Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.12.15


Paul Alpers, What is Pastoral? Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996 (1997 pb). Pp. xiii + 429. $14.95 (pb). ISBN 0-226-01516-5 (hb), 0-226-01517-3 (pb).


Noted by J.W. Halporn, Indiana University and Harvard University, halporn@fas.harvard.edu.

This volume will be of use to all scholars of ancient and medieval pastoral. Alpers offers a formalist account of the pastoral mode or type (genre is too specific a term) and its literary history. The key to his analysis of pastoral is his argument that pastoral has a central fiction (in the terminology of Kenneth Burke, its representative anecdote). For Alpers, this fiction is herdsmen and their lives, not the Golden Age or idyllic landscapes, although he does not debate these latter views. Instead, he simply reads pastoral from Theocritus to the modern pastoral novel (e.g., "Silas Marner") in terms that reflect real human beings behind the pastoral mask. The sections on Theocritus are less revealing (his knowledge of the Theocritean scholarship is not up-to-date), but those on Vergil and his reception offer new and incisive readings. This book will be of interest to all who work in this productive and fascinating area of ancient literature.