Calpurnius, Bucolica VI


Permalink 12:14:54 am, by Chris Jones Email , 648 words, 5525 views   English (US)
Categories: Calpurnius' Bucolica

Calpurnius, Bucolica VI

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

Summary: Lycidas trades insults with Astylus, and the pair plan to settle their dispute with a singing contest.


As in the second bucolic, Calpurnius has borrowed the setting of Virgil’s third eclogue for a contest between two rivals. The difference is that Calpurnius focuses on the rivalry itself rather than the contest (which never occurs; the umpire Mnasyllus, fed up with the wrangling, storms off in the final lines:

Quid furitis? Quo vos insania tendere iussit?
Si vicibus certare placet–sed non ego vobis
arbiter. Hoc alius possit discernere iudex!

“Why do you rant? Where has this madness urged you to go?
If it pleases to sing in turn–but I won’t be your
referee. Some other judge can settle this!")

Modern sports fans familiar with trash-talk will find a lot to use at their next certamen; a few choice phrases:

Astylus: Vincere tu quemquam? Vel te certamine quisquam / dignetur? (22)

“Can you beat anyone? Or would anyone bother to compete with you?”

Lycidas: Fingas plura licet…Sed quid opus vana consumere tempora lite? (25…27)

“More lies you tell…but why waste time with arguing?”

And, when Astylus proposes to wager his stag on the contest–apparently a substantial bet–Lycidas’ sarcastic attempt to “work the ref” is priceless:

Terreri, Mnasylle, suo me munere credit.
Adspice, quam timeam!

“He thinks, Mnasyllus, I’m frightened by his wager;
Look how I’m shaking!”

Given the lively back-and-forth in the first 30-odd lines, the lengthy discursion on the stag and Lycidas’ corresponding description of the prize stallion seem a little forced. The description of the stallion is particularly weak:

Terga sedent, micat acre caput, sine pondere cervix,
pes levis, adductum latus, excelsissima frons est

His back is set, his head keenly tosses, his neck isn’t heavy,
his foot is light, his flank thin, his forehead most highly held

Besides the drip-drip-drip of pedestrian detail, I sense an awkward rhythm in that last line, due in part to the double-diaresis. Both commas coincide with the end of a foot (diaresis) while the caesura splits adductum latus.

The contest should really begin after line 61 (when Mnasyllus sets the venue and calls contendite), but Astylus and Lycidas argue over “home court advantage". Astyllus wants to stay away from the river, Lycidas wants better acoustics (scopulisque cavum sinuantibus arcum / imminet exesa veluti testudine concha (68-9) - “a hollowed arch of curved rock overhangs like a scooped-out tortoise shell").

Then the competitors use the impatient Mnasyllus (nunc mihi seposita reddantur carmina lite (73) - “Now render songs to me with quarrel put aside") to indirectly keep up the argument. Lycidas starts:

Tu modo nos illis (iam nunc, Mnasylle, precamur)
auribus accipias, quibus hunc et Acanthida nuper
diceris in silva iudex audisse Thalea.

“I hope you hear us (I pray now, Mnasyllus)
with the same ears that recently you are said
to have heard as judge this man and Acanthis in the Thalean wood.”

For some reason this reference to a previous contest enrages Astylus (rumpor enim, Mnasylle - “I am bursting, Mnasyllus"; perhaps Calpurnius is making an inside joke or reference that is lost on me). Exchange grows ugly as Astylus threatens violence:

Fortior O utinam nondum Mnasyllus adesset:
Efficerem ne te quisquam tibi turpior esset!

“O would that the stronger Mnasyllus were not still here:
I’d fix you; no one would be more disfigured than you.”

(tibi is an ethical dative, te abl. of comparison after turpior)

At this point Mnasyllus gives up: Hoc alius possit discernere iudex!

Overall this is an interesting effort, one I found somewhat more enjoyable than the lengthy “teaching moment” in the fifth bucolic. Calpurnius has found a decent enough theme, but again the execution leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, IMO this is one of the better poems 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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