Eclogues "A Snake In The Grass"

Guy Davenport

"A Snake In The Grass"

Context: The greatest poet of ancient Rome, Virgil, was born near Mantua and hence became known as the Mantuan Swan. A master of epic, didactic, and idyllic verse, he is most famous for the Aeneid, the Eclogues or Bucolics, and the Georgics. Tennyson called him a "lord of language" who achieved the ultimate in lyric beauty, melody, and significance. The Bucolics, ten in number, are pastoral poems in the spirit of the Idylls of the Sicilian poet Theocritus. The songs and dialogues of rustic swans are aptly named "bucolic" (pastoral); the term eclogue (selection) appears in the manuscripts for the individual poems, and the name is frequently used to designate the group as a whole. In the third Eclogue, Menalcas and Damoetas engage in a sparkling wit combat; each, convinced he can best the other in ingenuity of phrasing, has staked a precious possession, Damoetas a heifer, Menalcas a finely wrought cup. The contest flourishes apace for some time with neither participant revealing the slightest weakness in mental dexterity or physical stamina. Finally, Palaemon admits his inability to judge the better in such a fray. "Us it skills not to determine this strife between you: both thou and he are worthy of the heifer, and whosoever shrinks not from Love's sweetness shall not taste his bitterness. Shut off the rivulets now, my children: the meadows have drunk their fill":


DAMOETAS
–Let him who loves thee, Pollio, come where thou too takest delight: let honey flow for him, and the rough briar yield him spice.
MENALCAS
–Who hates not Bavius, let him love thy songs, O Maevius, and withal yoke foxes and milk he-goats.
DAMOETAS
–Gatherers of flowers and ground-strawberries, fly hence, O children, a cold snake lurks in the grass.
MENALCAS
–Stay, my sheep, from too far advance: ill is it to trust the bank: the lordly ram even now dries his fleece.
DAMOETAS
–Tityrus, put back the grazing kids from the river: myself, when the time comes, will wash them all in the spring.