Calpurnius, Bucolica VII (pt. 2)


Permalink 12:28:45 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 730 words, 5689 views   English (US)
Categories: Calpurnius' Bucolica

Calpurnius, Bucolica VII (pt. 2)

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

Vidimus in caelum trabibus spectacula textis
surgere, Tarpeium prope despectantia culmen;

“I saw a stadium of interlocking beams surge into the sky,
nearly looking down on the summit of the Tarpeian rock.”


Thus begins Corydon’s description of the city’s spectacula–typically a word referring to the performing spectacles themselves, but quite often applied to the venue itself, hence “stadium". It is tempting (considering the impression it makes on modern visitors to Rome) to think Corydon is describing the Coliseum here, but this is unlikely. For one, trabes in Latin always refers to wooden beams, and second the Tarpeian Rock was at the top of the Capitoline hill, while the Coliseum lay at the foot of the Palatine and was on the opposite side of the Forum. However, Suetonius tells us Nero built a remarkable wooden amphitheatre in 57 AD (note the location, as the Campus Martius lay at the western foot of the Capitoline):

Hos ludos…in amphitheatro ligneo regione Martii campi intra anni spatium fabricato dedit. (Nero XII)

Tacitus also has this sarcastic line–was he thinking of Calpurnius when he wrote volumina implere?:

Nerone iterum L. Pisone consulibus pauca memoria digna evenere (= evenerunt), nisi cui libeat laudandis fundamentis et trabibus, quis (= quibus) molem amphitheatri apud campum Martis Caesar exstruxerat, volumina implere, cum ex dignitate populi Romani repertum sit res inlustres annalibus, talia diurnis urbis actis mandare. (Ann. XIII.31)

“When Nero and L. Piso were consuls few things worthy of memory occurred, unless it pleases one to fill volumes with praises for the foundations and timbers on which Caesar drew up his mass of an amphitheatre on the Campus Martis, since it has been found outside the dignity of the Roman people to record trivial matters in the annals of history, such things are left to the daily register of the city.”

Corydon’s 50-odd lines hardly fills volumes, but it is quite a heady description–appropriate to his character as an unsophisticated rube. Note his concern over his clothes (pulla sordida veste) and his cheap seats inter femineas…cathedras (women usually got the worst seats in the theatre). Even his simile for the size and shape of the theatre (30-34) echo the rural perspective–but Calpurnius doesn’t want to overdo the country/city contrast, lest it overshadow his main theme. So he smartly he introduces the senior (39), a long-time city dweller who we learn is just as amazed as the rusticus Corydon.

The main description in 45-72 was a complicated passage for me; it took a few readings to fully understand the following lines:

sternitur adiunctis ebur admirabile truncis
et coit in rotulum, tereti qui lubricus axe
impositos subita uertigine falleret ungues
excuteretque feras.

“Marvelous ivory spreads (is inlaid) on the connected beams
and comes together in a little wheel (cylinder), which greased on a smooth axle
might with a sudden turn trip up claws set against it
and shake off beasts.”

This, I think, describes a roller placed in front of the walls inside the arena; beasts that scaled them to get to the spectators would fall back into the arena like an incompetent logroller. Roman stadium-managers were apparently very safety conscious, as the next lines talk of auro…torta…retia extended over the edges of the arena.

The beasts are a sight as well, and again Calpurnius puts an appropriate lack of sophistication in COrydon’s words:

Spectavi…equorum nomine dictum
sed deforme pecus, quod in illo nascitur amne
qui sata riparum vernantibus irrigat undis.

“I saw…that deformed herd that are called ‘horses’,
and bred in that river that irrigates with verdant waters the crops along its banks.”

This is a hippopotamus (lit. “river-horse” in Greek), and the river is the Nile, neither of which would be familiar to a typical Italian shepherd.

The poem closes with yet another lament from Corydon about his rustica vestis and a far-off glance at the numina responsible for all this wonder. Like old-Hollywood’s typical depiction of a U.S. president as an unseen man with his back to the camera (think FDR in “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, James Cagney’s film-biography of George M. Cohan), the god is only seen longius, but nisi me visus decepit he seemed a blend of both Mars and Apollo, an echo of earlier epithets in the collection.


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Qui sciet quae quoque sint modo dicenda, nisi tamen in procinctu paratamque ad omnis casus habuerit eloquentiam, velut clausis thesauris incubabit.

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