The Eclogues, examined in the order of their composition
The name by which the earliest of Virgil's recognised works is known tells us nothing of the subject of which it treats. The word ‘Eclogae’ simply means selections. As applied to the poems of Virgil, it designates a collection of short unconnected poems. The other name by which these poems were known in antiquity, ‘bucolica,’ indicates the form of Greek art in which they were cast and the pastoral nature of their subjects. Neither word is used by Virgil himself; but the expressions by which he characterises his art, such as ‘Sicelides Musae,’ ‘versus Syracosius,’ ‘Musa agrestis’ and ‘silvestris,’ show that he writes in a pastoral strain, and that he considered the pastoral poetry of Greece as his model. He invokes not only the ‘Sicilian Muses,’ but the ‘fountain of Arethusa.’ He speaks too of Pan, and Arcadia, and the ‘Song of Maenalus.’ His shepherd-poets are described as ‘Arcadians.’ The poets whom he introduces as his prototypes are the ‘sage of Ascra,’ and the mythical Linus, Orpheus, and Amphion. He alludes also to Theocritus under the name of the ‘Syracusan shepherd.’ The names of the shepherds who are introduced as contending in song or uttering their feelings in monologue—Corydon, Thyrsis, Menalcas, Meliboeus, Tityrus, &c.—are Greek, and for the most part taken from the pastoral idyls of Theocritus.