Scholia Reviews ns 18 (2009) 23.

Michael Paschalis (ed.), Pastoral Palimpsests: Essays in the Reception of Theocritus and Virgil. Rethymnon Classical Studies, Volume 3. Heraklion: Crete University Press, 2007. Pp. 230. ISBN 978-960-524-237-4. €25.00.

Maria Basta
Department of Classics, University of Wales, Lampeter.

The bucolic tradition and its genre have been examined by many scholars over a long period of time.[[1]] This selection of essays belongs to the same oeuvre, but it focuses mostly on articles about the reception of ancient bucolic poetry through the centuries.

The book consists of nine essays that were originally presented at a conference in Rethymnon, in which the scholars discussed the theme of ‘The Successors of Theocritus and Virgil: The Reception of Bucolic Poetry in Ancient and Modern Times’. This amounts to a discussion of the perception of the two most important ancient bucolic poets, Theocritus and Virgil, by the Victorians, and later by modern poets and singers. The nine contributions are based on a variety of texts and cover a wide range, so that one might say that we have here a book of the Companion type.

Marco Fantuzzi is the author of the first essay, entitled ‘The Importance of Being boukolos Ps.-Theocr. 20’ (pp. 13-38). He claims that the pastoral locus amoenus constitutes what we call the landscape of bucolic love and supports his assertion with excerpts from Theocritus 3 and 6, Virgil Ecl. 2, Ovid Met. 13.738-897, and Catullus 99. His main claim is that pastoral poetry, both Greek and Latin, unquestionably has a combative character, which is exemplified in the contrast between urban and rustic people (pp. 21f.)

The second essay, ‘Isis and the Language of Aesop’ (pp. 39-58), written by Richard Hunter, is an attempt to deal with the Life of Aesop (in the G recension). The author’s analysis shows us that there was close relationship between the role of goddess Isis in the story and the gift of writing and speaking (p. 41). Aesop receives his intellectual gifts from Isis as a result of his naïve morality. Moreover Aesop himself is a typical example of a ‘healing receiver’ in terms of cult of Asclepius and thus he can justifiably be considered as the priest of the goddess in a way (p. 44).

Thomas Hubbard’s essay, ‘Exile from Arcadia: Sannazaro’s Piscatory Eclogues’ (pp. 59-77), introduces the only study in the whole volume concerned with the idea of pastoral in the Italian Renaissance. By shedding light on the first four poems of Sannazaro’s piscatorial Eclogues, Hubbard argues that the poet transforms pastoral Arcadia from a mountainous countryside into a seascape. It is, however, not unusual for pastoral poetry to make use of the sea. Hubbard claims that this transformation of the genre owes its origin principally to the Theocritean description of the ivy cup in Id. 1.39-44 (p. 63) and to the image of the stress of labour in Pseudo-Hesiod Shield of Hercules 213-215 (p. 64). Finally, Hubbard contextualises Sannazaro’s poems within the bucolic genre and connects the genre itself with the process of self-transcendence (p. 74).

Philip Hardie’s study, ‘Milton’s Epitaphium Damonis and the Virgilian Career’ (pp. 79-100), examines the way Milton made use of the pastoral genre to bring closure to the poems of his Latin language period. The main intertexts with these poems are Virgil’s Eclogues. Three Eclogues (1, 5 and 10) are put at the centre of this examination (pp. 83, 88, 90, 92).

In her essay, entitled ‘Too much Virgil? Too much Talk? Wordsworth’s Anxiety of Influence’ (pp. 101-17), Annabel Patterson takes her research on the pastoral genre further.[[2]] She examines closely Wordsworth’s reception of Virgil, by comparing it with Crabbe’s (p. 103). Wordsworth handled the Virgilian Eclogues in a manner of ‘factitious refusal’ (pp. 104f.) and allusion (p. 108), but Virgil also gave Wordsworth the opportunity to write his own autobiography through the poems of pastoral genre. In Wordsworth, the reception of the pastoral tradition is a tool for shaping a personal mythology.

Virgil and the reception of his poems are again the object of Michael Paschalis’s study ‘Thomas Hardy and Virgil’ (pp. 119-53). Hardy’s first commercial success, Far from the Madding Crowd, has the Eclogues as its literary counterpart (p. 121). The heroes of the novel take their cue from the ancient pastoral poem regardless of their gender. For example, Bathsheba is identified with Meliboeus (p. 125). However, in the same novel, Hardy shows that he is not uninterested in the higher poetic genres, such as epic and drama. The Aeneid clearly provided him with inspiration; the Dido and Aeneas narrative builds a bridge between pastoral and epic in his novel (p. 129). The reception of the Classics in Hardie’s novels is not limited to his fictional heroes only, but also to the analogies that can be drawn between them and the author’s wife (p. 143). Paschalis completes his essay by giving a short account of the Woodlanders and claims that Thomas Hardy follows the pastoral tradition in this novel also.

Theodore Ziolkowski’s article ‘Twentieth-century Variations on Eclogue 1’ (pp. 155-69) deals with the reception of Eclogue 1 by modern writers of the twentieth century. Although Ernst Robert Curtius contended that Eclogues, together with the Aeneid (p. 156), was the most inspiring poem in Europe during the Latin Middle Ages,[[3]] Ziolkowski maintains that each geographic area received Virgil and his pastoral poems in a different way. Thus, in Germany it was the Fourth Eclogue that was a source of fascination to poets and scholars. On the contrary, French poets were much more interested in the Second Eclogue, because of its homoerotic context (p. 157). This does not mean that the First Eclogue was without interest for poets such as Gide and Valéry (pp. 157-60). It also appealed strongly to the English and American intellectual circles, for it offered them a model of political and social commentary. So, Robert Frost’s ‘Build Soil: A Political Pastoral’ echoes the political frustration of Meliboeus (p. 160), while Louis MacNeice’s ‘An Eclogue for Christmas’ also displays the same sense of discordia found in the First Eclogue (p. 162). Allen Tate in his ‘Eclogue of the Liberal and the Poet’ uses the same political background, where the poet ponders over matters of liberalism (p. 163). Finally, Anthony Hecht (p. 164), Michael Longley (p. 165) and Seamus Heany (p. 166) are all examples of poets of the late 1990s, who adapted Virgilian pastoral in their work.

Fiona Cox’s essay ‘Night Falls on America: Virgilian Pastoral in Michel Butor’s “Mobile”’ (pp. 171-89) focuses the adaptation of Virgil in Michel Butor’s poem. The French author writes his poem with a sense of sadness and injustice (p. 177), which are the dominant emotions in the First Eclogue. As in Virgil’s poem, the question of imperial ideology is raised in the context of national identity. The pastoral ideal cannot hide the sadness of Meliboeus in the First Eclogue as well as of Moeris in the ninth. They are typical examples of this imperial discordia (p. 176).

The last essay of this volume is concerned with Virgil’s reception by Miklos Radnoti and Bob Dylan. Richard F. Thomas examines bucolic sadness in their works in his essay ‘Shadows are Falling: Virgil, Radnoti, and Dylan, and the Aesthetics of Pastoral Melancholy’ (pp. 191-214). Melancholy, claims the author, is an aesthetic experience that results from a combination of pain and pleasure (p. 192) and it is a feature attributed only to Virgil, for Theocritus did not offer any examples of it (p. 193). Virgilian melancholy includes memory, time (p. 194), place (p. 195), the absent object (p. 196), and finally shadows (p. 197). Radnoti, a Hungarian poet who translated the ninth Eclogue, wrote five Eclogues during the War World II, which, as Thomas points out, have evoked the pastoral melancholy of the Virgilian subtext (p. 201). On the other hand, Bob Dylan owes a part of his inspiration to the classical tradition of, for example, Ovid (p. 206). Virgilian melancholy also played a major role in his songs, as there are examples of intertextuality and evocations about place, time, memory, and the absent object in his poetry (p. 207ff.).

In conclusion, the whole book is a very useful tool to anyone interested in the pastoral genre and its reception. Classicists will find out how bucolic poetry was transformed over the centuries. Anyone interested in pastoral poetry will benefit from reading this book.[[4]]


[[1]] See for example: W. Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (London 1935), P. Alpers, What is Pastoral (Chicago 1996), T. Gifford, Pastoral (London 1999), T. Rosenmeyer, The Green Cabinet (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1969), D. Halperin, Before Pastoral (New Haven 1989), K. Gutzwiller, Theocritus’ Pastoral Analogies (Madison 1991). T. Hubbard, The Pipes of Pan (Ann Arbor 1998), and finally M. Fantuzzi and T. Papanghelis (edd.), Brill’s Companion to Greek and Latin Pastoral (Leiden 2006).

[[2]] Annabel Patterson, Pastoral and Ideology (Berkeley 1987).

[[3]] Ernst Curtius (tr. Trask), European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (Princeton 1953) 190.

[[4]] There are a few misprints in the book (for example: p. 122, n. 8 ‘ . . . notes that it was it was . . .’).