Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.10.19

Van Sickle on Meban on Thomas and Kuipers on Hubbard.   Response to 2000.10.01

Response by John Van Sickle, Brooklyn College and the Graduate School, The City University of New York (

Scholarly erasure has become enough of an epidemic to merit a panel discussion at the forthcoming annual meeting of the College Art Association. Symptoms surface, too, in Christopher Kuipers on Thomas Hubbard [BMCR 00.10.01] and David Meban on Richard Thomas [BMCR 00.08.30]. The reviews and books complement each other with regard to intertextual theory, but all disappoint when it comes to specifics regarding Virgil's Bucolics. Whether the erasures are intentional or inadvertent, the result is a breakdown in professional community through failure to engage reasoned and textually grounded but critical and innovative discourse.

Kuipers can write, "Hubbard's revolution lies in reading Vergil's collection as a recapitulation of a cycle of development, shaped as the poet would have it." Yet Hubbard is far from the first to offer such an approach to the Liber Bucolicon. For discussion of Virgil's coherent book design and its impact on other poets Kuipers might have cited from the Bryn Mawr Classical Review Van Sickle on Martindale, Hinds and Cameron, which builds on, e.g., Augustan Poetry Books (Arethusa 1980). Also for comparatists there was the wide-ranging and cross-disciplinary Poems in Their Places. The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections, NeilFraistat, ed. (Chapel Hill 1986). It included William S. Anderson, "Poetic Arrangement from Vergil to Ovid," which cited as "the most persuasive portrait of the Eclogues, arguing cogently for what he calls an 'ideological order'" my own The Design of Virgil's Bucolics (Rome 1978). It is a measure of Kuipers' inexperience that he can buy into the scholiastic simplification, perpetuated by Hubbard, that somehow "Eclogues 1-3 follow Theocritus most closely and humbly" despite, e.g., urbem quam dicunt Romam ... Iouis omnia plena ... illi mea carmina curae.

What Kuipers calls "Hubbard's revolution" might more accurately be described as the erasure of a detailed and developed school of scholarly discourse. Echoes from the College Art Association debate suggest that scholars often feel the need to erase in order create Lebensraum for themselves in a crowded field. Evidence of how such erasure can produce a flawed and reductive account of Virgil's designs would require a separate review article or attentive footnotes in a book.

In the case of Meban-Thomas, perhaps the most striking symptom of erasure regards B. 6.3-5 and the Aitia prologue. Thomas could write: "To my knowledge, in spite of the centrality of this connection for the poetics of Roman Callimacheanism, no critic has remarked on the differences of voice and identity between these two manifestos." (p. 291). Yet the program of the American Philological Association annual meeting in New York, December 20, 1976, included a paper, "Virgil's 6th Eclogue and the Poetics of Middle Style," and John Pinsent published the abstract, which began: "In the last 15 years, some scholars have come to view the 6th eclogue as a general 'declaration of Callimachean faith', which enuciates a program of 'slight style' for Virgil's entire eclogue book. The present paper would modify this view, suggesting that it arises from a natural reaction but risks finally over-reacting to the discovery of a prologue for Callimachus' Aitia. The paper argues that Virgil in B. 6 deliberately alters Callimachus, rather than simply taking over the canon of 'slight style', and that the allusion to the Aitia sets a poetic direction not for the entire book but at most for the second half." (LCM 2, 1977, 107-8, now on line: The latter detailed review of scholarship and comparative argument formed the basis for my subsequent synthesis in the above cited book, Design, cf. my critique of Callimacheanism unrepentant in "The End of the Eclogues," a review article on W. Clausen, A Commentary on Virgil Eclogues (Oxford 1994), Vergilius 41 (1995) 125. Erasure in this case conceals a pointed deconstruction of the sort of overly simple emphasis on Callimachus for which Meban faults Thomas.

As a corollary, Thomas claims that "no critic" had remarked the importance of Virgil's shift to insert Tityrus as the narrator in the poetic etiology of the sixth eclogue and indeed for the whole poem. Yet the programmatic importance of this shift from Callimachus, introducing a bucolic filter that varies the book's initial program, was remarked, e.g., by Annabel Patterson, Pastoral and Ideology. From Virgil to Valéry (Berkeley 1987), as I emphasized in my review of recent scholarship as the epilogue to A Reading of Virgil's Messianic Eclogue (New York: Garland 1992), since her view seconded my own as developed in the studies cited above.

Virgil's recursion to Tityrus in B. 6 must be read, I have long argued, in tandem with the recursion to Meliboeus in B. 7. In this regard, I welcome Kuipers' admonition that Virgil "inhabits the voices of both Tityrus and Meliboeus -- just as any author must inhabit all of his or her characters." Of course, in an ideal professional community, he might have credited this view as articulated by the forum on prospective Forschungen: "Vergilian Scholarship in the Nineties," Vergilus 36 (1990), with the arguments of Christine Perkell, underscored in my responses. Due attention to the dyad, Tityrus/Meliboeus, would have corrected Thomas's excessive focus on traces of Tityrus alone. Thomas could benefit from the warning by Kuipers that "Vergil closes the Georgics by repeating Eclogue 1.1 with the change "I sang you, Tityrus," this seems best read not as "I sang as you, Tityrus" but "I sang of you (as Meliboeus)." It is symptomatic of Thomas's tendency to erasure that he assigns the grotto associated with Meliboeus by Virgil to the literary stemma of Tityrus (p. 200).

One erasure in particular stands out because it leaves Hubbard, Thomas, and their reviewers clueless in the face of the tormented issue of Virgil's relations with Theocritus. Thomas: "Virgil would then be insisting, in Ecl. 7.4, on the proper (pre-Theocritean) locale of Arcadia for Corydon. If so, we perhaps begin to see why Arcadia (non-Theocritean) is so much more central a pastoral setting in Virgil than in Theocritus" (p. 196) or "Why all these transplantings, from Arcadia and from Parnassus in Greece, to the islands of Cos, of Ceos, and of Sicily, or to southern Italy? ... as the Hellenistic and Roman poets construct their own new traditions, they transport the characters, places of inspiration, and inspirational divinities from their original settings on the Greek mainland" (p. 201). For this speculative wave Meban has no critique, nor do Kuipers-Hubbard offer any insight on Arcadia.

A hint of the right method lurks in Thomas's "proper (pre-Theocritean) locale of Arcadia" (though many will recall that the locale of B. 7 is notoriously not Arcadia but Mincius' bank, in zona di Mantova, invaded by a mix of characters from elsewhere, among them not one but two Arcadians, of whom one from the first idyll). But the idea of Arcadia construed as a "pre-Theocritean" locale by Virgil has been a leitmotif in my own studies just cited. I have argued that Virgil aims to assert his own originative force over his chronological predecessor by claiming to return to the source. The crux is B. 10.1-4, ..., Arethusa, ... sic tibi cum fluctus subterlabere Sicanos. The verb in future tense places the address to the nymph before her flight to Sicily, hence in "the proper (pre-Theocritean) locale of Arcadia," not yet (notionally) in Sicily where Daphnis dying in the first idyll can address her before summoning Pan from Arcadia to take back his invention, the pastoral pipe: for the most recent discussion of the intertextual net, that reaches also to Ovid, see John Van Sickle, "Staging Vergil's Future and Past," CJ 92 (1997) 213-215. Critics go so far as to down-play the importance of Arcadia for Virgil because they fail to recognize how he exploits Arethusa and Pan, those two Arcadian traces in the first idyll. Virgil in fact retrojects himself, at the climax of his book, back to the time and place of bucolic origins, imposing Gallus in the stead of Daphnis, not thus erasing, to be sure, but overshadowing Theocritus and putting Arcadia on the West's imaginative map.

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