Calpurnius and the Anxiety of Vergilian Influence
Tityrus hanc habuit, cecinit qui primus in istisTityrus here is Vergil, though we ought not without further reflection accept that this is proof that Calpurnius read the personal character of Vergil into the figure of Tityrus in the latter's Eclogues. Rather, I wish here to focus on other aspects of Calpurnius's reading of Vergil, in particular on some dimensions of the struggle that Corydon and (by extension, though not identification) Calpurnius face in his attempt in the first eclogue to make a space for pastoral poetry after Vergil.
Recent work on Vergil's Eclogues has paid increasing attention to the structure of the published collection and the connection of one poem to another, with understandable emphasis on the programmatic role of the first eclogue.2 Calpurnius's collection is, if anything, more obviously structured, with its three political eclogues (1, 4, and 7) framing the more purely pastoral examples.3 Internal patterns and linkages have been given much more weight, however, than has the first eclogue. It seems highly likely that Calpurnius was well aware that, in writing pastoral after Vergil, he had not merely to challenge his predecessor's individual poems but the impact of Vergil's poetic book as well. Moreover, Vergil's book embodied the pastoral world. I wish here to examine Calpurnius's first eclogue in light of its relation to Vergil's work in general and to the role of Vergil's first eclogue in particular in establishing the framing conditions of the pastoral world. In introducing his collection Calpurnius employs prophecy and writing in surprising ways in order to make pastoral his own.
Calpurnius's first eclogue, with its proclamation of a new golden age, has most often been read in light of Vergil's fourth, messianic eclogue, whose influence is undeniable. To read it only in terms of one Vergilian model, however, is to underrate Calpurnius's poetic ambition and his sophistication as a reader of Vergil, for his first eclogue is filled with pointed references to more than one of Vergil's poems.
The poem begins with a search for that pastoral necessity, shade. The brothers Corydon and Ornytus are faced with a choice: where shall they go to escape the heat of the noonday sun? Corydon proposes (6): nos quoque vicinis cur non succedimus umbris? "why don't we also retire to the nearby shade?" Ornytus has a different, or rather more specific idea: to visit the grove and caves (antra) of Faunus. Here they will find relief from the sun:
bullantes ubi fagus aquas radice sub ipsaThe choice is shade in general, or shade under the beech tree (fagus) in the grove. Calpurnius chooses the shade under the Vergilian beech tree (Ec. 1.1, sub tegmine fagi), but it is a complex shade, created by tangled branches.4 Indeed, in their cooperative search, the brothers resemble Menalcas and Mopsus in Vergil's fifth eclogue far more than the parting Tityrus and Meliboeus of the first, even to choosing between simple shade and shade in a cave (Vergil, Ec. 5. 5-6, sive sub incertas ... umbras / sive antro).
The plan is to engage in the usual bucolic pastime of piping and singing, for which Corydon has his pipe ready (16-18). But the plan is frustrated, and the whole introduction has been deceptive: we will not hear these shepherds competing with each other today. Dialogue is about to turn into monologue, the amoebean form to be rejected for another. For though they have reached the shade they sought (19, successimus umbrae), the shepherds find there, not freedom to sing themselves, but a pre-existing text.
sed quaenam sacra descripta est pagina fago,In a daring juxtaposition (and an unusually heavy line5), Calpurnius tells us that the beech tree whose shade they sought has already been written upon (pagina fago).6 The language of civilization has already inscribed itself upon the natural: someone has been here before them.
We as readers knew that already: the point is, so does Calpurnius. Vergil created Latin pastoral poetry. It is not possible for a new poet to wander these landscapes without acknowledging the traces of other singers. These very trees have not only been written of, but written on, before. Mopsus tells us that the song he sings in Vergil's fifth eclogue is one he had written on a beech tree (Ec. 5. 13-14, in uiridi nuper quae cortice fagi / carmina descripsi,"the songs I recently carved on the green bark of a beech"), perhaps as an aid to memory, though the very reference to a shepherd being able to write tests the boundaries of the pastoral illusion.7
Some singers, though, are more important than others, and some presences can efface lesser ones. This text in Calpurnius is not an old one: it has not been in the grove long. Note the beautifully observed detail of how letters are cut into tree bark: the cuts are fresh (virides), the sap not yet dry (arenti nondum). And who is the recent writer? Ornytus draws the conclusion:
non pastor, non haec triviali more viator,No mortal inhabitant of the pastoral landscape and no traveller through it has written the verses which will occupy the bulk of the first eclogue. Instead a god speaks through this text. He speaks moreover in poetry which is explicitly not pastoral (nihil armentale) but prophetic.
A god speaks in Vergil's first eclogue, too, but he speaks only one line, and that in response to a direct petition: "pascite ut ante boues, pueri; summittite tauros, pasture your cows as before, lads, and put the bulls to stud" (45). Vergil's god, whoever he may be,8 is young and most importantly resident in the great city of Rome. His single line authorizes or reauthorizes the pastoral life. Having heard his responsum, Tityrus can return to his flocks with the added gift of freedom for himself. Though Meliboeus does not share that security, Tityrus at least will continue in the pastoral life, will continue to sing: it is not too much to say that the god's response makes Vergil's Eclogues possible.
Faunus's carmen in Calpurnius makes pastoral poetry possible for his world as well. Faunus says a great deal more than Vergil's deus in an attempt to write over the already inscribed landscape. One may even hear a note of comedy in the shepherds' reception of this inscribed text, which charts the anxiety of the struggle for a new poetic voice. Corydon tells Ornytus to read the text because he is taller and therefore can see the beginning better. The emphasis on the physicality of the reading experience is awkward (24-27),9 but the primary purpose can hardly be to call attention to how many verses are inscribed on this tree. Rather, this little detail emphasizes the dominant role of Ornytus in the poem. It is his choice which leads them to the grove, and his stature makes him the mouthpiece of the god as he reads forth Faunus's prophecy. Finally, it is also Ornytus who, once the reading is completed, proposes that they rehearse the text in the hopes that it will be spread abroad.
The form of Calpurnius's first eclogue then initiates a movement precisely counter to that of the Vergilian eclogues. Vergil's Tityrus has been to the city to see the deus and returns with the responsum that reauthorizes the pastoral life; his movement therefore is away from the city, to the countryside---where Gallus will eventually come in the tenth eclogue, also escaping the city. Calpurnius's shepherds move in the opposite direction. Having found and read out Faunus's song, they decide to rehearse it, to sing it over and over, and thereby to put it into circulation. Their goal is to have the verses carried by Meliboeus10 to the emperor, that is, to the center of the city:
carmina, quae nobis deus obtulit ipse canenda,This is precisely the move enacted by the collection, for in Calpurnius's seventh and last eclogue Corydon relates his trip to the great city of Rome to see spectacles in the new amphitheatre---which include beast shows and marvelous, highly artificial representations of nature (see esp. 7. 57-72). Novelty is then preferred to nature, at least by Corydon, who derides Lycotas's taste for"old beech trees" rather than"new spectacles" (7. 5-6: qui veteres fagos nova quam spectacula mavis / cernere).11 By the end of the collection, Corydon is ready to give up nature for culture.
Yet here we anticipate. Calpurnius does reopen the pastoral world for poetry for a time, even if he eventually leaves it. His vehicle for doing so is Faunus's prophecy. The choice of Faunus certainly has Vergilian associations.12 Faunus's prophecy in Book 7 of the Aeneid (81ff.) helps to set the stage for the Italian half of the poem and in particular for the"pastoral" elements of Book 8. While there are no direct echoes of the Aeneid prophecy in Calpurnius,13 Faunus embodies the pastoral world, even as his prophecy points away from that world and to the city, where the young god, the emperor, reigns.14
First Faunus sets the boundaries of the speech interaction. He identifies himself by his function as tutelary deity of the countryside and by his parentage,15 announces in a beautifully constructed golden line16 that his verses are prophecy, and then identifies his addressees:
qui juga, qui silvas tueor, satus aethere Faunus,We should pause a moment to consider the function he attributes to those he speaks to: nemorum... coloni. The term coloni can in poetry mean "inhabitants" and is so conventionally translated here,17 but both the root verbal meaning and its more usual associations in prose offer interesting echoes here. The first is an oxymoron: one does not "cultivate" (colo) wild woodlands,18 nor would the shepherds of pastoral be foresters in any case. The other echo is more intriguing: are Corydon and Ornytus "colonists" in this landscape, transplanted from another, perhaps more urban setting?
Faunus proclaims a new golden age under the reign of a young prince. Most of the echoes of Vergil's fourth eclogue in this prophecy are well known and need not be rehearsed here. E. W. Leach has argued that Faunus's announcement that the golden age is"reborn" (42, aurea ... renascitur aetas) implies a more specifically historical claim,"the retrieval of a previously well-defined and established ideal," that is, the Augustan age as depicted in the Aeneid, rather than a more general, poetic image of a"mysterious new birth" in the fourth eclogue.19 In short, Calpurnius is playing variations on Vergil with Vergil's own material, reading the convinced Augustanism of the Aeneid back into the pastoral world of the Eclogues.
We might wish then to look for similar play and variation in the image of Bellona, goddess of war, with her arms bound behind her back (48, post tergum) and war subsequently imprisoned in Tartarus (52). The phrase post tergum has long been seen to echo the portrait of Furor, bound and raging, in Jupiter's brief prophecy at Aeneid 1.296.20 Bellona is not just a snapshot, however, but a picture in motion: I would argue we see here a reversal of the process of rousing the Fury in Aeneid 7. 323ff., which unleashes war on the Italian mainland. Moreover, the fact that Themis in Calpurnius returns to earth from squalor and decay (43, squalore situque) rather than the heaven whence Astraea returns in Vergil, Ec. IV 6ff., may suggest that she is freed from the underworld to which Bellona is sent in exchange.
In light of these Vergilian associations, we might look again at lines 50-51, where we learn that"nullos jam Roma Philippos / deflebit, now Rome will bewail no Philippi." Debate about the line has been purely historical with the aim of determining or defending the poem's date: what event very closely preceding the poem's composition is here referred to? Answers have naturally varied. In light of the other Vergilian echoes, however, we might look not so much for chronology as poetic response: could Calpurnius be suggesting that, unlike the land confiscations and resettlement of veterans as colonists by Octavian after the civil war, whose varying effects we see so clearly in Vergil's first eclogue, the new golden age of this young prince will bring no similar disruptions or displacements from the land?21
Faunus's prophecy, perhaps somewhat surprisingly for a prophecy, ends with an appeal to the recent evidence of nature as proof. Faunus's question is not purely rhetorical:
cernitis, ut puro nox jam vicesima coeloWhile the last two lines hiss and crackle with "s" and "t" sounds, the hearers' attention is called to the fact that this is an unusual, a placid comet. It heralds a new reign of peace, not war---especially not civil war. Calpurnius concludes Faunus's prophecy by inverting the meaning of a Vergilian (although no longer specifically bucolic) image: the comet heralding Caesar's death in Georgics 1. He pointedly contrasts the present comet (on the conventional dating, prophesying the end of Claudius's reign22) to the one of 44 BC and its message of disaster. While Calpurnius does not echo any of Vergil's phrases, the prominence of Vergil's description of the comet in the poetic tradition and the parallelism in placement (both comets appear near the end of the opening section of their respective works) marks in Calpurnius a concluding and even broadening challenge to Vergil. Not only will a new singer reinscribe the bucolic groves, but the new poet's prophetic authority will be measured against that of his master as well.
Calpurnius understood very well the the problems inherent in writing pastoral after Vergil. His emulation of his predecessor shows both how well he had read Vergil's eclogues and how much he needed to establish his own voice. His first eclogue does not merely look back to the theme of the golden age in Vergil's fourth eclogue but simultaneously adapts and challenges elements of Vergil's first eclogue. The central device of the prophecy inscribed on the bucolic beech tree, curious though it may appear to the literal-minded, carves out the space in which the new poet may compose. At the same time Vergil's unnamed young deus in the city, personally seen and adored by Tityrus, becomes the native Italian god of the countryside, Faunus, present only through his writing.
And that written quality is the final subject of Calpurnius's anxiety. Tradition tells us that Vergil's exquisitely wrought portrayals of shepherd's song did successfully enter the oral culture, at least as stage adaptations.23 The shepherds return to close the frame at the end of Calpurnius 1, where Ornytus proposes (92-94) that they rehearse the carmina they have found in the hopes that they will be carried to the ears of Caesar. The poem at least imagines the revival of a song culture, of which the whole of Calpurnius's collection might be a part. While the shepherds' hopes are focussed on "Meliboeus" as the possible access to Caesar, the emphasis on learning and singing this divine prophecy, and therefore metonymically the whole of the first eclogue, suggests a hope for a wider audience than just the emperor---and one not entirely in vain. Although history has judged these to be minor poems, Calpurnius's struggle did at least win him survival when so much of the rest of the Neronian literary renaissance had vanished.
1The text used here is that of C. H. Keene, The Eclogues of Calpurnius Siculus and M. Aurelius Olympius Nemesianus (London 1887, repr. Hildesheim, 1969, cited hereafter as "Keene"). For a survey of recent scholarship on Calpurnius, see R. Verdière, "Le genre bucolique à l'époque de Néron: les 'Bucolica' de T. Calpurnius Siculus et les Carmina Einsidlensia: État de la question et prospectives," ANRW II: Principat 32.3 (Berlin 1985) 1846-1876 (and on the text, 1902-1904).
2A brief but very useful treatment of the structure of the poetic book of the Eclogues is W. V. Clausen, "Theocritus and Vergil," in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature: Latin Literature, ed. E. J. Kenney and W. V. Clausen (Cambridge 1982), esp. 309-313. Much more detailed is John van Sickle, The Design of Virgil's Bucolics (Rome 1978), with ample bibliography. For a spirited rejection of any attempt to find detailed patterns in the structure of Eclogues book, see G. Williams, Tradition and Originality in Roman Poetry (Oxford 1968) 328 (see 308-329 for his view of Vergil's relations to Theocritus). Williams also accuses Calpurnius of misunderstanding Vergil: see his Change and Decline (Berkeley 1978) 280, 289 n. 41, and 304. More generally on Vergil and the pastoral tradition of poetry, see T. G. Rosenmeyer, The Green Cabinet (Berkeley 1969), Michael C. J. Putnam, Virgil's Pastoral Art, and E. W. Leach, Vergil's Eclogues: Landscapes of Experience (Ithaca 1974).
3Two recent and helpful general accounts are M. von Albrecht, Geschichte der römischen Literatur (Bern and Munich 1992) 783-787; B. Effe and G. Binder, Die antike Bukolik (Munich 1989) 115-143.
4Keene ad loc. notes the parallel usage of implicat in Vergil, Aen. 12. 742-43, where Turnus, seeking to escape, turns his eyes in confusion.
5Every foot except the fifth is spondaic. The line also contains one of the rare elisions in Calpurnius, occurring in only 2% of his lines: see J. Kuppers,"Die Faunus-Prophezeiung in der 1. Ekloge des Calpurnius Siculus," Hermes 113 (1985) 340-361; 342-343. The rarity of elision is one argument for Calpurnius's Neronian date; cf. also below, n. 14.
6Keene ad loc. notes the echo of Vergil, Ec. 6. 12, pagina nomen, referring to Varus's poetry. The image of writing on the tree was striking enough to be used by Nemesianus, Ec. 1. 29. J. B. Pearce, The Eclogues of Calpurnius Siculus (San Antonio 1990) 26-26, n. 19, points out that Theocritus depicted an inscription in the bark of a tree in one of his non-pastoral poems, Idyll 18.47. There, however, the situation is much more in the spirit of archaic inscriptions: the tree speaks in the first person, demanding reverence (s°beu m': ÑEl°naw futÒn eÞmi,"Revere me; I am the tree of Helen"), and the passerby provides the voice (albeit with a Doric accent, Dvrist¤).
7See R. Coleman, Vergil: Eclogues (Cambridge 1977) ad loc. Some have found the motif of writing on trees positively repellent: Rosenmeyer (above, n. 2) speaks of "the sorry literary convention of scratching erotic sentiments into the bark..." and notes that it first appears "as one might have expected, in Callimachus" (202-203), while Putnam (above, n. 2) terms writing on bark "a practice repugnant or at least foreign to the shepherd's oral art" (169). If written culture is indeed incompatible with the pastoral world, Calpurnius tests the boundaries even further in his third eclogue. There Lycidas, having detailed the story of his quarrel with Phyllis, sings the song he has written to win her back. Instead of singing it to her directly, however, he sings it to Iollas, who volunteers to carve his words into the bark of a cherry tree---then cut off the bark and take it to Phyllis (3. 43-44):
dic age; nam cerasi tua cortice verba notaboKeene (ad loc.) suggests that rutilanti "describes the appearance of the freshly cut bark," as does nondum arienti in this poem (line 20).
8Pöschl and others think him Octavian: for a recent example, see John Van Sickle (above, n. 2) esp. 48-55 and in particular his performative interpretation which argues (based on the fact that the poems were performed in the theatre) that the original audience would have immediately recognized Octavian as the speaker of the responsum (52). Michael Putnam (above, n. 2) 68ff. critiques this identification, suggesting instead that the god is Rome itself. E. W. Leach (above, n. 2) 125-130, offers the intriguing suggestion that Vejovis is meant here.
9D. Gagliardi, Calpurnio Siculo: Un"Minore" di Talento (Naples 1984) 53 uses these lines as an example of"la prosaicità e la superfluità" of some of the verses.
10Whoever that may be: I do not accept Keene's suggestion ad 94 that this should be Seneca.
11Carole Newlands,"Urban Pastoral: The Seventh Eclogue of Calpurnius Siculus," CA 6 (1987) 218-231 notes that the phrase veteres fagos,"old beeches," already appears twice in Vergil in what she terms (221)"a more sinister context": first as the site of a quarrel in Ec. 3.12, and then (perhaps less compellingly) as a sign of age and"general decay" of the pastoral world in Ec. 9.9.
12See E. W. Leach,"Corydon Revisited: An Interpretation of the Political Eclogues of Calpurnius Siculus," Ramus 2 (1973) 53-97; 58; and G. Soraci,"Echi Virgiliani in Calpurnio Siculo," Atti del convegno di studi virgiliani Liceo Classico"G. D'Annunzio" Pescara 23-24-25 ottobre 1981 (San Gabriele 1982) 114-118.
13See T. Calpurnii Siculi, De laude Pisonis et Bucolica, ed. R. Verdière (Brussels 1954) 233-234 and n. 182.
14The date of Calpurnius (and therefore the identity of that emperor) have been subjects of lively recent controversy, a full account of which is beyond our purposes here. I accept the standard Neronian date for Calpurnius. The anxiety of Vergilian influence will of course have been a problem for him whether he was a writer of the Neronian age or of the Severan age, as E. J. Champlin argued in "The Life and Times of Calpurnius Siculus," JRS 68 (1978) 95-110 and once again, idem, "History and the Date of Calpurnius Siculus," Philologus 130 (1986) 104-112. The standard date is best defended by G. B. Townend,"Calpurnius Siculus and the Munus Neronis," JRS 70 (1980) 166-174.
15satus aethere: Faunus is normally the son of Picus (occasionally a son of Mars); see RE s.v. Faunus 6.2054-2073, esp. 2054-2057, 2071-2072. Leach 1973.58 takes the phrase here simply as an allusion to his descent from his grandfather Saturn ( = aether) and therefore appropriate to the tradition of the golden age. One wonders if there may be a more subtle point. Faunus is the god who can interpret the voices of nature, hence a prophetic god, but there may also be a hint from Calpurnius that Faunus is in fact insubstantial, not even present in the poem as a god but only created by speech, the speech that comes into being only when the shepherds read it aloud.
16Calpurnius favors a very strict construction of the golden line, with the two adjectives preceding the verb and the nouns they modify following it. Further examples in this first eclogue are lines 15, 18, 52, and 62. Other lines come quite close to this structure, including these which are introduced by a conjunction or preposition: 20 (discussed for its rhythm above), 30, 48, and 91
17Although the OLD cites the simple meaning of "inhabitant" only for gods; when it does not mean "farmer," it usually means resident of a colony, Roman or otherwise.
18Keene's interpretation ad loc. that they are"shepherds who fed their flocks in ... woodland pastures" seems strained.
19Leach 1973 (above, n. 12) 59. She differentiates between the gens aurea prophesied in Vergil's fourth eclogue and the aurea saecula of Aen. 6. 792-793 and 8. 324-325.
20The image is also found in Seneca, Troad. 152 (Hecuba on Priam, manus / post terga dabit) and Phoen. 577 (Jocasta on herself, palmas vincta post tergum datas). Bellona then is forced to devour herself with rage, turning her violence (49) in sua ... viscera, which is strongly reminiscent of Lucan 1.3: in sua victrici conversum viscera dextra.
21Perhaps there is also an echo of Vergil, Georgics 1.490; cf. below for another possible reference to the Georgics.
22See Keene (above, n. 1) 2-3.
23Donatus, Life of Vergil 27 (lines 90-91, Teubner): bucolica eo successu edidit, ut in scaena quoque per cantatores crebro pronuntiarentur,"he published his eclogues with such success, that they were also frequently performed on stage by singers." Cf. Servius ad Ecl. 6.11 and n. 8 (above). Ovid's verses entered the oral culture too, to judge from Pompeian graffiti.