between Iollas and Corydon for Alexis, Daphnis and Corydon for superior beauty, Amyntas and Corydon for Damoetas' pipe, Thestylis and Alexis for the two goats, Alexis and ‘another Alexis’ for Corydon's love. An obvious difference between Bucaeus' words and Corydon's is that the former are a tribute, whereas the latter are a warning. In this connection it is worth pointing to Id. 23. 28-32, where a desperate lover warns the boy he loves that his beauty will fade, like that of flowers. …The finished product in the second eclogue is evidently a fusion of the two passages.

Immediately after Bucaeus' tribute Theocritus introduces the following simile: α αιξ ταν κύτιsον, λυκοs τον αιγα διωκει, / αγαρ*alpha;νοs τωροτρον αγα δ’ επι τιν μεμνημαι (10. 30-1). Virgil seems to copy this quite closely: torua leaena lupum sequitur, lupus ipse capellam, / florentem cytisum sequitur lasciua capella, / te Corydon, o Alexi: trahit sua quemque uoluptas (2. 63-5). However, his alterations are noteworthy. He has introduced true symmetry in sense (cf. Theocritus' scheme AB, CA, DE and Virgil's AB, BC, CD). He has made the picture more vivid by the addition of epithets. He has eliminated the contrast inherent in Theocritus' simile (i.e. the crane follows after the plough, but I am mad over you). Virgil is concerned not with differing degrees of feeling, but rather with its naturalness: trahit sua quemque uoluptas. Corydon has just sworn allegiance to the country, and his emotions, like those of the beasts around him, are irresistible. The simile is thus adapted to illustrate the gulf between the unspoiled rustic and the sophisticated city-dweller. It is at the next stage of his poem that Virgil passes more specifically to the intensity of Corydon's feelings by means of the antithesis of sunset and blazing love, and this leads to the equation of love and madness (69 and cf. Theocritus' μεμανημαι at 10. 31 as well as 11. 72). In lines 60-9 Virgil has in turn adapted themes from Idylls 20, 10, 2, and 11, and Corydon has passed from calling Alexis demens for misprizing the country, to regarding his own passion for Alexis as dementia.

We have already observed the double use of the stillness/turmoil contrast (Ec. 2. 8-13 and 66-8). Each antithesis singly was suggested by Id. 2. 38-40, though Virgil's details are his own. The double occurrence gives the poem a better balance of form as well as emphasizing the continuity of Corydon's passion. It is, further, interesting to note that while the sunset motif serves to bring several eclogues, including the last, to a neat conclusion, Virgil has here superimposed on this more conventional use the refinements of formal and thematic antithesis. Finally, one of the details of the first antithesis—nunc uiridis etiam occultant spineta lacertos (9) recalls [the passage at] (Id. 7. 22). It is likely that Virgil is here hinting at a further contrast, namely that between the light-hearted walk to the harvest festival6 and Corydon's frenzied quest for Alexis. The use of echoes from the third idyll, a trivial serenade which lacks any depth of feeling, is similarly pointed (cf. Ec. 2. 7 and Id. 3. 9; Ec. 2. 43-4 and Id. 3. 35-6).

Antithesis plays a part not only within given poems but also outside them. In turning from the second to the third eclogue the reader passes from a sorrowful monologue relieved by occasional humour to a light-hearted singing contest at the fringes of which lie hints of Virgil's more serious bent. The most obvious source of Eclogue 3 is Theocritus' fifth idyll. Both poems are in the form of an amoebaean contest in couplets preceded by abuse and followed by an umpire's verdict, and the number of verbal borrowings is very great indeed. However, in substituting the good-humoured banter of Menalcas and Damoetas for Comatas' and Lacon's expressions of deep animosity, Virgil has made a happy poem out of an idyll which leaves a distinctly unpleasant after-taste. Presumably in the cause of bucolic realism Theocritus makes Comatas allude to homosexual acts between himself and Lacon in quite specific terms. Both before the contest (5. 41-2) and in the course of it (5. 116-17) he gloats over the discomfort he has caused Lacon. Virgil's nouimus et qui te transuersa tuentibus hircis / et quo—sed faciles Nymphae risere—sacello (3. 8-9) is infinitely more delicate, with its aposiopesis probably suggested by Id. 1. 105, and since the act did not involve the protagonists of the poem there is no legacy of resentment as in the Greek version. Instead, we have the charming touch of the hegoats, those sexually incontinent animals, looking askance, and the nymphs laughing indulgently over the profanation of a holy place. Similarly, Virgil has altered the accusations of theft and envy which he has taken over from his Greek model. The fifth idyll begins with Comatas accusing Lacon of stealing his goatskin, and Lacon countering that Comatas stole his pipe. Much less conspicuously in Virgil's poem (3. 17-18) Menalcas claims that he saw Damoetas sneaking up on Damon's goat.7 At Id. 5. 12-13 Comatas uses strong language of Lacon's feeling of envy towards himself, whereas at Ec. 3. 14-15 Daphnis, who does not appear in the poem, is the object of Menalcas' alleged envy.8 It is significant, too, that Virgil dispenses with the prolonged wrangling over the choice of a spot for the contest (cf. Id. 5. 45-61). These lines contain some enchanting details in themselves, but as nothing seems to please both contestants, the feeling of well-being which they might otherwise have created is destroyed. Virgil simply makes Palaemon the umpire, who has been chosen without bickering (cf. Id. 5. 63), describe the surroundings with such loving enthusiasm that the reader cannot but be affected by it: in molli consedimus herba / et nunc omnis ager, nunc omnis parturit arbos, / nunc frondent siluae, nunc formosissimus annus (55-7). Virgil has set the stage by translating the minutiae of several Theocritean descriptions into more general terms.9 The beauty of the whole countryside and of the season, so succinctly described, is in keeping with the happiness of the occasion. It is noteworthy, too, that Palaemon praises both contestants at the end and refuses to rate one more highly than the other, whereas in Id. 5. 141-4 Comatas mocks his defeated rival.

As Virgil has eliminated and compressed so much from the introduction to Idyll 5, he supplements it with themes from Idylls 4, 8, and 1. The opening lines of the third eclogue echo those of Idyll 4 so closely10 that one must assume that Virgil is throwing his one real innovation—cuium—into relief. He is too conscious, too Augustan an artist to allow himself at all times the greater naturalism of Theocritus, or to rival the easy flow of Idyll 4, with its rambling dialogue. But cuium, an uncommon lapse into real rusticity of language,11 serves as a keynote to the reader, who is then left to supply other provincialisms in his own imagination while enjoying a poem of Augustan polish. Several other themes taken over from the fourth idyll are significantly altered: the flock in Eclogue 3 is neglected because Aegon is away making love (3-4),12 and love is a recurrent theme in this poem, whereas in Theocritus Aegon's only love is for a victory in athletics (Id. 4. 27). The bull at Id. 4. 20 is thin through neglect, whereas in Virgil he is wasting away through being in love (Ec. 3. 100-1), and incidentally he has turned up within the actual amoebaean contest. Another theme from Idyll 4, that of excessive milking, is exaggerated by Virgil for comic effect …, but the pathetic possibilities are exploited as well: et sucus pecori et lac subducitur agnis (6). A similar exaggeration with heightened emotional overtones occurs where the stakes are discussed. …

From Id. 1. 27-60 Virgil borrows the idea of describing a cup13 and indeed some of the decoration is similar: cf. Ec. 3. 38-9 and 45 and Id. 1. 27-31. (For the fact that the cup has not been used cf. Ec. 3. 43 and Id. 1. 59-60.) There are several possible justifications for the length of Theocritus' description: he was an Alexandrian; he was influenced by the epic tradition (cf. Achilles' shield in Iliad 18); he wanted a counterweight to Thyrsis' song. But Virgil was intent on not straying too far from his subject, and so the representations within his cups take up only a few lines (40-2 and 46). Instead of Theocritus' sheer delight in description for its own sake, description full of charm and human interest, we find the quintessence of Virgil's thought at this time: natural science and agriculture, which were soon to preoccupy him in the Georgics; song and its emotive power, a theme recurrent in the Eclogues.14 It is hardly surprising that Virgil had pruned his Theocritean model of its obscenity and extremes of vituperation before introducing so solemn a note, a note which is later echoed in Damoetas' opening couplet on the pervasiveness of Jupiter.15 Menalcas' answering couplet (62-3) reintroduces the bucolic tone, but it is worth noticing that Virgil succeeds in retaining some rustic simplicity even when he adumbrates the most profound themes. In line 40 Menalcas is made to forget the name of one of the scientists, and in 48 Damoetas compares his cups unfavourably with his heifer, a comparison which leads very neatly to the ‘comic’ lines 49-53.

Reference has already been made to two delightful touches of characterization: Menalcas being a little vain over his attractiveness to Neaera (4), and his deliberate misunderstanding of Damoetas (49). But the most memorable characterization in this poem is of Palaemon. In Idyll 5 the umpire Morson shows no colourfulness of character beyond asking Comatas for a piece of the lamb he has awarded him (140). Palaemon, however, is a poet manqué, depicted with some humour: he shows himself most sensitive to the joys of nature (55-7), and his rhetorical anaphorae are charmingly incongruous on the greensward; his skilful Romanization of Mονοαων θ’, αι αειδον αομειβαιμεναι (Il. 1. 604) in amant alterna Camenae (59) must have been close to Virgil's heart. His closing remarks show his versatility in metaphor: tantas componere lites (108) and claudite iam riuos (111). And he could not have predicted what trouble he would cause scholars with his cryptic and not altogether relevant lines on sweet and bitter love (109-10). Had he just been carried away by his own thoughts, so that he was not listening? The gently humorous Virgil apparently chose to keep his readers wondering.

Even within the amoebaean contest Virgil introduces fleeting but memorable touches of characterization which are not present in his model. At 3. 64-5 he adopts the theme of pelting with apples from Id. 5. 88-9. The strength of the Theocritean passage lies in the onomatopoeic and inviting ποππνλι•οsδει. Virgil does not seek to rival this, but with somewhat greater subtlety he makes Galatea hide behind the willows only after she has been seen—perhaps the most charming illustration of the adjective lasciua in Latin literature. When Damoetas and Menalcas sing of the presents they have for their darlings we are reminded of Theocritean passages (cf. Ec. 3. 68-9 and Id. 5. 96-7; Ec. 3. 70-1 and Id. 3. 10-11). But Comatas' description of his present is factual and dull, whereas Damoetas chooses his words most carefully to emphasize the trouble he has been to (especially parta, ipse, and aëriae). The answering couplet, likewise, is much more vivid than its original. Although δεκα μαλα have become aurea mala decem, Menalcas pretends to disparage his gift in quod potui. The question arises, also, whether Virgil intended a pun in aurea, since ανριον occurs nearby in the Greek.

From the examples immediately above it emerges that Virgil could take couplets from two different poems and make them responsive. Similarly, the balancing couplets at Ec. 3. 80-3 owe something to three unrelated passages (Id. 8. 57-9; ib. 76-8; 9. 31-2), which Virgil has drawn together and disciplined in structure, while using original details. Also, in mella fluant illi, ferat et rubus asper amomum (3. 89) Virgil has combined two elements which occur in balancing couplets in his model (cf. Id. 5. 125/126).

We have noticed incidentally how Virgil has arranged his matter so that the singing match arises logically and naturally from Menalcas' accusation of theft (3. 17-18). The placing of non tu in triuiis, indocte, solebas / stridenti miserum stipula disperdere carmen? (3. 26-7 and cf. Id. 5. 6-7) is, likewise, superior in Virgil. These disparaging remarks about Damoetas' musical ability immediately precede the challenge to the contest, whereas in Theocritus Comatas' equivalent comment is just part of the general abuse. Another change in Virgil is his incorporation into the actual amoebaean contest of themes from the surrounding dialogue in Theocritus: cf. the ‘wide berth’ motif in Ec. 3. 92-9 and Id. 5. 1-4, and note that from Comatas' exultation over his victory (Id. 5. 146) Virgil has taken the detail of washing goats (97), which is integrated most ingeniously into the remodelled ‘wide berth’ theme. Finally, Virgil has extended the love motif so that it comes close to unifying the poem. Apart from the conventional preoccupation with love in the amoebaean contest, Virgil has introduced the Aegon-Neaera-Menalcas triangle (3-4), the amorous bull (100-1), and the romantic Palaemon (109-10). By a clever shift in the meaning of amare (84 and 88) Virgil has taken the opportunity of glorifying Pollio and vilifying Bavius and Maevius.16

The emphasis in this treatment of Eclogue 3 has been on its decorum, its wit, its flashes of inspiration. Alongside these qualities one should recognize the calculated and painstaking rearrangement of Theocritean motifs essential to this poem whose ‘simplicity’ could so easily beguile.

One's interpretation of Theocritean adaptation in Eclogue 5 will depend on whether one believes the poem is about Daphnis per se or about Caesar. Virgil's innovations would obviously be more daring in the latter case. To the arguments so often repeated on either side nothing new can be added here beyond recording a vote firmly on the side of allegory. To deny allegory because of some factual discrepancies seems a trifle insensitive to the political and emotional atmosphere in which Virgil wrote, the pattern of his work, and the nature of poetry in general, but as doubts will always linger, this treatment will be confined to an examination of parallel passages, and will disregard the new dimension which Virgil almost certainly meant to give his poem through allegory.

After a study of Eclogues 2 and 3, Virgil's greater independence of Theocritus in 5 is very marked. A fair proportion of the similarities are in ideas rather than verbal reminiscences. Eclogue 5 is amoebaean in the sense that there is balance of form and theme, but the songs of Daphnis' death and deification are not presented within the framework of a competition; there is no rivalry or abuse, only the courteous exchange of compliments and gifts. A similar atmosphere prevails in Idylls 1, 6, and 7. Idyll 1 begins with an exchange of compliments about their musical skill between Thyrsis and the goatherd, and this leads ultimately to Thyrsis' song about Daphnis. In the opening lines Thyrsis likens the goatherd's piping to the whispering of a pine tree (Id. 1. 1-3), and the goatherd likens Thyrsis' singing to a plashing stream (7-8). The corresponding sections in the fifth eclogue occur after the respective songs of Mopsus and Menalcas. Menalcas praises not the mere sound of Mopsus' song, but rather its refreshing effect on the soul. The beauty of its presentation and feeling has transcended its sorrowful subject, and hence the simile of refreshment (Ec. 5. 45-7) is a compliment in the most profound sense. In the Virgilian passage alone human emotions are brought to the forefront, and the similarity of idea between το καταχοs / … καταλεεβεται ιψον υδωρ and dulcis aquae saliente … riuo is almost incidental. It is likely that Virgil had in his mind also Id. 12. 8-9 where Theocritus compares his eagerness to be with his boy-love to the eagerness of a traveller to be under a shady oak when the sun is scorching. Mopsus' praise of Menalcas' song (Ec. 5. 82-4) does concentrate on sound, and it combines ideas from Thyrsis' and the goatherd's expressions of praise. …

Compliments over songs are common enough in bucolic poetry, but the praise of Mopsus at Ec. 5. 16-18, which owes something to Theocritus in form (see below), arises from a situation which Virgil himself invented with wit and delicacy. Menalcas, under-estimating his young companion's sensitivity in the matter, has mentioned Amyntas' claim to sing as well as he does (8). Mopsus' annoyance is very evident in line 9, and it still rankles at 15, after which Menalcas, presumably sorry about his faux pas, feels constrained to humour him in the following simile: lenta salix quantum pallenti cedit oliuae, / puniceis humilis quantum saliunca rosetis, / iudicio nostro tantum tibi cedit Amyntas. The closest parallel in Theocritus is Id. 5. 92-5, where Comatas and Lacon each disparage the other's choice in love, with some obscurity. One should compare also Id. 12. 3-8 where the simile, likewise in a love context, involves an infelicitous juxtaposition of measures of difference and an absolute quantity. Virgil has eliminated the obscurity of the one passage and the imperfect logic of the other, and the details are mainly original in a simile which forms a neat conclusion to the delicate social situation invented by Virgil.17

Mopsus' song is in effect a continuation of Thyrsis' in Idyll 1. The nymphs, who were absent while Daphnis was dying and who, by implication, might have saved him, are now foremost among the mourners (cf. Id. 1. 66-9 and Ec. 5. 20-1); the animals which lamented while Daphnis was dying continue to mourn and lament after his death (cf. Id. 1. 71-5 and Ec. 5. 24-8). The reversal of nature which Daphnis called for, perhaps figuratively, in his last words is a fait accompli in Mopsus' song, however different the details (cf. Id. 1. 132-6 and Ec. 5. 34-9).18 And Virgil had the subtlety to detect the lapidary style of.…(Id. 1. 120-1) and to transform it into Daphnis' epitaph (Ec. 5. 43-4). His addition of hinc usque ad sidera notus is a hint of the deification which follows in Menalcas' answering song.19

Menalcas' song owes nothing significant to Theocritus. The hearty giving of gifts after it has Theocritean parallels (cf. Idylls 6. 43-4 and 7. 128-9), but Menalcas' mention that the pipe taught him ‘formosum Corydon ardebat Alexis’ and ‘cuium pecus? an Meliboei?’ (86-7) is a purely Virgilian touch. It emphasizes the unity of the collection of poems, and Virgil is at the same time indulging in a little quiet self-flattery.

The seventh eclogue has been treated as a problem poem. Great ingenuity has been expended on rival theories to explain the victory of Corydon in the amoebaean contest. From these some interesting facts, especially in connection with Thyrsis' alleged metrical flaws, have come to light, but serious doubts must remain whether Virgil intended his readers to take his poem so seriously. Even if he did, arguing about the reason or reasons for Corydon's victory is at best enlightened guesswork, whereas the view that Virgil meant to delight and amuse his readers is not open to doubt. The strength of the poem lies in its formal excellence, its characterization, and its delicate wit, which so often springs from incongruity. And this strength is not to be found in Virgil's models.

At first glance Eclogue 7 may seem to be markedly Theocritean.20 The introduction is a fusion of the opening lines of Idylls 6 and 8 …; there is a narrator, as in Idyll 9; the amoebaean contest is in quatrains, as in Idyll 8; its main themes are the Theocritean ones of love and nature, and there are specific echoes which may seem a little pale (cf. Ec. 7. 37-8 and Id. 11. 20-1; Ec. 7. 45 and Idylls 8. 37, 5. 51, 15. 125).

It is after the introduction of Corydon and Thyrsis that Virgil shows his originality and wit. Meliboeus explains how he came to judge the contest. It all happened by chance, because of a he-goat which had strayed to the place where Corydon and Thyrsis were about to sing. In the contest of Idyll 8 Menalcas humorously addresses a he-goat as ταν λευκαν αιγων ανερ. (49), which Virgil echoes in uir gregis ipse caper (Ec. 7. 7). However, there is additional point here, as the implication is that an animal of such eminence should have known better than to lose the way. Furthermore, this one mock-heroic phrase which Virgil has borrowed from Theocritus blends with the tone of the ensuing narrative, or perhaps that tone was even suggested by the phrase. After the straying of the goat, Daphnis (deified?) appears like a deus ex machina (note the vivid construction deerrauerat; atque … aspicio), utters a prophecy about the salvation of Meliboeus' flock, and instructs him, in effect, to judge the singing match.21 Meliboeus is in a quandary because of his obligation towards his flock, and Virgil's description of his thought process is engagingly ponderous: quid facerem? neque ego Alcippen nec Phyllida habebam / depulsos a lacte domi quae clauderet agnos, / et certamen erat, Corydon cum Thyrside, magnum. / posthabui tamen illorum mea seria ludo (14-17). After this resolution of Meliboeus' inner conflict, the actual singing match is introduced in a markedly spondaic rhythm.

Corydon's epithet for the Muses in his opening quatrain is Libethrides, alluding to a fountain in Macedonia with which the Muses were occasionally associated. To regard this as a vulgar display of learning on Virgil's part is to underestimate him grossly. The poet is aiming at incongruity in order to amuse. After the errant goat, the elevation of the pastoral genre, and the shock of finding himself by the Mincius, the reader should be in the mood for a goat-herd of incredible erudition. In paruus / … Micon (29-30) the same Corydon is Virgil's mouthpiece for an etymological pun involving the Doric form μικκοs. But the great novelty in this eclogue, which is not foreshadowed in Theocritus or in Virgil's other amoebaean poems, is the starkly contrasted characterization of the contestants in the actual songs. Corydon is modest and self-effacing—witness his generous tribute to Codrus (21-4)—while Thyrsis has an opinion of himself which is belied both by Meliboeus' verdict and by occasional imperfections in his improvisations. Virgil depicts the extreme nature of his conceit with humour: crescentem … poetam (25), uati … futuro (28). His exaggerated promise of a golden statue of Priapus, whom he has addressed with some condescension (33-6), is entirely in character. He has a great gift for unpleasant details (41-4), and from his final quatrain (65-8) it appears that his love is less unconditional, less tender than Corydon's. Virgil has sketched two characters in miniature, with indulgence and good humour. In this he has given the amoebaean form a new dimension.

Finally, some details deserve brief consideration. Thyrsis' sketch of a domestic interior in winter (49-52) is modelled on Idd. 11. 51 and 9. 19-21, but Virgil's actual simile in hic tantum Boreae curamus frigora quantum / aut numerum lupus aut torrentia flumina ripas owes no detail to εχω δετοι ονωδ’ ωsον εραν / χεαματοs ενωδοs καρυων αμνλοιο παροντοs. In view of the rustic mentality of Thyrsis in Eclogue 7 and Menalcas in Idyll 9, we need not linger over the logical flaws in the similes which have been pointed out by hardened classicists: the cold is an evil against which Thyrsis and Menalcas must protect themselves, whereas a wolf is not on the defensive, and nuts are a pleasure to be forgone by the toothless, not an evil. Perhaps it is more to the point to observe that Theocritus' simile has a quaint charm which is absent in the Virgilian one. Thyrsis' inspiration is here at a low ebb. Were he invariably accomplished as a poet, then the insolent boast of his opening quatrain might appear to be justified, and Meliboeus could turn out another Palaemon, unable to decide between the contestants. If Virgil intends us to be in the least serious about the relative merits of the two contestants, Thyrsis' simile is the one obvious place in which he betrays his inferiority. Otherwise, Virgil has given him an ample talent. One need only compare Id. 8. 41-8 with Ec. 7. 53-60 to see how Thyrsis transforms a fairly conventional conceit by the refinement of chiasmus, or consider his masterly capping of Corydon's hedera formosior alba (38) with proiecta uilior alga (42).

Eclogue 7 ends with a colourful phrase from the lips of Meliboeus. Instead of the factual κυκ τοντω πρατοs παρα ποιμεοsι Δαφνιs εγεντο (Id. 8. 92) we have ex illo Corydon Corydon est tempore nobis (Ec. 7. 70). Corydon has come into his own, he has become a symbol of excellence in Meliboeus' eyes. And Virgil is juggling with words. The sound recalls a, Corydon, Corydon (Ec. 2. 69), but the grammar and, happily, the situation for Corydon are very different.

If Eclogue 2 is akin to the Simaetha idyll, 8 is its direct descendant. Broadly speaking, the first part of Idyll 2 consists of Simaetha's incantations to get Delphis back and the second of her lament and her recollections of her blighted love. Each part has its own refrain. In Eclogue 8 Virgil has taken up the themes of incantation on the one hand and lament and recollection on the other, but he has reversed the order and put them into separate amoebaean songs with refrains.

Damon's song,22 like the second part of Idyll 2, is introspective and wholly serious, being a lament over a frustrated passion, with recollections of a happier past. But whereas scholars look to the genre of mime for the sources of the second idyll, in the case of Eclogue 8 one must consider both epic and tragedy as the genres with which Virgil has sought to ennoble what he culled from Theocritus. Virgil's intention of writing a monumental poem is evident in its opening where the wonderment of all Nature is framed between two similar lines with an identical ponderous rhythm: Pastorum Musam Damonis et Alphesiboei, / immemor herbarum quos est mirata iuuenca / certantis, quorum stupefactae carmine lynces, / et mutata suos requierunt flumina cursus, / Damonis Musam dicemus et Alphesiboei. And in the immediate introduction to Damon's song there is a blend of epic and pastoral features: Frigida uix caelo noctis discesserat umbra, / cum ros in tenera pecori gratissimus herba: / incumbens tereti Damon sic coepit oliuae (14-16). Finally, while the idea at 43-5 that Amor has no natural mother but was born of Tmaros or Rhodope or the distant Garamantes may owe something superficially to Idylls 3. 15-16 and 7. 76-7, one is reminded most forcibly of Il. 16. 33 f., where Patroclus says rocks and sea are Achilles' mother.

Among other tributes to Pollio, Virgil praises his accomplishments as a writer of tragedy (Ec. 8. 10), and it is probable that tragic themes are introduced into this poem partly as a compliment to him. However that may be, the eighth eclogue undoubtedly gains in profundity thanks to these themes. Nysa is characterized by υβριs (32, 35, and 19-20, the last implying that she broke solemn vows). Me malus abstulit error (41) is reminiscent of the blind infatuation of such tragic heroes as Ajax. Both Damon and Ajax recognize their error, and take their lives in consequence of it. The cruelty of Amor is not treated in a superficial Alexandrian way, but the seriousness of Virgil's treatment of it may even recall Antigone 781 f. And, however unrealistically for a shepherd, Damon uses Medea as an example of a human being overpowered by love, and he questions whether Man or God is responsible for evil: saeuus Amor docuit natorum sanguine matrem / commaculare manus; crudelis tu quoque, mater: / crudelis mater magis, an puer improbus ille? / improbus ille puer; crudelis tu quoque, mater (47-50). These lines, so often condemned for their unloveliness, not only touch on the problem at the heart of so many Greek tragedies but, on a personal level, convey the feeling of one distraught, a man who has through wishful thinking come close to clearing his faithless love of blame, but who at the last moment cannot do it entirely.

Woven into the fabric of this poem are hints of Theocritus' Liebestod idylls (1 and 23), but the differences are marked. The emphasis in Idyll 1 is on Daphnis' death, not his love, while Virgil concentrates on Damon's love, using the suicide motif only as a kind of frame (20 and 58-60). However, Virgil twice adapts the reversal of nature idea from Id. 1. 132-6. Each use has its own justification, and together they lend the poem a formal unity. Nysa's marriage to Mopsus provokes from Damon the embittered outburst iungentur iam grypes equis, aeuoque sequenti / cum canibus timidi uenient ad pocula dammae (27-8). At this stage of his lament Damon is stressing the grotesqueness of the union,23 and Virgil's choice of griffins to mate with mares is particularly apt, as griffins themselves are half lion and half eagle. In ταs κυναs ωλαφοs ελκοι Theocritus has presented a reversal of nature in its most literal sense, i.e. the attacker has become the attacked, but Virgil has in cum canibus timidi uenient ad pocula dammae adapted his source to the idea of an unlikely union. The change of grammatical mood, too, is noteworthy. Daphnis' words in Idyll 1 have been differently interpreted: he says either that if even he is to die anything can happen or, according to the rival interpretation, that since he is dying he does not care what happens. The reversal of nature is in the optative. However, Damon represents Nysa's marriage as a brutal fact and, in a world already so rotten, he says, grotesque unions will continue to take place. Virgil has attuned his matter to a mood of utter disillusionment.24 The dying words of Daphnis reappear just before Damon's suicide (52-8). Here some of the alterations are slight. Virgil's subjunctive is equivalent to Theocritus' optative. … It is Virgil's progression of thought from this last example that gives the adaptation his individual stamp. The addition of sit Tityrus Orpheus leads naturally in the next line to a recurrence of the ‘emotive power of song’ theme from 2-4, and also neatly introduces a contrast between land and sea which is elaborated on two planes: the next reversal of nature is omnia vel medium fiat mare,25 and Damon is about to forsake land for sea: uiuite siluae: / praeceps aërii specula de montis in undas / deferar (58-60).

Damon describes his suicide as his last gift to Nysa (60), just as the lover at Id. 23. 21 offers his halter as a gift to the boy who has spurned his love, but otherwise Damon's song has nothing in common with this shallow and unattractive idyll. One must compare, if only to dismiss, Id. 3. 25-7, where the threat of the unhappy lover to jump from a rock is not followed up at all, and even the last words of the poem in which he says he will lie down where he has fallen and let the wolves eat him should probably be taken no more seriously. His passion is totally lacking in depth. The whole spirit of his serenade to Amaryllis is different from that of Damon's solitary lament.26 It is from the third idyll, also, that Virgil has taken nunc scio quid sit Amor … (43 and cf. Id. 3. 15-16), but we have already observed how Virgil has altered and developed the remarks about the parentage of Amor into something wholly his own, with epic and tragic overtones. In addition, Virgil has deepened the significance of nunc. In Theocritus νον is fairly otiose. The only hint of better days occurs in τι μ’ ονκετι … / … καλειs (6-7), whereas in Eclogue 8 the passage comes just after a beautiful recollection of the first meeting with Nysa. Nunc marks the contrast between earlier hope and present despair. Damon's recollection of his first meeting with Nysa (37-40) clearly echoes Polyphemus remembering how he first saw Galatea (Id. 11. 25-7), but Virgil is describing the beginning of young love: paruam te … / … uidi … / alter ab undecimo tum me iam acceperat annus, / iam fragilis poteram a terra contingere ramos. The conspicuous elisions may represent Damon's youthful hesitation. Damon's love has been nurtured hopefully over the years, whereas nothing indicates that Polyphemus was at an impressionable age when he met Galatea, that the meeting was other than a recent one, or that he ever had grounds for hope. There is a difference, too, in the lovers' explanation of their rejection (cf. Ec. 8. 32-5 and Id. 11. 30-3). While echoing Polyphemus slightly, Damon says with bitterness that Nysa is haughty and impious, she despises not just his appearance but his whole way of life. The assonance and alliteration of gloomy sounds in this part of Damon's lament widens the gulf between him and the comic, pathetic, grotesque giant.27

The emotional pitch of Damon's song is consistently high. By way of contrast Alphesiboeus' song seems to be deliberately drained of emotion. The incantations, unlike Simaetha's, are not interrupted by passionate outbursts. The suicide of Damon contrasts with the happy ending of Alphesiboeus' song where the incantations have their effect and Daphnis comes home. (At the end of Idyll 2 Simaetha is still alone and resigned to her lot.) Acts of sympathetic magic are taken over wholesale from Idyll 2, with few alterations significant in a literary study: cf. Ec. 8. 73-8 and Id. 2. 2 (wool); Ec. 8. 82 and Id. 2. 18, 23-6, 33 (cereals and bay-leaves); Ec. 8. 91-3 and Id. 2. 53-4 (clothes of the beloved); Ec. 8. 95-6 and Id. 2. 59-62 (herbs). The instruction about throwing ashes into the stream without turning round (Ec. 8. 101-2) comes from Tirosias'speech at Id. 24. 93-6. Virgil has elaborated. … [it] into limus ut hic durescit, et haec ut cera liquescit / uno eodemque igni, sic nostro Daphnis amore (Ec. 8. 80-1). We need not linger over the symbolic significance of the clay, which scholars have interpreted variously. The important point is that Virgil has introduced an antithesis with a jingle which is characteristic of such rituals in real life.

Two more radical alterations concern the setting of the poem and its refrain. It is presumably to blend his poem with the rest of the collection that Virgil has transferred his action from the city to a rural décor. Even the eclogues with the loftiest tone and not specifically rural themes are studiously integrated into the collection: Ec. 4. 3 si canimus siluas, siluae sint consule dignae, and the various instances of life in the Golden Age are set in the country; and the actual setting in which Silenus sings in Eclogue 6 is purely rural. In the refrain of Alphesiboeus' song Virgil has, significantly, substituted carmina for ιυγξ. Although we may distinguish between carmen in the sense of ‘poem’ or ‘song’ on the one hand and ‘incantation’ on the other, to a Roman the meanings merged. Thus Virgil's choice of carmina in the refrain (cf. 69-71) is in keeping with the ‘emotive power of song’ theme recurrent throughout the Eclogues.28

Virgil's equivalent of Theocritus' ιππομανεs simile (Id. 2. 48-50) is the simile of the heifer at Ec. 8. 85-9. Owing something to Lucretius 2. 355-66, this passage is remarkable for its pathos and sympathy as well as its evocative natural description. Finally, in producing his own counterpart of Theocritus' macabre section about Hecate (Id. 2. 12-14) at 97-9, Virgil has altered the details completely and included a Roman allusion, as the charming away of crops was specifically prohibited in the Twelve Tables.

The above alterations do not destroy one's impression that as a whole Alphesiboeus' song is remarkably like a replica of Simaetha's incantations without her emotional turmoil. But if it had been as deeply felt and as complex in structure as Damon's song the contrast would have been destroyed and the eighth eclogue would have been overloaded. This seems to be the most plausible explanation why Virgil was, for once, content to be almost blatantly Theocritean.


  1. The reader is taken even further away from the romance that lay behind the original thought by an ironic reference which Theocritus chooses to make to Polyphemus' subsequent encounter with Odysseus (61).

  2. The epithet refers to the killing of Dirce by Amphion, and also geographically to Thebes, near which Dirce became a fountain.

  3. The extravagance of the boast is actually more akin to Id. 20. 19-27 (probably not by Theocritus) than to anything said by Polyphemus.

  4. 5 lines of introduction, 13 lines of lament, 37 lines of wooing, 13 lines of lament, 5 lines of supposed renunciation.

  5. The siesta at noon/Corydon's frenzied activity; the setting of the sun/the blazing of Corydon's passion; town/country; white skin/dark skin; hyacinths/marigolds, etc. The first two contrasts were suggested in general idea by Id. 2. 38-40, of which there is a very close imitation at Ec. 9. 57-8. Rather interestingly, this latter passage involves no contrast at all, as the stillness of nature is used by Lycidas only as a reason for sitting down to sing.

  6. The setting of the ninth eclogue is clearly based on that of Theocritus' οαλνοsια, but the sorrow of the dispossessed and the convulsions of the state are in stark contrast to the pleasant diversions of Simichidas and his companions. Compare Ec. 9. 1 and Id. 7. 21; Ec. 9. 32-6 and Id. 7. 37-41; Ec. 9. 59-60 and Id. 7. 10-11 for close imitations in this poem.

  7. Virgil has not only toned down Id. 5. 1-4, but has actually used the idea to help his poem structurally. Damoetas retorts that Damon was withholding the goat which he, Damoetas, had won in a singing match, and when Menalcas doubts whether this were possible, Damoetas proposes the competition which is the main point of the poem. The Greek version has no such neat transition from abuse to song.

  8. In his own way Virgil, too, uses strong language. …

  9. Cf. Ec. 1. 51-8, where Virgil reproduces many individual details from Id. 7. 131-46 and acknowledges his Theocritean legacy by the addition of Hyblaeis (54). But Virgil's tone is, again, different. The Theocritean passage is pure description, bringing a happy poem to a fitting close, while in the first eclogue Menalcas is wistfully alluding to the joys that await Tityrus, but not him. Virgil has thus imbued the passage with intense emotion as well as integrating it into what is essentially a political poem.

  10. Cf. Dic mihi, Damoeta, cuium pecus? an Meliboei? / Non, uerum Aegonis; nuper mihi tradidit Aegon and Eιπε μοι, ωKορνδων, τινοs αι βοεs;να Φιλυνδα; / ονκ, αλλ’ Aιγωνοs βοsκειν δε μοι ανταs Εδωκεν. Another very close imitation, at Ec. 9. 23-5 (cf. Id. 3. 3-5), may be explained as follows: the various snatches from Menalcas' poetry are representative of different facets of Virgil's art. Ec. 9. 23-5 symbolizes Virgil still finding his feet, while the second Theocritean echo (cf. Ec. 9. 39-43 and Id. 11. 42-9) shows him as being much more emancipated from his model. The address to Varus (Ec. 9. 27-9) represents the Italian elements as well as the personal and political ones in the Eclogues, while the final quotation from Menalcas' works (Ec. 9. 46-50) blends pastoral and Roman elements together.

  11. Cuium occurs in comedy, and it is worth drawing attention also to lines 49-53, which have a comic flavour in language, in Menalcas' deliberate misunderstanding of Damoetas' remarks, and in Palaemon's incredibly opportune arrival. Quin age, si quid habes is actually an echo from a discarded section of Id. 5 concerning the talkativeness of Comatas. At Id. 5. 78 is an expression of impatience, whereas Virgil's echo of it begins Damoetas' answer to Menalcas' charge that he is seeking to avoid the contest.

  12. Virgil introduces an interesting complication by making Aegon and Menalcas rivals for Neaera. Menalcas' ac ne me sibi praeferat illa ueretur shows a rather delightful self-confidence, which may even be a compensation for defeat.

  13. The naming of the craftsman at Ec. 3. 37 is, however, suggested by Id. 5. 105.

  14. e.g. 8. 2-4, but the power of song is illustrated most graphically in Eclogue 9. where Lycidas' and Moeris' utter despondency about their dispossession and the upheaval in the state is dispelled by their loving recollection of Menalcas' poetry.

  15. Although Theocritus' sycophantic seventeenth idyll begins ’Eκ Διοs αρχωμεsθα, Virgil here plainly harks back to the opening lines of Aratus' Phaenomena. … Ironically, the young Virgil could hardly have known that this hint of Stoicism in the Eclogues foreshadowed in part the spirit of his third great work.

  16. For contemporary literary allusions in bucolic poetry Virgil had a precedent in Id. 7. 39-41 and 45-8.

  17. Ec. 5. 1-19 is much more than a mere fusion of Theocritus and Virgil. Tu maior; tibi me est aequum parere, Menalca (4) could be spoken by one of Socrates' interlocutors, and the decorous tone of the conversation which takes place as the two men are walking along together in such pleasant surroundings is reminiscent of the philosophical dialogue in general. Such an introduction adds great dignity to Virgil's poem, whether it is meant as a tribute to Caesar or not.

  18. Formally, Ec. 10 owes more to Id. 1 than does Mopsus' song: cf. Ec. 10. -12 and Id 1 66-9; Ec. 10. 18 and Id. 1. 109; Ec. 10. 19-30 and Id. 1. 77-85. Gallus, like Daphnis, is wasting away through love, and all Nature is in sympathy with him. Virgil's daring manifests itself in putting Gallus, the soldier-poet, into a bucolic setting. The Virgilian poem alone has considerable psychological complexity. The reader follows the stages of Gallus' struggle against the realities of his life, how he tries hard, but vainly, to fit into the dream-like world which Virgil has created for him.

  19. The only point at which Mopsus' song echoes Theocritus outside Thyrsis' song is 32-4. Here the construction reflects Idylls 8. 79-80 and 18. 29-31, but the details are different without being very novel.

  20. The fact that two of the sources, Idylls 8 and 9, are nowadays generally considered spurious is here irrelevant.

  21. Daphnis' words contain a surprise for the reader as well. The two ‘Arcadians’ turn out to be Arcadians only in spirit, worthy disciples of Pan. They are seated by Virgil's own Mincius! It is not that Virgil is reckless of geography, or that Corydon and Thyrsis are descended from slaves brought from Arcadia, as some have seriously suggested. Virgil has gently misled his readers, who should take the hint and not be too humourless about the rest of the poem.

  22. It is quite likely that Damon is not singing in his own person, but it is convenient to call the lover Damon.

  23. A little later, however, his mood has changed and he exclaims with bitter irony that she got the husband she deserved (32).

  24. Cf. Ec. 1. 59-63, where Virgil gives the reversal of nature theme yet another original twist. Tityrus in fact says that all nature will be topsy-turvy before he forgets Octavian, i.e. he will never forget him. The individual details are Virgil's own, and he has given the passage an appropriately political flavour by referring to Rome's enemies and the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Moreover, the hypothetical, or rather impossible, migrations of Tityrus' lines are immediately matched by the very real ones gloomily foreshadowed by Meliboeus in his reply.

  25. The theory that Virgil misunderstood παντα δ’ Εναλλα (or αναλλα) γενοιτο is now, happily, unfashionable. Scholars suggest with rather greater plausibility that the sound of the Greek made Virgil think of the sea.

  26. A similar distinction was drawn above between Polyphemus' song in Id. 11 and Corydon's in Ec. 2.

  27. It is interesting that Damon's song contains only one obvious verbal reminiscence of Simaetha's lament with which it has so much in common in tone and subject-matter. … Virgil's daring linguistic innovation in ut …, ut …, ut … presupposes his readers' acquaintance with the Greek idiom in his models. Also, his hiatus is clearly inspired by the one at the same point of the second Theocritus passage. However, this hiatus together with the preceding heavy elision gives Virgil's line a unique emotional quality. Finally, note how Virgil's line, [and] especially the introduction of error, act as a bridge between the preceding romantic passage and the following epic/tragic one.

  28. In Damon's refrain Virgil's remodelling a αρχετε βουκολικαs, Mοιsαι, παλιν αρχετ’ from Idyll 1 as incipe Maenalios mecum, mea tibia, uersus looks forward especially to Eclogue 10, with its dream-like setting in Arcadia.

Gordon Williams (essay date 1974)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9844

SOURCE: “A Version of Pastoral: Virgil, Eclogue 4” in Quality and Pleasure in Latin Poetry, edited by Tony Woodman and David West, Cambridge University Press, 1974, pp. 31-47.

[In the essay below, Williams offers a line-by-line analysis of Eclogue 4, contending that the poem's meaning is linked to its historical significance: it is concerned primarily with the establishment of peace in the Roman world, the end of civil war, and the onset of a new era.]

Sicelides Musae, paulo maiora canamus:
non omnis arbusta iuuant humilesque myricae—
si canimus siluas, siluae sint consule dignae.
Vltima Cumaei uenit iam carminis aetas:
magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.
iam redit et uirgo, redeunt Saturnia regna:
iam noua progenies caelo demittitur alto.
tu modo nascenti puero, quo ferrea primum
desinet ac toto surget gens aurea mundo,
casta faue Lucina: tuus iam regnat Apollo.
(teque adeo decus hoc aeui, te consule, inibit,
Pollio, et incipient magni procedere menses;
te duce, si qua manent sceleris uestigia nostri,
inrita perpetua soluent formidine terras.)
ille deum uitam accipiet diuisque uidebit
permixtos heroas et ipse uidebitur illis,
pacatumque reget patriis uirtutibus orbem.
at tibi prima, puer, nullo munuscula cultu
errantis hederas passim cum baccare tellus
mixtaque ridenti colocasia fundet acantho.
ipsae lacte domum referent distenta capellae
ubera, nec magnos metuent armenta leones.
ipsa tibi blandos fundent cunabula flores.
occidet et serpens, et fallax herba ueneni
occidet; Assyrium uulgo nascetur amomum.
at simul heroum laudes et facta parentis
iam legere et quae sit poteris cognoscere uirtus,
molli paulatim flauescet campus arista
incultisque rubens pendebit sentibus uua
et durae quercus sudabunt roscida mella.
pauca tamen suberunt priscae uestigia fraudis,
quae temptare Thetim ratibus, quae cingere muris
oppida, quae iubeant telluri infindere sulcos;
alter erit tum Tiphys et altera quae uehat Argo
delectos heroas, erunt etiam altera bella
atque iterum ad Troiam magnus mittetur Achilles.
hinc, ubi iam firmata uirum te fecerit aetas,
cedet et ipse mari uector, nec nautica pinus
mutabit merces; omnis feret omnia tellus—
non rastros patietur humus, non uinea falcem,
robustus quoque iam tauris iuga soluet arator.
nec uarios discet mentiri lana colores,
ipse sed in pratis aries iam suaue rubenti
murice, iam croceo mutabit uellera luto;
sponte sua sandyx pascentis uestiet agnos.
‘Talia saecla’ suis dixerunt ‘currite’
concordes stabili fatorum numine Parcae.
adgredere o magnos (aderit iam tempus) honores,
cara deum suboles, magnum Iouis incrementum!
aspice conuexo nutantem pondere mundum,
terrasque tractusque maris caelumque profundum;
aspice, uenturo laetentur ut omnia saeclo!
(o mihi tum longae maneat pars ultima uitae,
spiritus et quantum sat erit tua dicere facta!
non me carminibus uincet nec Thracius Orpheus
nec Linus, huic mater quamuis atque huic pater adsit,
Orphei Calliopea, Lino formosus Apollo.
Pan etiam, Arcadia mecum si iudice certet,
Pan etiam Arcadia dicat se iudice uictum.)
incipe, parue puer, risu cognoscere matrem
(matri longa decem tulerunt fastidia menses),
incipe, parue puer: qui non risere parenti,
nec deus hunc mensa, dea nec dignata cubili est.

1-3 The poet begins with a prayer for inspiration to the Muses whom he deliberately calls ‘Sicilian’ to designate Theocritus1 as his model; this emphasis is expanded in the next three words—the theme is to be grander than any normal pastoral theme. This elevation is further explained in the next two lines by symbolizing pastoral poetry in a common feature of its landscape as described by Theocritus, myricae ‘tamarisks’.2 The word humiles here not only describes the shrub but also suggests that pastoral themes normally lack elevation.3 The climax of the opening is reached with consule: the poet intends to address a Roman consul, therefore the subject-matter (siluae) must be grander than usual. The tone is not apologetic, but excited.

4-7 The tone deepens as the poet utters a solemn prophecy. This is marked by the parallelism of each of two pairs of line-long sentences. In the first (4-5), each line is framed by adjective and noun in agreement (ultima … aetas; magnus … ordo),4 and the second line (5) expands and explains the first. ‘The last age of the Sibylline prophecy has come’ is portentous (with precise symmetry) and riddling; the poet says nothing more of this Sibylline prophecy, but his words refer it to the famous Italian Sibyl5 and assume the reader's understanding of that reference.6 When the poet says the age ‘has come’, he is, as will become clear, slightly anticipating: the age will actually begin with the birth of the child, to be mentioned in lines 8-9. The phrase magnus saeclorum ordo is ambiguous since there is no definite article in Latin, and it could mean either ‘the great cycle of ages’ or ‘a great series of centuries’;7 the former interpretation is ruled out by line 4 since the ‘last age’ is clearly identical with the ‘Golden Age’ of the poem.8 This means that the common interpretation of magnus ordo as referring to the Stoic concept of a Magnus Annus9 is mistaken: that would involve a repetition of the series of ‘Ages’,10 and contradict the sense of ultima aetas. The Sibyl's prediction is of a final age that will be ideal and will last for ever; magnus (5) is used in an emotive, not a descriptive, way.11 So the lines (4-5) mean: ‘The final age of the Sibyl's prophecy has come; a grand succession of centuries is beginning from a completely new start.’

The second pair of lines (6-7) is linked by anaphora of iam and makes precise what was meant by (5) ab integro. The Virgin is returning to earth: this is Justice, called Virgin because she was identified with the constellation Virgo …, having been placed there when she left degenerate men in the Age of Bronze.12 Also the age of Saturn is returning: by this was meant the original Golden Age, identified as the age of Saturn by Virgil.13 This line has a particularly artistic shape, since the repetition of the verb (redit … redeunt) can function as a repetition of et, and the structure is equivalent to the prose sentence et Virgo et Saturnia regna redeunt.14 The prophecy reaches its climax and becomes most specific in line 7. Here nova progenies means ‘new race of men’, a meaning which becomes obvious if the reader thinks of the Ages of Men as described by Hesiod and Aratus, since the ages were treated by both poets in terms of the men who lived in them, and since Hesiod spoke specifically of each age of men being successively created and destroyed by Zeus. The language reflects the traditional account of the Ages of Men. There is now a pause and change of direction.

8-10 The poet turns aside into a prayer. This break comes after the momentous words caelo demittitur alto, and allows the poet not only to give an oblique explanation of nova progenies, but also to introduce an astonishing new assertion. A boy is being born and the disappearance of ‘iron’ men and the rise of ‘golden’ men are directly15 related to his birth. The future tenses here are simple and absolutely authoritative. So the poet calls on the goddess of child birth (who is Diana—or Artemis—in one of her aspects) to assist at the birth, and adds, by way of encouragement, that her brother Apollo ‘is in control’ (regnat). The form of the words need not imply an ascendancy of Apollo at the expense of other deities;16 they can express a fact relative only to the immediate situation.17 There are several sides to this. In one way the assertion refers to the Sibylline oracle, for which Apollo (as god of prophecy and especially the god who controlled the Sibyl) was the ultimate authority. But the confident future tenses of the poet suggest superior knowledge. Here it is relevant that the break and change of direction between lines 7 and 8 show that the birth of the child was not part of the original oracle but is being added by the poet. This is underlined by the mention of Apollo here since the poet is unlikely to be imagining that there was any reference to Apollo in the oracle which Apollo had himself inspired and, as it were, dictated to the Sibyl.18 The implication is rather that Apollo has revealed something to the poet that was not mentioned in the oracle,19 and that the poet suddenly realizes, with Apollo's help, that not only was the oracle true but that the birth of the child is intimately connected with the fulfilment of the oracle. It is because of this that he can assure Diana ‘your brother now is in control’; he means by this both that the oracle is coming true and also that the poet is himself personally being inspired by Apollo. For the birth of the child (as will become clear) is associated with the recent Peace of Brundisium20 (its effects are treated as still in the future) which the poet goes on now to mention in the following parenthesis (11-14); and, beyond the parenthesis, the poet expounds further miracles connected with the child which can only have come to him by Apollo's revelation. So (10) tuus iam regnat Apollo functions dramatically (as it were) as an encouragement to Diana, but poetically to the reader as an indication of the poet's source for his assertions here. That is, the ‘control’ of Apollo is evidenced by the conception of the child, by the Peace of Brundisium and by Apollo's further revelations to the poet. The control of Apollo may also express the important concept that, civil war being now over, the arts of civilization (which were Apollo's concern) will now be practised without hindrance.

Something of Virgil's meaning here can be illustrated by a poem which was clearly influenced by Eclogue 4, that is Tibullus 2. 5. There Apollo is asked to attend at his temple on the Palatine, where Augustus had deposited the Sibylline books, for the installation of the new quindecimuir, Messalinus. Apollo is invoked as wearing laurels of triumph (5); this refers to the battle of Actium and points to the idea that Apollo not only foretells the future but also, in some degree, sees that his predictions are carried out. His control of the future is emphasized (11-16) and especially (15-16) te duce Romanos numquam frustrata Sibyllaabdita quae senis fata canit pedibus. At a later stage in the poem (71-8) Tibullus lists the portents connected with the murder of Julius Caesar and the last stages of the civil war; then (79) he says that all these were in the past, and calls on Apollo who is now mitis to sink prodigies in the sea and to produce an omen for a new age (80-2). Here, quite clearly, the prodigies and the events portended by them are treated as interchangeable and Apollo's actions will be effective not only in foreshadowing the future but also in actually bringing it to realization. It is this way of thinking, by which Apollo is regarded as responsible for the future which he foresees, that Virgil expresses in saying tuus iam regnat Apollo; and regnat expresses the same idea as Tibullus in (15) te duce.

11-14 A parenthesis21 here adds a further address and connects the miracle with concrete events on earth. This glorious age22 will begin in Pollio's consulship and the great months will commence their course. Here (12) magnus has the same emotive function as in line 5 and it likewise has no hint of the Stoic Great Year about it. The phrase magni menses can only naturally refer to the period of a pregnancy and the line is taken up at the end of the poem by (61) matri longa decem tulerunt fastidia menses. The implication of these two lines (11-12), as a parenthesis following on the mention of the child and of the child's connexion with the coming of (9) gens aurea, is that a child has been conceived in Pollio's consulship and that future generations will date the beginning of the glorious age by saying consule Pollione. But the next two lines assign a much more active role to Pollio and culminate in an impressive prophecy (14): Pollio will lead the Roman people in rendering harmless (inrita) all traces of sin23 and so relieve the world from its never-ending fear. Both Horace and Virgil constantly refer to the civil war which tore Rome and Italy apart almost continuously for over half a century from about 90 b.c. as ‘sin’ (scelus).24 Here there is a clear reference to the part which Pollio played in bringing about the Peace of Brundisium in September 40 b.c.25 This address to a mere individual human being (after a goddess) is cleverly managed in a parenthesis, as the poet turns aside for a moment from his grand theme, motivated by the mention of the child's birth; these four lines also serve to establish the entire historical setting for the poem.

15-17 The poet prophesies that the child will live as if he were a god on earth26 and will meet with gods and heroes face to face on earth—thus bringing back a feature of the Golden Age whose loss was explicitly regretted by Catullus (64. 384ff.).27 Finally, the child will rule with inherited virtues a world made peaceful.28 This prophecy connects with the poet's words to Lucina (8-10), and, just as it is implied that the poet's prophetic authority is there derived from Lucina's brother Apollo, so here in 15-17 the poet relies on the same prophetic source.29 This section reaches its climax and end with an impressive line (17) framed between adjective and noun in agreement.30

18-45 The next section of the poem (18-45) is divided into three parts. Here the poet switches direction again and apostrophizes the still unborn infant. The contrast in (18) at tibi prima means that what has just been said (15-17) was looking further into the future, under Apollo's guidance, than what is now to be said. The poet here describes the Golden Age in nature.

(i) 18-25 The earth will, without cultivation (a traditional feature of the Golden Age), produce gifts for the child31—a series of plants with medicinal or cosmetic functions (18-20); pastoral poetry is particularly fond of the names of plants; their sound and strangeness here create one of the specific effects of pastoral poetry32 and mark the move away from the elevated prophetic style of the last section. Of their own accord (ipsae) goats will bring back udders distended with milk: this detail mirrors two features of the Golden Age, its plenty and the absence of work (a goatherd is not needed). A detail follows (22) which belongs to another feature of the Golden Age: men were vegetarians then. This is a widespread feature of descriptions of the Golden Age;33 only Plato in Politicus 271d-e adds the further, logically related, concept that men and animals lived together in harmony so that there was ‘no savagery nor eatings of one another, nor was there war nor dissension at all’. It is not that lions did not exist then, but that they were not carnivores. The next detail (23) is introduced by a sense of ipsa which differs from that of (21) ipsae:34 ‘his very cradle will produce sweet flowers'—this detail is unparalleled in literature before Virgil's time.35 There follow (24-5) the deaths of snakes and poisonous plants and the growing of the scented Assyrian balsam everywhere. No writer before Virgil says that snakes did not exist in the Golden Age, but in Georgics 1. 129 he asserts that god put poison into snakes at a later stage. To destroy them (and poisonous plants) is the one act of violence in the production of the new Golden Age.36 This section ends (25) with a clause framed between adjective and noun,37 and notable for its musical sounds.

(ii) 26-36 The child is now depicted as of an age to read, and he reads the favourite themes of Romans, their own great past history;38 from this he will learn what uirtus is. This child has another advantage: he can read of his own father's great deeds (26 facta parentis). Once he reaches this age, further features of the Golden Age will appear: (28) corn will grow of its own accord39 (another ‘framed’ line); grapes (29) will grow, without cultivation, on thorn-bushes (a ‘golden’ line);40 and (30) honey will sweat from oaks.41 These three lines (28-30) are remarkable for their variation of a basic two nouns with adjectives and a verb (28 has an adverb instead of one adjective) into three different patterns. Now (31-3) comes a warning, a chilling of enthusiasm and a slowing down of the tempo of change, in the form of a tricolon crescendo (see above, p. 5 and n. 5) with anaphora of quae. Traces of the old sin (priscae vestigia fraudis)42 will however remain, and these will prolong habits of seafaring,43 of walling cities (for protection) and of ploughing. All of these were characteristic features of the Iron Age. Then, in another tricolon crescendo (with alter … et altera … ; erunt etiam altera … ) the leading characteristic of the Iron Age is exemplified—war; but here, with mention of the Argo and its helmsman Tiphys and the Argonauts and finally with mention of Achilles and the expedition to Troy, war appears in its heroic form against external enemies (iusta bella as Romans would have said) and not as the shameful civil war of line 31. Here, in the mention of the Argonauts, there is another recall of Catullus 64, and, of course, most of all in the prominence given to Achilles in the expedition to Troy.44

(iii) 37-45 Now (37) the child is pictured as a full-grown man, and the poet foresees that not only will sailing cease (38), but all seaborne commerce (38-9). The reason is (39) that the earth will everywhere produce everything (that man needs), so that exchange of products will be unnecessary. Then two lines (40-1) specify that this will involve man in no labour: no violence will be done to soil or trees or ploughingoxen.45 Line 40 is chiastic in form, and 41 concludes the thought with another ‘framed’ line. These two lines (40-1) also form a tricolon crescendo, with the negatives taken up by the positive soluet in 41. Here again is another distinct reminiscence of Catullus 64.46 There follows a fantastic idea, expressed in complex and difficult language (42-5): dyeing, a deceitful and laborious process, will no longer be necessary—sheep in the fields will grow purple and yellow and scarlet fleeces. The unusual words and the ornate expression of the three colours attempt to achieve something of the same exotic effect in pastoral poetry as the naming of rare plants,47 but the idea is extravagant, even silly, and it is not surprising that it is found nowhere else in Classical literature. The shaping of the lines is particularly artistic: first (42) a line-long general statement, which is a ‘framed’ line;48 then the subject of the next clause is stated (43) ipse sed in pratis aries and the sentence is executed in the form of a dicolon with anaphora of iam and the verb postponed to the second colon;49 then the whole section is closed (45) with a solemn statement in asyndeton (i.e. without a co-ordinating word such as et), commencing with the authoritative sponte sua and a notable triple alliteration,50 and conveying the sense of an unanswerable assertion. Virgil has here lavished his art on an idea which he perhaps sensed would not carry poetic conviction.

46-47 There is a pause and the poet records that ‘the Fates, who speak in concord the fixed will of Destiny, said to their spindles “May times like that arrive quickly” ’. The word talis is often used in Latin poetry to look back over, and sum up, a section of poetic composition.51 Here there would be no point in making the Fates say this to their spindles unless they had themselves at some time spoken the prophecy in 18-45. This is simply the poet's way of expressing the idea that in 18-45 he has merely been repeating the prophecy of the Fates. In fact, were it not for the introductory particle (18) at, it would be possible to print 18-45 in inverted commas as being the actual speech of the Fates. The purpose of the poet's taking over the exposition of the prophecy was to enable him to dominate the poem in the form of an address to the unborn child from line 18 to the end, since the Fates (as in Catullus 64) would only deliver the prophecy to the parents (not to the child who ex hypothesi was not yet conceived). Here is another obvious reference to Catullus 64. Catullus seems to have invented the idea that the Parcae spoke the prophecy about Achilles at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis.52 Their prophecy there is lengthy (323-81) and is marked by the recurrent refrain currite ducentes subtegmina, currite, fusi. The fact that in Virgil the prophecy concerns the birth and growth to maturity of a child (as in Catullus) together with the fact of Virgil's constant reference to Catullus 64 can only mean that the reader is to understand for himself that in Virgil too the prophecy of the Fates was made on the occasion of a wedding. This is underlined by the tense of (46) dixerunt which is the only true aorist in the poem (in 4 uenit is a true perfect) and which consequently refers to a specific occasion in the past. The contrast between the prophecies in Catullus and Virgil could not be more extreme; that of Catullus is extremely pessimistic, that of Virgil wildly optimistic.


In other writers Golden Ages were magical times: they existed, they ceased to exist, but one could not possibly imagine a Golden Age gradually coming into being, growing little by little, and no writer before Virgil conceived such a picture. But Virgil has divided the Golden Age into three instalments, as it were, to be handed out at the birth of the child, at his reaching the age of education, and finally at his coming of age as a man. He had the further idea that there should be an intimate connexion between the child's birth and the beginning of the Golden Age. There were two serious difficulties here: (i) the actual establishment of a sympathetic connexion between the child and the New Age; (ii) the devising of some mechanism for slowing down the coming of the Golden Age. Both aims were realized by incorporating among the traditional elements of Golden Ages elements that were quite novel. In 18-25 the novel element is the poet's capacity to address the boy and assert that the new Age would do certain things specifically for him. One of these is the otherwise unheard of flowering of his cradle, and this line (23) is placed in such a position that it breaks up a series of traditional features which could not be linked intimately with the child. The other—the concept of the earth rejoicing at this birth and giving him presents nullo cultu, of its own accord (18-20)—has two important analogies in earlier literature. In Idyll 17. 64ff. Theocritus (Virgil's pastoral model) describes how the personified island of Cos rejoiced at the birth of Ptolemy and invoked blessings on him. In this, however, Theocritus was inspired by a more significant predecessor: in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (61ff.) Delos takes an active interest in the birth of Apollo, prophesies about him and hopes for future honours from him. This motif was taken up by Callimachus in his hymn to Delos (4. 260-74). This connexion with Apollo is significant in view of the part that Apollo plays in this Eclogue. This god was firmly in the forefront of the poet's mind.

In 26-36, the novel element is the mechanism for slowing down the Golden Age, (31) pauca tamen suberunt priscae vestigia fraudis, and allowing specific elements of the Iron Age to remain particularly that of war—but the wars to come are symbolized in terms of the great heroic wars of the past. To anyone looking round the world in 40 b.c. it was clear that war could not immediately end—to look no further the shameful and dangerous defeat of the Roman army under Crassus in 53 b.c. was still unavenged—but it would no longer be disgraceful civil war. The slowing down also allows the elements of ploughing and seafaring to last on and be negated in the third instalment. But there (37-45) it was not sufficient for the poet simply to negate elements that had already been mentioned, and so he invented the fantastic idea of the sheep grazing varicoloured in the fields as a new and positive element.

This whole section of the poem is clearly the real basis to its claim to be pastoral in genre, and it is also the point where virgil devoted his whole art to combine the details of the Sibylline oracle (the traditional concept of a Golden Age) and his own new inspiration (the theme of the birth of a politically significant child); in this grand conception he tried to weld these themes into a unity, without complete success.

48-6353 That this should probably be regarded as a single paragraph is indicated by the related imperatives (48) adgredere and (60) incipe. The address to the child in 48-9 is solemn and high-flown: this is shown not only by the honorific titles that fill line 49, but also by the use of o with the imperative in 48, which is always elevated and emotional.54 The time indication (to become in 60ff. the subject of the poet's impatience), which looks forward over the three periods of the child's growth, is neatly subordinated in a parenthesis. The magnos honores which the child is urged to enter upon are those which the poet has described particularly in the three stages of 18-45. On the other hand, the vocative phrases in 49 refer particularly to the poet's revelation (derived from Apollo) in 15-17; the child is cara deum suboles ‘a cherished descendant of gods’, and this phrase is then expanded with the extraordinary magnum Iouis incrementum. The meaning here must be that the child is an ‘ally’, or a ‘reinforcement’ of Iuppiter,55 somewhat as Thucydides uses the corresponding Greek word αυξηsιs in 1. 69. 4 … (‘alone failing to stop the reinforcement of your enemies as it is just beginning but only when it is on the point of doubling’). Virgil's use of incrementum here is without real parallel in Latin, but Cicero De Finibus 2. 88 (qui bonum omne in uirtute ponit, is potest dicere perfici beatam uitam perfectione uirtutis; negat summo bono afferre incrementum diem) and Juvenal 14. 259 (incrementa domus) come close to it. It anticipates ideas that Horace and Virgil were later to express about Augustus:56 for example, Horace, Odes 1. 12. 49-52:

gentis humanae pater atque custos
orte Saturno, tibi cura magni
Caesaris fatis data: tu secundo
                                                  Caesare regnes.

Augustus is there regarded as Iuppiter's right-hand man, his vice-gerent on earth. The child in Ecl. 4. 49 is Iuppiter's incrementum in that sense.

Now (50-2), by way of encouragement, the poet calls on the child to see how the whole universe anticipates his coming.57 ‘The whole universe, with its arched weight (conuexo … pondere i.e. the sky), is trembling.’ Then the poet expands the word mundus into its constituent parts: the land, the tracts of the sea and the depth of heaven. The trembling of the world (nutare) here does not signify imminent collapse, but mirrors the traditional reaction of nature to the epiphany of a god58—for example, the phenomena which Callimachus describes (Hymn to Apollo 2. 1-8) as Apollo is about to appear in his temple: ‘How the laurel branch of Apollo quivers! How the whole shrine trembles! Away, away all sinful persons. Now indeed Phoebus knocks at the door with his fair foot. Look: don’t you see? The Delian palm-tree suddenly swayed … gently; the swan in the sky sings sweetly. Of their own accord now let the bolts of the gates swing back, now too the locks. The god is now not far off. Young men, prepare for the song and for the dance.’ Virgil makes the whole universe move in anticipation, and then (52) calls on the child to see ‘how everything is rejoicing at the prospect of the age to come’. Here the ‘framed’ sentence uenturo … saeclo brings the idea to an impressive conclusion.

Now (53-9), with a slight pause (signified by asyndeton and change of direction), the poet in parenthesis muses—mostly to himself, though still formally addressing his thoughts to the child (indicated only in 54 tua). He thinks what a wonderful subject for poetry will be the child's life and deeds; and he wishes (53) that ‘the final part of a long life may last out’ for him—he means, may his life be long and its last part (when the child has grown up) be long enough59—and that he may have enough spiritus60 (which means both poetic inspiration and also the capacity to express it) to sing of the child's deeds. When Virgil mentions tua dicere facta he is thinking of a different genre of poetry, as when he says to Pollio in Ecl. 8. 7-8 en erit umquamille dies mihi cum liceat tua dicere facta? and at the beginning of Ecl. 6 he regrets that Apollo stopped him (3) cum canerem reges et proelia and then consoles Varus with the words (6-7) namque super tibi erunt qui dicere laudes,Vare, tuas cupiant et tristia condere bella. In using such language Virgil is always thinking of epic poetry, and it may well be that in such passages he was expressing a real personal ambition. But caution is needed, since these passages are related to the form of recusatio which Augustan poets used as an oblique way of expressing such praises, while at the same time declaring themselves incapable, or else postponing them (as in Ecl. 4. 54) to an indefinite future.61 This possibility is underlined by the highly formalized series of comparisons into which the poet now launches himself. The first (55-7) amounts to saying that neither Orpheus nor Linus will outdo him; and the second (58-9) to saying that he will defeat even Pan. The poets or musicians (the concepts were conventionally interchangeable) which the poet thinks of are partly pastoral—Linus appears as a shepherd in Ecl. 6. 67 and Pan is the god of the pan-pipes and of the region which Virgil was the first to use as a setting for pastoral poetry;62 but Orpheus is not particularly pastoral. Antiquity and distinction were the real reasons for choosing Orpheus and Linus; and Pan was chosen not just for his relevance to this pastoral poet, but because he gave ground for an utterance of a particularly Theocritean pattern at a point where Virgil's pastoral model was being left far behind. In fact, it looks as if Virgil in lines 55-9 deliberately employed some characteristic conventions of pastoral poetry. Patterned phrases, with symmetrical elements of repetition are a characteristic feature of Theocritus' poetry.63 Virgil also uses these patterns in his Eclogues, but in a much more restrained way. The structure of 55-7, where non me carminibus uincet is followed by three parallel clauses in which the subject is successively expanded, has some similarity in literary motivation to Theocritus, Idyll 16. 3-4: …

The Muses are goddesses and, as goddesses,
they sing of gods;
but we are mortals here and, as mortals, let
us sing of mortals.

The Virgilian structure is more sophisticated, but what both have in common is the interest in giving the patterning of verbal structures priority over the actual thought which has to be expressed. This motive can be seen in various passages of the Eclogues: for instance, 6. 9-12; 7. 1-5; 8. 22-4; 8. 47-50; 8. 52-6. It can be no coincidence that this motive operates in Virgil most strongly at the beginnings of poems and in particularly formal passages of song. The motive reaches a climax, however, in Eclogue 4. 58-9, and to this there are clear Theocritean analogies:64 for example Idyll 1. 120-1: …

I am that Daphnis who here herded his
cows; the Daphnis who
here watered his bulls and heifers.

or Idyll 11. 22-3: …

You come right near to me whenever sweet
sleep subdues me and
you go straight away whenever sweet sleep releases

The only real analogy in the Eclogues to Ecl. 4. 58-9 is 6. 29-30:

nec tantum Phoebo gaudet Parnasia rupes,
nec tantum Rhodope miratur et Ismarus Orphea.

The stylistic motive in Eclogue 4. 55-9 must be that, at this point, where the poet looks forward to a different form of poetic composition and a new subject-matter, he casts his thought in the most characteristically pastoral style—a feature which also serves to underline the element of recusatio here (i.e. this really is a pastoral poet who is expressing this wish and one who is still imprisoned within the pastoral form). The reader is not unjustified in feeling that the poet is here anxious to assert his pastoral identity in a poem which has risen so far above the traditional genre.

Now (60-4) the poet appeals again to the child really to hurry up and be born, though he puts this in the form of a request to recognize his mother with a smile and discreetly expresses in a parenthesis the idea that his mother has carried him long enough (the line directly recalls line 12). He urgently repeats the request, and adds (62-3) the warning that if a child does not smile on his mother,65 then no god will invite him to his table nor goddess to her bed. In this he thinks mainly of Hercules, the hero who was reckoned among the great benefactors of mankind and who was admitted to heaven and given Hebe in marriage.66 But the second element of the warning (which ends the poem) also recalls Anchises who was considered by Venus worthy of her bed and who thereby founded the Julian line (which issued most recently in Julius Caesar and Octavian). The patterning of the language in the last sentence conceals a lightness of touch that is at the opposite extreme from the solemnity of the poem's opening (in 3ff.).


The clue lies in the historical background. After the battle of Philippi in 42 b.c.,67 Antony, the senior partner, sent Octavian back with the veterans due for retirement to Italy, while he himself went to the Near East. Octavian's task was the highly dangerous one of pensioning off the veterans in the only way then known to the Romans, i.e. by confiscating land and settling them on it.68 This led—as no doubt Antony anticipated—to fierce civil war in Italy. A key figure in all this was Gaius Asinius Pollio who had been a close friend of Julius Caesar, but who had no taste for civil war and had only joined Caesar out of friendship (see Cicero, Ad Fam. 10. 31). After the murder of Caesar in 44 b.c., his natural allegiance lay with Antony. He had in 43 b.c. been designated to the consulship for 40 b.c., but during the civil wars over Octavian's resettlement of veterans in 41/40 b.c. he played a very ambiguous part (he was, and remained all his life, a foe to Octavian). However, when Antony came to Italy in September 40 b.c. and there seemed a strong likelihood of civil war breaking out again on a large scale between Antony and Octavian, Pollio was instrumental in bringing both men to the conference table in October 40 b.c. at which they arranged the Peace of Brundisium, agreeing to divide the Roman empire virtually between them, with Octavian taking Italy and the West, and Antony the East—and at the same time marrying Octavian's sister, Octavia.

This was the point at which Eclogue 4 was composed: peace in the Roman world—i.e. the cessation of civil war—seemed assured and Virgil felt inspired to interpret this as the beginning of a new age. No doubt the Sibylline oracle, declaring this to be the beginning of a new Golden Age, was a reality. But the additional concept of a child whose birth was to mark the beginning of the age was Virgil's. The only real analogy which Virgil had for a poem of this sort in a pastoral collection was Theocritus, Idyll 17. There the centre of the poem (53-120) is occupied with the praises of the son of Ptolemy and Berenice; the happiness of the couple occupies the poet and is led up to by the portrait of Ptolemy Soter in heaven, carousing with Alexander the Great and Herakles; then Herakles' happiness with Hebe leads to the marital bliss of Ptolemy and Berenice. The poem finally ends with the marriage of Ptolemy Philadelphus to his sister. Virgil owed to this poem the themes of the birth of a child of great promise, the feasting in the presence of the gods, and the happiness of Herakles.

What is remarkable in Virgil's poem is that there is no indication of the child's identity. There are however two themes which converge on this. (i) There is a great series of references to Catullus 64, culminating in the mention of the Parcae (46-7). Catullus' poem is about the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, and a large proportion of it concentrates on the prophecy of the Parcae about the child of the wedding, Achilles: it is a most pessimistic prophecy and culminates in that break between divine and human which meant the gods no longer appeared on earth. Virgil's poem moves in the opposite direction: it is highly optimistic and it foresees a new intermingling of gods and men (15-17). At the same time, the clear references to Catullus 64, and particularly the entrance of the Parcae, imply a wedding. (ii) The number of references which Virgil makes to the child clearly suggest a divine origin and relationship (15-16, 49, 62-3), and also nominate him as a future ruler of the Roman world (17). Only one family in Rome at the time could be designated in these terms (especially in view of the hint at Anchises in 63): that was the Julian, whose most recent representative, Julius Caesar, had been officially deified in January 42 b.c.

Now it would have been grossly tactless for Virgil, in the context of the Peace of Brundisium, to designate Antony's putative son (he would be the son of Octavia, sister of Octavian, and a member of the Julian family) as the future—and favoured—ruler of the world. But, by an odd coincidence, probably only weeks before the Peace of Brundisium, Octavian himself had married Scribonia, the sister-in-law of Sextus Pompeius, an adherent of Antony, and a desperate enemy of Octavian.69 Virgil seems to have made use of this unique situation to concentrate his poetic attention on the child of a marriage which had Julian (and so divine) connexions in such a way that he said nothing of the marriage itself, much less of the actual parents. Either marriage could be meant,70 and in the atmosphere of peace and concord decision was unnecessary. The reminiscences of Catullus 64 were enough for the imaginative reader—so Virgil hoped.71

The poem is astonishingly ambitious, and in its imaginative grasp it shows the hallmark of that mind which in Aeneid 6 was to weld Greek conceptions of the Underworld with the history of Rome. This capacity for association of ideas was Virgil's greatest strength, the fertile amalgam of Greek and Roman into an imaginative unity. In Eclogue 4 there are elements of fantasy and exaggeration (the varicoloured sheep, for instance) which suggest a youthful genius somewhat over-reaching itself, but, by any standard, this is great poetry on the grand scale.72


  1. Theocritus was born in Sicily, though later he probably lived in Cos and Alexandria. On him see also above, p. 2 n. 1.

  2. Tamarisks … are a prominent feature of the landscape at the beginning of Idyll 1 (line 13) and Virgil's use of this Greek word here underlines the connexion with Theocritus (though Romans, in fact, also, as often, used the Greek term as the botanical name: cf. Pliny, N.H. 13. 116; 24. 67). The word arbusta is a generic term for ‘forested region’.

  3. Virgil often uses the basic symbolism which equates ‘writing pastoral poetry’ with ‘being a shepherd’ (see especially Ecl. 10 and G. Williams (1968), 233-9). From this, various symbolic details are deduced whereby objects in the pastoral landscape or situation represent aspects of the poet's subject-matter.

  4. On this pattern see Pearce (1966), 140-71, 298-320. This pattern is referred to below as the ‘framed’ line.

  5. At least ten Sibyls were known and listed by Varro (Res Diuinae in Lactantius, Inst. 1. 6. 8-12), but for Romans the Sibyl of Cumae was supreme. From her originated the Sibylline Books which were consulted, on order of the Senate, by the quindecimuiri (these books were burnt in the Capitol fire of 83 b.c. and a new collection made; there was further pruning by Augustus some time after 12 b.c.—Suet. Aug. 31. 1). It seems, however, that the Sibyl from time to time produced oracles on consultation (like the Delphic Oracle) and it is to one of these, and not to the official Books, that Virgil refers. See Latte (1960), 160-1. A selection of the later (largely Jewish and Christian inspired) Sibylline oracles is conveniently edited with a good introduction, translation and notes by Kurfess (1951).

  6. This does not mean that Virgil counted on his reader's knowing the actual oracle (the poet reveals its contents in the poem) but only the nature and authority of such oracles.

  7. Cf. Aeneid 7. 44 maior rerum mihi nascitur ordo ‘a grander series of events is opening before me’. The sense is that of Horace, Odes 3. 30. 4-5 innumerabilisannorum series et fuga temporum ‘the unnumbered series of years and the flight of ages’.

  8. ultima aetas cannot mean ‘the end of the present age’ when qualified by Cumaei carminis, and uenit cannot mean ‘has come and gone’. What Virgil means is a final age which is really a repeat of the first age of the world.

  9. The ‘Great Year’ of the Stoics was just one of several theories of cycles in the history of the universe: on one calculation the cycle lasted 291,400, on another 12,954, years; it ended with a conflagration of the world and then the process started again. For the various schemes and their variations see van der Waerden (1952), 129-55. The concept has no relevance to Ecl. 4 since Virgil envisages no repetition of the ages again, but only a final age which repeats the first (see previous note).

  10. The idea of five ages of the world goes back to Hesiod, Works and Days 109ff. The ages were Golden, Silver, Bronze, Heroic, and Iron. The ancient commentator Servius here speaks of ten ages … saecula per metalla diuisit; dixit etiam quis quo saeculo imperaret, et Solem ultimum, id est decimum, uoluit. Censorinus, De Die Natali 17. 6 speaks of an Etruscan system of ten saecula, and cf. the story of Servius on Ecl. 9. 46 sed Vulcanius aruspex in contione dixit cometen esse qui significaret exitum noni saeculi et ingressum decimi; sed quod inuitis diis secreta rerum pronuntiaret statim se esse moriturum: et nondum finita oratione in ipsa contione concidit. hoc etiam Augustus in libro secundo de memoria uitae suae complexus est. No doubt Augustus recognized good propaganda when he saw it, but this ‘oracle’ belonged to July 44 b.c. The reason for regarding such systems of ages as irrelevant to Ecl. 4 is that Virgil goes on to use the scheme of Hesiod and Aratus. For the same reason, speculations based on supposed Pythagorean doctrines are disregarded here: for them see Carcopino (1930), 57ff. Servius on Ecl. 4 imagines a repetition of the ages, and, for that reason (see n. 9), his view is disregarded.

  11. As often by Virgil with magnus and ingens (see Austin (1955) on Aeneid 4. 89).

  12. This version of the legend is that of Aratus (c. 315-240 b.c.) in his Phaenomena 96-136, where he describes Justice finally leaving the earth in the Age of Bronze. In Hesiod Alδωs and Nεεσιs leave earth in the Age of Iron.

  13. For Hesiod (Works 111) it had been the time of Kronos. But for Virgil's view cf. Georg. 2. 538 aureus hanc uitam in terris Saturnus agebat, and for Augustus as the founder of the new Golden Age, Aen. 6. 792ff.

  14. Cf. e.g. Aeneid 7. 327 odit et ipse pater Pluton, odere sororesTartareae monstrum. See Conington (1963) ad loc.

  15. That is the point which is emphasized in (8) primum.

  16. Any such assertion about Apollo by a poet in this period would be implausible. In the Aeneid Apollo is mentioned more than any god except Iuppiter, but he is not an active god, with the single exception of his intervention at Aeneid 9. 638ff. to congratulate Ascanius and dissuade him from further fighting, but even this has a strong element of prophecy in it and was doubtless inspired by the fact that Augustus regarded Apollo as his own personal protecting deity. Apollo's function throughout the Aeneid is to deliver prophecies not to initiate action. See Bailey (1935), 163-72.

  17. The ancient commentator Servius asserts that the Sibylline prophecy made the last age the age of the sun, but this is a mere guess and 40 b.c. is too early a date to assume an identification of Apollo with the sun in Roman literature (see Fontenrose (1939), 439ff.). Servius' weakness is shown by his quoting Horace even on 46-7, and never referring to Catullus 64. Apollo was the favourite god of Octavian (Augustus), but again this connexion belongs to a later period (probably the battle of Actium in 31 b.c. was decisive), and anyway such a partisan connexion is alien to the general political impartiality of this poem. But one has an uneasy sense with Virgil that his ideas are not readily exhausted or explained. See further note 71 below. Norden (1924) has a most ingenious theory about the position of 1 January (when consuls entered on office) as midway between two festivals of the sun, but it relies on oriental evidence and is quite unconvincing.

  18. It is worth noticing that Apollo is never mentioned by name in Delphic oracles unless some directions for the observance of his cult are needed. An outstanding example of this is the oracle given to Thera, ordering the foundation of Cyrene, quoted in a short form by Herodotus 4. 150 and a longer form by Diodorus Siculus 8. 29 (‘king Phoebus Apollo sends you … Phoebus Apollo guides you’). Otherwise Zeus, Pallas Athene etc. are mentioned in the oracles as the activists. It is less important that Apollo is not named in the later Sibylline oracles (see n. 5 above).

  19. Such a revelation would be the most natural to imagine for a poet from the god of poetry and prophecy.

  20. See pp. 36 and 44-6, above.

  21. That this is to be seen as a parenthesis is clearly shown by the force of (11) adeo (‘what is more’, cf. e.g. Aeneid 11. 369 where also a subordinate expansion rather than a fact of parallel weight is added) together with the fact that (15) ille immediately takes up the reference to the child in 8-10.

  22. Literally ‘this glory consisting in an age’ (cf. 24 herba ueneni); on this genitive see L-H-S 62ff. The phrase cannot mean ‘the child’ (‘this glory of the age’) for which inibit would be an implausible verb, though perfectly suited to the beginning of a temporal age.

  23. The form si qua … uestigia … is merely indefinite (‘all traces that exist’) and does not throw doubt on the existence of such traces.

  24. Cf. e.g. Horace, Odes 1. 2. 29; 35. 33.

  25. See p. 44, above.

  26. For deum uitam accipiet cf. Terence, Heaut. 693 deorum uitam apti sumus.

  27. The connexion with Catullus 64 will be seen to be very important to the understanding of Ecl. 4. This situation particularly mirrors the time when the gods regularly came among men as Catullus describes it in 64. 386 nondum spreta pietate and when it was not the case that (398) iustitiamque omnes cupida de mente fugarunt (and cf. 406). These were virtues which Apollo, guardian of law and order, especially upheld. On this aspect of Apollo, see e.g. Guthrie (1950), 183ff.

  28. This is probably the meaning rather than ‘a world made peaceful by the bravery of his father’ because the peace implied seems to be the peace that will come particularly from cessation of civil war (cf. 13-14 and 31), and it is this that is important rather than the wars implied in 34-6. At this period wars against external enemies were actually desirable as a means of expiating the shame of civil war: see Nisbet-Hubbard (1970) on Odes 1. 2. 51.

  29. It is relevant here to remember that in most of the tradition about Achilles it was Apollo who, at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, delivered the prophecy about the (as yet unconceived) hero's future: Iliad 24. 62-3, Aeschylus fr. 284a Mette, Plato Republic 383B. Catullus varied that in poem 64.

  30. See note 4, above.

  31. See further p. 39, above.

  32. On the flora of Theocritus see e.g. Lindsell (1936), 78ff.; and for Virgil's see Sargeaunt (1920).

  33. For descriptions of the Golden Age see Lovejoy and Boas (1935), 24ff., 145ff., and 156ff.

  34. A re-arrangement of lines with 23 transposed to follow 20 (designed to produce four lines directed to the child, followed by four lines devoted to the traditional Golden Age) is mistaken since not only are the differing senses of ipse then made to follow one another immediately and (23) fundent flores to follow (20) fundet acantho, but also the clear intention of Virgil is defeated (see above, p. 39).

  35. See further p. 39, above.

  36. Nicander (Alexandrian poet of second century b.c.) in Theriaca 8ff. quotes Hesiod for the view that snakes sprang from the spilt blood of the Titans—implying an age when they did not exist. But, of course, once they do exist, they can only be killed off.

  37. See note 4, above.

  38. Cf. Cicero's description of ‘heroic lays’: Brutus 75 atque utinam exstarent illa carmina quae multis saeculis ante suam aetatem in epulis esse cantitata a singulis conuiuis de clarorum uirorum laudibus in Originibus scriptum reliquit Cato. Cf. Tusculan Disputations 4. 3, and Varro apud Nonium 77. 2.

  39. This spontaneity of growth is clearly implied from the context, since there would be no point in mentioning corn otherwise.

  40. On the so-called ‘golden’ line, see Norden (1926), 393ff. and Wilkinson (1963), 215-16.

  41. Cf. Seneca Epistle 84. 3-4 de illis non satis constat utrum sucum ex floribus ducant qui protinus mel sit, an quae collegerunt in hunc saporem mixtura quadam et proprietate spiritus sui mutent. quibusdam enim placet non faciendi mellis scientiam esse illis, sed colligendi. Aristotle (Hist. An. 5. 22) and Pliny (N.H. 11. 30) express the common ancient belief that honey dropped as a kind of dew from heaven. Only Seneca expresses doubts. Virgil here means that the work of bees will not be needed to collect it.

  42. This is analogous to (13) sceleris uestigia nostri. fraus is the basic untrustworthiness of behaviour which in Georgics 1. 502 (Laomedonteae luimus periuria Troiae) Virgil traces to an origin in the building of Troy when Laomedon cheated Apollo and Neptune of their agreed payment. This is, once again, a reference to the shame of civil war; citizens should trust and respect one another. (See further above, p. 52.)

  43. Horace treats this as a sin, a basic transgression of God's ordinance, in Odes 1. 3. 23-4 si tamen impiaenon tangenda rates transiliunt uada: see Nisbet-Hubbard (1970) ad loc.

  44. Catullus 64. 1-10—especially (4) cum lecti iuuenes = delectos heroas, and 338 nascetur uobis Achilles.

  45. This idea is conveyed particularly by (40) patietur and (41) robustus.

  46. Catullus 64. 38-42

    rura colit nemo, mollescunt colla iuuencis,
    non humilis curuis purgatur uinea rastris,
    non glaebam prono conuellit uomere taurus,
    non falx attenuat frondatorum arboris umbram:
    squalida desertis rubigo infertur aratris.
  47. See p. 36, above.

  48. See note 4, above.

  49. This is technically the απο]κοινον position, when a word which is common to two clauses and required in each is postponed to the second of them.

  50. The -s sounds are continued in 46-7.

  51. See Fraenkel (1962), 261.

  52. See G. Williams (1968), 226-8 and Bramble (1970), 26ff.

  53. I have made a break in the exposition between 47 and 48 because it is convenient—the content of 46-7 belongs closely with that of 18-45. But this obscures a feature of Eclogue 4. It seems to be composed in units of seven lines, subdivided into four and three. So the poem opens with three lines and ends with four. The fourteen lines 4-17 are composed in units of three and four (4-7, 8-10, 11-14 and 15-17). Virgil, in the Eclogues, avoids any obvious arithmetical balances (for instance, Ecl. 1 opens with two speeches of five lines each and ends with speeches of five, fifteen and five lines respectively, but the balance is not carried further; Eclogue 10 opens and closes with sections of eight lines each). In Eclogue 4 the central prophecy occupies twenty-eight lines, divided into units of eight, eleven and nine lines each. Since the wishes of 53-7 form a unit of seven lines, the poet probably viewed 46-52 as a unit of composition in which, as it were, he joined the Parcae in their wish for a speedy approach of the Golden Age. On the numbers, see Skutsch (1969), 158.

  54. See especially Fraenkel (1957), 242 n. 1.

  55. The other possible meaning ‘the germ of a (future) Iuppiter’ is impossible in the context since the child is clearly not in itself a god and the equation of an emperor with Iuppiter is out of the question in 40 b.c.

  56. See Nisbet-Hubbard (1970) ad loc. and G. Williams (1968), 161 and 441.

  57. The elevation of these lines is increased by two Greek metrical features: the spondaic ending of 49, and the lengthening in arsis of (51) terrasqué tractusque. See Maas (1962), 59 and 76, and Norden (1926), 438, and 451f.

  58. This rules out the interpretation which would take conuexo nutantem mundo as an adjectival description of mundum and mundum as standing in a simple series with the nouns in 51 which would all then be taken up in (52) omnia. In that interpretation nutantem could only suggest a collapsing world.

  59. Virgil was 30 when he was writing this poem.

  60. Roman writers were inclined to avoid final -s followed immediately by initial s-. So, instead of writing spiritus et quantus …, Virgil has compressed this structure: spiritus et (tantus) quantum (eius spiritus) sat erit … For the avoidance of the above-mentioned clash of -s, see Löfstedt (1933), Chapter 5, ‘Zum Gebrauch von quis und qui’.

  61. On the literary form of recusatio see Wimmel (1960), and G. Williams (1968), 46f. and ‘Index’ s.v.

  62. On Virgil's invention of Arcadia as an ideal pastoral region and the setting for bucolic poetry, see Snell (1953), Chapter 13, ‘Arcadia: The Discovery of a Spiritual Landscape’, pp. 281-309.

  63. See, most conveniently, Dover (1971), xiv-l.

  64. For the origin of these patterns in non-literary songs and ritual compositions see Merkelbach (1956), 97-133 (esp. 117ff.).

  65. The MSS here uniformly provide cui non risere parentes. This gives inadequate sense since nothing is then required of the child and since it necessitates understanding (60) risu cognoscere matrem most implausibly as ‘recognize your mother by her smile’. Pliny (N.H. 7. 72) asserts that only of Zoroaster was it recorded that he smiled on the day of his birth (and that his brain throbbed so violently as to shake off a hand placed on his head—a sign of his future wisdom). Censorinus, De Die Natali 11. 7 asserts that babies never smile before the fortieth day. Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 9. 3. 8 says ‘qui non risere parentes,nec deus hunc mensa, dea nec dignata cubili est: ex illis enim “qui non risere”, hic, quem non dignata.’ Clearly his MS of Virgil read qui, and parentes is corrupt and easily emended to parenti (Bonnell)—the dative corresponds syntactically to ad+acc. in Catullus 61. 219 dulce rideat ad patrem. The shift from qui (pl.) to hunc (sing.) is a Greek rather than Latin syntactical feature; examples in Latin normally place the singular first (see L-H-S 432f.). But Greek syntactical usages were one means which late Republican and Augustan poets used to construct a poetic language, particularly Horace and Virgil (compare the Greek metrical features in 49ff.—see note 57, above). For Greek examples, see K-G 1. 87. On the corruption, see especially Maas (1958), 36f.

  66. See particularly Homer, Odyssey 11. 602-3 … ‘among the immortal gods, he enjoys himself in banqueting and has for wife trim-ankled Hebe’. But it is even more relevant (see pp. 44f.) to remark that a picture of Herakles' bliss in heaven (feasting and Hebe) is prominent in Theocritus, Idyll 17. 20-33.

  67. On the details see Syme (1952), chs. 15 and 16.

  68. See Brunt (1962), 69-86.

  69. The marriage was a purely political move, intended to conciliate Pompeius, and it failed both as politics and as a marriage. Within a year followed the birth of Julia, divorce, and a new pact with Pompeius at Puteoli.

  70. That the children of both marriages turned out to be girls does not affect the issue—prophecy cannot be corrected and, when darkly poetic, need not be withdrawn.

  71. Yet it is not surprising that the poem was misunderstood from a time soon after it was composed. It was the poem's sheer difficulty that enabled Pollio's son, C. Asinius Gallus, to make the absurd claim to Asconius (Servius on Ecl. 4. 11) that he was the designated child. However, the possibility that Asinius Gallus was also intending a leg-pull cannot be ignored.

  72. My thanks are due to Mr J. H. Simon for helpful criticism and advice.


A fair idea of older views on Ecl. 4 can be gained from Mayor-Warde Fowler-Conway (1907). A very useful survey of more recent views on the poem is given by Büchner (1955), 175-93 (this is a separate printing of Büchner's article on Virgil in Pauly-Wissowa). Still worth reading for its wide learning—and in spite of its ‘orientalizing’ interpretation—is Norden (1924). By far the best work on Ecl. 4 has been done by Jachmann (1952), 13-62 (there is a shortened version in Jachmann (1952a), 37-62). Little is added to the actual understanding of Ecl. 4 by Becker (1955), 328-41 or by Klingner (1967), 68-82. Of commentaries, the most useful is Conington-Nettleship (1963), though this was largely based on Heyne-Wagner (1830-1) which is still worth consulting. For a treatment of Ecl. 4 in the context of similar poetic techniques, see G. Williams (1968), 274-85.


Note. Standard works of reference and titles of periodicals are abbreviated as follows under list A. Scholarly discussions and commentaries are listed under B and throughout the book are referred to by author's name, date, and page number only. E.g. ‘Brink (1965), 7-8’ is a reference to pages 7-8 of Brink, C. O. (1965). On Reading a Horatian Satire. Sydney.

AJP American Journal of Philology
CIL Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, Berlin, 1862-
CLE Carmina Latina Epigraphica, Leipzig, 1895-1926
CM Classica et Mediaevalia
CP Classical Philology
CQ Classical Quarterly
CR Classical Review
Daremberg-Saglio Daremberg, C.-Saglio, E. Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines, Paris, 1897-1919
GR Greece and Rome
GRBS Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies
Gymn. Gymnasium
H Hermes
HSCP Harvard Studies in Classical Philology
IG Inscriptiones Graecae,Berlin, 1873-1939
JHS Journal of Hellenic Studies
JRS Journal of Roman Studies
K-G Kühner, R.-Gerth, B. Ausführliche Grammatik der griechischen Sprache. ii. Satzlehre, 3rd edn., Hanover-Leipzig, 1898-1904
L-H-S Leumann, M.-Hofmann, J. B.-Szantyr, A. Lateinische Grammatik. ii. Syntax und Stilistik, Munich, 1965
L & S Lewis, C. T. and Short, C. Latin Dictionary, Oxford, 1897
MH Museum Helveticum
Mnem. Mnemosyne
OCD Oxford Classical Dictionary,2nd edn., Oxford, 1970
OCT Oxford Classical Texts
OLD Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford, 1968-
PCA Proceedings of the Classical Association
PCPS Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society
PMLA Publications of the Modern Language Association of America
PLM Poetae Latini Minores,ed. Baehrens, Leipzig, 1879-86
Pauly-Wissowa Paulys Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. G. Wissowa et al., Stuttgart, 1893-
Philol. Philologus
REL Revue des Études Latines
RM Rheinisches Museum
TAPA Transactions of the American Philological Association
TLL Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, Leipzig, 1900-
WS Wiener Studien
Walde-Hofmann Walde, A.-Hofmann, J. B. Lateinisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, repr. Heidelberg, 1965

Robert Coleman (essay date 1977)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 14315

SOURCE: An introduction to Vergil: “Eclogues”, Cambridge University Press, 1977, pp. 1-40.

[In the following essay, Coleman identifies elements of Theocritus's pastoral poetry that would later influence Vergil and discusses the chronology and arrangement of the Eclogues. Coleman concludes his overview of the Ecloguesby observing that although Vergil's range of themes is somewhat conventional, his details are almost entirely original, and his poetic technique is mature.]


The pastoral myth is the creation of a highly civilized urban sensibility. It is a reaction against certain aspects of the culture and material environment of the city: Musa illa rustica et pastoralis non forum modo uerum ipsam etiam urbem reformidat (Quint. 10.1.55). In his longing for a simple innocence and carefree spontaneity that he has lost urban man looks to the country and its way of life, which he knows only as an outsider and from a distance, and creates out of it a myth embodying the ideals that he seeks. This idealization of the rustic life is well portrayed by Shakespeare in the Duke's speech in As You Like It 2.1 and the King's soliloquy in Henry the Sixth, pt 3 2.5. The tendency of the upper classes to idealize certain aspects of urban proletarian life, which in modern times has occasionally taken over a similar role, was not unknown even in antiquity (see Athenaeus 12.536e).

The pastoral conception, like the romantic ‘return to nature’ with which it is often contrasted, is informed throughout by the sophisticated sensibility that produced it. Its illusion consists ‘in exposing only the best side of a shepherd's life and in concealing its miseries’.1 It conjures up a pretty, fictional world into which one may escape from the real world now and then in imagination; it is not a programme for the reform or conversion of that world. There is thus little room for the realistic portrayal of country life. For this we must look not to the pastorals of Theocritus or Pope but to the poetry of true countrymen like Hesiod or George Crabbe, whose Village in fact contains an explicit protest against the pastoral tradition.

Although there are references to shepherds' music-making as early as Homer (Iliad 18.525-6), the earliest pastoral poetry in Greek literature is the work of the third-century Syracusan Theocritus. The only predecessors mentioned by ancient authors are the mythical Sicilians Diomus and Daphnis.2 The Theocritean scholiasts' accounts of the origins of the genre in popular cult hymns to Artemis—complete with aetiological fables3—are highly implausible when one considers the predominantly secular character of much of the earliest pastoral and the very minor part played by the chaste goddess of the hunt in the devotional life of Arcady4 in comparison with Pan, Apollo, Hermes and Priapus, the patrons of country life and music, and the nymphs and muses, who inspire country song. Some modern scholars have detected in the epigrams of Theocritus' contemporary Anyte of Tegea hints of an earlier Peloponnesian school of pastoral writing. But such pastoral motifs as appear occasionally in her poetry (e.g. A.P. 9.313, Plan. 228) are a common feature of Hellenistic epigram (e.g. A.P. 9.823, Plan. 12).

While Theocritus may be credited with inventing the pastoral, it is only in the work of his successors Moschus and Bion that it emerges as a distinctive genre, to become established in Latin in the work of Vergil, Calpurnius, the anonymous author of the two Einsiedeln Eclogues and Nemesianus. The pastorals of Theocritus in fact form a loosely knit group within the collection of thirty Idylls5 that have been traditionally attributed to him. Nevertheless they established definitively much of the formal and thematic character of the later pastoral tradition.

The short dramatic form—sometimes a dialogue, complete in itself (4) or combined with a singing display (5, 10, also 7, where it is given a narrative framework), sometimes a reported monologue (3, 11)—is also found in the urban idylls (2, 15). It clearly owes much to that other specifically Sicilian invention, the mime, which is represented for us by the meagre fragments of the fifth-century Epicharmus and Sophron and by the Mimiamboi of Theocritus' contemporary Herodas. The ancient references to the mime however give no hint of pastoral motifs. The only attested parallels are with Theocritus' urban idylls: the magic rites of Id. 2 and a fragment of Sophron (Page Greek literary papyri 1.328ff.), the Syracusan women at the Adonis-festival in Id. 15 and Herodas Mim. 4.

The singing competition, which is one of the recurrent forms in the genre, seems to be a stylized derivative of actual country music-making. The test of wits involved in the amoebaean contest (Idd. 5, 6, 8, 9), with its requirement that the second singer must match the themes or figures employed by the first, is widely paralleled in folk culture. The use of refrains (Idd. 1, 2), a familiar device in folk song, is probably also popular in origin.

The language of the herdsmen's conversation, though vivid and animated, is on the whole refined, reflecting the urbanity of their creator. They even show, occasionally, some surprising pieces of literary erudition; e.g. Id. 3.40-51, where the goatherd is admittedly showing off, and 5.150, where Morson clearly is not. There are colloquial touches, it is true, notably in Idd. 4, 5 and 10, though not on the scale of the urban mime Id. 14 or of the Mimiamboi of Herodas, where the sustained colloquialism brings a coarse verisimilitude to the low urban world that he patronizingly depicts. Even so the coarse language of Id. 4 was explicitly condemned by the seventeenth-century critics, Rapin and Fontenelle.6

The Doric dialect, which Theocritus established for Greek pastoral, is often praised for its naturalness and simplicity. Dryden in his Dedication to the Pastorals (Works ed. Scott-Saintsbury 12, 323-4) even declares that ‘the boorish dialect of Theocritus has a secret charm in it which the Roman language cannot imitate’. But that dialect is in fact a highly artificial synthesis of Doric forms belonging to different districts and periods with occasional Ionic and even Aeolic usages. In this respect it is like all Greek literary dialects, including Herodas' Ionic. Its affinities are not primarily with any spoken dialect but with literary Doric, as exemplified in choral lyric poetry from Alcman and Stesichorus onwards.7 To the stylized evocation of Sicilian or Coan rusticity is thus added a lyric dimension appropriate to the dream-like world of the pastoral. The association of literary genres with distinct dialects of the language—usually those of their earliest exponents—was a notable, perhaps unique, feature of classical Greek literature.8 Attempts to recapture something of the effect of the Doric of Greek pastoral in other languages—whether by translators or imitators—have for the most part proved disastrous. Samuel Johnson's censure (Rambler no. 37, 1750) on Spenser's Shepheardes calendar for its medley of ‘obsolete terms and rustic words’, ‘a mangled dialect which no human being could have spoken’, could equally well be applied to Theocritus. Indeed Dryden (op. cit. 325) believed Spenser to have ‘exactly imitated the Doric of Theocritus’. Johnson's comment illustrates the great difference between the linguistic conventions that were acceptable within the two literary traditions.

More surprisingly, Theocritus adopted for both his pastoral and other Idylls9 not the iambic metre traditionally associated with dialogue in the drama and the mime but the dactylic hexameter, which was long established in the higher literary genres of epic, cult-hymn and didactic poetry, as represented among Theocritus' contemporaries by Apollonius' Argonautica, Callimachus' Hymns and Aratus' Phaenomena respectively. Indeed Id. 22 is in the form of a cult-hymn and 13, 24, 25 are short occasional narrative poems on subjects from heroic mythology of the kind favoured by Callimachus and his associates. That Theocritus belonged to this circle is indicated by Id. 7, where Lycidas after praising Philitas and ‘Sicelidas’ expresses some very Callimachean sentiments on poetry (39-48), and the songs of both Lycidas and Simichidas (52-89, 96-127) have more in common with Hellenistic erotic poetry than with pastoral. The poem is in fact a literary manifesto. Indeed the Idylls as a whole can be seen as another manifestation of the development of literary forms katà leptón ‘on a small scale’—to use Callimachus' own phrase (Aet. fr. 1.11Pf.)—in conscious reaction against full-scale epic writing. The pastoral was always katà leptón: Theocritus' longest pastoral (Id. 7) has 157 lines, Vergil's (Ecl. 3) 111 lines, Calpurnius' (Ecl. 4) 169 lines. The hexameter became the regular metre of Greek and Latin pastoral,10 and in the anonymous Lament for Bion (71-84) not only is Bion accorded a status equal to Homer but the themes of pastoral are extolled in rivalry to those of traditional epic:

‘Both poets were the favourites of fountains; one drank from the spring of Pegasus, the other took his drink from Arethusa. The former sang of Tyndareus' fair daughter and the mighty son of Thetis and Menelaus son of Atreus; but the theme of this poet's music was not wars and tears but Pan. With the clear voice of the herdsman he sang as he pastured his herds, he fashioned pipes and milked the placid cows; he taught the delights of boys' kisses, nursed Eros in his arms and roused Aphrodite herself.’

The attractions of the countryside to disillusioned urban man were of course recognized in earlier Greek literature, e.g. Eur. Hipp. 73-87, Plato Phdr. 230d, where Socrates expressly rejects them. The Bacchants' cult represented a temporary periodic revolt against the constraints of civilization, but its orgiastic flights were to wild nature, not to the inhabited countryside. Nevertheless their thíasos did confer upon initiates a sense of belonging for a time to a community set apart and—when the rites were over—a serene and joyous feeling of being in sympathetic communion with nature, which have much in common with the mood of the herdsmen in Arcady. But in the classical city-state town and country were closely in contact, and it is not till the growth of the large metropolitan complexes of the Hellenistic period that they were sufficiently dissociated to admit the idealization of rustic life that characterizes the pastoral. In the generations immediately preceding Theocritus the longing for a lost simplicity and naturalness had found expression in the Cynic philosophy. Although Cynicism has at first sight little in common with pastoral, they both share a rejection of civilized constraints on natural behaviour and an acceptance of anarchy in human society. An even closer affinity with pastoral can be found in the philosophy of Theocritus' older contemporary Epicurus, who preached ‘tranquillity’ and ataraxía, ‘freedom from disturbance’, and with his disciples withdrew from the world into the idyllic seclusion and frugal simplicity of ‘the garden’. In Seneca's definition of Epicurean uoluptas (Ben. 4.13.1) the phrases sub densa umbra latitare and intra hortorum latebram recall the secluded otium of the pastoral ‘green shade’. It may not be coincidental that when Vergil forsook philosophy for literature, he passed from the idyllic world of Siro's Epicurean hortus to that of pastoral poetry.

The literary tradition provides evidence for the survival of an older, mythological concept that is important in the formation of the pastoral. In Euripides' description of the Maenads in repose (Ba. 704-11) and in Lucretius' setting for the Epicurean life of primitive man (5.1379-96) there are details that belong to traditional accounts of the Golden Age. Many mythological traditions preserve a belief that in the remote past, before the invention of agriculture, the use of metals and the building of cities and ships, men lived in an age of peaceful anarchy and innocent ease, sustained by the spontaneous fruits of the earth. The Golden Age first appears in Greek literature in Hesiod's Works and days 109-19. Most of its characteristic features are familiar to English readers from Gonzalo's commonwealth in Shakespeare Tempest 2.1. Varro R. 2.1.4-5 cites Dicaearchus for the view that the Golden Age was succeeded by a pastoral culture, when men first tamed animals but had not yet learnt the corrupting habits of commerce and city life.11 Hence the idealized picture of the herdsman's life in the pastoral easily incorporated features of the Golden Age myth, and Donatus could justly assert that illud erit probabilissimum bucolicum carmen originem ducere a priscis temporibus, quibus uita pastoralis exercita est et ideo uelut aurei saeculi speciem in huiusmodi personarum simplicitate cognosci (Vit. Verg. 240-4).12

But the myth of the pastoral is brought close to the present day. For although the poems are often set in the past, it always seems a recent past, so that we have the persistent illusion of a world that is permanently ‘there’, timeless and unchanging. Moreover, it is often given a geographical location—Sicily, South Italy, or Cos in Greek pastoral, Arcadia in Vergil's later pastorals and in much of the subsequent history of the genre. In this way it is related to the real world but in a way that is so vague in its specification and so remote from the environment of the reading public as to be immune to the intrusion of grimmer realities from the more accessible countryside. In more recent times Utopias have generally been situated in the world but at a safe distance: the Indies or Ceylon in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European literature, the South Sea Islands in the eighteenth and nineteenth. Sicily and South Italy were often disrupted by war in Theocritus' own time (cf. Id. 16.76-97), but they were a long way from readers in Cos or Alexandria.

The pastoral landscape is always idyllic. The herdsmen may sometimes speak of the excesses of summer heat and winter cold but the prevailing season seems always to be early summer or spring ‘the fairest season of the year’ (Ecl. 3.57), and the immediate setting always a locus amoenus with shady rocks and leafy trees rustling in the breeze, the sound of cicadas and bees among the shrubs, a cool spring and a stream flowing through lush flowery meadows. The delights of shade in summer heat were familiar enough to ordinary countrymen; circiter meridianos aestus, says Varro (R. 2.2.11) in his account of the herdsman's day, dum deferuescant, sub umbriferas rupes et arbores patulas subigunt [sc. greges] quoad refrigeratur. The locus amoenus itself as a literary theme has a long history from Homer onwards. It is always an inhabited landscape,13 a setting for the activity or repose of gods and men, but one which like the Golden Age has a dream-like quality that sets it apart from the ordinary world of experience. Three instances will suffice to illustrate its functional range. Homer's idyllic account of Calypso's island (Od. 5.63-84) is contrasted with the picture of the homesick Odysseus alone on the shore, weeping as he gazes out over the sea. In O.C. 668-92 the Sophoclean chorus extol the serene beauty of Colonus, where the wandering Oedipus is destined at last to find peace and a refuge from the world. Ovid's exquisite account of Diana's bathing-place (M. 3.155-64) serves to heighten the subsequent pathos of Actaeon's unwitting intrusion.14

In the pastoral there are few passages of extended landscape description: the picture is built up gradually from details scattered incidentally in the course of the poem. But the evocation of the locus amoenus here too is never gratuitous. It provides the appropriate setting for making music, e.g. Idd. 1.12-14, 5.31-4. Even the most elaborate Theocritean landscape (Id. 7.135-46), though it forms the setting for a harvest celebration, comes at the end of a singing contest.15 We are often made aware—at the beginning or end of a poem, in the incidental dialogue, even (as in Id. 5) within the formal songs themselves—of the workaday world of the herdsmen apart from their music-making. Nevertheless music occupies a central place in Arcadian life; it is the social activity to which the herdsmen instinctively turn whenever they gather together with their flocks in the cool shade; it is their chief, almost their only, artistic pursuit. For the carved cup in Id. 1 is an import (56-8), the cups in Ecl. 3 the work of Alcimedon (37, 44), whose name is otherwise unknown to pastoral. The pastoral herdsman in his ideal landscape is ex officio a poet and the traditional image of the poet as shepherd (Hes. Th. 22-3) is now reversed. It is very un-Arcadian of Meliboeus in Calpurnius Ecl. 4.19-28 to reprimand Corydon for neglecting his rustic tasks in order to make music.

The formal songs of the herdsmen are dominated by three themes—the beauties and comforts of the countryside, the pleasures of music and the joys and sorrows of love. All three are brought together in various combinations in the singing contest of Id. 8.

The representation of a sympathetic correspondence between external nature and the events for which it provides the setting is of course widespread in ancient literature; e.g. the opening scene of [Aesch.] P.V., Soph. Phil. 1453-68, and Vergil A. 4.160-72. The sympathetic bond that links the Arcadian landscape, its inhabitants and their music is often noted:

‘Pleasant is the whisper of the pine tree over there beside the spring, friend goathered, and pleasant too is your piping’ (Id. 1.1-3).

It gives added point to a characteristic pastoral figure, the rustic analogy:

‘Cicada is dear to cicada, ant to ant and hawk to hawk, but to me it is the Muse and Song’ (Id. 9.31-2).

Nature-comparisons are of course common in Greek literature from Homer onwards; but the accumulation of parallels and the homeliness of some of the detail—both illustrated in this example—suggest that the figure may have affiliations with popular poetry. Much more important: the Arcadian symbiosis provides an appropriate context for the sympathy figure, in which surrounding nature is portrayed as reflecting the emotions and moods of its human inhabitants:

‘Everywhere that Nais roams there is spring and pastures, everywhere milk flows forth from the udders and the young are nourished. But if ever she departs, the cattle and the cattle-herd alike waste away’ (Id. 8.45-8).

The ‘fallacy’ of the figure, which is explicitly remarked in Nemesianus' Ecl. 2 (44-52, after 27-36), may be intended to show the naivety of the herdsmen. But it is found in other poetic genres. In erotic poetry a complex version of it appears as early as Ibycus (fr. 286P ap. Athen. 13.601b). The ‘Where’er you walk’ variant of it, illustrated just now, recalls a motif traditionally associated with the blessings conferred by a god or goddess (e.g. Callim. H. 3.129-35). In the pastoral itself it becomes so stylized as to rule out any suggestion of the singers' naivety.

The concept of love in the pastoral seems at times crude and superficial: a relationship that is almost wholly sensual, casually entered into with partners of both sexes (for like the lyric and elegiac traditions of erotic poetry the pastoral accepted bisexuality as normal and natural) and no less casually terminated. In Id. 4.38-44 Battus is easily consoled for the death of his Amaryllis, and the easy promiscuity displayed in the coarse exchanges of Id. 5 recurs even in the charming Id. 27, whose form and mood, if not its outcome, has much in common incidentally with the mediaeval pastourelle. Where a lover's constancy is depicted, it is usually in terms of the pain and sorrow that it causes: a discordant note in the idyllic world of Arcady.

The rejected goatherd of Id. 3 is a ludicrous and comic figure, as he sings his futile serenade outside Amaryllis' cave. The poem is a parody of the paraklausíthuron ‘the address to the closed door’, which belongs to the comic and elegiac tradition (e.g. Aristoph. Eccl. 952ff., Plaut. Curc. 147ff., Callim. A.P. 5.23, Tib. 1.2.5-14), and exposes the essential absurdity of the slighted suitor's predicament. In Id. 20 by contrast the rejected goatherd is vaunting and vindictive. In Id. 7 Lycidas' address to Ageanax is in the form of a propemptikón or ‘farewell poem’ familiar from the elegiac and lyric genres; e.g. Callim. fr. 400 Pf., Prop. 1.8, Hor. C. 1.3. It is lightened by thoughts of the boy's joyous home-coming but the good wishes are strictly conditional. The competing song from Simichidas is about Aratus' unrequited love for the boy Philinus.

The most famous of Theocritus' love-poems is Id. 11, an exquisite blend of the comic and pathetic. Polyphemus' playful affair with Galatea was the subject of the singing competition in Id. 6, but now the Cyclops' emotions are far more deeply engaged; the monster shepherd is mellowed, his grosser physical and mental characteristics purged away; he has become an Arcadian and love has inspired him to undreamt-of powers of Arcadian song. His serenade to the sea-nymph is offered by Theocritus to his physician-friend as a model of the ‘medicine of the Muses’, by which the disappointed lover can soothe his sorrow. Theocritus' finest study of rejected love, Id. 2, is not in the pastoral genre. So it is the singing Cyclops, already portrayed in a dithyramb of Philoxenus (Plut. Mor. 622c), who now becomes the pastoral exemplar of the rejected lover; as in Bion fr. 16, [Bion] 2.1-3 (cf. Callim. A.P. 12.150).

The consolations of music in Arcady were to become a permanent theme of later pastoral. So too was the alienation of the lover, which is the antithesis of the sympathetic relation between man and idyllic nature in Arcady. It is hinted at here in the Cyclops' neglect of the flocks in which he takes such pride, and more fully elaborated in the preceding Idyll. For in Id. 10 Bucaeus' alienation is two-fold: his ‘starveling love’ (57) for Bombyca has distracted him from the work of the harvest, and the love-song that he sings to cure the affliction is, as his friend points out, a high-flown piece quite unfitted for his station. The homely edifying verses that Milon offers as a model, reminiscent of the closing pages of Hesiod's Works and Days, come dangerously close, like old Canthus' song in Calp. Ecl. 5, to exploding the fragile illusion of Arcady. It may however be no accident that the context here is agricultural, not pastoral, and Bucaeus' status as ‘a working man who toils in the sun’, stressed at the beginning and end, mark him off from the Arcadian herdsmen. The lover's dissociation from the normal pattern of life and the inspiration to music that his passion brings him certainly provide a link with the elegiac tradition; cf. Prop. 1.1.6, 2.1.4.

Erotic themes are even more prominent in the fragments of Theocritus' successors, and Bion proclaims explicitly (fr. 9)

‘if ever a man sings who has not love in his soul, the Muses slink away and refuse to instruct him; but if anyone whose mind is stirred by Eros makes sweet music, then they all come thronging to him in a great rush’.

This is the voice of Hellenistic epigram rather than pastoral, and a number of the fragments find their closest parallels in the Anthology: the poet's encounter with Eros (Bion fr. 3 and 10) and the character-sketches of the malicious young god (Mosch. Id. 1, and his epigram, Plan. 200, Bion fr. 13 and 14), though they have their precedent in the fable of Cupid and the Bees, [Th.] Id. 19, have much more in common with the sequence of epigrams in A.P. 5 beginning with Meleager's 176 and 177.16 The address to Hesperus in Bion fr. 11 belongs with the ‘nocturnal serenade’—or kômos-epigrams, in particular Meleager A.P. 5.191. Unless the surviving extracts are wholly untypical, it seems that both Moschus and Bion intensified the Theocritean bias towards the exploration of the pains and sorrows of love, a universal literary theme to be sure but one that finds an especially poignant context in the idyllic world of Arcady.

The other melancholy note in the pastoral is that of untimely death. The extinction of youthful promise like the sorrows of love is a perennial motif of folk-literature. In the traditional mythology it is linked symbolically with the cycle of nature's brief season of fertile beauty through such figures as Attis, Linus and Adonis. The link is already implicit in Homer's comparison of the dying Gorgythion to a poppy bent by the spring winds (Il. 8.306-7). But in the pastoral this theme finds an appropriately pathetic setting. The pastoral landscape is depicted at its fairest season and peopled by herdsmen and women in the flower of their youth. In fact older characters rarely intrude and are never in the foreground: e.g. the absent Aegon (Id. 4.4), the old fisherman on the cup (Id. 1.39). Moreover traditional mythology had filled the countryside with monuments to the pathos of love and the extinction of youth in the metamorphoses of Daphne, Syrinx, Hyacinthus, Adonis. … These are seldom explicitly alluded to in pastoral; e.g. Mosch. fr. 3 (Alpheus and Arethusa), Bion fr. 1, Lament for Bion 37-43; but they provided for the reader brought up in the mythological tradition of literature resonances that the pastoral poet could tacitly exploit.

The two themes of the sorrows of love and untimely death come together in one of Theocritus' finest poems, Id. 1, where Thyrsis sings a dirge for the master poet and herdsman Daphnis. The precise circumstances of Daphnis' suffering are not made explicit. (In Id. 7.72-7 it is the love of Xenea that causes his death.) But his status as a pastoral hero17 is underlined by his Promethean silence at the advent of the three deities, the Hippolytan defiance of his final taunts to Aphrodite and the fact that all nature mourns for him.

In Bion's Lament for Adonis the pastoral colour and some of its characteristic figures are employed, as in Theocritus' Hylas (Id. 13), on a subject from traditional mythology; but, characteristically, attention is concentrated less on the image of the dead shepherd, pathetically drawn though it is, than on the grief of the love-stricken goddess. Bion fr. 1 suggests that the death of Hyacinthus may have been treated similarly in that poem. In the anonymous Lament for Bion the theme finds yet a further dimension, applied as it is to the death of a real person. A long tradition was thus initiated, which lasted into the nineteenth century, with Shelley's Adonais and Arnold's Thyrsis; but in the Hellenistic exemplar the fact that the dead poet is a pastoralist enables the pastoral colour and the imagery of nature in mourning, elaborated superbly from hints in Id. 1, to be sustained with a homogeneity that is uniquely appropriate. The analogy between the brevity of nature's beauty and the fragility of human life is here broken, once and for all:

‘Alas, when the mallows die away in our gardens and the green parsley and exuberant dill with its curly leaves, they live and grow again for another year; but we men, tall and strong as we are and wise too, once we are dead, lie there in the hollowed earth unhearing, in a long sleep that has no end and no awakening’ (99-104).

Pastoral consolation is thus darkened by a note of sombre pessimism that was to have its definitive utterance in Horace's spring Odes (C. 1.4, 4.7).

With Theocritus the range of pure pastoral had been defined in its form, figures and subject matter. The melancholy vein that has characterized the whole European tradition is already there in the sorrows of love—most finely depicted in Idd. 10 and 11—and of untimely death—in Id. 1. In Id. 10 the setting is already subtly widened beyond the strictly pastoral way of life in a manner that Vergil was to exploit far more boldly. In Id. 7 the genre is brought into relation with other modes of poetic creation and the literary controversies in which Theocritus and his friends were involved, but in a manner that risks turning the pastoral setting into a mere framework for other forms of poetry—as it has already become in the fragment of ‘Myrson and Lycidas’ ([Bion] 2: The Epithalamium of Achilles and Deidameia). The extension of the genre to traditional mythological subjects, as in Bion's Adonis and Moschus' Europa, whose opening is rich in pastoral colour, can be recognized as a specifically Hellenistic development, without significant influences in later pastoral literature. But the Lament for Bion and the prevalence of erotic themes in the post-Theocritean pastoral both provide integral features of the tradition. It is against this background that we must attempt to place the Eclogues of Vergil.


Greek pastoral poetry was known to Vergil and contemporary Latin poets chiefly from the collected edition published in the first half of the first century b.c. by Artemidorus, who was probably the authority for the Theocritean canon of ten bucolic idylls.18 There is, however, no evidence for any Latin pastoral poetry before Vergil. If Valerius Messalla wrote pastorals, [V.] Catal. 9.13-20 indicates that they must have been in Greek; Pliny's reference to a Catullan incantamentorum amatoria imitatio (Nat. 28.19) gives no indication of genre; the bucolic ingredients in other genres, e.g. Porcius' epigram cited by Aulus Gellius (N.A. 19.9) and certain poems of the Appendix Vergiliana, have adequate precedents in Hellenistic elegiac poetry.

The natural inference from the words addressed to Pollio in Ecl. 8 a te principium, tibi desinam, can be set beside the explicit statement in the Servian Vita 24-5 tunc ei proposuit Pollio ut carmen bucolicum scriberet, quod eum constat triennio scripsisse et emendasse, which in its context is unlikely to refer to just one carmen, e.g. Ecl. 2 or 8. It was Pollio who suggested to Vergil that he try his hand at pastoral, having been impressed no doubt by the promise of his earlier poetry.19

The ancient testimonia concerning the date of the Eclogues are somewhat ambiguous and inconsistent. Thus besides Vit. 24-5 (cited above) Serv. Buc. prooem. 3.26-7 sane sciendum Vergilium XXVIII annorum scripsisse bucolica, Don. Vit. 89-90 Bucolica triennio, Georgica VII, Aeneida XI perfecit annis; and from the commentary attributed to Probus scripsit Bucolica annos natus VIII et XX Theocritum secutus, Georgica Hesiodum et Varronem (323.13-14) and eum, ut Asconius Pedianus dicit, XXVIII annos natum Bucolica edidisse (329.6-7). Relevant too is Servius' remark quae [sc. eclogae] licet decem sint, incertum tamen est quo ordine scriptae sint (Buc. prooem. 3.15-16). Two clues can however be salvaged from all this: the importance of the poet's twenty-ninth year, viz. the year beginning 15 October 42 b.c., and the period of three years that is mentioned by both Servius and Donatus. As at least three of the poems, 6, 8, and 10, are in their present form manifestly later than 42-41 b.c., we may infer that in this year Vergil either began writing the Eclogues or more likely published the first of them. For it is reasonable to suppose that the poems were first published individually or in pairs, each with a title and a dedication. Neither the titles given by Donatus (Vit. 306ff.: Tityrus, Alexis, Palaemon, Pollio, Daphnis, Varus or Silenus, Corydon, Damon or pharmaceutria, Moeris, Gallus) nor those recorded in the manuscript tradition and noted in the apparatus to each poem can be authenticated; but the dedications of some at least are certain: 4 and 8 to Pollio, 6 to Varus, 10 to Gallus. This piecemeal publication of the Bucolica accounts perhaps for the alternative name Eclogae: each poem was an eklogé ‘excerpt, extract’ from a projected whole. Part of the confusion in the testimonia may be due to the use of Bucolica in two different senses: individual ‘pastoral poems’ and ‘the pastoral poems’ as a collected group. The latter meaning is certain in the Donatus and first ‘Probus’ passages. The three year period takes us to October 39 b.c. The significance of this date will appear shortly.

Apart from the testimonia we have three criteria for dating.

The first is by references in the poems to external events. Thus the occasion of Ecl. 4 is Pollio's consulship. The miraculous sequence of events that is to begin in his year of office is spoken of in the future tense, but this does not guarantee a date before 40 b.c.; ancient poets like modern ones were not averse from producing their occasional verses after the occasions that they purport to herald. A publication date in late 41 or 40 b.c. is therefore equally possible. Similarly the dedication of Ecl. 8 looks forward to Pollio's triumphal return from his Macedonian proconsulate and so provides a notional date in the late summer of 39 b.c. But again the actual date may be later. The allusion to Varus' campaigning in Ecl. 6 must be to his proconsular service in 38 (he was consul in the preceding year); and that takes us beyond the triennium mentioned by the ancient authorities.

Some of the external allusions are disputable. Thus the publication of Ecl. 5 must be placed after July 42 b.c. only if (as is maintained on pp. 28-9 and in the commentary) it was connected with the first celebration of Julius Caesar's birthday with full divine honours. Other allusions are now irrecoverable: for instance the date of Pollio's noua carmina (3.86), of Gallus' aetiological poem (6.72-3) or his love affair with Cytheris (10 passim). Even Ecl. 1 and 9, concerned with the aftermath of the land-confiscations, cannot be accurately placed; for although the resettlement of veterans that necessitated the evictions was begun by the triumvirs late in 42 b.c. after the battle of Philippi, it continued right through the thirties. The reference to Varus and Mantua in 9 point to a notional date in 42-40 b.c., but there is no such clue in the other poem.

The first criterion enables us at best to place Eclogues 5, 4, 8 and 6, in that order, within the period 42 b.c. to 38 or a little later.

Cross-references and echoes between Eclogues provide a second dating criterion. Thus 5.85-7 reveals that 2 and 3 were already published, otherwise the allusion to them would be not only pointless but unintelligible. The oblique reference to the theme of 5 at 9.46-50 likewise presupposes the reader's familiarity with the former poem. Indeed Menalcas' fragments in 9.23-5 etc. would lose much of their impact if most of the other Eclogues had not already been published. Again the probable connection between 8.97-9 and 9.54 is the more effective if the former passage was the earlier. By contrast the much-discussed links between 3.89 and 4.25, 30 and between 1.74 and 9.50 cannot by themselves be used to establish priority one way or the other, and the echoes in 10 from 2 and 8 add nothing to our knowledge of the relative chronology of these two poems.

The second criterion, combined with the first, suggests an order 2, 3, 5, 4, 8, 9, 6, 10 (with the possibility that 9 preceded 8).

Lastly there is the stylistic criterion. Inevitably subjective impressions enter at this point and the time-span of the whole collection is too short for the application of objective statistical checks. Moreover such distinctive features as can be plotted—like the relatively high incidence of spondaic rhythm in Ecl. 4 or of fourth-foot homodynes and contracted perfect forms of the verb in Ecl. 6—are more likely to be connected with the thematic individuality of the poems in which they occur than with their chronological location.

Of more importance is Vergil's changing relationship to Greek pastoral. Here too caution is needed; for so little survives of post-Theocritean Greek pastoral that apparent innovations by the Latin poet may have had more precedent than we are aware. So far as Theocritus is concerned a ‘spectrum’ of imitatio can be observed both at the level of whole poems and in terms of local detail. 2, 3, 7 and 8 stand formally or thematically within the Theocritean tradition; 5, 10 and 9 employ setting and motifs from Theocritus, but in new contexts or in association with new material; 1, 4 and 6 are original compositions with few essential traces of Theocritean influence. As for local detail: many lines of Ecl. 3 are little more than paraphrases of Theocritus; but a freer more original mode of adaptation is revealed for instance in the description of the cups in 3.35-48, the recollection of the first falling in love in 8.37-41 and the visitation of the gods in 10.21-30; and a distinctively Vergilian handling of conventional figures is to be found in the rustic analogies of 5.16-18, 45-7, 82-4, the sympathy figure in 7.53-60 and the locus amoenus of 1.51-8. Lastly we find in all the poems details that are entirely without Theocritean precedent.

The pattern of Vergilian imitatio is in fact very complex and cannot be neatly reconciled with the chronology suggested by the other criteria; there is far more of Theocritus for example in 8 than in 4, and we may have to reckon here with the reworking of earlier compositions. Nevertheless it is broadly true that poems which can be shown on other evidence to be late exhibit a bolder, more independent treatment of such Theocritean material as they employ. Taking Eclogues that are comparable in form or subject matter, we can detect in 1, 7 and 8 signs of greater maturity both of conception and composition than in their partners 9, 3 and 2 respectively.

The third criterion gives no ground for revising the order proposed earlier; but it does support the location of 7 in the latter half of the series and 1 in the latest group, along with 6 and 10.

Taking together the phrase a te principium in 8.11, the tribute to Pollio in 3.84-7 and the ancient tradition concerning the motivation of Ecl. 2, which is discussed in the final note on this poem, we may conclude that certainly the second Eclogue and probably also the third were dedicated explicitly to Pollio. From 45 b.c. Pollio was in Hispania Ulterior, whence he returned in 42 or 41 to take charge of Gallia Cisalpina on Antony's behalf. His return from Spain would have provided an appropriate occasion for Vergil to present him with the first-fruits of his patronage. So the publication of Ecl. 2 and 3 can be assigned to 42-41 b.c., when the poet was XXVIII annos natus. The words tibi desinam also in 8.11 suggest that this poem, dedicated again to Pollio on the occasion of his triumphal return in 39 b.c., was intended to complete Vergil's Pastoral œuvre. To date this would have comprised a pair of Eclogues on the pains and perils of love, both homosexual (2) and heterosexual (8), a pair on political themes, 5 and 4, and the contest-poem 3. To these we can surely add 7, the other contest-poem, on the assumption that 7 and 8 were intended to form a complementary pair to 3 and 2 and published close to each other in 39 b.c. The Bucolica that Vergil triennio perfecit were thus 2, 3, 5, 4, 7 and 8. With minor revisions to the earlier ones (Servius' emendasse) these could all have been published in a collected edition towards the end of 39 b.c. and dedicated to Pollio. They form a nicely varied set of pastorals and the chronological order also provides a neat chiastic arrangement of forms and themes for the whole group.

If a Theocritean Bucolic corpus of ten idylls was already accepted, it is likely that Vergil had the idea of a decad of Eclogues in mind from the start. However, even if the Pollio group were not actually published as a collection, the implication of 8.11 is that he had put aside any such idea, at any rate until new sources of inspiration for pastoral invention could be found. In the event some of his most novel and important work in the genre was to come; for it is probable that 9 and 1, certain that 6 and 10 belong to the years after 39 b.c.

It is not known at what date all ten Eclogues were republished as a single book; but the early years of the Principate seem the most likely period. There is no reason to doubt that the order of the poems in that edition was the one that is observed consistently in the manuscript tradition, or that Vergil himself intended it to have some significance. What that significance was seems already to have eluded the ancient commentators: naturalem consertumque ordinem nullum esse certissimum est (Don. Vit. 322-3). In recent years the question has been much discussed. Arithmetical explanations have been especially in favour, ranging from fantastic structural analogues with ‘Bucolic chapels’ and Neo-Pythagorean number-symbolism, through the calculation of ‘Golden sections’, to more sober ingenuities concerning ‘Symmetry and sense’. There is little agreement among the scholars who choose this kind of approach, and the firm numerical facts are hardly sensational, e.g. that 2 and 8 together have almost the same number of lines (182 or 183) as 3 and 7 (181), which may be deliberate, or that 4 and 6 together have almost the same number (149) as 1 and 9 (150), which is probably coincidental. The discussion that follows is on altogether different lines.

Clearly the Pollio group forms the core of the book: 2, 3, 5, 4, 7, 8. The four poems published subsequently form two pairs: 9 and 1 on the effects of the land confiscations, 6 and 10 on Gallus and poetry. Ecl. 10 is explicitly the end-piece of the collection. A straight chronological arrangement would probably have given 2, 3, 5, 4, 7, 8, 9, 1, 6, 10, or something very similar. But if the Pollio group was kept intact and its chiastic arrangement of complementary pairs continued, with the earlier poem preceding in each instance, the order would have been 6, 9, 2, 3, 5, 4, 7, 8, 1, 10, with the two pairs of conventional pastorals, 2 and 3, 7, and 8 alternating with the three pairs of more original poems, 6 and 9, 5 and 4, 10 and 1, and the political Eclogues 5 and 4 in central position. The prominent position of 6 and 10 would reflect both the influence of Gallus on Vergil's literary ideas at the time when these two Eclogues were published and the personal esteem in which Vergil held him. The opinion reported by Servius, alii primam illam uoluntprima Syracosio’ (Buc prooem., 3.19-20; cf. Don. Vit. 324-5), which is usually taken as a silly inference from the first word of the sixth Eclogue, may ultimately reflect Vergil's intention for the first decad edition.

It seems clear that Ovid (A. 1.15.25) and Calpurnius (4.62-3) knew Tityrus as the first poem of the Bucolica. But the implications of G. 4.565-6, carmina qui lusi pastorum audaxque iuuenta,Tityre, te patulae cecini sub tegmine fagi, are much less certain. We do not know the date of this coda to the Georgics, and in any case the reference may be not to the Eclogues as a whole but specifically to Ecl. 1. It is not difficult however to see why Ecl. 6 was not retained in first position. It would have been aesthetically somewhat disconcerting to begin the collection with its least pastoral member. The Eclogue is dedicated to a minor patron who on the evidence of 9.27 had in the event done little to earn the poet's gratitude. Moreover, if the final edition came out in the early Augustan period, it would not have seemed inappropriate to promote to a prominent position the one Eclogue in which the Princeps himself appears; deus nobis haec otia fecit would now have a significance far beyond its immediate context in the poem. If that edition postdated Gallus' public disgrace and suicide in 26 b.c., then the political motive would have acquired a more sinister urgency.

The demotion of 6 and the concomitant transposition of 1 and 9 (if indeed they were not already in this order) entailed adjustments to the pattern of the book. With 10 now taking on the status of an epilogue to the chiastically ordered group 1, 2, 3, 5, 4, 7, 8, 9, the obvious place for 6 was in the centre of 1-9, between 5 and 4. Instead Vergil chose, somewhat surprisingly, to place it before 7 and to reverse the order of 5 and 4 (assuming that they were not already in this order). Now to have left 5, 4, 6 in that order would have spoiled the chiastic symmetry, since 5 and 6 cannot on any interpretation be paired together like 3 and 7, 2 and 8; but it would have left the Messianic Eclogue in central position, a fine Augustan gesture from the poet who was to write, if he had not already written, of Augustus Caesar as founder of the new aurea … saecula (A. 6.792-3). The arrangement finally adopted detaches 4 from its original thematic counterpart 5 and sets it in a new relationship with 6—Sibyl's prophecy balanced by Silenus' song—leaving 5 centrally placed within the chiastic group, and incidentally in a new relationship with the concluding 10, comparable to that of 4 with 6. The effect of placing 5 centrally and after 4 rather than before it is to place the emphasis on the vaguer, less extravagant, statement of political optimism, which may reflect the poet's feelings towards the Augustan Golden Age after the persecution of his friend Gallus.

Something of the pattern discernible in the Pollio group of six has indeed survived into the final edition of ten. The impressively ranging sequence of themes—poetic manifestos, the dispossessions, the pains and perils of love, the conventional topics of pastoral singing contests, political tributes and aspirations, and then back again—has been truncated, to be sure, but at least the pattern of formal variation remains. First the odd-numbered poems: 1 and 9 are conversation-pieces, 3 and 7 singing competitions introduced by conversation, 5 a conversation enclosing a pair of balanced songs. Among the even poems: in 8 a brief scene-setting leads to a competition in the form of two balanced songs, in 2 it is followed by a monologue, 6 and 10 have a narrative scene leading to a monologue, 4 has a brief proem followed by a monologue in the poet's own person. While the even-numbered poems are thus more varied in form, the general distinction holds throughout: in contrast to the other five they are all non-conversational. Indeed this formal criterion, which was clearly important in the general arrangement, may have determined the final order of 4, 5, 6 after 6 had been demoted.

Much of this discussion has of necessity been speculative. Many readers of the Eclogues would no doubt prefer, given the impossibility of definitive answers, to leave questions of both chronology and arrangement unexplored. Yet arguments about the order in which the poems were written are closely bound up with our views of what Vergil was attempting to do with the pastoral genre and how his conception of it developed as he wrote. Furthermore a poet's decisions about the arrangement of his book are an integral part of the creative process itself, even if only a minor one. Hence in grappling with both questions we are continually brought back to various aspects of the poems and their interrelationships, some of which will be taken up in the concluding section. This is perhaps the chief justification of the enquiry.


The reader who comes to the Eclogues direct from Theocritus immediately recognizes much that is familiar, and we have already noticed some of the modes of Vergilian imitatio (p. 17). Yet the conventional figures and motifs are often treated with an originality of detail and a care for their integration into the new contexts that is both striking and effective. Thus, for instance, the rustic analogy (p. 9), which in 2.63-5 still retains much of its Theocritean naivety, becomes in its recurrent variations at 5.16-18, 45-7, 82-4 a vehicle for asserting the pastoral integrity of the poem. Similarly with the sympathy figure (p. 9). In 1.38-9 the image of Tityrus' farm mourning his departure grows naturally out of the preceding lines, in which the signs of neglect resulting from his absence are realistically depicted. Again at 7.53-60 the ‘Where’er you walk’ variant of the figure has been transformed by Vergil into a subtle and evocative conceit, reminiscent—like much else in the poem—of Hellenistic epigram at its best.

The conventional singing competition appears in two of the poems. The first of them, Ecl. 3, is in many places little more than a pastiche of Theocritean reminiscences. The original details, though significant for the direction that Vergil's concept of the genre was already taking, are either obscure—like the symbolic figures on the cups and the related pair of riddles at the end—or else clumsy—like the abrupt intrusion of Pollio and contemporary literary controversy into the songs of the two herdsmen. By contrast Vergil reverts in Ecl. 7 to a purer, more homogeneous pastoral conception. The range of themes—rustic piety, delight in the countryside and its music, the pleasures and sorrows of country love—is entirely conventional. But the detail is almost…original, the technique is mature and the choice of quatrains rather than couplets enables each theme to be elaborated more fully. Moreover Vergil manages subtly to characterize the two singers through the songs that he assigns to them. In fact this highly wrought poem stands as one of the finest essays in pure pastoral ever written.

An important innovation in Ecl. 7 is the description of the two singers as Arcades. The mythical character of their Arcady is indicated by its setting here (7.13) beside the Mantuan river Mincio: it represents a synthesis of the conventional pastoral myth, certain traditions about Arcadia (see 7.4n.), and Vergil's own view of the Italian countryside and its way of life, coloured by the memories of his own boyhood home in Cisalpine Gaul. The definitive presentment of this Arcady occurs only in the last pastoral that he wrote, Ecl. 10, whence it was mediated by way of Sannazaro's Arcadia (1504) to the Renaissance exponents of the genre.

As in Theocritus, the very full picture that we get of the idealized landscape is built up gradually by descriptive details scattered through each poem. At first sight it is remarkably consistent in the two poets. In the foreground meadows grazed by goats, sheep or cattle, with flowers and shrubs humming with bees, nearby springs and rivers lined with willows and marsh-reeds, hollow rocks and shady trees to provide shelter from the heat, in the branches above the rustle of the breeze and the throaty cooing of pigeons and doves; not far off are orchards, vines and ploughed fields—here Vergil widens the Golden Age landscape of the pastoral to incorporate more of the real countryside—and in the near distance wooded hills, sometimes a tract of open water—specifically the sea in 2.26—and further away a market town. That the poet of the Georgics, born and brought up in the farming region of Mantua, depended for any of this on the writings of his distinguished Syracusan predecessor passes all belief. The details of the scene right down to the flowers and trees that are named belong not to exotic places evoking magical landscapes but to the familiar Italian countryside. In Vergil's locus amoenus as in so much else the Theocritean convention has been revitalized and enriched by personal experience and observation of the world about him.

The few passages of detailed description are all contextually significant, but in ways that go far beyond Theocritus. Meliboeus' description of Tityrus' farm (1.51-8) as a locus amoenus is contrasted emphatically with his brutally realistic account of the place a few lines earlier (1.47-8). But the intervening couplet, recalling the hazards that await him in exile, reveals the significance of the contrast. To one deprived even the familiar scene of the humblest farm takes on the aura of Arcady.

The same contrast is to be found as early as Ecl. 2, where Corydon describes in detail (46-55) the gift of flowers and fruits that the Nymphs will bring to Alexis, if by some chance he deigns to descend to the sordida rura (28). It is a rich complex of sensuous imagery: colour, scent and texture. But it is entirely the product of his imagination - for the ingredients could never be in season together - and its significance lies, like Meliboeus' locus amoenus, in its revelation of the power of the humble countryside to inspire in its inhabitants a truly Arcadian vision, one which in the end no alien townsman can fully share.

Intimations of the real countryside and its routines occur in Theocritus of course, especially before and after the interludes of song. But they are more numerous and wide-ranging in Vergil. Thus, in addition to Theocritean details like the dangers to the flocks (3.94-9) and the basketwork (2.72), there are references to ploughing and sowing (2.66, 5.36) and pruning (9.61), swineherding (10.19), marketing (1.34-5) and even the technicalities of animal husbandry (1.45). Hunting too figures more prominently in the Eclogues than in the Idylls (2.29, 3.75, 5.60-1, 7.29-30). References to Italian religion, e.g. the Ambarualia in 3.76, Pales and Ceres in 5.35, 79, Fauni in 6.27, Silvanus in 10.24, are less remarkable, as are the riddles in 3.104-7, a rustic detail without precedent nevertheless in extant pastoral. Calpurnius adds to the Italian colour by including for instance the finger-game and the deities Flora and Pomona in his Ecl. 2.25-33. Even socio-legal concepts, which are distinctly foreign to pure pastoral, are introduced in the Eclogues—citizen and slave status (1.32, 71), formal marriage (8.29-30), the rights of possessio (9.3). Some of these details, to be sure, have a particular contextual relevance, but this in itself indicates the widening of the range of the genre. We can certainly reconstruct far more of the conditions of ordinary life in the country from the Eclogues than we ever could from the Idylls.

The herdsmen, as in most subsequent pastoral, still have Greek names. To Vergil's contemporaries, familiar with the latifundia of the Italian countryside, which were heavily dependent upon slave-labour from the Greek-speaking world, this would not have seemed remote from reality. Yet Meliboeus in Ecl. 1 and Menalcas in Ecl. 9 seem to be Roman citizens, and the retention of the Greek names here is a device for integrating them fully into the pastoral fiction. Indeed the retention of the Greek case forms Alexi, Daphnin, Amaryllida etc. throughout the Eclogues intensifies the Greek colour. As in Theocritus, it is not easy to determine the precise status of individual herdsmen: some may be slaves, others hired farm-hands, others again small-holders. However where social status is relevant to the dramatic situation of the poem it is usually clarified, as with Tityrus and Meliboeus in Ecl. 1, Corydon and Alexis in Ecl. 2. Donatus' observation (Vit. 215-18) that cattleherds take precedence over shepherds, shepherds over goatherds—swineherds do not even merit a mention—certainly applies to the real countryside, where the type of stock grazed reflects the quality of the land. However apart from the fact that, as in Theocritus, the prestigious Daphnis is always a cattleherd and Tityrus generally in a position of subservience to the other characters, there seems to be no particular hierarchy among the herdsmen. Some of Vergil's herdsmen graze a variety of animals, for instance Tityrus (1), Meliboeus (7); and even when they are explicitly associated with one kind—Mopsus (5) and Corydon (7) have goats, Menalcas (3) and Thyrsis (7) sheep, Damoetas (3) cattle—this hardly ever excludes the possibility of diversification, nor is it implied that one kind of herdsman is superior to another. Indeed goats and sheep, not cattle, appear in the Golden Age imagery of Ecl. 4 and Vergil's choice of the goatherd's role for himself in Ecl. 10, though it may be a suggestion of humility (as Servius believed), is more likely to mark the difference between the poet and Gallus in their commitment to Arcardian life.

The fact that Corydon is a Mantuan goatherd in Ecl. 7 and a Sicilian herdsman grazing principally sheep in Ecl. 2 raises specifically a more general question: how far can we expect to see connections between characters in different poems who bear the same name? Certainly the two gentle Corydons have much in common and 7.37-40 seems a deliberate, if oblique, invitation to associate them. Amaryllis too is consistently portrayed throughout, and it is possible, as with some of the other characters, to compose a biographical sketch of her. She is pretty (1.5), quick-tempered (2.14, 3.81), an efficient housewife (1.30), not unfamiliar with the occult (8.77), fancied by Corydon (2.52), Damoetas (3.81), Lycidas and Menalcas (or Moeris, 9.22), but she settled for security with old Tityrus (1.5, 30). Again the subservient role assigned to Tityrus elsewhere is clearly relevant to his situation in Ecl. 1; and the possibility that in Moeris' words at 9.54 we are meant to recall the Moeris of 8.97-8 adds to the pathos of the former context. On the other hand the Meliboei of 3.1 and 7.9 seem irrelevant to the Meliboeus of Ecl. 1, and Daphnis can hardly be the same person in 5.56-7 as in 9.46. On the whole it seems that with the exception of Menalcas (see pp. 29, 31) there is, as in Theocritus, nothing much to be gained (or for that matter lost) from a general assumption that the recurrence of the same name is significant.

Latin had of course no literary dialects. So in an effort to reproduce something of the effect of Theocritus' Doric Vergil puts into the mouths of his herdsmen colloquial and archaic forms and idioms redolent of rural dialects. Whether he went as far as introducing rustic spellings like hedus for haedus is very doubtful; for although such forms are often attested in our manuscripts of the poems, they may reflect late Latin pronunciation rather than the rusticity of the classical period. The colloquialisms that do occur come chiefly in conversations or in those parts of the formal songs that concern practical husbandry. It is likely that ancient purists objected, as Boileau and Pope did later, to such linguistic realism as being beneath the dignity of the genre; and it can hardly be coincidental that colloquialism is prominent in all three parodies of the Eclogues cited in Donatus' Vita (174-7) and Servius (on 5.36). However such details do not seem to have affected Horace's assessment of the general tone of the Eclogues as being molle atque facetum ‘delicate and witty’ (S. 1.10.44). The two epithets probably refer to style rather than matter, and are notoriously difficult to translate.20 They clearly imply a register far removed from that of epic (cf. Prop. 2.1.2, 41); which is indeed the point of the phrase in Horace's own context. The combination of Latin rusticity with Greek colour, produced by the frequency of Greek proper names complete with Greek case forms, is the linguistic counterpart of the blend of Greek myth and Latin reality that is the distinctive characteristic of the Eclogues.

Molle atque facetum would serve as a description of the personal poetry of Catullus or the Hellenistic epigrammatists. Indeed the affinities between the Greek pastoral and elegiac treatment of erotic themes were taken up and explored further by Vergil in the Eclogues. As in Theocritus and his successors, the emphasis is again on the sorrows of constant love, set against a background of more carefree bisexual promiscuity.

Ecl. 2, the lament of Corydon, has many echoes of Greek pastoral—the comic serenader of Id. 3, the angry goatherd of Id. 20, the alienated reaper of Id. 10 and above all the love-sick Polyphemus of Id. 11. The formative influence of Meleager's Alexis epigram (A.P. 12.127) is seen in the homosexuality of the poem and the conceit that it exploits in the contrast between the transient heat of the midday sun and the unabating fires of frustrated passion. Moreover Vergil has added to the situation a successful rival, Iollas, the diues amator familiar from Augustan elegy. Out of this material he is able to create a more complex human character, whose abrupt changes of mood—between longing and brutal self-awareness—bring a dramatic movement to the shepherd's monologue. Like the lovers of Roman elegy Corydon is more preoccupied with the pains of his love than with the praises of the beloved, and is at once a comic and a pathetic figure. In fact here in this elegiac pastoral we have the true prototype of the Passionate Shepherd of the later pastoral tradition.

In Ecl. 8 we are presented with a study in the contrasting reactions of lovers to infidelity, real or imagined. Formally the carefully balanced songs of Damon and Alphesiboeus represent a contaminatio of motifs taken from the first two idylls of Theocritus. Damon's goatherd, who has been jilted by Nysa, reveals all the passivity of Corydon in Ecl. 2, but with none of the turbulent fluctuations of mood; and his grief, intensified by the memory of their first meeting—a brilliant adaptation of a scene from Id. 11—leads not to the day-dreaming resignation that we saw in Ecl. 2 or to the defiant martyrdom of Theocritus' Daphnis but to suicidal despair. In Alphesiboeus' song, a pastoral adaptation of one of Theocritus' urban idylls, the girl, suspecting her absent lover's infidelity, resorts to the carmina of magic to bring him back. Unlike the goatherd she is positive and determined, and in a passage inspired by Lucretius, which subtly exposes her own vulnerability, she looks forward to the triumphal conclusion of her arts. There is here perhaps an implied praeceptum amoris: to the forsaken lover resourceful boldness may accomplish more than the application of the ‘Muses’ medicine’.

Finally in Ecl. 10 the theme of sollicitus amor appears in relation to an historical person; Vergil's friend and fellow-poet Cornelius Gallus is depicted languishing in Arcady. The opening scene recalls the setting of Daphnis' death in Id. 1, but Gallus' address to the Arcadians is wholly new to pastoral. Gallus longs to have escaped from his troubles by becoming an Arcadian; yet his commitment is half-hearted. His conception of Arcady is dominated by the image of its abundant and varied love-life and the pleasures of hunting. No suggestion here of tending the flocks and pastures. Indeed some of the details of his monologue (10.44-9, 53-4) recall non-pastoral motifs from elegy. Like Corydon in Ecl. 2—and the comparison is reinforced by several echoes of that poem—he experiences abrupt changes of mood; his yearning to escape to Arcady leads to a desire to share its delights with the faithless Lycoris. His conclusion, omnia uincit Amor, et nos cedamus Amori, takes us back in this the latest of all the Eclogues to the resignation of the rejected lover, which was the theme of the earliest of them.

The Vergilian treatment of love in these three poems is more complex, its melancholy more distinctively elegiac than in Theocritus, and it is not surprising that Propertius and Ovid recognized in the Eclogues a kindred voice (Eleg. 2.34.67ff., Tr. 2.537-8). Nevertheless, if we apply Johnson's criterion of true pastoral as a ‘poem in which any action or passion is represented by its effects on a country life’ it must be admitted that in Vergil, as in Theocritus and even more in later pastoral, the rustic setting is but a masque for the presentment of a generalized study of the chagrins d’amour. Only in Ecl. 2 is the rustic voice essential to the conception of the lover's suffering.

The presence of Gallus in Ecl. 10 brings us to another feature of Vergilian pastoral: the concern to relate the mythical world directly and explicitly to contemporary reality. The precedents were there in Id. 7 and the Lament for Bion. As early as Ecl. 3 we can see an attempt to extend it in the explicit reference to Pollio, Bavius and Mevius. Apart from the dedication of Ecl. 6 (Varus), historical characters are introduced in their own names also in Ecl. 4 (Pollio), 6 and 10 (Gallus) and 9 (Varus, Varius and Cinna); and iuuenem in 1.42 clearly alludes to Octavian. So Vergil did not scruple to break the pastoral illusion when it suited his purpose. But it must be admitted that, apart from Pollio in Ecl. 4 and Gallus in Ecl. 10, who are portrayed in a way that is not inorganic to the mythical context, these unassimilated intrusions of real persons are awkward and disconcerting. Johnson's comment on Ecl. 6 is very much to the point: after conceding that it ‘rises to the dignity of philosophic sentiment and heroic poetry’ he concludes that ‘since the compliment paid to Gallus fixes the transaction to his own time, the fiction of Silenus seems injudicious’ (The Adventurer no. 92, 22 Sept. 1753).

A different mode of allusion appears as early as Ecl. 5. Like Ecl. 8 it contains a pair of equally balanced and thematically complementary songs: on the death and deification of Daphnis. In contrast to the other retractationes of the Daphnis-motif in 8.17-61 and 10.9-30 the erotic context of Daphnis' death in Id. 1 has been removed and the apotheosis of Daphnis added. Vergil has in fact gone back beyond Theocritus to the original Daphnis, the Sicilian rustic hero, and used the myth of his death and deification to allude to recent history, paying a poetic tribute to Julius Caesar and proclaiming in pastoral imagery his own political sympathies. In Ecl. 8 he was to bring together the treatment of erotic themes from urban and pastoral idylls of Theocritus. In Ecl.5 he introduced the political themes of Idd. 16 and 17 into the pastoral genre. The image of the ruler as shepherd of his people is as old as Homer (Iliad 2.243). Pastoral precedent for panegyric on the death of an historical person existed in the Lament for Bion. The further step that Vergil has taken is a small one, but it was decisive. For it opened the way to the employment of pastoral in the praise of princes, which appears already in the eulogies of Nero in Einsiedeln Ecl. 1 and Calpurnius Ecl. 1 and 4, and in the Renaissance provided a precedent for converting the genre into elaborate allegory, to the eventual impoverishment of its distinctive character. In Ecl. 5 the technique is allusive rather than allegorical. All the detail is organic to the pastoral myth; it is only in the poem taken as a whole and read in its historical context that we can see that it is more than a variation on the traditional pastoral theme. The representation of Vergil and Caesar through the pastoral figures of Menalcas and Daphnis assimilates them to the Arcadian world21 in a way that Pollio, Varus and the rest never are; the retention of their historical names marks them off as outsiders, not necessarily hostile but intruders nonetheless from the historical world beyond the myth.

Menalcas' song reflects the optimism inspired by the Julian comet, which had appeared in the heavens in the summer of 44 b.c. These hopes for a new era of peace and prosperity, reiterated in 9.46-50, also inspired a far more original pastoral. Ecl. 4 is based upon the contrapuntal elaboration of two powerful apocalyptic images, the miraculous birth of a Wonder-Child and the return of nature's Golden Age.

As we have already observed, the Golden Age had close links with the pastoral myth; but Vergil seems to have been the first poet to conceive the Saturnia regna not as belonging exclusively to the irrecoverable past but as something destined to return to the earth in the future. Here we can detect the influence of cyclic conceptions of history like the magnus annus, which is in fact alluded to in the opening thematic exposition. The image of the Child, easily associated with the primaeval innocence of the Golden Age and the pastoral, seems to have had a prominent role in many myth-ritual patterns relating to the annual rebirth of the seasons. As an apocalyptic figure it belongs to Near Eastern culture and is most familiar to us from the prophetic verses of the Book of Isaiah, which Christians have always interpreted as foretelling the birth of Jesus. St Augustine likewise identified Vergil's Child here, and Ecl. 4, combining with the pastoralism of the Gospels, as represented in Luk. 2.8, 15.4, Joh. 10.11 (cf. Heb. 13.20), 21.16, established Messianism as a theme for Christian pastoral. Vergil himself probably took the image of the Child from Sibylline oracle, to which allusion is made explicitly in the opening exposition of the poem, and saw the imaginative possibilities of combining it with ingredients of the Hesiodic Golden Age to form a new kind of pastoral poem. The hopes for peace in time of crisis that had been expressed by Theocritus in the non-pastoral context of Id. 16.88ff. are thus incorporated into the thematic range of this most pacific of all poetic genres.

Fifteen years or so later, in A. 6.791-7, Vergil purported to see the fulfilment of the prophesied Golden Age in the principate of Augustus. But when the Eclogue was published, few could have dreamt that the struggle for power between the triumvirs would end as it did. In 40 b.c. the immediate future looked dark indeed, and it is not surprising that the optimism of the poem is qualified, at its centre, by the prediction of heroic wars still to come.

One of the legacies of continuing civil war was the upheavals throughout Italy caused by the confiscation of land for the resettlement of veterans from the victorious armies. The dispossessions began late in 42 b.c., after Philippi, and continued until after Actium. Their effects on the Italian countryside are the subject of the next two poems.

Both are conversation-pieces. In Ecl. 9 Lycidas and Moeris meet on the way to town—the situation vaguely recalls Id. 7. Moeris' former master, the poet Menalcas, has lost his land and gone away, leaving him in reluctant service—perhaps as a hired farm-hand—to the new absentee landlord. On their way the two men sing snatches of Menalcas' poetry, and the contrast between Lycidas' eagerness to sing and Moeris' growing reluctance brings out the more intimate relationship of the latter to the departed poet. The fragments—on themes of Theocritean pastoral, on Varus and Mantua and on Daphnis and the Julian comet—clearly allude to the range of styles and subject matter found in the Eclogues themselves. So we may conclude that, as in Ecl. 5, Menalcas represents Vergil.22 There is perhaps a touch of presumption in the tribute that he thus obliquely pays to himself; but it is set in the context of the impotence of poetry in times of civil strife, the protest against which becomes explicit in lines 11-13. By adopting the pastoral mask of Menalcas he is able not only to identify himself with the pastoral scene that he has created but also to generalize his own misfortunes. In the same way the pastoral figures of Lycidas and Moeris serve to typify the harsh effects of the dispossessions in breaking up old friendships and associations. The sadness of the two herdsmen must have been repeated many times up and down Italy.

The first Eclogue, one of the finest poems in the language, is a study of the contrasting fortunes and temperaments of two typical Italian countrymen. The ageing slave Tityrus, threatened by the evictions with the loss of his one hope of gaining freedom, has secured both his land and his freedom by joining in the protest march to Rome. Octavian, the iuuenis of line 42, has conceded the demonstrators' requests and is rewarded by the promise of divine honours. Meliboeus, apparently a Roman citizen, has been evicted but has done nothing to help himself. As in Ecl. 8 there is the same contrast between the gentle, passive sufferer and the more resourceful and determined character. Meliboeus, who has all the finest poetry of the Eclogue, is wistful as he goes off into exile, and his envy, not marred by any bitterness towards his friend, gives way to anger only at the thought of the barbarian usurper on his land. Tityrus' success has made him complacent and hard, insensitive to others' plight, and it is only at the end—with his offer of a night's hospitality—that the Arcadian values of sympathy and friendship are reasserted.

From Ecl. 9 it is clear that Vergil like Meliboeus had known the pain of eviction. But although the loss of his ancestral land at Mantua must have affected him deeply, he could at least rely on powerful friends to secure material compensation. In these two poems, then, he is less concerned with his own personal troubles than with the plight of his fellow-countrymen in rural Italy, the recent disruption of that peace on which the prosperity of farmers and of the arts alike depends, and the grim reminder that such things were at the mercy of dynasts and generals. Through the refined verses of the two Eclogues we catch the authentic voice of the countryman, modulated with a sympathetic understanding that is far removed from the patronizing urbanity of most pastoral poets before or since.

Vergil saw in the myth of Arcady not just a pretty divertissement for those disaffected citizens who were refined enough to appreciate it but an embodiment of certain moral ideals that he could himself identify closely with the real countryside: a simple way of life, contentment with little, delight in natural beauty, homely piety, friendship and hospitality, devotion to poetry and to peace. If the longing for a lost organic culture is, as some modern theorists have claimed, implicit in the pastoral concept, it was Vergil who developed and exploited this potentiality, to make the genre a vehicle for positive moral criticism of the urban society of his own day. Hence the truth of the Renaissance view, as represented for instance by George Puttenham in The Arte of English poesie (1589), 1.18: ‘These Eglogues came after to containe and enforme morall discipline for the Amendment of man's behauiour … ’

Throughout the Eclogues the city represents a constant threat to Arcadian values: in Ecl. 2 the urban Alexis despises Corydon's humble passion and simple rustic life, in Ecl. 8 it is the city that threatens to deprive the girl of her lover, in Ecl. 9 the city is the goal of Moeris' distasteful journey, in Ecl. 1 the ingrata urbs preys on farmers in peace and has them at its mercy in time of war. The antithesis of rural and urban life provides a further link with the Golden Age myth, and the walled cities are symptoms of priscae uestigia fraudis in 4.31-3. Within the pastoral itself the countryman's hostility towards the city, taken from the real world, is the ideological counterpart to the idealized view of the country that is urbanely exhibited in the orthodox genre itself. In earlier pastoral the very existence of towns seems to have been ignored nor is antagonism to towns an explicit theme of later classical pastoral. On the contrary in Calp. Ecl. 7 the countryman Lycotas is reprimanded for neglecting the delights that the city has to offer. But the antithesis of town and country, which was important in Horace's moralizing (e.g. C. 3.29, Ep. 1.10), became an important ingredient in the Renaissance tradition of the pastoral, where it was enriched by the mediaeval pastourelle and by the ‘Nature v. Nurture’ topos.

The moral criticism borne by the antithesis was elaborated and deepened by Vergil himself in the Georgics (especially 2.467ff.). The Arcadian otium of the Theocritean tradition is there counterpoised by the Hesiodic doctrine of labor. Hard and soft primitivism are thus brought together and the idea of a sympathetic bond between man and his natural environment is underpinned not by the Epicurean securitas of the pastoral but by a more distinctly Stoic creed. It is carried through even into the idyllic homeliness of Evander's Arcadian settlement in Aeneid 8, which is exhibited as a model to the contemporary Augustan metropolis.

The notion that pastoral otium and rustic labor are complementary, that the ideals of Arcady are attainable only to those who accept the humble round of work in the country, is already there in the Eclogues. Corydon's eulogy of the music of Pan and his imaginative rhapsody on the fruits of his land go with his acceptance of the sordida … rura and humilis … casas. The disconsolateness of Gallus who seeks only otium in Arcady is set against the homely picture of the Arcadian herdsmen themselves (10.19-20) and the concluding image of the Arcadian poet plaiting baskets even while he sings. Within this synthesis of myth and reality the linguistic blend of exoticism and realism mentioned earlier (pp. 24-6) finds its appropriate context.

Yet the fine balance of myth and reality on which Vergilian pastoral depends was too delicate to remain for long undisturbed. The introduction of allusions to contemporary history opened the way to the presentment of situations that have little to do with the country. The identification of Menalcas with Vergil in Ecl. 5 and 9 became the cue for commentators to hunt for politicians and poets in all the characters of the Eclogues. Servius is representative: aliquibus locis per allegoriam agit gratias Augusto uel aliis nobilibus, quorum fauore amissum agrum recepit. in qua re tantum dissentit a Theocrito; ille enim ubique simplex est, hic necessitate compulsus aliquibus locis miscet figuras quas perite plerumque etiam ex Theocriti uersibus facit, quos ab illo dictos constat esse simpliciter (Buc. prooem. 2.17ff. cf. Don. Vit. 294ff.). It is significant that there are no such allegorizing speculations in the scholia to Theocritus. This tradition of Vergilian exegesis, which is illustrated in Servius' note on Ecl. 1.39, was reinforced by mediaeval and Hermetic traditions of allegorizing, in which special importance was assigned to the arcana significatio of shepherd names and the obscure symbolism of every detail in the setting and landscape. From Petrarch and Boccaccio onwards pastoral became a recognized vehicle for social, political and ecclesiastical controversy. The shepherds' cloak conceals not a countryman but a prelate or courtier or even some allegorical abstraction. The descriptive details of the rustic setting, the conversations and songs of its inhabitants have become an elaborate code to be cracked by the ingenious reader. The range of themes of course was greatly extended in other ways. New settings appeared in the piscatory and venatory Eclogues, new subjects included autobiographical fragments and the deaths of friends and relatives, state occasions such as royal birthdays and funerals, invasions and armistices, religious devotions to Christ and the Mother of God, and especially ecclesiastical and theological controversy with moral allegorizing. Johnson's strictures on Milton in this respect (Lives of the English poets, ed. Hill, 1.163-5) are well known. There was some fine poetry still, both in Latin and in vernacular pastoral, not least by Milton himself; but the fragile integrity of the genre had been almost totally surrendered. Only perhaps in the treatment of the lover's misfortunes, equally elaborated with allegory and symbolism in the hands of Sannazaro or Sidney, can we see anything essential to the original Theocritean genre surviving. For much of Renaissance pastoral the rustic setting often seems merely a pretty frame for alien material.

Here too Vergil provided something of a precedent with one of his latest pastorals, the enigmatic Ecl. 6. The charming bucolic mime in the first part of the poem is the setting for the decidedly un-Arcadian song that the monster Silenus sings to the shepherd boys. After a cosmogony the recital passes, like Ovid's Metamorphoses, to a series of myths concerned in the main with disastrous love-affairs and sensational transformations. It is true that we can interpret the lusty satyr's recital as the portrayal of love in both its creative and destructive aspects; for there is an erotic undertone to the whole poem, from the opening reference to the reader captus amore to the closing image of the singing Phoebus. But this is a tenuous link indeed with the pastoral eroticism of Ecl. 2, 8 and 10.

In fact the style of the recital, like its content, recalls the tradition not of pastoral but of neoteric narrative: elliptical, allusive, picturesque and subjective. It is therefore no surprise to find already in the opening dedication to Varus an echo from the prologue to Callimachus' Aetia. The Eclogue is Vergil's counterpart to Id. 7: a manifesto of poetic principles expounded obliquely in an appropriate poetic form. Silenus' song asserts the universality of poetry: science and mythology alike are its province, ‘things that are true’ and ‘fictions that are just like fact’, to quote the Muses' commission to Hesiod. For Vergil himself this conception was associated specifically with the neoteric movement and Gallus, whose Hesiodic initiation makes an abrupt intrusion into the mythological sequence of Silenus' song.

This view of the universality of poetry recalls the symbolic figures of Orpheus and the astronomers in Ecl. 3. It points forward to the exquisite blend of science and mythology that Vergil was to achieve in that most Alexandrian and yet most Italian of didactic poems, the Georgics. Ecl. 6 reveals the direction in which his thoughts were turning even before his pastoral œuvre was complete and so stands somewhat apart from the rest of the collection, even more than 4 and 10, which Donatus (Vita 302-3) also excludes from those that are proprie bucolica. But like 4 it is surely not unrelated to the particular synthesis of myth and reality that characterizes Vergil's conception of pastoral. The bucolic frame to Silenus' song is after all more significant than it is in the anonymous Achilles and Deidameia ([Bion] 2) of Greek pastoral or in Calpurnius' first Eclogue in praise of Nero.

In the Eclogues Vergil had explored ways of extending the pastoral that nevertheless preserved and even deepened its essential character. He had developed the theme of solliciti amores in directions that brought out the affinities of the genre with the elegiac tradition; he had brought the Arcadian myth into closer relation with the realities of country life and used it as a model by which to criticize the moral values of the world in which he lived, while at the same time enriching the vision of pure pastoral itself. In making the impersonal myth of Arcady the vehicle for an intense, if oblique, form of personal poetry he—far more than Theocritus—can be deemed the father of European pastoral. He might well have disowned much of his progeny, in particular those works that claimed to find their precedent in the Eclogues but for all their undoubted poetic qualities emptied the genre of its essential character and lacked his own passionate commitment to country life. But he could justly take pride in what he himself had achieved in the genre. Moreover the popular success of the poems was instantaneous: Bucolica eo successu edidit ut in scaena quoque per cantores crebro pronuntiarentur (Don. Vit. 90f.; cf. Tac. Dial. 13.2, Serv.ad Ecl. 6.11), and they became a classic text for study in the schools. At the end of the Georgics Vergil contrasts Octavian's achievements in politics and war with his own cloistered devotion to the Muses:

 … illo Vergilium me tempore dulcis alebat
Parthenope studiis florentem ignobilis oti,
carmina qui lusi pastorum audaxque iuuenta,
Tityre, te patulae cecini sub tegmine fagi.

The modest humility of the contrast is ironical, coming from the poet who had so eloquently championed Arcadian peace against the discord of tela Martia; and the irony is underlined by the allusion to Ecl. 1. Octavian is dead; he has gone the way of Ozymandias, King of Kings. But Vergil lives, and a precious part of that life is this little book written ‘in the boldness of youth’, which contains some of the finest and most original pastoral poetry ever written.


  1. Alexander Pope Discourse on pastoral poetry (1709) §5, reproducing the view of Fontenelle and other continental theorists.

  2. Athen. 14.619a-b and Diod. 4.84, Aelian V.H. 10.18.

  3. See Scholia in Theocritum Vetera (Wendel) 1-13 and for the corresponding Latin accounts 13-22.

  4. ‘Arcady’ is used for the setting of the pastoral myth throughout this introduction, though it is not found in this sense before Vergil. See Ecl. 7.4n.

  5. The Greek word eidúllion ‘a little scene’ ‘a miniature form (of poetry)’—the precise meaning is obscure—does not occur before Pliny (Ep. 4.14.9). Of the twelve pastoral Idylls (1, 3-11, 20, 27) only the first ten were included in the Pastoral canon known to Servius (Buc. prooem. 3.21). Two of the ten (8, 9) together with 20 and 27 are nowadays generally acknowledged to be post-Theocritean.

  6. Cf. Boileau's censure of the pastoral idiom of Ronsard who ‘abject en son langage ❙ fait parler ses bergers comme on parle au village’ (L’Art poétique 2.17-18) - a judgement which Theocritus would not perhaps have been much inclined to dissent from.

  7. Elsewhere in the Idylls it is used for the mime of The fishermen (21), urban mimes (2, 14, 15), heroic and mythological pieces (18, 19, 26) and erotic narrative (23). Of these 19, 21, 23 are post-Theocritean. The use of Doric in 18 and 26 may be intended to relate these poems to the treatment of such themes in choral lyric. Both Moschus (Europa) and Bion (Adonis) employed Doric in mythological poems.

  8. Hence the choice of dialects in the non-pastoral Idylls is not whimsical. The Ionic of the two heroic poems (22, 25) relates them to the tradition of epic narrative and the ‘Homeric’ hymn. In Id. 12 the same dialect places the theme in the tradition of Ionian elegy and epigram. In Id. 13 the Doricized Ionic may be intended to give pastoral colour to the myth; in Id. 24 and the two patronage poems (16, 17) it contributes an appropriate Pindaric colour to the ‘epic’ contexts. The Aeolic of Idd. 28-30 evokes the personal and especially erotic character of Aeolian lyric.

  9. Except 8, which is partly in elegiacs, and 28-30, in Aeolic metres.

  10. Quintilian, while noting the distinctively pastoral mood of Theocritus' verses, places him among the Hellenistic epic and didactic poets (10.1.55; cf. ‘Longinus’ Sublim. 33). Servius however assigns the pastoral to the humile genus (Buc. prooem. 1.16-2.5; cf. Hermog. Id. 2.3), clearly distinguishing the Eclogues from the grandiloquus character of the Aeneid.

  11. In Hebrew mythology similarly the pastoral stage intervenes between the expulsion from the Garden and the building of cities: Abel ‘the feeder of sheep’ is murdered by his brother Cain ‘the tiller of the ground’, who subsequently builds the first city (Genesis 2 and 4.2, 8, 17).

  12. Cf. Pope's definition of the pastoral (Discourse §5), ‘an image of what they call the Golden Age; so that we are not to describe our shepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but as they may be conceived then to have been; when the best of men follow’d the employment’.

  13. Praise of the countryside ultimately became a poetic common-place (cf. Persius Sat. 1.70-1) and its ingredients codified in the rhetorical schools (see Libanius 1.517, §200). However the description of natural beauty as an independent self-contained poetic subject is perhaps not found before Tiberianus' Amnis and Asmenius' Adeste Musae.

  14. To these may be added Plato Phdr. 229-30 and Lucr. 5.1379-96 referred to earlier.

  15. Music-making in the country is a common theme in Hellenistic epigram; e.g. Plato App. Plan. 13, Nicaenetus ap. Athen. 15.673b, Meleager A.P. 9.363.

  16. The relative chronology of the examples here, as elsewhere, is less important for our purpose than the occurrence of the theme in the two separate genres.

  17. For his prowess as musician and cattleherd see Idd. 5.80, 8.81-7 and A.P. 9.433. In Idd. 6, 8, 9, 27 he appears as a typical Arcadian. Both Diodorus and Aelian (see p. 1 n. 2) make him the inventor of pastoral. See Ecl. 5.20n.

  18. Cf. A.P. 9.205, 434 with Serv. Buc. Prooem. 3.21.

  19. Some of which is probably preserved in the Appendix Vergiliana, e.g. Catal. 5 and 7.

  20. mollis is associated with perlucens ‘translucent’, tener and flexibilis ‘supple’ (e.g. Cic. Brut. 274) and contrasted with durus, fortis; facetus associated with elegans (ib. 292) and urbanus (Cic. de Or. 1.159), contrasted with grauis, seuerus,

  21. Mopsus too must represent in pastoral terms, if not a specific fellow-poet, then at least a type of those whose Caesarian sympathies caused them to mourn the dictator's death.

  22. The identification in both Eclogues poses in a particularly acute form the question raised on p. 25. Can we avoid associating this Menalcas with the Menalcas of Ecl. 3, of 2.15 and 10.20, even though Vergil has there given us no comparable clues to identification? Ought we to?

Paul Alpers (essay date 1979)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11104

SOURCE: “Eclogue 1: An Introduction to Virgilian Pastoral” in The Singer of the “Eclogues”: A Study of Virgilian Pastoral, University of California Press, 1979, pp. 65-95.

[In the essay below, Alpers presents a detailed analysis of Vergil's Eclogue One and maintains that the poem suspends potential conflicts, thereby achieving a certain harmony.]


Virgil's first eclogue is a problematic poem, yet it has always been felt to be a representative pastoral. It is perhaps too neat to say that it is representative because problematic, and yet no less an authority than Sidney feels something of the sort: “Is it then the Pastoral poem which is misliked? … Is the poor pipe disdained, which sometime out of Meliboeus' mouth can show the misery of people under hard lords or ravening soldiers? And again, by Tityrus, what blessedness is derived to them that lie lowest from the goodness of them that sit highest.”1 Sidney assumes both that the poem is an exemplary pastoral and that it somehow takes care of the potential contradiction in attitude between Meliboeus and Tityrus. Sidney makes it easy for himself by not remarking that the “hard” and “good” lords in this case are one and the same. Even so, I think his sense of the poem is right—that it holds potential conflicts in suspension and that its particular kind of harmony is of the essence of what makes it a pastoral. So too are the ways this harmony is achieved. As the poem is suspended between Meliboeus' and Tityrus' sense of life, so too is it suspended between dramatic and lyric. Its doubleness in this respect fully explains (and can be thought to justify) the indecisiveness, in the critical tradition, over which mode pastoral should be assigned to.2

Eclogue 1 is a dialogue between two friends who formerly shared a way of life, but whose destinies are now diametrically opposed. Meliboeus has had his farm expropriated and given to a veteran of Octavian's armies, while Tityrus is able to enjoy the ease that one expects to be the lot of every (literary) shepherd. Meliboeus speaks first:

Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui musam meditaris avena;
nos patriae finis et dulcia linquimus arva.
nos patriam fugimus; tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.


You, Tityrus, under the spreading, sheltering beech,
Tune woodland musings on a delicate reed;
We flee our country's borders, our sweet fields,
Abandon home; you, lazing in the shade,
Make woods resound with lovely Amaryllis.

These lines contain all the issues of the poem and raise all the critical questions about it. We observe, first, the idyllic portrayal of Tityrus, and it is this, no doubt, that made these lines as famous once as “To be or not to be” or “April is the cruelest month.” But we also observe that Tityrus' bliss is set off against Meliboeus' exile, and the problems of the poem lie in the way we evaluate this contrast. It is indubitably there, but how do we take it in? On the one hand, we can appeal to the dominant impression of the lines and to their formal symmetry (tu, Tityre, in line 4), and say that Tityrus' pastoral happiness encloses or contains Meliboeus' lot. On the other hand, we can compare, to Tityrus' disadvantage, the scope and quality of the juxtaposed ways of life—Tityrus' singing love songs in the shade, as opposed to Meliboeus' concern for fields and patria.

Both ways of looking at these lines find support in the poem as a whole. Meliboeus' poetry—both his imaginings of Tityrus' bliss and his accounts of his own suffering—dominates the poem for many readers. His words, grounded in distress, have a resonance not found in Tityrus' more naive speeches. Formally, too, Meliboeus comes to dominate the poem: the second half is largely given over to two of his speeches, the longest and most intensely felt of the eclogue. Yet the last word belongs to Tityrus, whose response to Meliboeus' farewell to his flock and fields is so rich in its effect that it has become, for many readers, the hallmark of Virgilian pastoral:

Hic tamen hanc mecum poteras requiescere noctem
fronde super viridi: sunt nobis mitia poma,
castaneae molles et pressi copia lactis;
et iam summa procul villarum culmina fumant,
maioresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae.


Still, you could take your rest with me tonight,
Couched on green leaves: there will be apples ripe,
Soft roasted chestnuts, plenty of pressed cheese.
Already rooftops in the distance smoke,
And lofty hills let fall their lengthening shade.

It is these lines that prompted Panofsky to say, in a memorable passage: “In Virgil's ideal Arcady human suffering and superhumanly perfect surroundings create a dissonance. This dissonance, once felt, had to be resolved, and it was resolved in that vespertinal mixture of sadness and tranquillity which is perhaps Virgil's most personal contribution to poetry. With only slight exaggeration one might say that he ‘discovered’ the evening.”3 To the extent that we feel this sort of power in these lines, we will agree that because of them “the sense of opposites, the union of polarities in tension, changes into a centered, relaxed, static unity.”4 We note the formal balance with the opening speech (also five lines), the return to the shadows that create the environment of pastoral well-being, and we see that “the circular movement in the first five lines is, in small, the pattern of the whole poem.”5

These divergent readings reflect differing views of the nature of speech, dialogue, and human encounter in the poem; it is these that will most concern us, and, I hope, most reward our investigation. But we must first pause to observe that there is a corresponding divergence of interpretation (which is to say, our interpretation of Virgil's interpretation) of the political and social situation with which the poem deals. After the battle of Philippi (42 b.c.), Octavian's and Antony's veterans were rewarded with land—seized, of course, from farmers like Meliboeus. Expropriations took place in Mantuan territory; according to ancient commentators on the Eclogues, Virgil's farm was spared only because of Octavian's intervention. Tityrus' devotion to the deus to whom he owes his happy life was therefore taken as Virgil's expression of gratitude to Octavian: hence the traditional identification, beginning with Servius and unquestioned in the Renaissance, of Virgil and Tityrus. Though this story is difficult to reconstruct in detail and evidence for it comes entirely from the Eclogues and ancient commentaries, some aspects of it cannot be dismissed. The eclogue certainly refers to the expropriations, and Tityrus' deus, who is later identified as a young man in Rome, must be Octavian.6 But if we must recognize that Tityrus' gratitude is praise of Octavian, we must equally acknowledge that Meliboeus' fate exposes the human consequences of the expropriations and that his bitter lament is, as Servius said, wounding to the man responsible for them:

impius haec tam culta novalia miles habebit,
barbarus has segetes. en quo discordia civis
produxit miseros: his nos consevimus agros!


Think of these fields in a soldier's cruel hands!
These crops for foreigners! See how discord leaves
Countrymen wretched: for them we’ve
tilled and sown!(7)

It is difficult to reconcile these unequivocal words with the view of Octavian expressed through Tityrus. It is not surprising that the two critics to whom English-speaking students of the Eclogues will turn first take diametrically opposed views of the political point of this poem. For Brooks Otis, it is a celebration of Julio-Augustan themes and reveals the possibilities of peace and order under the future Augustus.8 For Michael Putnam, it is severe and pessimistic, revealing how destructive is tyranny to human freedom and the life of the imagination.9

It sounds as if what we have here is a debate between Meliboeus' point of view and Tityrus' point of view. But putting it that way misses the precise nature of the exchange, because it treats it as essentially dramatic in mode, a contention (in our minds, for it does not exist in theirs) between the two characters. In fact, the question is precisely whether and to what extent the eclogue is dramatic. The “pessimistic” interpreters, who are in the ascendant these days, emphasize the dramatic aspect of the poem. That is, they view it as a representation of real characters in a real situation, and they take the center of interest to be the way the characters deal with that situation and with each other. To read the poem dramatically means more than taking Meliboeus' experience and speeches at face value, and more even than comparing them with Tityrus' in respect to fullness of experience, felt seriousness, and the like. It also puts the exchange between the two men in a certain light: where Meliboeus is intensely responsive to Tityrus' happiness, while trying to avoid personal bitterness or envy, Tityrus throughout the poem seems insensitive to Meliboeus' plight. The most striking instance occurs after Meliboeus' intoxicating evocation of the rural music that will surround Tityrus. Tityrus responds with some strong poetry of his own:

Ante leves ergo pascentur in aethere cervi
et freta destituent nudos in litore piscis,
ante pererratis amborum finibus exsul
aut Ararim Parthus bibet aut Germania Tigrim,
quam nostro illius labatur pectore vultus.


Sooner light-footed stags will graze in air,
The waves will strand their fish bare on the shore;
Sooner in exile, roaming frontiers unknown,
Will Gauls and Persians drink each other's streams,
Than shall his features slip out
of our hearts.

What is striking about these adynata (the rhetorical term for such a catalogue of impossibilities) is that, though they appear impossible to Tityrus, they are all too real for Meliboeus. His flock is hungry, he and it are being forced out of their element, he has left newborn lambs stranded on bare rock, and, most important, he too is condemned to wander in exile. The abundant verbal connections with Meliboeus' speeches make it beyond question that Virgil meant us to see these ironies, and they will be felt powerfully to just the extent that Tityrus' lines seem to be a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. One can well understand why many critics feel the ironies redound upon Tityrus here and identify the reader's stance with Meliboeus' final speech, which begins with a foreboding vision of his exile (a conscious response to Tityrus' adynaton) and contains the heartfelt farewell to his fields and flock.

Critics who do not accept reading the poem from Meliboeus' point of view do not dispute the facts about the speakers, their experiences, the power of their speeches, and the nature of their exchanges. But they seek to interpret all these in an essentially nondramatic way. In the most subtle and convincing of such readings, Tityrus' adynata are interpreted as a breakthrough to the sublime for the whole poem; the ironies are to be referred not to the speakers and their relations, but to the situation as a whole and the tensions inherent in it.10 By the same token, the final lines are taken as a powerful conclusion to the poem as a whole; they are attributed, so to speak, to Virgil, rather than to Tityrus. (Critics who read the poem dramatically, on the other hand, try to cut these lines down to Tityrus' size.)11 The critical debates about the poem, then, are essentially debates about its mode—that is, they concern not only the nature of its strategies and devices, but also our relation to them and the attitudes and meanings implicit in them.


The nondramatic aspect of Virgil's poetry is very evident in the opening lines, both in the formal symmetry of the speech as a whole and in the perfection and richness of the lines. The second and fifth lines in particular, with their fullness of meaning and atmosphere, have an air of defining pastoral song in general, and thus seem quite detached from a particular speaker in a particular situation. But as soon as we go on to Tityrus' reply, we realize that the poem has a dramatic aspect:

O Meliboee, deus nobis haec otia fecit.
namque erit ille mihi semper deus, illius aram
saepe tener nostris ab ovilibus imbuet agnus.
ille meas errare boves, ut cernis, et ipsum
ludere quae vellem calamo permisit agresti.


O Melibee, a god grants us this peace—
A god to me forever, upon whose altar
A young lamb from our folds will often bleed.
He has allowed, you see, my herds to wander
And me to play as I will on shepherd's pipes.

There is a good deal more circumstance connected with “this peace” than we could possibly have imagined from Meliboeus' speech—the dependence on a god, the sacrifices promised to him, the very fact that Tityrus is a real herdsman and not simply a singer in a landscape. The indication of real circumstances carries with it a sense of real time: instead of the “timeless” present tense of Meliboeus' speech, we have here the promise of future acts and remembrances in gratitude for a condition that is due to a past action.12 Furthermore, Tityrus is self-conscious about himself (redefining “a god” as “a god to me”) and about his situation (pointing to it as separate with ut cernis, “as you see”). And Tityrus' sense of his happiness is different from Meliboeus': he includes the fact that his herds can wander at will and he describes his singing in terms that are much less grand than Meliboeus'.

The dramatic aspect of this opening exchange is especially clear when we compare the opening of Theocritus' first idyll:

Thyrsis. Sweet is the whispering
music of yonder pine that sings
Over the water-brooks, and sweet the melody of your pipe,
Dear goatherd. After Pan, the second prize you’ll bear away.
If he should take the hornèd goat, the she-goat shall you win:
But if he choose the she-goat for his meed, to you shall fall
The kid; and dainty is kid's flesh, till you begin to milk.
Goatherd. Sweeter, oh shepherd, is
your song than the melodious fall
Of yonder stream that from on high gushes down the rock.
If it chance that the Muses take the young ewe for their gift,
Then your reward will be the stall-fed lamb; but should they choose
To take the lamb, then yours shall be the sheep for second prize.

This exchange is much more symmetrical than Virgil's. As the translation indicates, each speech begins with two lines comparing the other herdsman's music to nature's and concludes with three lines (each set structured in the same way) promising a gift to honor a song. The translation does not indicate more intimate symmetries, such as the fact that the major word for nature's music falls in exactly the same position in each speech (melisdetai, in line 2; kataleibetai, in line 8), and that the word geras, prize, falls in the exact middle of each of the three-line passages about the gifts. These formal symmetries perfectly convey the atmosphere of this meeting and the attitude of the herdsmen. They do not mirror each other (there are later indications that they have individual circumstances and histories), but they do perfectly understand each other and their situations, and they can therefore exchange speeches, just as they propose to exchange songs and gifts. The change Virgil has wrought can be seen in the way he uses Theocritus' device of beginning the second speech with the same word or formula as the first. When the goatherd repeats Thyrsis' “Sweet is the x” formula, the primary motive is formal responsiveness, in the spirit of equal exchange. But Tityrus' O Meliboee, though it formally answers to Tityre, tu, is said with full dramatic intensity: it is responsive to Meliboeus' evocation of Tityrus' bliss and it begins Tityrus' expression of his feeling of gratitude.

Yet we can look at this matter in quite a different way. The traditional comparison of Theocritus and Virgil would make Theocritus the more dramatic, on the grounds of his being more realistic and concrete. We can see the reasons for this view in the opening lines of each poem, in which the singer is set in the midst of nature and its music. Here we must quote Theocritus in Greek:

Hadu ti to psithurisma kai
ha pitus, aipole, tēna,
ha poti tais pagaisi, melisdetai,
hadu de kai tu
surisdes: meta Pana to deuteron athlon

The grammar is beautifully expressive here. By superimposing two coordinating devices (roughly, supplying a “both-and” for both the repeated “sweet” and the subjects of the verbs),13 the sentence suggests the harmony between the music of man and nature, but keeps their separation clear: quite literally they are coordinated, not directly responsive to each other. We are thus not encouraged to read too much into the personifications that render the music of the pine, especially since the third of the musical words here (italicized in the quotation), used of the goatherd, unequivocally refers to human music making. In both meaning and effect, the lines have a lovely discretion and lucidity. The major word in each line literally “makes music,” and the three words are linked by similarities of sound. But syntax, meaning, and disposition of the words keep these meanings and effects from spilling over and dominating either the courteous address or the sketching in of the setting (ha poti tais pagaisi, “by the brooks”). Even in so conspicuously musical a passage, we see how just it is to say that “music as an affective bond between man and man and between man and nature need not be thunderous. In the pastoral, it is the small and brittle sound that Theocritus characterizes as ‘dry,’ kapyros, and which is best produced on the reed pipe.”14

When we turn to Virgil from Theocritus' dry lucidity, we can well understand the traditional comparison of the two poets. As opposed to the directness of surisdes, “you are piping” (a verb cognate with surinx, a pipe), the phrase musam meditaris is generalized and open-ended. Meditor means “meditate, consider, etc.” with a transferred sense of “exercise one's self in.” It can be used of literary composition, but usually the object is perfectly clear. Thus Horace, just before he meets the bore, describes himself nescio quid meditans nugarum, “musing over some (poetic) trifle or other” (Sat. 1.9.2). Creatures, human or divine, are not characteristic objects of meditor. Editors therefore tell us to take musam as “poem,” and cite Lucretius: Fistula silvestrem ne cesset fundere musam (“so that the pipe ceases not to pour forth woodland music”).15 But the clarity of the rest of that sentence makes it easy to supply the transferred sense of musam, the more so as the whole passage concerns the way men attribute physical echoes to the presence of gods. What is distinctive about Virgil's phrase, compared with these other examples, is that neither word gives a concrete sense or secure “prose” meaning, so that we are immediately involved in interpretation, accommodation, suggestion. The phrase might well be called vague, were it not that it combines general obviousness with a suggestiveness that always rewards investigation—for example, the sustaining of the literal idea of a muse, an inspiring female, when we learn that the lovely Amaryllis is the subject of Tityrus' song. (We might note that these objections and justifications are ones we associate with Milton, who of course anglicized this phrase in Lycidas.) The same point might be made about the sound effects. Where Theocritus' lines, as has often been noted, imitate the sound of the reed-pipe,16 the m-sounds of Virgil's phrase seem “pure” verbal music, Tennysonian if you will. But again the effect is not left vague, for it is given substance by line 5, where sylvan music is defined as the echo of human song. We now see the three elements attuned by the letter m in distinct relations to each other: you teach (meditaris) the woods (silvestrem) to echo Amaryllis (musam). But though these elements are now structured, we can believe in the echoing song because of their union in the grammar and sound of the earlier phrase.

I would suggest “pregnant” as the opposite of “vague” in speaking of such phrases. As W. J. Knight has said, “compression into density of meaning is the main principle of Vergil's expression.”17 Just as the aural and grammatical union of musam and meditaris makes us take in and interpret suggestions of sound and meaning, so the phrase tenui avena is “impregnated” by the sentence in which it occurs. Literally, the adjective and noun mean “a thin oaten stalk,” the latter metonymic for a shepherd's reed-pipe; we would translate “on a thin reed,” if the verb were like Theocritus' “you are piping.” But the rest of the line makes us take the ablative as a very general “by means of.” Moreover, tenuis is not simply a physical term, but has a range of metaphoric meanings—“slight,” “trifling,” “low” in both stylistic and social senses (hence “humble” in both senses relevant to pastoral poetry).18 Because these meanings are already “in” the word, Virgil can count on ease of communication and at the same time richness of meaning for the reader who pauses to inspect and meditate (again the analogy with Milton suggests itself). We note that the one unequivocally concrete word, avena, is the last in the line. By such verbal tactics does the oaten flute become a symbolic instrument.

The Virgilian pregnancy of line and phrase is due to a fusion of what we have identified as dramatic and nondramatic elements in his poetic speech. We ought not to lose sight of either aspect. It is perhaps not so vital to recognize that Meliboeus' resonant last line, general and detached from him as it seems, is (as the rest of the eclogue shows) very much in character. But if we do not hear the personal inflection in dulcia, “sweet,” as an epithet of arva, “fields” (and we hear it because of the meaning and movement of the line),19 we will fall into the mistake of flatly identifying Meliboeus' usages and sensibility with Virgil's. On the other hand, we cannot refer all fullness of meaning to dramatic realities. The pregnancy of lentus in umbra comes from its fusing natural and human meanings. This is the first such fusion in the poem; given the way the phrase is produced, the effect is of giving a single formula to grasp, serve as a motto for, the harmony between man and nature rendered by lines 1 and 2.20

If Meliboeus' lines seem in the first instance to be general, Tityrus' response seems dramatic in both tone and substance. But his lines emerge with a fullness that answers Meliboeus'. This is obvious in deus nobis haec otia fecit (“a god has granted us this peace”), but phrases are equally pregnant when the voice itself is less resonant. Ille meas errare boves (“he [has allowed] my cattle to wander”) has a very down-to-earth meaning—the shepherd's gratitude at his flock's being able to wander and graze. At the same time, the freedom of movement suggests to us a spiritual freedom: Tityrus is free of the care that Meliboeus feels and that determines his movement of purposeful flight. Tityrus can care for his flock without feeling care. Meliboeus' next speech, which presents precisely the opposite situation, may be thought to respond and bear witness to the pregnancy of phrase here. Similarly ludere (given prominence by its place in the line) has all the range of meaning the English “play” would have, and in such a context quae vellem (“what I want”) takes on general force. Hence this last line of Tityrus' speech is not simply a character's statement of feeling and experience, but serves as a definition of rural music that answers (in another adaptation of Theocritean symmetry) to Meliboeus' concluding line. The writing here, though less resonant than in Meliboeus' speech, is just as interesting and suggestive. Given the importance of Tityrus' herd and sheepfold in his account of his happiness, his final word agresti (“of the fields”) takes on general significance, especially when we see how it answers to and differs from Meliboeus' silvestrem (“of the woods”). The problematic relation between freedom and dependency, already evident in Tityrus' account, appears pointedly, though not ostentatiously, in the quae vellem … permisit (“what I wish … has allowed”) of the final line. Hence, though we might say that the final lines, by themselves, render two versions of rural music, the speeches as wholes offer two versions of pastoral.


Virgil's presentation of “versions of pastoral” depends on a dramaturgy that exists, like his rhetoric, on a middle ground between dramatic and nondramatic. In the usual summary of the first half of the poem, Meliboeus asks Tityrus to tell who his beneficient god is; Tityrus, however, avoids satisfying this natural request until he is backed into speaking of the young man in Rome, at the exact midpoint of the poem. Critics hostile to Tityrus have a field day here, finding him evasive, insensitive, aimlessly garrulous, and what not. Again the defense involves a nondramatic interpretation of dramatic facts: Klingner argues that Meliboeus' pursuit of the question and Tityrus' evasion of the answer are meant to create, in the mind of the reader, a tension that produces the revelations of the poem and underlies its harmonies.21 This argument still assumes that dramatic purposes and tensions, though transformed, are present in full force.

But despite much dramatic responsiveness and utterance, the reader will find little in the way of forward-looking energies, purposes, or resolutions—little, that is, in the way of plot. Meliboeus' answer to Tityrus' first speech is a lament over the state of the countryside and his own flock: he responds directly to the main elements of Tityrus' speech and only asks about the god at the end, in the manner of an afterthought. Tityrus' response to this question is a little speech about Rome, which he says far exceeded his rustic knowledge of and expectation about cities. As Michael Putnam suggests, praise of Rome does not really evade the question.22 It only seems to if we expect a direct answer, in the manner of realistic dialogue, and therefore feel blocked by Tityrus' delivery of a small set piece. But both the opening exchange and Meliboeus' speech, with its pathetic vignette of his flock (lines 12-15), suggest that set pieces are precisely what we can expect to find in this poem. This is of course true in the second half of the eclogue, which consists of Meliboeus' two great speeches, alternating with Tityrus' adynata and his final invitation to the evening meal. It is equally true of the “dialogue” that leads to the revelation of the young god:

Et quae tanta fuit Romam tibi causa videndi?
Libertas, quae sera tamen respexit inertem,
candidior postquam tondenti barba cadebat,
respexit tamen et longo post tempore venit,
postquam nos Amaryllis habet, Galatea reliquit.
namque (fatebor enim) dum me Galatea tenebat,
nec spes libertatis erat nec cura peculi.
quamvis multa meis exiret victima saeptis,
pinguis et ingratae premeretur caseus urbi,
non umquam gravis aere domum mihi dextra redibat.
Mirabar quid maesta deos, Amarylli, vocares,
cui pendere sua patereris in arbore poma;
Tityrus hinc aberat. ipsae te, Tityre, pinus,
ipsi te fontes, ipsa haec arbusta vocabant.
Quid facerem? neque servitio me exire licebat
nec tam praesentis alibi cognoscere divos.
hic illum vidi iuvenem, Meliboee, quotannis
bis senos cui nostra dies altaria fumant.
hic mihi responsum primus dedit ille petenti:
“pascite ut ante boves, pueri; summittite tauros.”


And what so made you want to visit Rome?
Freedom, though late, looked kindly on this sluggard,
After my beard hung whitened for the shears;
Looked kind at last and came, long overdue.
This was when Amaryllis took me over
From Galatea, under whom I had
No care of property nor hope of freedom.
Though many a victim went forth from my folds
And rich cheese for the thankless town was pressed,
Never did hands come home heavy with coins.
I wondered, maiden, why you called the gods,
Grieved and left apples hanging on the tree;
Tityrus was away. The pines, O Tityrus,
The streams, these very orchards called for you.
What could I do? not leave my servitude
Nor meet such favorable gods elsewhere.
Here, Melibee, I saw that noble youth
For whom our altars smoke twelve times a year.
He gave his suppliant this oracle:
“Graze cattle as before, lads, breed your bulls.”

Each piece begins with a dramatic response, but in each case—Meliboeus' as well as Tityrus'—there is generated a set piece with its own distinctive rhetoric.

What we have seen supports Rosenmeyer's account of the unity of pastoral poems:

In Theocritus and Virgil the net effect of the structure, however complex, runs counter to Aristotle's recommendations. There is no single curve, no anticipation of a dramatic development. … Symmetrization absorbs all structural instincts. One analogy that might throw some light on what Theocritus does is that of the suite or a similar musical form of successive units. … Almost every Theocritean or Virgilian pastoral is best analyzed as a loose combination of independent elements.23

“Loose combination” is an overstatement for Eclogue 1, and Rosenmeyer underrates the dramatic aspects of poems like this. But what is important, for the moment, is to be aware of the speeches as “independent elements.” Tityrus' apparently digressive speech about freedom makes sense when we read it as an independent presentation of his own circumstances and history. It exists not for dramatic ends (Tityrus' or Virgil's) but for purposes of collocation and comparison with similar speeches of Meliboeus. Tityrus' account of his past enslavement, in all senses, is a narrative of ordinary pastoral unhappiness, which, now resolved, is set over against the exceptional distress of Meliboeus, whose deeper anguish corresponds to drastic, irremediable circumstances. Tityrus' narrative is made representative by its range and economy: it includes the various frustrations of age, social status, mistakes in love, the small farmer's normal activities, and the mysteries of one's own motives. To see Tityrus this way, as an individual assessing his own history and situation, makes him someone truly to be compared with Meliboeus, rather than a mere foil for him. Rosenmeyer well suggests the way we compare, but do not adjudicate between the two men. By the same token, our judgment of the young Octavian is mediated by the fact, powerfully impressed by the poem, that the same historical situation affects two men so diversely.

The static, undramatic view of the poem, though not wholly adequate, at least enables us to avoid some misleading commonplaces about it. By not thinking of dramatic encounter, in which the present absorbs us, we can see that Virgil does not contrast Tityrus' unmitigated present bliss with Meliboeus' unmitigated woe. The comparison is rather between two experiences of unhappiness and its modes of resolution and acceptance. We can also see how wrong it is to think that Tityrus views his life the way Meliboeus does.24 As Charles Segal points out, he “has a more prosaic attitude than Meliboeus toward his rustic world. For him it is a place of work and hard-earned savings (peculi, 32) and frustrations. … The exile is far more prone to idealize what he must leave, and he dwells lovingly on the familiar features of his beloved country with lush adjectives which he seems scarcely able to refrain from applying to every noun.”25 This comparison holds true for Tityrus' most intense expressions of feeling. His gratitude to his deus characteristically takes the form of the periodic sacrifices that were so important a part of Roman domestic and rural life. Meliboeus' motto for Tityrus' life may be formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas. Tityrus' own motto is not a piece of his own poetry at all, but the young god's responsum (a word used of oracles or replies to suppliants): Pascite ut ante boves, pueri; summittite tauros (“Graze cattle as before, lads, breed your bulls”).

Yet too neat a separation will not do. Let us now try to bring the shepherds together in ways that are true to the poem. Compare the following:

Vrbem quam dicunt Romam, Meliboee, putavi
stultus ego huic nostrae similem, quo saepe solemus
pastores ovium teneros depellere fetus.


The city they call Rome, my Melibee,
I like a fool thought like our own, where shepherds
Drive down the new-weaned offspring of their sheep.
Fortunate senex, ergo tua rura manebunt
et tibi magna satis, quamvis lapis omnia nudus
limosoque palus obducat pascua iunco.
non insueta gravis temptabunt pabula fetas,
nec mala vicini pecoris contagia laedent.


Lucky old man! your lands will then remain
Yours and enough for you, although bare rock
And slimy marsh reeds overspread the fields.
Strange forage won’t invade your heavy ewes,
Nor foul diseases from a neighbor's flock.

We can see the familiar contrasts here. Tityrus speaks of his limited horizons in his homey way and with his usual confidence that life goes on. Meliboeus' rather melodramatic imaginings express both his finer sensibility and his greater suffering. And yet certain likenesses are evident. Both men speak energetically, as if fully engaged in their own experiences and the life around them. Furthermore, that life is the same, the raising of and caring for flocks. And from the sense of full engagement comes Virgil's characteristic pregnancy of phrase. The density of pastores ovium teneros depellere fetus (“Drive down the new-weaned offspring of their sheep”) comes from the double relation of the genitive ovium (“of sheep”) with pastores (“shepherds”) and then with fetus (“offspring”); from the suggestive relation of teneros (“delicate, tender, young”) to the shepherds' care of the sheep and to their naiveté (cf. pueri, “lads”); and most importantly from the phrase depellere fetus, which here refers to driving the young sheep to market, but which, as a phrase by itself, means “to wean” (i.e. remove from the breast). In this fine example of the way a great poet extends language, Virgil suggests, in a completely unsentimental way, the herdsman's continual round of breeding, raising, and selling stock. A different, but equally powerful, density of phrase occurs in Meliboeus' non insueta gravis temptabunt pabula fetas (“Strange forage will not tempt-infect-assail your heavy ewes”). Gravis (lit., “heavy”) fetas means both “pregnant ewes” and “sick ewes,” with a suggestion of “sick lambs.”26 The ambiguity and the line as a whole convey Meliboeus' sense of doom about raising a flock: one might think he cannot help seeing Tityrus' state in the light of his own. Yet the good meaning of the phrase and of the sentence is essential, for they bring out that Tityrus' life is normal, at least in the sense of valuable, and that what has happened to Meliboeus is something gone wrong.

There are dramatic energies in these speeches, but they go into self-assessment, self-expression, and self-assertion. Their end seems more lyric than dramatic, as if each shepherd were primarily concerned to express his experience and his sense of the world. And yet, as we have just seen, the two men assume the same life and values. As opposed to what we find in Theocritus' Idyll 7 or any number of Renaissance pastorals, the speakers here do not come from different worlds. Rather, their versions of pastoral express divergent relations to, experiences of, histories within the same life. And yet to each shepherd his experience and history are “the world,” his version of pastoral is “the pastoral.” The peculiar poetics of the eclogue, somewhere between drama and lyric, is Virgil's means of displaying the relations in man's condition between “solidarity of plight and diversity of state.”27


Virgil's profound understanding of these relations emerges in the second half of the eclogue, which begins with Meliboeus' vision of Tityrus' future life. His speech continues, after the lines just quoted, with the most famous piece of pastoralism in the poem:

fortunate senex, hic inter flumina nota
et fontis sacros frigus captabis opacum;
hinc tibi, quae semper, vicino ab limite saepes
Hyblaeis apibus florem depasta salicti
saepe levi somnum suadebit inire susurro;
hinc alta sub rupe canet frondator ad auras,
nec tamen interea raucae, tua cura, palumbes
nec gemere aëria cessabit turtur ab ulmo.


Lucky old man! here by familiar streams
And hallowed springs you’ll seek out cooling shade.
Here for you always, bees from the neighboring hedge,
Feeding on willow blossoms, will allure
To slumber soft with their sweet murmurings.
The hillside pruner will serenade the air;
Nor will the throaty pigeons, your dear care,
Nor turtledoves cease moaning in the elms.

The first two lines are a beautiful example of the density of Virgil's writing. Commentators frequently note how much in character (really “in situation”) these words are: to be among familiar rivers is now, for Meliboeus, the hallmark of happiness. But dramatic propriety is only part, not the whole, of poetic force here. Familiar streams are an aspect of an ideal scene for anyone, not only for exiles, and fontis sacros is primarily a general phrase, not tied (though appropriate) to Meliboeus. The springs are sacred not because the exile longs for them, but because, as Servius says, they are dedicated to local deities. We have the seeds here not of a romantic “Exile's Song” but of Horace's poem on the fountain Bandusia (Odes 3.13), one of the masterpieces of secure, “at home” poetry. Meliboeus' particular situation enables him to bear witness to general truths and sentiments. It is appropriate to give an eighteenth-century cast to our praise here, for the third of these noun-adjective pairs, frigus opacum, is Augustan in the English sense. But Virgil's lines are free of what critics called the frigidity of such formulas. Virgil not only gauges the progression from particular to general (and dramatic to nondramatic) in the three phrases, he also animates the last with the active desiring of captabis (“you will seek out”) and with the suggestive relations of frigus (“coolness”) to fontis sacros. Hence, when we come to opacum, the last word in the line and the only one of these adjectives separated from its noun, we are reading actively, prepared to ask, “What kind of coolness?” and hence to feel a concrete, specifying force in “shady.” Precisely what makes such phrases “frigid” in neoclassical verse is that only the formulaic and static character is imitated. It is revealing that the only way we now have to translate this phrase into English is to reverse noun and adjective and say “cooling shade.”

If these two lines are Augustan, the rest of the passage might be called Tennysonian. We can understand why the man who wrote of “the moan of doves in immemorial elms / And murmur of innumerable bees” was called the English Virgil. But it is unjust to Virgil to think of him simply as the Roman Tennyson. Here, as in the first two lines, we find obvious effects deeply grounded and beautifully gauged. The neighboring hedge fed upon by bees is the exact antithesis of Meliboeus' vision, four lines earlier, of strange foods afflicting the cattle and of diseases spreading from neighboring herds. But to see that Meliboeus' version of pastoral reflects his sense of reality is not to discount it: quite the reverse, by displaying its source in experience and feeling, Virgil makes us take it seriously.

Here again we must remember that these speeches are not purely dramatic. One would not speak here of a reversal of feeling in Meliboeus, because his whole speech is very much a set piece, consisting of contrasted negative and positive visions, each introduced by fortunate senex (“lucky old man”). Both the way the contrasting vignettes are produced—with the speaker disappearing into fully imagined scenes—and the neatness and obviousness of the contrast encourage us to take in and compare these lines as general modes of pastoral and antipastoral, just as the physical distresses and pleasures they envisage are certainly common to us all. Thus, when a critic like Snell assumes that Virgil is speaking here, the appropriate correction is not to say, “No, Meliboeus is,” but rather to define the connections that exist in this poem and mode between what is individual and what is common in experience and expression. The two aspects are completely fused in the final lines of this speech. For all its atmosphere, it is not a fairyland—rather an exquisitely benign version of real life as it is assumed to be throughout the eclogue. The trimming of leaves (the task of the frondator) occurred at various seasons, for various practical purposes; doves were normal on Roman farms, and they are a cura (“care”) both as animals to be tended and as objects of particular affection. The loveliness of the scene is due to the fact that all creatures in it are singing; but here, as opposed to the sleep-inducing bees, there is a human singer, and the birds' songs are actually or potentially sad.28 Thus what Meliboeus imagines as pastoral bliss is not the land of the lotus-eaters, but the transformation of normal labor, concern, and unhappiness into song. The idyllic atmosphere very much reflects Meliboeus' version of pastoral, and yet the transformations he envisages can be applied to Tityrus' experience and taken as a definition of the enterprise of the whole poem.

Meliboeus' speech makes a good text for “sentimental” or romantic theories of pastoral, because it presents the songs into which experience is transformed as nature's. Despite the presence of the frondator, man is unquestionably dominated by nature here if we look to imagery alone. But other aspects of the speech put man in the center of nature's music. He is always present as an auditor: when not explicitly invoked in words like suadebit (“will persuade”) and tua cura (“your care”), he is implicitly present in sensory and auditory effects and in acts of interpretation, comparison, and discrimination.29 And intensity of listening here produces song of a quite unexpected kind. For it is in response to this speech that Tityrus utters his adynata:

Ante leves ergo pascentur in aethere cervi
et freta destituent nudos in litore piscis,
ante pererratis amborum finibus exsul
aut Ararim Parthus bibet aut Germania Tigrim,
quam nostro illius labatur pectore vultus.


Sooner light-footed stags will graze in air,
The waves will strand their fish bare on the shore;
Sooner in exile, roaming frontiers unknown,
Will Gauls and Persians drink each other's streams,
Than shall his features slip out
of our hearts.

From the ergo of the first line and the unaccustomed grandeur of his speech, it is clear that Tityrus is responding to the intensity that we ourselves have felt in Meliboeus' evocation of his life.

Tityrus' intensity of feeling seems natural at this point, but the form of its expression is very problematic. Why did Virgil make him so obviously subject to the charges of self-satisfaction and self-involvement? The particular problem, it seems to me, is to explain why Tityrus speaks in so elevated a way. For what offends readers here is not his limited horizons in themselves, but the self-assertion implicit in the rhetorical device that equates “my world” and “the world” and crowns all with the assumption that the coherence of the world depends on the shepherd's remembering his benefactor. Man and his speech are back in the center with a vengeance, but the diversity of critical views of the passage shows how uncertain we are about how such poetry speaks to or for us—a particularly interesting dilemma, since everyone knows how to take the lines that prompt the speech.

Tityrus' adynata (“impossibilities”) are a special form of inventory, a term we shall use, following Rosenmeyer,30 to include all serial listing. No pastoral convention is more familiar, but this is due to Virgil's influence. When we look for this convention in Theocritus, we discover that it occurs infrequently and that with one notable exception it is not used for elevated expression. The inventories that strike the modern reader as the genuine article are in two idylls now thought to be spurious.31 If we leave these aside, we find that all but one of Theocritus' inventories are uttered by conspicuously rustic speakers.32 That Virgil understood the device this way is indicated by his using it for Tityrus' explanation of his rustic failure to understand what Rome is like:

sic canibus catulos similis, sic matribus haedos
noram, sic parvis componere magna solebam.


Pups are like dogs, kids are like mother goats
I knew, and thus compared great things and small.

Yet forty lines later Tityrus is given an inventory, the source of which is the one exception to the Theocritean rule—the final boast of the dying Daphnis:

Bear violets henceforth, ye brambles, and ye thistles too,
And upon boughs of juniper let fair narcissus bloom;
Let all things be confounded; let the pine-tree put forth figs,
Since Daphnis lies dying! Let the stag tear the hounds,
And screech-owls from the hills contend in song with nightingales.

(Idyll 1.132-36)

This is genuinely heroic self-assertion, by the one figure in Theocritus' pastorals who can sustain such claims about himself. Virgil unquestionably wants us to hear these accents and to recognize that his humble shepherd is now speaking like Theocritus' godlike man. This context is suggested not only by Tityrus' rhetoric but also by Meliboeus' earlier words, recalling his absence from the country: ipsae te, Tityre, pinus, / ipsi te fontes, ipsa haec arbusta vocabant (“the pines, O Tityrus, / The streams, these very orchards called for you”). Putnam is surely right to say that with these words—very puzzling in their context—Meliboeus sees Tityrus as “a Daphnis figure, one of the semi-divine creatures upon whose well-being the landscape depends.”33 When he utters his adynata, twenty lines later, Tityrus takes on the role of Daphnis that he appears to Meliboeus, much more than to himself, to play.

Two main purposes seem to me at work here. First, by turning rustic speech into a form of heroic assertion, Virgil makes explicit what we have called the lyric tendency in the eclogue—the sense of oneself and one's experience filling the world, in some sense being the world. “Lyricism” in this sense need not be heroic. Meliboeus has just given a lovely pastoral emblem of it in his phrase canet frondator ad auras (“the pruner will sing to the airs”). Normal singing goes out to the world in all the ways suggested by the divergent interpretations of ad auras.34 When Tityrus responds to this emblem with a speech in Daphnis' mode, Virgil makes explicit what he saw as a deep puzzle in the pastoral ideal of self-sufficiency in the midst of one's world. This puzzle is beautifully stated in Meliboeus' first description: formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas (“you teach [the] woods to resound lovely Amaryllis”). In imagining Tityrus at the center of his world, do we emphasize his creative powers (“you teach”) or his receptivity to nature's echoes? Is his poetry dependent on his mistress or is it he who, in proclaiming her, in a sense makes her formosam (“lovely”)? In this line these polarities are held in suspension. The point is that Virgil seems to have felt that “pure” pastoral receptivity and diffidence had in it the seeds of heroic separateness and self-assertion. In the other eclogues, it is precisely the twin forces of love and song that prompt the shepherd to self-consciousness and thus to self-assertion.

Ironic, indeed, for love seeks union, and Theocritean pastoral envisages “music as an affective bond between man and man and between man and nature.”35 But irony tends to compose itself in pastoral: much of the elusiveness of the mode is that we do not know how to pursue and resolve ironic recognitions that seem to be offered (think of Marvell). With Tityrus' adynata, it is not enough to perceive self-assertion and its attendant dilemmas. Extraordinarily, even mysteriously, these lines bear witness to the bonds that exist between the two shepherds. For in giving vent to his intense gratitude, what one critic calls his exultation,36 Tityrus sings Meliboeus' song for him. It is not a question of being or meaning to be selfish. It is simply the fact that Tityrus' self-expression leads him to imagine Meliboeus' world and to adopt a heroic mode that seems much more natural in Meliboeus' circumstances than in his own. (Theocritus' Daphnis is heroic precisely to the extent of his defiant isolation from the pastoral world). Exactly the same thing has happened in the preceding speech. There, too, strong self-expression produces intense poetry; but Meliboeus' imaginings are of Tityrus' world, and the song produced is in a mode more appropriate to Tityrus. Each shepherd responds to the other with poetry that is self-expressive but that also reaches out to, speaks and sings for, the other.

Meliboeus' reply shows that this is the right way to regard—we should indeed say “hear”—Tityrus' speech:

At nos hinc alii sitientis ibimus Afros,
pars Scythiam et rapidum cretae veniemus Oaxen
et penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos.


Ah, but we others leave for thirsty lands—
Africa, Scythia, or Oxus' chalky waves,
Or Britain, wholly cut off from the world.

These words are usually taken as a truthful view of Meliboeus' future which rebukes Tityrus' rhetoric. A juster account is given by a critic who certainly cannot be accused of favoring Tityrus:

Excited by the lyricism of Meliboeus, Tityrus tries to begin at the same pitch. But he lapses into his customary pomposity and carries it, this time, to absurdity. … Tityrus unwittingly uses rhetoric—a most unfortunate rhetoric. Meliboeus resumes his speech again. But, strangely enough, carried away by the grandiloquence of his interlocutor, he begins with an exaggeration that seems rather out of place in his mouth. … This is the only lapse of taste in the poem, and it is a pardonable one, the grief of Meliboeus excusing his exaggerations.37

Waltz does not like what he sees, and therefore apologizes for Meliboeus, but I think he sees what is there. Tityrus gives Meliboeus his own voice here. Indeed, where Tityrus envisaged exile as drinking from foreign rivers, Meliboeus foresees not being able to drink at all. No one likes to accuse a refugee of being melodramatic; but is there not a good deal, if not of self-pity, then of self-dramatization in Meliboeus' envisaging his going off to a place totally cut off from the rest of the world? Once again we do not want to reduce the line to its dramatic aspects—only to recognize that what holds for Tityrus holds for Meliboeus as well: here, as everywhere, these shepherds bear witness to wider experience and general truths out of the particular pressures of their characters and situations. Certainly Meliboeus has a strong sense of his own presence here. He moves from these lines to frank self-dramatization:

en umquam patrios longo post tempore finis
pauperis et tuguri congestum caespite culmen,
post aliquot, mea regna, videns mirabor aristas?
impius haec tam culta novalia miles habebit,
barbarus has segetes. en quo discordia civis
produxit miseros: his nos consevimus agros!
insere nunc, Meliboee, piros, pone ordine vitis.


Shall I ever again, within my country's borders,
With wonder see a turf-heaped cottage roof,
My realm, at last, some modest ears of grain?
Think of these fields in a soldier's cruel hands!
These crops for foreigners! See how discord leaves
Countrymen wretched: for them we’ve
tilled and sown!
Go graft your pear trees, Melibee, plant your vines!

At this point we might feel that we have reached the parting of the ways that is in store for the shepherds. Meliboeus seems genuinely isolated here. Taken by themselves, his nos consevimus agros (“for them we have sown fields”) and the preceding en (“Lo!” ironic) could be directed either to sympathetic listeners or, in more bitter and defiant indignation, to himself. The last line confirms the more self-enclosed reading, and its ironic echo of the oracular injunction to Tityrus seems to mark, even if Meliboeus is not conscious of it, a true separation of the two men. Yet an extraordinary final movement in the poem brings them together again. Meliboeus' speech concludes:

ite meae, felix quondam pecus, ite capellae.
non ego vos posthac viridi proiectus in antro
dumosa pendere procul de rupe videbo;
carmina nulla canam; non me pascente, capellae,
florentem cytisum et salices carpetis amaras.


Go now, my goats; once happy flock, move on.
No more shall I, stretched out in a cavern green,
Watch you, far off, on brambly hillsides hang.
I’ll sing no songs, nor shepherd you when you
Browse on the flowering shrubs and bitter willows.

The first line repeats the rhetorical pattern of insere nunc, Meliboee (“[Go] graft now, Melibee”), but the bitterness now involves sorrow for his flock and not anger and resentment about himself. It would be nice to say that Meliboeus turns to something outside himself, but it is not so simple as that. The repetition of an ironic command and the general self-dramatization show how much Meliboeus continues in his earlier vein: one might even say that as he looks back to an unrecoverable past, nostalgia locks him even more within himself. And yet though separate, he is not unreachable. His nostalgia, if it is that, is not self-dramatizing in the invidious sense. Where we might expect him to use subjunctives (“Would that…”) or past tenses (“Once I …”), we find him speaking of himself in simple futures, expressing a fine balance of recognition, regret, resolution. Fittingly, at the end of this poem, there is a beautiful poise between lyric and dramatic address. Meliboeus is not talking to any human auditor here, but he is not simply talking to himself. There is a corresponding suspension of the dichotomy between “my world” and “the world.” Much of the force of these lines comes from the rendering of pastoral vignettes in the manner of Meliboeus' earlier speeches. The line about the goats hanging from the rock—which Wordsworth used to illustrate the creative powers of the imagination38—has a poetic presence that is not wholly controlled by the non ego … videbo (“I will not see”) that frames it. The last line consists of a distinct descriptive item in the manner of Theocritus; and though it is true, as is often pointed out, that Meliboeus' last word is amaras (“bitter”), there is a double perspective that Servius notes: “bitter to our taste, for they are sweet to the goats.”39

If Meliboeus is enclosed in memory, what he remembers is a full and concrete world that Tityrus still inhabits. Hence, though his speech is not addressed to anyone, a listener can respond to it:

Hic tamen hanc mecum poteras requiescere noctem
fronde super viridi: sunt nobis mitia poma,
castaneae molles et pressi copia lactis;
et iam summa procul villarum culmina fumant,
maioresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae.


Still, you could take your rest with me tonight,
Couched on green leaves: there will be apples ripe,
Soft roasted chestnuts, plenty of pressed cheese.
Already rooftops in the distance smoke,
And lofty hills let fall their lengthening shade.

This invitation makes explicit that the two shepherds still share a world. Tityrus makes actual what Meliboeus had made imaginatively present—the concrete goods of food and drink, the green couch, the lovely distant sight by which the shepherd locates himself in his world. And if Meliboeus' speech already belies, to some extent, his carmina nulla canam (“No songs I’ll sing”), Tityrus' response makes these too actual, by its exploitation of the verbal music that to this point has been a characteristic of Meliboeus' speeches. Not only does this final exchange bring the poem full circle, ending as it began, with responsive five-line speeches; the speeches are, if anything, more alike and responsive to each other, hence more like Theocritus, than the opening exchange. If the pressures toward heroic self-assertion enabled Meliboeus and Tityrus to sing each other's songs, what underlies this possibility is the mode these shepherds share.


  1. Sir Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd (London, 1965), p. 116.

  2. Those interested in this problem can begin to explore it by means of the remarks and references in Thomas G. Rosenmeyer, The Green Cabinet (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1969), pp. 3-5.

  3. Erwin Panofsky, “Et in Arcadia Ego: Poussin and the Elegiac Tradition,” in Meaning in the Visual Arts (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1955), p. 300.

  4. Friedrich Klingner, “Das Erste Hirtengedicht Virgils,” in Römische Geisteswelt, 4th ed. (Munich, 1961), pp. 325-326.

  5. Charles Paul Segal, “Tamen Cantabitis, Arcades: Exile and Arcadia in Eclogues One and Nine,Arion 4 (1965), 240.

  6. Octavian was in his mid-twenties when the Eclogues were written (42-38 b.c.; there is much uncertainty about the dates). The lines (quoted in the text) about the barbarus miles (“foreign soldier”) who will possess Meliboeus' lands are the most direct evidence that the widespread disturbance in the fields, to which Meliboeus refers earlier (lines 11-12), are the expropriations. Cf. also the reference to the woes of Mantua in Ecl. 9 (lines 27-28), which has many connections with Ecl. 1. Finally, cf. the opening lines of Ecl. 6, in which Tityrus is unequivocally Virgil's poetic pseudonym.

  7. Of impius, Servius says, “Here Virgil has sharply criticized Octavian; nevertheless he has followed truth: for by carrying arms and conquering others, a soldier is heedless of human feeling” (“hic Vergilius Octavianum Augustum laesit; tamen secutus est veritatem: nam miles portando arma et vincendo alios pietatem praetermittit”). Servius was a fourth-century grammarian who wrote a commentary on Virgil's works—the most extensive ancient commentary we have and full of every sort of interest. The standard modern edition (to be superseded, it is hoped, by the long-delayed Harvard edition) is that of G. Thilo and H. Hagen (1881-1887), of which the commentary on the Bucolics and Georgics is vol. 3, part 1. I quote from Thilo-Hagen, but the reader will find Servius' commentary in some form or other (see below, n. 19) in almost any sixteenth- or seventeenth-century edition of Virgil and in many eighteenth-century editions.

  8. Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry (Oxford, 1964), ch. 4.

  9. Virgil's Pastoral Art (Princeton, 1970), Introduction and ch. 1.

  10. Klingner, p. 325.

  11. See Putnam, p. 67; Perret's commentary on the lines; and Eleanor Winsor Leach, Vergil'sEclogues: Landscapes of Experience (Ithaca, N.Y., 1974), pp. 137-138. Since the publication of Virgil's Pastoral Art, Putnam shifted his emphasis and discussed the lines as a conclusion that contains the ambiguities of the whole poem. “Virgil's First Eclogue: Poetics of Enclosure,” Ramus 4 (1975), 167, 180-181.

  12. Fecit and permisit are surely to be regarded as true perfects—actions completed shortly before or in present time and denoting an accomplished state. Thus in Greek, which unlike Latin has separate forms for perfect and aorist (simple past action), one would use the perfect to say “I am in prison.” Archimedes' “Eureka!” is the perfect of “to find,” and means not simply “I found it” (aorist) but “I have found it (and it is found).”

  13. I owe this point to Dover, who points out, in his commentary, that “kai … kai [both … and] is superimposed on hadu … hadu de [sweet … and sweet].”

  14. Rosenmeyer, p. 147.

  15. De Rerum Natura 4.589; trans. Cyril Bailey (Oxford, 1910).

  16. See Rosenmeyer, pp. 152-153.

  17. Roman Vergil (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1966), p. 239.

  18. Cf. Servius' comment: “a straw, a stalk, on which rustics commonly make music … however, by saying ‘tenui avena,’ he secretly indicates the humble style which he uses in bucolics” (“Tenui avena culmo, stipula, unde rustici plerumque cantare consuerunt … dicendo autem ‘tenui avena,’ stili genus humilis latenter ostendit, quo, ut supra dictum est, in bucolicis utitur”). See also Peter L. Smith, “Vergil's Avena and the Pipes of Pastoral Poetry,” Transactions of the American Philological Association 101 (1970), 497-510. The scholarly detail and analysis in this article in effect fill out what is suggested in Servius' comment—that Virgil's purpose, in Smith's words, “is to invent in his First Eclogue a personal and literary musical instrument, an instrument that may symbolize the creative process of pastoral composition without violating musical commonsense” (p. 507).

  19. Cf. the observation in Servius Danielis (the enlarged Servian commentary, so-called because first published by Pierre Daniel in 1600): “Et dulcia arva because his own land seems sweet to everyone, for not every delightful thing is called sweet” (“unicuique propria terra dulcis sibi videtur, nec enim omnis res delectationem habens dulcis appellatur”).

  20. Patulus in line 1 means “spreading” and could also be used to render the first word of Wordsworth's line, “Open unto the fields, and to the sky”; it seems not to be used of the postures of human beings. Lentus has very full human extensions of its two main physical meanings, pliant or tough (as of the shrubs in line 25 of this eclogue) and sluggish or immovable. As a moral term used of Tityrus, we might translate “easy-going.” But the real point is that it is hard to find a one-word equivalent, and the attention (and diverse meanings) given by lexicographers and commentators shows that a good deal of ad hoc interpretation is required. A typical Virgilian usage, then—apparently vague, but full of harmonious possibilities. Note that there is a dramatic element here, which may affect our interpretation of the word. If we think of Meliboeus simply calling Tityrus lentus, we might ask whether he uses a word that can have pejorative meanings (e.g., “sluggish”), as if unconsciously or covertly to express his resentment. But if we look at the whole line and the contrast between “you, Tityrus” and “us,” the contrast with the act of fleeing suggests that Meliboeus invokes the word for its suggestion of slowness and immovability in (for him) good senses.

  21. Klingner, pp. 321-324.

  22. See his discussion of the lines, pp. 32-36.

  23. P. 47.

  24. Note that even in an account of the poem that tries not to exaggerate its idyllicism, the summary of Tityrus' experience is based entirely on Meliboeus' speeches: “Tityrus is spared the deprivations and anxieties associated with both the city and the wilderness. … His mind is cultivated and his instincts are gratified. Living in an oasis of rural pleasure, he enjoys the best of both worlds—the sophisticated order of art and the simple spontaneity of nature.” Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden (New York, 1964), p. 22. More hostile critics fill their commentaries with remarks like Putnam's about Tityrus' “sheltered search for shallow perfection within the myth” or his invidious comparison: “Meliboeus is worried about the land itself. No mythical Amaryllis mesmerizes his leisured attention” (pp. 39, 22). But of course no such thing claims Tityrus' attention. In his account, the praise of Amaryllis is that she does not drain his purse. Coleman's note on peculi (line 32) brings out how realistic the word and its implications are.

  25. P. 241. Even so, two pages later we find Segal saying, “Tityrus can still occupy the timeless present which is the heritage of every pastoral shepherd” (p. 243).

  26. The noun feta means “a female animal that is pregnant or has just given birth,” from the adjective fetus, -a, -um. Fetus, -ūs, a masculine noun, means “offspring, brood” (as in line 21). “Sick offspring” would be “gravis … fetus.”

  27. Christopher Burney in Solitary Confinement, an account of his wartime imprisonment by the Nazis. Quoted in Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending (New York, 1967), p. 157.

  28. Gemere characteristically includes the idea of mourning, lamenting; presumably for this reason Servius remarks that here it means “sing: properly of the dove” (canere: proprie de turture”). Tennyson's “moan” gives the force in this context and the desired overtones. Raucus (“hoarse”) can be harsh and unglamorous. Ovid uses it of asses, frogs, magpies, apes; and in the poets it is often used of trumpets and other metallic sounds of battle.

  29. Cf. Perret's comment: “Scenery according to Theocritus 7.135-142, but composed (huc, hinc, hinc), reduced in detail, changed to produce a unique impression in which moral components dominate (nota, sacros, semper, suadebit, cura).” On the difference between Theocritus' appeal to the pleasures of smell and taste and Virgil's dwelling on pure sound, see Viktor Pöschl, Die Hirtendichtung Virgils (Heildelberg, 1964), pp. 46-48. For a brief and penetrating account of Virgil's transformation of Theocritean settings, see Klingner's short essay, “Bukolische Landschaft,” in Virgil (Zürich, 1967), pp. 60-66.

  30. P. 257.

  31. Idylls 8.57-60, 76-80, and 9.7-8, 31-35. From his having imitated both these idylls (especially 8), it would seem that Virgil thought they were genuine. Their authenticity is doubted now because of the quality of the verse. For details, see Gow's edition. Cf. Dover's comment on the problem of authenticity: “There was a tendency throughout antiquity to ascribe to a famous poet works which had a generic resemblance to his but were in fact by lesser-known poets; the same tendency operated recklessly and notoriously in the ascription of speeches to orators” (p. xviii).

  32. Idylls 5.92-95 and 136-137; 10.28-31; 11.20-21.

  33. P. 41.

  34. The two leading Victorian commentators, Conington and Page, say, respectively, “fill the air with his song” and “his song seems wafted on the breeze.” (Cf. the remarks that follow about the way pastoral song holds assertion and receptivity in suspension.) Putnam says the pruner “sends his words toward the breezes of heaven” (p. 50). All these renderings are quite justified; a glance at Lewis and Short or the Oxford Latin Dictionary will persuade the reader that there is no one “correct” translation of the phrase.

  35. Rosenmeyer, p. 147.

  36. Segal, p. 242.

  37. René Waltz, “La Ire et la IXe Bucolique,” Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire 6 (1927), 36. This article compares the two shepherds, much to the disadvantage of Tityrus.

  38. Preface to the Edition of 1815, in Poetical Works, ed. E. de Selincourt, vol. 2 (Oxford, 1944), p. 436.

  39. Amaras quantum ad nostrum saporem; nam capris dulces sunt.” Servius notes a similar double perspective in his gloss on gemere (line 58), “mourn,” which means simply “to sing” for the doves (above, n. 28). Cf. the beautiful use of amarus in Ecl. 6.62-68 and the discussion by Charles Segal, “Vergil's Sixth Eclogue and the Problem of Evil,” Transactions of the American Philological Association 100 (1969), 423.


The following editors and commentators are referred to, in both text and footnotes, by their last names:

Cartault A. Cartault, Êtude sur les Bucoliques de Virgile (Paris, 1897)
Coleman Vergil, Eclogues, ed. Robert Coleman (Cambridge, 1977)
Conington The Works of Virgil, with a commentary by John Conington and Henry Nettleship, vol. 1: Eclogues and Georgics, 5th ed., rev. F. Haverfield (London, 1898)
Dover Theocritus, Select Poems, ed. K. J. Dover (London, 1971)
Gow A. S. F. Gow, Theocritus, edited with a translation and commentary, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1950; revised, 1952)
Martyn John Martyn, The Bucolicks of Virgil, with an English translation and notes (4th ed., Oxford, 1820)
Page P. Vergili Maronis Bucolica et Georgica, ed. T. E. Page (London, 1898)
Perret Virgil, Les Bucoliques, ed. Jacques Perret (Paris, 1961)
Servius Servii Grammatici qui feruntur in Vergilii Bucolica et Georgica Commentarii, ed. Georgius Thilo (Leipzig, 1887)
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Principal Works


Further Reading