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Virgil's Eclogues Notes

Classics Notes > Latin Literature of the 1st Century AD Notes

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Discuss the importance of Lucretius for Virgil's Eclogues Virgil can be seen drawing upon the themes of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura at numerous points throughout his eclogues; they both discuss origins, particularly of music, both have elements of didacticism and perhaps most importantly in terms of Lucretius' influence there are elements of Epicureanism to be found in Virgil's work. The first Lucretian inter-text is to be found in the first two lines of Virgil's first eclogue; "Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi silvestram tenui musam meditaris avena." He is addressing Tityrus and says that he is lying under the canopy of a spreading beech while wooing the woodland Muse with his slender reed pipe. This is very similar to a passage in book five of Lucretius' work in which he discusses the origins of music, "But by the mouth to imitate the liquid notes of birds was earlier far amongst men than power to make by measured song melodious verse and give delight to ears and whistling of the wind through the hollows of the reeds first taught the peasantry to blow into the stalks Of hollow hemlock-herb. Then bit by bit they learned sweet playing" (5.1379 ff). This allusion characterises the music of Tityrus in Lucretian terms and illustrates that his playing is close to the origin of music in the natural world, in other words it is pleasant and highly appropriate to the pastoral scene which Virgil is evoking. In the next line Meliboeus says that they are in the sweet fields and are at ease under the shade which is the same pretty rustic setting which is to be found in Lucretius' lines; Breed suggests that by doing this Virgil has created for himself a predecessor in Latin pastoral writing where none previously existed. The fact that this allusion comes so early in the book of the eclogues would seem to support this idea. However he takes the Lucretian idea of man learning to make music by imitating nature and listening to the wind blowing through hollow pipes and reverses it because he says that Tityrus is teaching the woods to re-echo fair Amaryllis. Lucretius would probably have found this suggestion that it is possible to teach the woods anything as slightly absurd and a reflection of the superstitious beliefs of the peasantry (i.e. that there is some supernatural being in the woods playing the music back to them rather than the natural process of the echo), the very beliefs that he is trying to disprove with his brand of early scientific explanation. This line in the eclogues therefore brings to mind a passage from the fourth book of the DRN where Lucretius attempts to explain echoes; he dismisses the local beliefs that it is in fact Pan who copies sounds and voices back in the mountains and says, "a voice is divided in all directions, one sound produces another and when one has started it flies apart and multiplies, as a spark will scatter, becoming a thousand points of fire so places are filled with voices" (4.568-71). In these lines Virgil is clearly aware of the work of Lucretius and he chooses to allude to passages which have a very pastoral theme involving a rustic setting and pipe playing; this allusion is part of Virgil's self presentation of his own work as the beginning of a work of pastoral poetry.

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