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Structure and Meaning in the Eclogues of Calpurnius Siculus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 July 2014

P. J. Davis
University of Tasmania


Although a great deal of energy has been devoted in recent years to the critical examination of the pastorals of Theocritus and Virgil very little (comparatively speaking) has been expended by way of literary study on their immediate successor, the Eclogues of Calpurnius Siculus. This may be due to ignorance — some theoreticians betray no knowledge of his existence — or to prejudice — Calpurnius belongs to the age of silver (or even worse). And yet, since he is the first poet to inherit pastoral as a fully formed genre, one would expect that his work might command critical attention. It is my intention in this study to examine the way in which Calpurnius handles the medium he inherited from Virgil and his treatment of those issues with which he is principally concerned. It is not my intention to examine his relationship to a specific historical and political context — a perilous task given the lack of hard evidence concerning his biography.

Research Article
Copyright © Aureal Publications 1987

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I would like to thank Marcus Wilson for his detailed and valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

1. For the most part work on Calpurnius is either exegetic or historical. Studies of this sort are of course essential in helping us to understand precisely what Calpurnius said but they do not take us far towards a critical assessment of his poetic achievement. The most notable exceptions to this generalisation are the works of Cesareo, E., La poesia di Calpumio Siculo (Palermo, 1931Google Scholar) and Leach, Eleanor WinsorCorydon Revisited: An Interpretation of the Political Eclogues of Calpurnius Siculus’, Ramus 2 (1973) 53–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Neronian Pastoral and the World of Power’, Ramus 4 (1975) 204–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2. Among theoreticians who discuss ancient pastoral see for example the works of Alpers, P. A., ‘The Eclogue Tradition and the Nature of Pastoral’, College English 34 (1972–73) 352–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar; What is Pastoral?’, Critical Inquiry 8 (1982) 437–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gransden, K. W., ‘The Pastoral Alternative’, Arethusa 3 (1970) 103–21Google Scholar, 177–96; Hieatt, C. W., ‘The Integrity of Pastoral: A Basis for Definition’, Genre 5 (1972) 1–30Google Scholar; Kermode, F., English Pastoral Poetry: From the Beginnings to Marvell (London, 1952Google Scholar); Marinelli, P. V., Pastoral (London, 1971Google Scholar); Poggioli, R., The Oaten Flute: Essays on Pastoral Poetry and the Pastoral Ideal (Cambridge Mass, 1975CrossRefGoogle Scholar). The most notable exception to this generalisation is Rosenmeyer, T. G., The Green Cabinet: Theocritus and the European Pastoral Lyric (Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1969Google Scholar) whose book contains more extensive discussion of Calpurnius than his index might suggest.

3. On the chronological question see the articles of Champlin, E. E., ‘The Life and Times of Calpurnius Siculus’, JRS 68 (1978) 95–110Google Scholar (who argues for Severan dating), Townend, G. B., ‘Calpurnius Siculus and the Munus Neronis’, JRS 70 (1980) 166–74Google Scholar; Mayer, R., ‘Calpurnius Siculus. Technique and Date’, JRS 70 (1980) 175f.Google Scholar; and Wiseman, T. P., ‘Calpurnius Siculus and the Claudian Civil War’, JRS 72 (1982) 56–67Google Scholar (who defend a Neronian dating). The historical arguments of Townend and Wiseman and the literary and prosodic arguments of Mayer seem to me successful in rebutting Champlin’s claims. For defence of the Severan dating based on arguments different from those of Champlin see Mezger, B. N., Calpurnius the Poet of Apollo and his Patron Julius Paulus: A Chronology based on Roman Law (Ph.D. Diss. University of Western Australia, 1983Google Scholar). Although I am not competent to assess much of Mezger’s argument, her thesis depends on a rejection of Haupt’s separation of the eclogues of Calpurnius from those of Nemesianus and hence ignores the tightly symmetrical structure of the collection of seven poems. For this reason I consider the general thrust of Mezger’s argument implausible. The traditional arguments for Neronian dating are summarised by Keene, C. H. (ed.), Calpurnius Siculus: The Eclogues of Calpurnius Siculus and M. Aurelius Olympius Nemesianus (London & Hildesheim, 1887 & 1969) 2–14Google Scholar. For a useful discussion of the dating of Eclogues 1, 4 and 7 see Momigliano, A., ‘Literary Chronology of the Neronian Age’, CQ 3 (1944) 96–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In the rest of this essay I shall assume that the traditional dating is correct. The following reached me too late to be taken into serious consideration: Armstrong, D., ‘Stylistics and the Date of Calpurnius Siculus’, Philologus 130 (1986) 113–36Google Scholar; Armstrong, D. & Champlin, E.. ‘The Date of Calpurnius Siculus: Conclusion’, Philologus 130 (1986) 137Google Scholar; and Champlin, E.History and the Date of Calpurnius Siculus’, Philologus 130 (1986) 104–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4. As Leach (1975, n.1. above) observes (204). It is not clear that Theocritus thought of himself as the founder of a new genre. After all only eight of the twenty-two or so genuine idylls can be called ‘bucolic’. “There is no clear evidence,’ as Halperin, D. M.Before Pastoral: Theocritus and the Ancient Tradition of Bucolic Poetry (New Haven, 1983CrossRefGoogle Scholar) points out (ix), ‘that Theocritus understood the word bucolic and its derivatives in a formal, generic sense.’ Muecke, E, ‘Virgil and the Genre of Pastoral’, AUMLA 4 (1975) 169–80Google Scholar, is right when she argues that ‘the crucial difference between the two poets [Theocritus and Virgil] is to be found in Virgil’s greater awareness of the genre qua genre’ (170). It was Virgil who established the conventions of the pastoral. Nevertheless, it is not inappropriate (pace Halperin) to call Theocritus a pastoral poet since it was Virgil’s ‘rewriting’ of a particular portion of Theocritus’ oeuvre that led to the establishment of the pastoral genre. Certain poems of Theocritus are pastorals whether he conceived of them as such or not.

5. For such an attempt see Cizek, E., L’époque de Néron et ses controverses idéologiques (Leiden, 1972Google Scholar), who accepts Calpurnius as the author of the Laus Pisonis (378) and therefore sees him as a dependant of the Calpurnii, perhaps a freedman or freedman’s son (373). Sullivan, J. P., Literature and Politics in the Age of Nero (Ithaca, 1985Google Scholar) adopts a similar view (esp. 47f.). Neither attempts an assessment of the poet’s work.

6. Fbr example Virgil and Propertius. For Virgil’s Eclogues see Boyle, A. J., The Eclogues of Virgil (Melbourne, 1976) 10–16Google Scholar. Fbr the Aeneid see Duckworth, G. E., ‘The Architecture of the Aeneid’, AJP 75 (1954) 1–15Google Scholar. For Propertius see Skutsch, O., ‘The Structure of the Propertian Monobiblos’, CP 63 (1963) 238fGoogle Scholar. For a general discussion see Leach, E. W., ‘Virgil, Horace, Tibullus: Three Collections of Ten’, Ramus 7 (1978) 79–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7. For a discussion of the design of Calpurnius’ work see Korzeniewski, D. (ed.), Hirtengedichte aus neronischer Zeit (Darmstadt, 1971) 2Google Scholar; Die Eklogen des Calpurnius Siculus als Gedichtbuch’, MH 29 (1972) 214–6Google Scholar; Néron et la sibylle’, Latomus 33 (1974) 921–5Google Scholar. See also Goodyear, F. R. D., ‘Calpurnius Siculus’, in Kenney, E. J. & Clausen, W. V. (edd.) The Cambridge History of Classical Literature II: Latin Literature (Cambridge, 1982) 626–8Google Scholar. For an utterly fantastic account see Hubaux, J., Les thèmes bucoliques dans la poésie latine (Brussels, 1930Google Scholar), who despite the obvious symmetries of the collection (which he recognises) insists on believing that Calpurnius must have written ten eclogues because Virgil did.

8. On the basis of what I shall argue we can be more specific about the structure of the book in terms of subject matter: 1) Political; 2) Pastoral ideality: general; 3) Pastoral ideality: power of song; 4) Political; 5) Rustic reality: general; 6) Rustic reality: power of song; 7) Political.

9. By contrast in Virgil’s Eclogues the odd-numbered poems are dramatic dialogues whereas the even-numbered poems are non-dialogue poems in which at least part is spoken by the poet in his own voice.

10. A firm distinction needs to be drawn between date of composition and dramatic date. Momigliano (n.3 above) argues that the ‘First Bucolic, as is generally admitted, must have been written in the very first months of Nero’s reign’ (97). The placing and dramatic date of Eclogue 1 are no indication of the date of its composition. Momigliano’s remark that the poem is an ‘invaluable historical document’ (97) is true only in the sense that the poem presumably presents the kind of view of Nero’s reign that the emperor wished to project. Yet scholars persist in dating Calpurnius’ poems on the basis of dramatic date. For a recent example see Casacelli, F., ‘Temi letterari e spunti autobiografici nell’opera di T. Calpurnio Siculo’, CCC 3 (1982) 85–103Google Scholar.

11. The evidence for this is as follows: 1) The opening lines of the poem date the poem to the vintage season; 2) The comet (77ff.) can be dated from Chinese sources (see Townend, n.3 above, 168) to the summer of 54; 3) The prophecy of Faunus looks forward to the accession of a new emperor. Since Claudius died on October 13, 54 A.D., we can be sure that the dramatic date is prior to that date. We can be equally sure that the poem was composed after that date but we cannot say how much later.

12. See Townend (n.3 above) 169ff.

13. By contrast in Virgil’s third Eclogue neither Menalcas nor Damoetas is judged worthy of the cup. In Eclogue 7 Thyrsis is defeated by Corydon.

14. Note that Calpurnius uses dilexere to denote their feelings towards Crocale. For the connotations of the word see Catul. 72. Diligo does not occur in Virgil’s Eclogues.

15. Cf. Theoc. 1.1f., 21–3; 5.31–4, 45–9; 6.1–4; 7.135ff.; Virg. E.1.51ff.; 3.54ff.; 5.3; 7.1ff. (the opening of Calpurnius E.2 is strongly reminiscent of the opening of Virgil’s seventh Eclogue).

16. The text is Korzeniewski’s (1971, n.7 above). All translations are my own.

17. Cf. Theoc. 6.45; Virg. E.6.27ff., 8.1–5, G.4.481ff., 510.

18. E.g. Theoc. 1.1f., 7–8; 7.135ff. etc; Vug. E.1. 53–8; 7.1, 13 etc. As Rosenmeyer (n.2 above) observes: ‘Calpurnius … remove[s] the echo and insist[s] on a seemly silence in … [his] landscapes’ (186). It is not true, however, that Calpurnius drops ‘nature’s discipleship’, as I have just argued. For a discussion of Virgil’s treatment of sound in nature (one that is superior to Rosenmeyer’s because of its greater accuracy) see Boyle, A. J., ‘Virgil’s Pastoral Echo’, Ramus 6 (1977) 121–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19. Note that the vocabulary chosen by Astacus is suggestive of song: fons is often used to allude to Mt. Helicon (see OLD ad loc. 1b) and canalis can be used of a musical instrument (as it is at E.4.76).

20. The best discussion of this aspect of Eclogue 3 is Garson, R. W., ‘The Eclogues of Calpurnius. A Partial Apology’, Latomus 33 (1974) 668–72Google Scholar.

21. Note especially Corydon’s awareness of Alexis’ attitude to the countryside (Virg., E.2.28f., 34, 44, 56f.).

22. On this see Garson (n.20 above) 671.

23. On Gallus see Putnam, M. C. J., Virgil’s Pastoral Art (Princeton, 1970Google Scholar) Ch. 9 and Boyle, A. J., ‘A Reading of Virgil’s Eclogues’, Ramus 4 (1975) 187–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar esp. 195ff. (see also Boyle, , The Eclogues of Virgil [Melbourne, 1976] 26ffGoogle Scholar. and The Chaonian Dove: Studies in the Eclogues, Georgics and Aeneid of Virgil [Leiden, 1986] 30ff.Google Scholar).

24. It is clear that Virgil’s Corydon is unable to resolve his difficulties by song. (For contrasting views see Putnam, n.23 above, who believes that Corydon succeeds, and Boyle [1975, n.23 above] 194, who believes that he fails.) It seems more likely to me that Boyle is right since the concluding section of Eclogue 2 is at best ambivalent and the opening passage implies his failure (studio … inani). By contrast, in Theocritus’ eleventh Idyll (upon which, of course, Eclogue 2 is modelled) there is no possibility of ambiguity since Theocritus provides an objective narrator who states both at the beginning and at the end of the poem that Polyphemus’ song is successful (11.1–3, 80f.). Virgil’s failure to provide such a narrator suggests that he intends an opposite conclusion. Calpurnius (at least in this section of the collection) shares Theocritus’ optimism.

25. As many critics have observed, e.g. Cesareo (n.1 above) 61, Keene (n.3 above) 117 and Korzeniewski (1971, n.7 above) 102.

26. For otium in Theocritus see Edquist, H., ‘Aspects of Theocritean Otium’, Ramus 4 (1975) 101–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar; for Virgil see Davis, P. J., ‘Virgil’s Georgics and the Pastoral Ideal’, Ramus 8 (1979) 22–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27. Rosenmeyer (n.2 above) 102.

28. For a sensitive appreciation of this poem see Gagliardi, D., ‘Lettura della VI egloga di Calpurnio Siculo’, CCC 2 (1981) 37–44Google Scholar. Gagliardi reaches the conclusion that this is an antiegloga (‘anti-eclogue’) and links this with Calpurnius’ general disregard for the rules of the genre (44) and with an alleged distaste for pastoral during the early empire (‘il gusto antibucolico della prima età imperiale’). I agree that this is in a sense an ‘anti-eclogue’, but would prefer to relate this judgement to the structure and meaning of the collection as a whole.

29. Cf. Rosenmeyer (n.2 above) 156. He is surely wrong in asserting that in Idyll 5 the ‘contest fails to come off’. Lines 80–137 constitute the contest. See Dover, K. J. (ed.), Theocritus. Select Poems (London, 1971Google Scholar) ad loc. Virgil’s third Eclogue also constitutes a parallel since the song contest arises out of the hostility between Menalcas and Damoetas. Although the song contest is able to get under way, it is notable that the umpire, Palaemon, declares both herdsmen to be worthy of the heifer (but not, by implication, of the works of art offered as a stake, i.e. the cups described at 3.35–43). Note too the impatience of Palaemon’s final words: sat prata biberunt (‘the meadows have drunk enough’).

30. Rosenmeyer (n.2 above) 157.

31. If Korzeniewski’s text (1971 n.7 above) is right and Leaena is the name of the creature’s mother and not the species to which she belongs.

32. Leach (1975, n.l above) 221. In the pastoral Idylls Theocritus mentions a deer only once and then in an adynaton (1.135). The deer is far more common in Virgil’s Eclogues (1.59, 2.29, 5.60, 7.30) and occurs in one quasi-pastoral passage in the Georgics (3.539, where the plague brings about a parody of the golden age [see Davis (n.26 above) 28f.]) and in pastoral contexts in the Aeneid (4.69, 7.479ff., 12.749ff. [see Boyle (1986, n.23 above) 125ff., and The Meaning of the Aeneid: A Critical Inquiry’, Ramus 1 (1972) 63–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 113–51.]).

33. See Virg. A. 1.443ff., 3.540, Ov. Met. 14.321. The Romans used horses primarily for ‘military purposes, carriage-work, breeding or racing’ (White, K. D., Roman Farming[London, 1970] 297Google Scholar). The least important of these was carriage-work for which mules were primarily used (298).

34. See, for example, Hubaux (n.7 above) 195: ‘Quand on les lit à la suite des inimitables Bucoliques du vates sacer, on éprouve une réelle sensation d’écoeurement, surtout lorsqu’on se rappelle que le dieu tant vante … n’est autre que Néron.’ Other examples are Joly, D., ‘La bucolique au service de l’empire: Calpumius interprète de Virgile’ in L’idéologie de l’imperialisme remain: colloque organisé les 18–19 Octobre 1972 par la section de latin de la Faculté des Lettres (Paris, 1974Google Scholar) and Sullivan (n. 5 above) 51, 58, 59.

35. An exception to this generalisation is the work of Leach (n. 1 above). Despite the progress of recent years the same fallacy is still found in criticism of the Aeneid. See, for example. Jenkyns, R., ‘Pathos, Tragedy and Hope in the Aeneid’, JRS 75 (1985) 60–77Google Scholar. Jenkyns fails to see that the fact the Aeneid ends with an act of furor (furiis accensus 12.946) should affect our understanding of Jupiter’s promises in Book 1 and of Anchises’ commands in Book 6.

36. See, for example (I cite only comparitively recent studies), Casacelli (n. 10 above), Castagna, L., ‘Il carme amebeo della IV ecloga di Calpumio Siculo’ in Neronia (Clermont-Ferrand, 1977) 159–69Google Scholar, Champlin (n. 3 above), Joly (n. 34 above), Korzeniewski, D., ‘Zur Ersten und Siebten Ekloge des Calpumius Siculus’, MH 33 (1976) 248–53Google Scholar, Messina, C. T.Calpumio Siculo (Padova, 1975Google Scholar), Mezger (n. 3 above), Taggart, B. L., Technique and Influences in the Eclogues of Titus Calpurnius Siculus (Diss. Univ. of Oregon, 1966Google Scholar), Verdière, R., ‘La bucolique post-virgilienne’, Eos 56 (1966) 162–85Google Scholar. Messina’s work is a good example of the dangers inherent in the mascarade bucolique approach to Calprnius. He identifies many Calpurnian characters with historical figures on very meagre evidence, but casts little light on the poems themselves. The only scholar specifically to reject the Corydon-Calpurnius equation is Leach (1973, n.1 above) n.7.

37. For a sensitive discussion of the opening section of Eclogue 1 see Garson (n. 20 above).

38. For the pine trees cf. Id. 1.1; for the sounding waters cf. Id. 1.7–8; for the divinity cf. Id. 1.21. Note also that Pan is alluded to at Id. 1.16 of whom the Roman equivalent is Faunus.

39. There are no parallels in Theocritus’ pastoral Idylls (though cf. 18.47). In Virgil cf. E. 5.14 in which song is inscribed on bark, though not on a living tree, and E. 10.53f. where Gallus (an elegiac rather than a pastoral figure) threatens to carve his loves upon trees. Carving a beloved’s name upon a tree is standard elegiac practice, cf. Prop. 1.18.22. We are not, however, dealing with a lover’s inscription but with a prophecy over 50 lines in length.

40. See Korzeniewski (1971, n.7 above) 87.

41. A. 7.45–8.

42. A. 7.81ff.

43. With 1.36ff cf. 4.21ff. Though note the resemblance between 1.40 and G. 3.537, Virgil’s parody of the golden age (see Davis n.26 above).

44. For this interpretation of maternis causam qui vicit Iulis see Wiseman (n.3 above) 57. For a somewhat different view see Griffin, M. T., Nero: The End of a Dynasty (London, 1984) 259CrossRefGoogle Scholar n.81, 272 n.2, 275 n.48.

45 For the civil war under Claudius see Wiseman (n.3 above) on L. Arruntius Camillus Scribonianus’ attempted rebellion of 42 A.D. He cites Suetonius, Div. Cl. 13.

46. For Claudius’ murder of senators see Seneca, Apoc. 14.1; Suetonius, Div. Cl. 29.2.

47. Though the addition of Numa is non-Virgilian. See Wiseman (n.3 above) 66, who suggests reasons for his inclusion, particularly his association with the Calpurnii Pisones and the Pomponii.

48. Leach (1973, n.1 above) 63. See esp. E.4.50–2.

49. See Keene (n. 3 above) 63f.: ‘Nor will Rome (i.e. the Roman senate) decree that the dead should be deified in accordance with their deserts, before that the beginning of the new reign can look back on the close of the last.’ J. W., & Duff, A. M., Minor Latin Poets (London & Cambridge Mass., 1935Google Scholar), also see an allusion to Claudius’ deification by Nero: ‘and that Rome will not regard the dead as deified in accord with merit ere the dawn of one reign can look upon the setting of the last’. I agree with Leach (1973, n.1 above) that defunctos Penates is not likely to refer to the dead Claudius. It should refer to the tutelary gods of the Roman state, such as Aeneas brought from Troy (see OLD ad loc). Korzeniewski (1971, n.7 above) takes line 88 as an adynaton: ‘Rom wird nicht früher dies göttliche Haus des verdienstvollen Wirkens/ledig erachten, bis abends die Sonne im Ostern sich neiget [i.e. never].’ This seems to involve taking penates as equivalent to ‘the Julio-Claudian house’ (which I find unlikely) and taking defunctos in a sense other than ‘dead’. This is of course possible, but then we would expect an ablative and we have ex meritis not meritis. Romano, D., ‘Calpurnio e i Penati’, Pan 7 (1981) 167–72Google Scholar, argues that the lines suggest that ‘i Romani non devono credere che il non descendere Nerone dalla famiglia Giulia comporti la soppressione dei Penati’, 172. Unfortunately he does not offer a translation. My interpretation of these lines follows Leach’s.

50. Duff (n.49 above) translates terror as ‘awe’. But see OLD ad loc.

51. E.g. by Cesareo (n.1 above) 124, Garson (n.20 above) 668. Cf. Leach (1973, n.1 above) 58.

52. OLD gives ‘to make a noise or murmur beside’ for astrepit, but cites only this instance. It seems more likely to me that the word preserves its usual connotations in this context.

53. See above 33f. and n.18 on E.2.

54. For further discussion of the relationship between Calpurnius’ fourth Eclogue and Virgil’s first see Wright, J. R. G., ‘Virgil’s Pastoral Programme: Theocritus, Callimachus and Eclogue 1’, PCPS 209 (1983) 106–60Google Scholar esp. 141ff.

55. See also E. 8.1–5.

56. See also 4.164ff. It does not of course follow that we should identify Tityrus with Virgil on all occasions in Virgil’s Eclogues; Tityrus also occurs as a character in Eclogues 1, 3, 5, 8, 9, and it would be dangerous for a critic to infer that Virgil lies behind that name at each occurrence. Calpurnius identifies the two Tityruses with each other for his own poetic purposes. It is of course possible that the ancient tradition that in Eclogue 1 Tityrus was really a pseudonym for Virgil was already established.

57. Note that I have not identified Corydon with Calpurnius. Whereas Corydon carries out Meliboeus’ injunction in the fourth and seventh Eclogues, Calpurnius himself does not. Four of the seven poems of the collection are non-political, i.e. more closely resemble Virgil’s second Eclogue than his fourth.

58. See Braund, D., ‘Treasure-Trove and Nero’, G & R 30 (1983) 65–9Google Scholar.

59. I have followed Duffs text (n.49 above) for this passage.

60. See above 37 and n.28.

61. See Leach (1973, n.1 above) 76.

62. Cf. Leach (1973, n.1 above) 77, who sees Corydon and Amyntas as having essentially the same attitude.

63. Since I agree in general with Leach’s (1973, n.1 above) interpretation of this poem, I have concentrated on aspects which she does not cover.

64. The effect of the city upon Tityrus is of course an important element of Virgil’s first Eclogue. See Boyle (1975, n.23 above) 188f., (1986, n.23 above) 16f.

65. Vidimus at 46 is either spoken by the old man or refers to what Corydon has known in the past and is therefore not relevant to this argument.

66. I am indebted to Marcus Wilson for this observation. See also Leach (1973, n.1 above) 81. The identifications of the different kinds of bull are those of Korzeniewski (1971, n.7 above) 110.

67. This study was completed before I had the opportunity of seeing Verdière, R., ‘Le genre bucplique a l’époque de Néron: les “Bucolica” de T. Calpurnius Siculus et les “Carmina Einsidlensia”. État de la question et prospectives’, ANRW 32.3 (1986Google Scholar). I have not been able to obtain a copy of Spadaro, M. D., Sulle egloghe politiche di Tito Calpurnio Siculo (Catania, 1969Google Scholar).

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