Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

It is noticeable that the two songs, which are continuous, are of exactly the same length, like those in Virgil's fifth and eighth Eclogues.

In the third Eclogue Nemesianus has imitated Virgil's sixth. Three shepherds find Pan asleep, take his pipe, and vainly try to perform on it: he awakes, and immediately offers to play, taking for his subject the praises of Bacchus, whose name the copyist has accordingly prefixed to the Eclogue. The song, which is of no great length, being given in the oratio recta,' not, like Virgil's, thrown into the form of a rapid summary, speaks of the birth and infancy of the god, and of the production of the grape, the first treading of which is described. There is considerable picturesque power in various parts of the song, which admits, as Wernsdorf remarks, of illustration from various extant gems. Here is a picture of the child in the arms of Silenus.

[merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

:

Evening ends the Eclogue, which Fontenelle rather boldly pronounces to be superior in elegance of invention to its Virgilian prototype. It is difficult to see the appropriateness of the praises of Bacchus in the mouth of Pan, though they might have come with some grace from Silenus ; while the pictorial features, being such as are found represented in works of art, may perhaps be due as much to artistic tradition as to the imagination of the poet.

The fourth Eclogue, Eros, is again amoebean, Mopsus and Lycidas singing of their loves, Meroe and Iolas. The strophes are short, five lines each, and each has the same burden, Cantet, amat quod quisque: levant et carmina curas.' The topics are, as usual, chiefly Theocritean and Virgilian, the transitoriness of beauty, the universality of passionate pursuit, the lover singing in the heat when all else is sheltered, and the employment of the various resources of magic. As in the eighth Eclogue of Virgil, there is no formal conclusion..

Such are the somewhat meagre products yielded by Roman bucolic poetry after Virgil's time-compositions as unreal as Virgil's own, without that exquisite grace which makes us delight in the poem where we cannot recognize the genuine pastoral. A few other pieces of bucolic verse, included by Wernsdorf in bis second volume, may perhaps be worth a few lines of mention. Citerius Sidonius Syracusanus (the suffix is noteworthy, as compared with that of Calpurnius) contributes an

116

ON THE LATER BUCOLIC POETS OF ROME.

6

• Epigramma de Tribus Pastoribus,' eight closely packed lines, specifying the antecedents, fortunes, occupations, ages, musical qualifications, loves, and love-presents of three shepherds. Severus Sanctus, 'rhetor et poeta Christianus,' has a dialogue in Asclepiad stanzas,' de Mortibus Boum,' in which Buculus laments the loss of his cattle by an epidemic, finds that Tityrus' herds have escaped by being signed with the cross, and becomes himself a convert from Paganism to Christianity. One Vespa writes Iudicium Coci et Pistoris, iudice Vulcano,' in which the baker and the cook extol their own art and depreciate each other's, in verses of no classical merit, but with some humour, the cook being told that he is responsible for the suppers of Thyestes and Tereus, and replying that his art supplies liver for Tityus, wings for Icarus, and beef for Europa. Last comes

an Eclogue by the venerable Bede, Conflictus Veris et Hiemis, sive Cuculus,' Spring and Winter arguing in verse before a company of shepherds for and against the appearance of the cuckoo, till the judges, naturally enough, decide that the cuckoo shall come, and conclude 'Salve, dulce decus, cuculus, per saecula salve.'

P. VERGILI MARONIS

G E ORG ICON

LIBER PRIMUS.

INTRODUCTION.

The student of Virgil may be said to enjoy a singular advantage in the preservation of those works of Greek poetry which his author professes to have imitated. A few fragments are all that is left of that glorious body of lyric song which, after having been the delight of Greece, while Greece was yet a nation, lived again at Rome in the Odes of Horace, inspiring their spirit and dictating their metre. Still more scanty is our knowledge of the poems which are supposed to have served as models for Ovid's Metamorphoses, such as the Hesiodic 'Hoca' or the 'Etepotobueva of Nicander. Not only may we suppose that we have lost the key to many thoughts, images, and phrases, which the possession of the Greek would have enabled us to clear up, but the whole relation of the Latin poems to their originals becomes a matter of inference and of vague conjecture. But in possessing Theocritus, Hesiod, and Homer, we may feel that we possess, as it were, the exciting causes the Eclogues, the Georgics, and the Aeneid. They do not indeed represent all the literary influences which must have told upon Virgil's genius, or disclose to us the origin of the peculiar manner in which he has conducted the work of imitation : but they show us what it was that in each successive case first stimulated his general conception of his subject - what it was that he admired in the literature of Greece, and sought to reproduce among his own countrymen : they enable us to judge of him not only as a poet, but as a critic of the poetry of others.

With regard to Hesiod, indeed, there is considerable reason to doubt whether we possess the whole of what Virgil set himself to copy. Various agricultural precepts are cited from Hesiod—for instance, about the culture of the olive and the vine-which find no place in the Works and Days, as we now read them; and though some of these may be disposed of by the consideration that the name of Hesiod was often loosely applied to anything which might fall under the head of rural didactics, enough remains of a more strictly Hesiodic character to render some other hypothesis necessary-whether it be the popular German theory that the extant Works and Days, interpolated as the same authority pronounces them to be, represent only a part of the work which was read by Virgil,

1 Mure's Hist. of the Literature of Greece, vol. ii. p. 378.

or the more cautious speculation of Colonel Mure?, who refers the unincorporated fragments to some of the lost poems traditionally ascribed to Hesiod, such as the Astronomy and the Maxims of Cheiron. Possibly Propertiusmay have been thinking of these when he addressed Virgil as repeating in song the directions of the old Ascraean bard, and telling of the plain in which the corn-crop grows greenest, the slope on which the grape clusters best, though it is equally likely that he simply intended to acknowledge the Georgics as a Hesiodic poem, characterizing

, them, not by any thing in Hesiod, but by their own argument as summed up in the exordium of the First Book. In any case, however, we may be sure that what we have lost bears no proportion in value, as a means of estimating the relations of Hesiod and Virgil, to what we have preserved. The recovery of the whole of Hesiod's poetry would doubtless supply us with illustrations of many passages in the Georgics: it is not needed to indicate and shadow forth, though it might possibly deepen, the contrast between the poet of Augustan Rome and the half-mythical minstrel of Boeotia.

The Works and Days are the earliest classical representative of that species of poetry which is known as the Didactic—a variety which has been extensively cultivated in later times, and may be said to have flourished in England down to the end of the last century. Yet it is not too much to assert that a critic who wished to justify the disfavour with which didactic poetry is regarded by the writers and readers of the present day might find his strongest arguments in an examination of Hesiod's poem, not by attempting to derogate from its characteristic excellences, but by using it as a witness to show that the class of compositions of which it is a specimen was not calculated for permanence. Colonel Mure is not exceeding his customary modesty of theorizing when he delivers it as his opinion that: “had prose composition been already popular in Hesiod's time, the Works and Days would probably have been embodied in that form.” It is indeed obviously the product of a time when verse was the one mode of formal composition, recommending itself to the reader's memory by its portability, and to the writer's imagination, as differing most from that common every-day speech which it must have seemed impossible to invest with any artistic associations. Hesiod doubtless was sensible of the pleasures of a composer, and sought for such graces of imagery and style as lay within his horizon: but his first object was to enunciate those practical rules which

2 Vol. ii. pp. 389, 390, 501 foll.
3 « Tu canis Ascraei veteris praecepta poetae,
Quo seges in campo, quo viret uva iugo.”

(Prop. 3. 26. 77, 78.)
4 Page 391.

« ForrigeFortsæt »