Tuesday, December 07, 2004


a few questions for pondering on the eclogues resulting from class today.

Eclogue 7: why is daphnis under the holm-oak? how did he get there? where did he come from? (see especially the first word of the poem, forte--'by chance'.) what sort of creature, exactly, is he?

i find vergil a very cinematic (if you'll forgive the anachronism) writer. In ecl.7, you can almost see the screen go fuzzy flashback-style as we move from line 20 and then clarifying in re at some unspecified point in the past as the contest gets underway.

by the way, if you've ever wondered where we get our term 'sardonic smile', see ll.41-44:

Immo ego Sardoniis videar tibi amarior herbis,
horridior rusco, proiecta vilior alga,
si mihi non haec lux toto iam longior anno est.
Ite domum pasti, si quis pudor, ite, iuvenci.

coleman points out ad loc. that 'the celery-leaved crowfoot, Ranunculus Sceleratus, though not peculiar to Sardinia, was thought to be responsible both fo the proverbial 'Sardonic smile' of those who ate it...and for the acrid flavour of Sardum mel (Hor. A.P.375)'. in other words, it's bitter.

Eclogue 8: why do we have daphnis again, when this part of the poem is modeled on Th.Id.2, where we find 'delphis' instead? does daphnis actually return at the end of the poem? or, to put in in amaryllis' words (who i take to be the 'I' of the second song), Credimus? to be sure, the dog is barking about something. but her final question leaves room for doubt--an qui amant ipsi sibi somnia fingunt? ('or do those who love construct dreams for themselves of their own accord?').

Ll.36-41 are indeed exquisitely beautiful:

Saepibus in nostris paruam te roscida mala
(dux ego uester eram) uidi cum matre legentem;
alter ab undecimo tum me iam acceperat annus;
iam fragilis poteram a terra contingere ramos: 40
ut uidi, ut perii, ut me malus abstulit error!

page (ad loc.) quotes macaulay as saying the following about them: '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, 1.371).

Eclogue 10: why does gallus appear in 6 and 10, the beginning and end of the second half of the book? what is the significance of his playing hesiod in 6 and daphnis in 10?

on the whole, i do not understand the eclogues. either their depth or my denseness (or 'denstrosity'?)--or, more likely, a combination of the two--baffles me. what is the significance of the recurring characters? are they always the same people? is it possible to construct a narrative all ten poems as a whole? what is arcadia? when does it signify something more than a region in greece, and how do we know? and if it is a 'spiritual landscape' (cf. Snell), at what point in the book does it become such a thing? finally, why does the contemporary world continually break into vergil's idyllic domains?


dennis said...

Call me crazy, and I haven't thought about this much, but when we read the first eclogue I had the overwhelming impression that Vergil was having contemporary events encroach upon the world of Theocritean pastoral perhaps as some kind of literary commentary.

I'm just now thinking about that again, but I would add that not all of the characters recur, and that many seem not to be contemporary with the narrator, but rather appear in recollection or narrative.

I'm working on clearing this up in my prosopographical study.

eric said...

interesting--would you see 9.46-50, where daphnis sees the star of caesar, as some kind of interesection of the contemporary and the more 'pastoral' characters? here are the lines (lycidas quoting menalcas):

"Daphni, quid antiquos signorum suspicis ortus?
Ecce Dionaei processit Caesaris astrum,
astrum quo segetes gauderent frugibus et quo
duceret apricis in collibus uva colorem.
Insere, Daphni, piros: carpent tua poma nepotes."