Calpurnius, Bucolica VII (pt. 1)

06/23/09

Permalink 01:56:25 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 586 words, 2219 views   English (US)
Categories: Calpurnius' Bucolica

Calpurnius, Bucolica VII (pt. 1)

Text can be found at the Latin Library. Change in speaker is indicated by capitalizing the first word of a line.

Summary: Corydon returns to the country from a visit to Rome and describes the spectacula presented there by a iuvenis deus.

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Remember Corydon from the first and fourth bucolics? Clearly a stand-in for the author himself (much like Virgil’s Tityrus), he has completed the transformation begun in those earlier poems. In I, he was inspired by a text carved in the sacra fago. In IV, the shadowy patron Meliboeus coaxes him to magis hos calamos sectare. Now he has literally left the countryside to see the god for himself, and he bring the wondrous news back to his fellow rustics. The distance between Corydon and the god grows shorter through these three bucolics–almost to absurdity as he devotes the majority of this pastoral poem to the marvels he sees in the city.

The poem follows the familiar framing of Calpurnius’ earlier work, where the first 22 lines set the scene for the more important description of the spectacula. Note the details: In the first word Corydon is described as lentus–literally “slow” but perhaps more like “reluctant” in leaving the city and his first utterance demostrate a changed attitude toward the rural lifestyle:

O piger, o duro non mollior axe, Lycota,
qui veteres fagos noua quam spectacula mavis
cernere, quae patula iuvenis deus edit harena.
(4-6)

“O dull Lycotas, uncivilized by this rough region, who prefers ancient beeches to the new spectacles the young god puts on at the sprawling arena.”

Here I take non mollior - “not more softened” as referring to the refinement of urban civilization, emphasizing the contrast with duro axe. The contrast is underscored in the next exchange; while Lycotas relates the results of a singing match and the follow-on rituals, Corydon’s response shows he couldn’t care less about such matters:

Non tamen aequabit mea gaudia; nec mihi, si quis
omnia Lucanae donet pecuaria silvae,
grata magis fuerint quam quae spectavimus urbe.
(16-18)

“Still it wouldn’t match my thrill; not even if someone gave me every herd in the Lucania forest would it please me as much as what I saw in the city.”

Naturally Lycotas is curious about his friend’s radically changed outlook, if a little impatient:

Dic age dic, Corydon, nec nostras invidus aures
despice: non aliter certe mihi dulce loquere
quam cantare soles, quotiens ad sacra vocatur
aut fecunda Pales aut pastoralis Apollo.
(19-22)

“All right, tell, tell, Corydon, and don’t disdain my ears; Speak to me sweetly at least, no different than you customarily sing when fertile Pales or pastoral Apollo are called upon at the sacrifice.”

The repetitions in dic age dic and non aliter certe…dulce are unusually eager, while the imprecation nec…despice seems to acknowledge Corydon’s newfound level of sophistication. The last two lines seem to acknowledge that what’s about to come–a description of the city–are unusual for a pastoral form devoted to the shepherd-god Pales and pastoralis Apollo, a formal sign that Calpurnius is about to take the form in a new direction. Altogether I take these first 22 lines as more than a simple framing device; it is a justification to “re-purpose” what has come before: The pastoral themes of his own Bucolics (and by extension Virgil’s earlier Eclogues) must naturally give way to a new order under the benevolent deus, which most commentators take to be Nero.

So what, exactly, did Calpurnius see in the city? Let’s save that for a future post…

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