Classics Teaching Resources
Pastoral - Two dimensions or three?
The Life and Death of PastoralThe beginnings - Theocritus
Somewhere on the island of Cos, some time around 280 B.C., a highly educated city dweller, stifled perhaps by the bookish atmosphere around him, thought back to his childhood in Sicily, to the down-to-earth, passionate, uncluttered life of his fellow-villagers, and longed to bring them to life in poetry for his fellow-sophisticates. That it was something scarcely done before (though of course there had been poetry with a country setting) made it all the more attractive to Theocritus. Here was a field for experiment, for originality. And so he put reed pen to papyrus, using the Doric dialect that had not flattened its vowels into the Greek of Athens, the Doric dialect that was something like the country speech of his boyhood, and the heroic hexameter which every Greek knew from Homer, and wrote a conversation between two imagined countrymen, Thyrsis and a goatherd:
Hadu ti to psithurisma kai ha pitus, aipole, tena
ha poti tais pagaisi melisdetai, hadu de kai tu
surisdes meta Pana to deuteron athlon apoise. :
Sweet is the whispering, goatherd, that the pine-tree by the spring sings, and sweetly do you play the pipes too. Pan takes first prize, but you come second. :
With generosity, the goatherd returns the compliment. Thyrsis' song is sweeter than the tinkling of a waterfall. And Thyrsis proceeds to sing a lament for another country man, a cow—herd, Daphnis::
Lead, friendly Muses, the bucolic strain.
'Tis Thyrsis sings, Thyrsis from Etna's plain.
Where were you, nymphs, while Daphnis' life decayed?
On Pindus' height, or in Peneus' glade? :
With this poem, the new literary form, Pastoral, was born. But was it just a pretty two-dimensional scene, or was there a third dimension to it? For example, is the Victorian editor right to say 'The subject is a dialogue between Theocritus himself (the goatherd) and another member of the Pastoral Guild of poets, who hails from Aetna, under the pseudonym Thyrsis,'? And if he is right, does this in fact add a dimension to the poem? Does it add to our enjoyment of a painting to know that the artist has painted two figures with the features of himself and a friend?
A more interesting question is, having written a rustic conversation piece, what was Theocritus going to do next? More of the same? Remember that it is only with hindsight that we see the Birth of Pastoral, For Theocritus on Cos it might have been a one-off effort. Certainly he was going to write more in the same style, in the same metre and dialect, varying the subject with singing competitions, contests of wit, each speaker trying to cap the other's lines, or the setting being more important than the songs sung in it. But the second Idyll in the book as we have it is a very different kind of poem, a monologue by a girl, Simaetha, who has been abandoned by her boy-friend Delphis.
'Where are the bay leaves? Bring them here,
Thestulis. And where are the love-charms?
We are plunged into the action as Simaetha performs her magic incantation to draw Delphis back to her, with the refrain to the wretched bird tied to a wheel which is spun as part of the spell:
Wryneck, draw the man back here to my house,
iunx, helke to tenon emon poti doma ton andra.
It happens at night, with prayers to the Moon, and reference to Hecate and Circe and Medea, After a while the spell is finished, and she thinks back over their love-affair: Consider, Lady Moon, whence came my love.
When I was already half way along the road to where Lycon's is, I saw Delphis and Eudamippus walking together. Fairer than helichryse were their beards, and their chests shone far brighter than you, Moon, for they had just left the manly toil of the wrestling school.
Consider, Lady Moon, whence came my love.
As I saw, madness seized me, and my poor heart was on fire. My looks faded away, and I thought no more of that pageant (that she had set out to see), nor do I know how I came home again; but a parching sickness shook me, and I lay on my bed for ten days and ten nights. (She sent her maid to anvite Delphis to her house) As soon as I knew he was srtepping light-footed over the threshold of my door, I turned colder than snow from head to foot, the sweat rolled from my brow like damp dew and I could not speak a word, ('But Belphis did the speaking, and put her at her ease) So he spoke, and I, always too easily won over, took him by the hand, and drew him down upon the soft couch. And quickly skin warmed to skin, and our faces burned hotter than before, and we whispered sweetly.
(l remember as a 6th former that these lines were omitted from our Victorian school texts, and that Michael Edwards, our teacher, was so indignant that such beautiful lines were missing that he read them out and translated them for us:
kai tachu chros epi chroti pepaineto, kai ta prosopa
thermoter' es e prosthe, kai epsithurisdomes hadu.
But now Delphis has not visited her for 11 days, and she threatens to poison him if the love-charm doesn't work.
Here, then, is another kind of Idyll, set in a city with a wrestling-school. Is it Pastoral too? Virgil thought so, because he imitated it; but perhaps we have drawn the lines of demarcation more narrowly. It is a miniature drama of passions, and we should certainly not look beyond the clear meaning to some secondary one. Simaetha is a 3-d character in herself.
Had Theocritus moved to Alexandria by this time? He must have done so by the time he wrote Idyll 15, another completely different type of poem, like a mime. It is the one about the two ladies of Alexandria meeting to go and see the procession for Adonis. Here is the beginning;
lines 1—44 from Penguin Book of Greek Verse p.304
Theocritus has poems addressed to individual friends, poems based on myth, and so on. In fact, he left a varied legacy for later poets to make what they chose of. And among other things, he left hints of using the country figures of the dialogues to represent the poet and other real people. Some of the apparently 2-d poems may turn out to be 3-d after all.
Virgil and his Roman imitator
This was the legacy that young Virgil siezed upon. What use did he make of it? He lived in a different country and a different age. Octavian had brought to an end a century of civil wars, and people were weary. They wanted to be taken out of themselves, transported to a land far from anxiety and grief. The opening lines of Virgil's first eclogue seem to offer just such an escape. They are beautifully, delicately crafted, every sound, every word in its place.
Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui musam meditaris avena.
Tityrus, here you loll, your slim reed-pipe serenading
the woodland spirit beneath a spread of sheltering beech (C Day Lewis)
But the translation is not the poem. It has not the word-music. It does not make the spreading beech enclose, on the page, the reclining Tityrus. 'serenading the woodland spirit' does not get the whole of meditaris (you consider, you meditate on) silvestrem musam (the woodland Muse, a very particular kind of spirit) with your thin reed. To 'think about' someone 'with a pipe' is a striking expression.
So all is exquisite. But this landscape is not remote. We find that we are in Italy amid the misery caused by the evictions of peasants to make room for demobbed civil war veterans, and that Tityrus, the Italian farmer with the Greek name, has been south to Rome and has seen Octavian and gained reprieve for his farm.
This is new. Theocritus' peasants were not placed in history, did not influence history. But Virgil felt as free as Theocritus had to change from poem to poem. He flexed his poetic muscles by close imitation and at the same time rearrangement of Theocritus. Several eclogues are pure 2-d escapist decoration. That drama of passions, Simaetha, becomes in Virgil's hands just one of a pair of songs sung by Damon and Alphesiboeus, in a poem addressed to Pollio, the cultured general who was then Virgil's patron, and referring to current events.
But Pollio, where are you now? - shooting Timavus' rapids?
Coasting the shores of Illyria? Will the day ever come
When I shall be allowed to write about your exploits?
But Virgil has tamed Theocritus' poem. The drama of passions begins
Bring me water, and wool wreaths to garland the shrine
Effer aquam et molli cinge haec altaria vitta.
Where are the bay leaves? Bring them here, Thestulis, And where are the love-charms?
With Theocritus we are in the stalls, watching a drama. With Virgil, the urgency of not being able to find what you want, the definition of the named slave-girl, the awe of the love-charm, have gone. And Virgil's refrain >
ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnim >
substitutes the less specific and visual 'carmina' for the bird on the wheel.
The French critic Rene Rapin in 1659 did not see things my way. He wrote:
"Theocritus is faulty, Virgil never; and this difference is perhaps to be ascribed to their Ages, the time in which the latter lived being more polite, civil and gentile. And therefore those who make wanton love stories the subject of Pastorals are in my opinion very unadvis'd."
In Eclogue 10 Virgil does something that Theocritus never thought of doing. He takes a real person, his friend and fellow-poet Callus, and sets him in Arcadia, under his own name, and brings Adonis and Menalcas (who Servius says represents Virgil) to give him advice, and not only so, but the god Apollo and Pan lend counsel too, Theocritus had set his conversations in the real Sicily of his youth: Virgil sets his in an Arcadia that never was, a never-never land which real people can visit for a short time, or perhaps a metaphor for real life. This, I think, points the ways that Pastoral was to take - partly into ever more remote and idealised escapism, what I am calling the 2-d pastoral, and partly, and more importantly, into the use of the Pastoral convention to address real life issues, the 3—d pastoral.
But I do not want to dwell on Virgil, for he is more familiar to us, and we know about the Fourth Eclogue which was siezed on by Christians as a prophecy of the birth of Christ, with its Virgin, its new-born baby whose birth is to signal the return of the Age of Gold, and its flocks with their amazing techi-coloured dream-coats of purple or saffron. I shall leave Virgil, therefore, with a few words of Gilbert Highet:
"The Bucolics are Poems of escape, from brutal reality into an ideal blended of the real beauties of nature, the known graces of Greek imagination, the newly-explored charms of Latin poetic style, and the irresistable pleasure of fantastic dreaming."
True, but not perhaps the whole truth, as we have seen.
I want to press on to Calpurnius, who wrote probably in the time of Nero, and was, in North Finder's words, 'chiefly noteworthy as the the first and perhaps the last imitator of Virgil's Eclogues who deserves any mention at all.' He wrote 11 eclogues or rather 7, because the last 4 are not his. Of the seven, the first, the central and the last are written in praise of Nero.
Calpurnius' 7th eclogue is interesting because Corydon has just returned from Rome to his farm, and tells his elderly fellow-shepherd Lycotas about Nero's new amphitheatre and the show that he had seen - and naturally about the emperor himself. Any prudent poet in Nero's reign would lay on the flattery with a trowel.
We saw the amphitheatre rise to the sky with crossing beams,
and looking down on the top of the Tarpeian Rock nearby,
and huge steps and gently-rising slopes.
We came to the seats, where the dingy, sobre-dressed mob
Watched in between the women's seats.
The parts that were open to the sky
Were occupied by either Knights or white-robed Tribunes.
Corydon marvelled at nets hung from 'teeth as big as our plough' (elephant tusks), and at the animals, hares, camels, and so on, in the arena. Even the scenery changed, and there was water enough for hippos and crocodiles.
The idea of using Pastoral to look at the games and the amphitheatre with new, unsophisticated eyes, and to describe the open-mouthed wonder of the two rustics, is a pretty development from Virgil's peasant who visited Rome and saw Octavian, although it scarcely elevates Calpurnius into the 3-d class.
The Pastoral Novel - Daphnis and Chloe
Before speeding into the Middle Ages, it is worth glancing at the first prose pastoral I know of, Longus' novel, Daphnis and Chloe. Of all those who enjoy Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe ballet music, I wonder what percentage have read the book of the ballet. If you don't know it, it concerns two foundlings, Daphhis, suckled by a goat, and Chloe, suckled by a sheep, who are sent to tend a flock together, he 15 years old and she 13, and who without understanding what is happening fall in love. Not only do they not understand their feelings, but they don't know what, physically, to do about it. There is much gentle humour in Longus' descriptions of their quandary, and in theis, more than the capture by pirates and rivalry of wealthier suitors for Chloe, the book's charm lies. Here is one short extract. Daphnis and Dorcon the cowherd engage in a beauty contest, Chloe was the judge, and the prize for victory was the pnvilege of kissing Chloe. Daphnis extols his own attractiveness; and then:
"Chloe waited no longer but, partly because she was pleased by the compliment and partly because she had wanted to kiss Daphnis for a long time, she jumped up and kissed him. It was an artless and inexperienced sort of kiss, but one which was quite capable of setting a heart on fire, So Dorcon ran off in dismay, and began to look for some other method of satisfying his love. But Daphnis reacted as if he had been stung rather than kissed. He suddenly looked almost indignant and shivered several times and tried to control his pounding heart; he wanted to look at Chloe, but when he did so he blushed all over. Then for the first time he saw with wonder that her hair was as golden as fire, that her eyes were as big as the eyes of an ox, and that her complexion was really evexn whiter than the milk of the goats. It was as if he had just got eyes for the first time, and had been blind all his life before."
Then Philetas, an older man, tells them about Love, and ends; 'There's no medicine for love, nothing you can drink and nothing you can eat and no magic spells that you can say. The only remedies are kissing and embracing and lying down together with naked bodies. They discussed this and said 'Then we'll have to try the remedies he spoke of, kissing and embracing and lying naked on the ground. It'll be very cold, but Philetas put up with it and so will we.' Thus their education was continued during the night; and next day, when they drove their flocks to pasture, they kissed as soon as they met, a thing they had never done before, and locked their arms together in an embrace. But they hesitated to try the third remedy..,'
And in fact they never did try it until their wedding night right at the end of the book.
Now Longus writes in his preface that his aim was to make a verbal equivalent of a painting he saw in Lesbos, and that is what he has done - summoned up a Golden Age of innocence in which his hero and heroine can have adventures and never get hurt. The Golden Age is a recurring theme of Pastoral. Rapin thought all Pastoral should be set in the Golden Age. To continue the quotation:
"And therefore those who make wanton love stories the subject of Pastorals are in my opinion very unadvis'd; for all sorts of lewdness or debauchery are directly contrary to the innocence of the Golden Age."
The Middle Ages
Everything was different in the Middle Ages, but I detect some of the spint of Pastoral in Alcuin, and the Aucassin and Nicolette.
Alcuin lived from 735 to 804, a Yorkshireman, librarian of York Cathedral library until Charlemain invited him, as Helen Waddell puts it, 'to put an empire and an emperor to school'. When he was 60 he retired to an abbey at Touraine. One of his scholars he nicknamed 'Cuckoo', and wrote a poem longing for the cuckoo's return after he had gone away, possibly, Alcuin fears, with a drink problem. Another poem, probably by Alcuin but not certainly, has the dialogue form of many pastorals, and a Virgilian introduction to the dialogue (The translation is by Helen Waddell):
From the high mountains the shepherds come together,
Gathered in the spring light under branching trees,
Come to sing songs, Daphnis, old Palemon,
All making ready to sing the cuckoo's praises.
Thither came Spring, girdled with a garland;
Thither came Winter, with his shaggy hair.
Great strife between them on the cuckoo's singing.
(his certamen erat cuculi de carmine grande)
Conflictus Veris et Hiemis
Conveniunt subito cuncti de montibus altis
pastores pecudum vernali luce sub umbra
arborea, pariter laetas celebrare Camenas.
adfuit et iuvenis Dafnis seniorque Palemon:
omnes hi cuculo laudes cantare parabant.
ver quoque florigero succinctus stemmate venit,
frigida venit Hiems, rigidis hirsuta capillis.
his certamen erat cuculi de carmine grande.
ver prior adlusit ternos modulamine versus.
Opto meus veniat cuculus, carissimus ales.
omnibus iste solet fieri gratissimus hospes
in tectis, modulans rutilo bona carmina rostro.
Tum glacialis Hiems respondit voce severa:
non veniat cuculus, nigris sed dormiat antris.
iste famem secum semper portare suescit.
Opto meus veniat cuculus cum germine laeto,
frigora depellat, Phoebo comes almus in aevum,
Phoebus amat cuculum crescenti luce serena.
Non veniat cuculus, generat quia forte labores,
proelia congeminat, requiem disiungit amatam;
omnia disturbat; pelagi terraeque laborant.
Quid tu, tarda Hiems, cuculo convitia cantas ?
qui torpore gravi tenebrosis tectus in antris
post epulas Veneris, post stulti pocula Bacchi.
Sunt mihi divitiae, sunt et convivia laeta,
est requies dulcis, calidus est ignis in aede.
haec cuculus nescit, sed perfidis ille laborat
Ore ferat flores cuculus, et mella ministrat,
aedificatque domus, placidas et navigat undas,
et generat suboles, laetos et vestiet agros.
Haec inimica mihi sunt, quae tibi laeta videntur
ed placet optatas gazas numerate per areas
et gaudere cibis simul et requiescere temper.
Ver. Quis tibi, tarda Hiems, semper dormire parata,
divitias cumulat, gazas vel congregat ullas,
si ver vel aestas ante tibi nulla laborant?
Hiems. Vera refers: illi, quoniam mihi multa laborant,
sunt etiam servi nostra ditione subacti.
iam mihi servantes domino, quaecumque laborant.
Non illis dominus, sed pauper inopsque superbus.
nec te iam poteris per te tu pascere tantum
ni tibi qui veniet cuculus alimonia praestat.
Tunc respondit ovans sublime e sede Palemon
et Dafnis pariter, pastorum et turba piorum:
'Desine plura, Hiems: rerum tu prodigus, atrox.
et veniat cuculus, pastorum dulcis amicus,
collibus in nostris erumpant germina laeta,
pascua sint pecori, requies et dulcis in arvis.
et virides rami praestent umbracula fessis,
uberibus plenis veniantque ad mulctra capellae,
et volucres varia Phoebum sub voce salutent.
quapropter citius cuculus nunc ecce venito!
tu iam dulcis amor, cunctis gratissimus hospes.
omnia te expectant, pelagus tellusque polusque.
salve, dulce decus, cuculus per saecula salve!'
The Strife between Winter and Spring
From the high mountains the shepherds come together,
Gathered in the spring light under branching trees^
Come to sing songs, Daphnis, old Palemon,
All making ready to sing the cuckoo's praises.
Thither came Spring, girdled wth a garland;
Thither came Winter with his shaggy hair.
Great strife between them on the cuckoo's singing.
I would that he were here,
Of all winged things most dear,
To every roof the most beloved guest.
Bright-billed, good songs he sings.
Let him not come,
Stay on in the dark,cavern where he sleeps,
For Hunger is the company he brings.
I would that he were here,
Gay buds come with him, and the frost is gone,
Cuckoo, the age-long comrade of the sun.
The days are longer and the light serene
Let him not come,
For toil comes with him and he wakens wars,
Breaks blessed quiet and disturbs the world,
And sea and earth alike sets travailing.
And what are you that throw your blame on him ?
That huddle sluggish in your half-lit caves
After your feasts of Venus, bouts of Bacchus,
Riches are mine and joy of repelling,
And sweet is sleep, the fire on the hearth stone.
Nothing of these he knows, and does his treasons.
Nay, but he brings the flowers in his bright bill,
And he brings honey, nests are built for him.
The sea is quiet for his journeying,
Young ones begotten, and the fields are green.
I like not these things which are joy to you.
I like to count the gold heaped in my chests,
And feast, and then to sleep, and then to sleep.
And who, thou slug-a-bed, got thee thy wealth? *
And who would pile thee any wealth at all,
If spring and summer did not toil for thee?
Thou speakest truth; indeed they toil for me.
They are my slaves, and under my dominion.
As servants for their lord, they sweat for me.
No lord, but poor and beggarly and proud.
Thou couldst not feed thyself a single day
But for his charity who comes, who comes!
Then old Palemon spake from his high seat,
And Daphnis, and the crowd of faithful shepherds.
'Have done, have done. Winter, spendthrift and foul,
And let the shepherd's friend, the cuckoo, come.
And may the happy buds break on our hills,
Green be our grazing, peace in the ploughed fields,
Green branches give their shadow to tired men,
The goats come to the milking, udders full,
The birds call to the sun, each one his note.
Wherefore, O cuckoo, come, O cuckoo, come!
For thou art Love himself, the dearest guest,
And all things wait thee, sea and earth and sky.
All hail, beloved: through all ages, hail!
The form is Pastoral, but the points made by Winter and Spring are down-to-earth — hunger, and later on in the poem calm seas for journeying, honey, and prosperous farming. Really the Greek—named shepherds are an unnecessary piece of stage machinery, and we breathe the Mediaeval air of closeness to nature, truth to reality, joy in natural beauty even though the metre is still the classical hexameter.
With Aucassin and Nicolette we step forward two or three centuries in time, and we are now in French, not Latin, It is the only French example of a tale told alternately in passages of prose and bursts of singing, a cante-fable. The plot is the familiar one of lovers parted by many adventures and finally reunited. One episode takes Nicolette into shepherd country, where she pays them to help Aucassin in his hunt of a beast.
'In God's name, quoth she; and so took farewell of the shepherds, and went her way.
Here singeth one:
Nicolette the bright of brow
from the shepherds doth she pass
All below the blossomed bough
where and: ancient way there was
overgrown and choked with grass,
Till she found the cross-roads where
seven paths do all ways fare
Then she deemeth she will try
should her lover pass thereby
If he love her loyally'
Here, as in other Pastoral, an unreal country can be the place where relationships are worked out or set right. As Prof Empson wrote, pastoral is the process of putting the complex into the simple. "To arrive in Arcadia by whatever means or for whatever purposes is merely to have one's problems sharpened by seeing them magnified in a new context of simplicity, by seeing Art against Nature and of being forced to conclusions about them. ... The escape ..is only temporary and only a prelude to a return."
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