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Greek poets, constitute the type by which we estimate the poetical art of their nation, the mean which every thing else either exceeds or falls short of. It is not that we consciously fix upon any qualities in them which attract our admiration, but rather perhaps, on the contrary, that there seems to be nothing prominent about them; the various requisites of excellence are harmoniously blended, without exaggeration, and the mind receives that satisfaction which refuses to be asked how it came to pass. Their style is sufficiently characteristic not to repel imitation, tủough with many of its most successful imitators the process is doubtless mainly intuitive: yet, on the other hand, it is not so peculiar as to render imitation an act of ridiculous presumption. Less frequently pictorial than that which preceded it, the style of Lucretius and Catullus, it is at the same time more artistic: single sentences are not devoted to the uniform development of a particular effect, but a series of impressions is produced by appeals made apparently without any principle of sequence to the different elements of the mind, sense, fancy, feeling, or memory, and the task of reducing them to harmony is left to the reader's sympathizing instinct. It is a power which appears to deal with language not by violence, but by persuasion, not straining or torturing it to bring out the required utterance, but yielding to it and, as it were, following its humours. Language is not yet studied for its own sake : that feature belongs to the post-Augustan time of the decline of poetry: but it has risen from subordination into equality, and the step to despotic supremacy is but a short one.
To enumerate the felicities which are to be found in the Eclogues would be endless, as it would perhaps be superfluous in an essay intended to be introductory to the perusal of the poem in detail. Where I have been sensible of them, I have generally endeavoured to indicate them in the commentary, though I fear that through brevity and other faults of expression I have not always succeeded in conveying the impression I desired. The chief instance, in my judgment, of sustained and systematic art is that presented by the fourth Eclogue, to the notes on which I would accordingly beg to refer the reader. In this place, however, it may be worth while to illustrate my meaning by a brief review of those passages in the Eclogues in which external nature is represented as in sympathy with the joys and sorrows of pastoral life. The frequent repetition of the notion may speak ill for Virgil's capacity of invention: the variety with which it is presented, extending not merely to form, but to colour, is a signal witness to the modifying power of his fancy. Let us look at the two passages, in some sort parallel, where pines and springs call for the absent Tityrus, and where mountain and vineyard shout in the ears of Menalcas the apotheosis of Daphnis. The former, properly understood, seems to be a piece of
graceful raillery, reminding the gardener that while he was away his trees were undressed, and the boars, perhaps, wallowing in his springs. The latter has a grandeur about it recalling the sublimity of Jewish prophecy, at the same time that we are apparently intended to think not only of nature endowed with human feeling, but of actual human joy, the joy of the traveller on the mountain and of the vinedresser under the rock. Even the epithet intonsi montes would seem to have a double reference: in one of its aspects it suggests the notion of a pathless wild, and thus brings out the universality of the rejoicing: in another it makes us feel with nature as it were against man, representing the mountains as glorying in that strength which nature gave and the reign of Daphnis will secure to them, as the fir-trees and cedars in Isaiah exult over the king of Babylon, “ Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us." So the same changes in the order of nature are named at one time among the glories of the coming golden age, at another as effects of a general curse, which is to transfer the rights of the strong and beautiful to the weak and contemptible. Under the reign of Daphnis the wolf is to spare the sheep: in the youth of the newborn ruler of the earth the oak is to distil honey: Pollio and his admirer are to dwell in a dream-land where spices grow on the bramble: yet it is in images like these that Damon hurls his dying scorn at the world where he has been robbed of his love. What can be more significant than the apparently casual epithet arguta, applied in the very first line of the seventh Eclogue to the tree under which Corydon and Thyrsis are about to sing? Or let us take the passage which serves as a comment on that epithet, the lines on Maenalus in Damon's song. Lucretius®, in his account of the origin of society and civilization, tells us that pastoral music must have been in the first instance an imitation of the sound of the wind among the reeds : but the thought gains indefinitely when it is localized and transferred to Maenalus, “whose forests are ever tuneful and his pines ever vocal, who is ever listening to the loves of shepherds, and to Pan, the first who would not have the reeds left unemployed." The personification of the mountain gives both definiteness and majesty to the conception: the very fact that the connection between vocal woods and shepherds' songs is hinted rather than expressed is an advantage even philosophically: and the mention of Pan supplies that mythological framework to which the theories of the ancients on the history of man primeval owe so much, not only of beauty, but of substance. A minute analysis of the language of the Eclogues is in truth a school of poetical criticism : and though the subtilty and complexity of the images involved may induce a practice of over-refining on the part
8 Lucr. 5. 1382 foll.
of the inquirer, yet experience, I think, will show that the danger of giving Virgil credit for more than he had in his mind is far less than would be supposed by au ordinary reader.
As we have no authentic life of Virgil, we cannot settle with certainty the date of the composition or publication of the Eclogues. Several of them, however, fix their own date (see the separate Introductions) : the dates of one or two others can be determined relatively: and we may suppose that no long interval is likely to have taken place between the composition of the various poems, without accepting the story of the biographer, "Bucolica triennio suasu Asinii Pollionis perfecit,” on its intrinsic any more than on its extrinsic merits. The proximate date, so gained, agrees with the general intimation given by Virgil himself at the conclusion of the Georgics and endorsed by his contemporaries and successors, that the Bucolics were the work of his youth. So far as historical data go, our terminus a quo must be about 711, the year of the first assignment by Octavianus to his veterans, and the twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth of the poet's life, while our terminus ad quem will probably fall in 717, the date of Gallus' supposed service in Italy against Sex. Pompeius, when Virgil was thirty-three or thirty-four. When he wrote the first Eclogue he evidently considered himself already a poet; but though he then found himself free to follow pastoral song at his will, we are not obliged to identify the poetry which he had then produced with any other of the Eclogues, or indeed to suppose it to have been pastoral at all, except as being the composition of a so-called shepherd. That Virgil would not delay the publication of his volume long after its completion is a natural supposition, especially as he was soon to apply himself to the Georgics.
There seems no reason to doubt that the order in which the Eclogues now stand is that in which Virgil himself arranged them, whatever bearing that may have on the question of their relative dates. The last line of the fourth Georgic, as Wagner remarks, even without the support of a similar notice by Ovid, establishes the fact that the first Eclogue was intended to stand first and give, as it were, its tone to the whole; the exordium of the tenth Eclogue speaks for itself. For the titles of the various Eclogues, varying as they do in the different MSS., the grammarians are doubtless to be held responsible. The name Ecloga, which signifies merely select poems', in this case the portions of the Bucolic volume, is to be referred to the same authority.
9 See Forcellini s. v. Ecloga. The irrelevancy of the term as applied to pastoral poetry led Petrarch to a curious emendation, Æglogues, which he accordingly gave as the title to his own Pastorals ; and Spenser, among others, followed the example. Johnson, who remarks (Life of A. Philips) that the word can only mean the talk of goats,' not, as it was intended, “the talk of goatherds,' might have remarked further, that no such formation could have existed in Greek.
Recent German critics, such as Gebauer, in the treatise already referred to, and Ribbeck, in a paper in Jahn's Jahrbücher (vols. 75, 76, Part I.), have supposed themselves to have found the traces of symmetrical arrangement, amounting to something like strophical correspondence, throughout the Eclogues. That such a principle was present to Virgil's mind during the composition of some of them, the structure of the amoebean part of Eclogues 3, 5, 7, and 8 is sufficient to prove; nor does it seem an accident that the
songs quoted in Eclogue 9 fall into two pairs of three and five lines respectively; but that is no reason for seeking symmetry in the Eclogues which are not amoebean, and torturing the text in order to bring it out. It is true that the sense is more frequently ended with the line in the Eclogues than in the Georgics or Aeneid, so that the appearance of an imperfect parallelism is sometimes produced; but without stopping to enquire whether this may be connected with any tradition of bucolic music, which, though not accepted by Virgil as an invariable law, may still have influenced him, we may account for it sufficiently by considering that the hexameter, as handled by Lucretius and Catullus, is apt to present the same phenomenon of unbroken monotony, and that Virgil's earliest attempts at versification would naturally be characterized by a greater uniformity of cadence than his latest. In any case there can be no justification for resorting, as Ribbeck has done, to the hypothesis of interpolations on the one hand, and lacunae on the other. It is the trustworthiness of the MSS. that has preserved to us proofs of symmetry which had been overlooked for centuries, as in Eclogues 5 and 8; surely their authority is to be equally respected where they refuse to disclose any such proofs, especially when the two classes of cases are seen to be separated by an intelligible line.
The historical groundwork of this Eclogue is the assignment of lands in Italy by the triumvirs to their veterans in 713. “The spoliation,” says Mr. Merivale (History of the Roman Empire, vol. iii. p. 222), “ spread from the suburban lands to remote tracts, from municipal to private possessions. Even loyalty to the Caesarian party proved of no avail : the faithful Mantua shared the fate of its neighbour, the disaffected Cremona; and the little township of Andes, Virgil's birth-place, in the Mantuan territory, was involved in the calamities of its metropolis.” The story as drawn out from Donatus' Life, and the scattered notices in Servius' commentary, is that Virgil went to Rome on the seizure of bis property, and obtained from Octavianus a decree of restitution, which however was resisted and nearly rendered ineffectual by the violence of the new occupant, referred to in the ninth Eclogue, so that a second appeal for protection had to be made. That the poet's inheritance was twice threatened seems evident from Eclogue 9, vv. 7 foll., while we know from the present Eclogue that on one occasion he received an assurance of protection from Octavianus himself, and it may be inferred from other passages that Alfenus Varus, the legatus in the Cisalpine after the battle of Perusia, if not his predecessor C. Asinius Pollio, interfered on Virgil's behalf. These facts agree sufficiently well with the traditional account, at the same time that they do not enable us to decide on all its details, even as contained in the abbreviated summary just given.
The speakers in the Eclogue are two shepherds, one of whom is enjoying rustic life, singing of his love, and seeing his cattle feed undisturbed, when he is encountered by the other, who has been expelled from his homestead, and is driving his goats before him, with no prospect but a cheerless exile. This is simple enough, but it is complicated by an unhappy artifice. The fortunate shepherd is represented as a farm slave who has just worked out his freedom : and this emancipation is used to symbolize the confirmation of the poet in his property. The two events, with their concomitants, are treated as convertible with each other, the story being told partly in the one form, partly in the other.