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Virgil's Eclogues And Horace's Odes 3 Notes

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

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Images of love in Virgil's eclogues and Horace's Odes 3: a comparative reading Virgil and Horace have very similar approaches to their presentation of love and this is reflected clearly in the eclogues and book three of the odes. There were two schools of love poetry in Rome at this time; the first, which Catullus and Propertius followed, involved total immersion in love and absolute devotion to a single lover, and is often described as the slavery or warfare of love. However both Virgil and Horace broadly followed the second, first advocated by Lucretius, that love is a dangerous enterprise, often leading to pain and a disruption of the tranquillity that a philosopher needs to think. As a result of this there are certain themes relating to love which can be found in both the eclogues and odes three; firstly the problematic nature of love, the idea that love is multiple and transient, and finally that love must be kept in perspective in order to bring tranquillity. Virgil particularly embraces the last of these by creating a world of bucolic imagery in which love, though painful at times, is always distant and secondary to the beauty of the rustic countryside and the demands of life there. The multiple ways in which these two authors, seemingly very different, correspond in their treatment of love is certainly striking. Firstly there is the image of love as painful and problematic, an idea which pervades nearly every instance of love throughout the two works; it really is very rare indeed to find an example of a trouble free and mutually loving relationship, Ode 3.28 perhaps being the only one, but even here lust rather than love is the primary concern. Horace's sombre approach to love is immediately obvious in book three; the first poem to deal with the topic is poem seven and it opens with the question, "Why are you crying for Gyges Asterie?" The two lovers have been separated over a long winter by storms at sea and Asterie has to be reassured that her lover will remain loyal and utterly distraught at the prospect of being without her. It is perhaps a strange characteristic of love that is a reassurance to know that one's beloved is lost, sleepless and tearful without them. However at the same time the girl's eye is still drawn by her handsome neighbour who is unsurpassed on the field of Mars or swimming in the Tiber and she has to be advised to lock herself away at night so that she does not stray. Furthermore, while she is tentatively resisting temptation, he is trying to keep at bay a hostess who is threatening to have her husband kill him if he does not yield to her advances. This poem reflects the complex and multiple ways in which love can bring pain; she requires that her lover risk cold, sleepless nights and even his life to stay loyal to her but after all that he may still return home to discover she has strayed with her neighbour. Asterie may be the girl crying but the reader's sympathy quickly switches to her distant boyfriend who is afflicted not just by war and a love-deranged hostess but, worst of all, the love of a treacherous woman. This same theme of female treachery is approached in a much more brutal way in poem eleven, but at the same time it is more distant because it is contained in the myth of Hypermestra. She is shown saving her young husband from her own hand as she and her other sisters have been instructed by her father to kill their

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