Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.02.28

Mathilde Skoie, Sonia Bjørnstad Velázquez, Pastoral and the Humanities: Arcadia Re-inscribed.   Exeter:  Bristol Phoenix Press, 2006.  Pp. xvi, 184.  ISBN 10: 1-904675-58-1.  ISBN 13: 978-1-904675-58-7.  $89.95.  

Reviewed by Michael Paschalis, University of Crete (
Word count: 2395 words

Table of Contents

This collection of essays arose out of an international workshop entitled The Uses and Abuses of Pastoral: Arcadia Re-visited, which was held in Oslo in 24-26 April 2003. The book comprises an Introduction, in which the editors explain the theoretical concerns that motivated the publication of the book, twelve essays divided into five sections that serve the practical purpose of a (relatively satisfactory) thematic arrangement, Bibliography, and a general Index.

The first two essays express ecocritical viewpoints. Timothy Saunders ("'Using Green Words' or 'Abusing Bucolic Ground'") argues in favor of an ecocritical approach to Virgil's Eclogues that would treat them like 'natural space' which we 'inhabit' and where 'reading is like a movement through a landscape'. He claims that this kind of reading is especially appropriate to Greek and Latin and will change the way we view the Eclogues. Terry Gifford ("Post-pastoral as a Tool for Ecocriticism") advances the notion of 'post-pastoral' as a tool that moves beyond the polar opposition between idealized pastoral and anti-pastoral. 'Post-pastoral' literature is intended to 'heal' the separation between culture and nature, by searching 'the features of writing that can point towards a right way to live at home on our planet earth', and has its own canon of pastoral texts. Next the essay discusses specific areas of American pastoral writing, such as nature writing, landscape design and art criticism.

The point of departure for Paul Alpers' essay ("'The Philoctetes Problem' and the Poetics of Pastoral") is what Susan Stewart (in Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, 2002) calls 'The Philoctetes Problem' and defines as the 'challenge of imagining and then representing the situation of someone who suffers in complete isolation from other human beings'. In Stewart's book, Queen Gertrude's report of Ophelia's death (Hamlet 4.7.137-154), which is full of pastoral details, is described as 'a visual spectacle to deaf ears'. Alpers sets about to correct the misconception that 'pastoral denies their own voices to the figures it represents'. He correctly reminds us that one of the projects of pastoral is to express both the isolated cry of pain as well as 'the auditor or auditors who make it fully intelligible', and he traces the transformations in pastoral representation of lone suffering from Virgil through Wordsworth to Robert Frost and Miklós Radnóti. He next 'defends' Gertrude's report by showing that women are marginalized in the final acts of Hamlet, and discusses the different quality of the sufferer's utterances in 'lyric' and 'pastoral'. In the last section of his essay he employs pastoral poetics to illuminate a distinctly 'lyric' poem, Edwin Arlington Robinson's 'Eros Turannos'. Alpers argues his point with knowledge of the history of pastoral and sensitivity to individual contexts and readers will no doubt benefit by his substantial contribution to the volume.

Michel Briand ("Aesthetics and Ethics of Poikilia in Longus' Daphnis and Chloe") employs the rhetorical and critical notion of poikilia ('variety', 'diversity') as a 'lens through which one can interpret Longus' pastoral novel without flattening its ambiguities but rather making them meaningful'. He begins by presenting the polyphonic and complex character of Daphnis and Chloe on various levels and the mixed reaction it has received; he next outlines the aesthetic and ethical aspects of poikilia in ancient theory; and finally he examines aesthetic and ethical poikilia in the novel itself (the interplay of art and nature, discursive variety, ethical variety). 'Whatever looks simple, homogeneous and steady' concludes Briand 'turns out to be complex, heterogeneous and fluid, but in a distanced and restrained fashion'. The essay is well-structured and very clear in its viewpoint.

Juan Christian Pellicer ("'Still under that hawthorn!': Pastoral in Tony Harrison's Elegy in an Urban Graveyard") offers a thoughtful and well-argued reading of Tony Harrison's 1985 poem in relation to eighteenth-century pastoral (Gray and Goldsmith).

Françoise Lavocat ("Playing Shepherd: Allegory, Fiction, Reality of Pastoral Games") discusses the representation and function of games in Italian, Spanish and French Renaissance pastoral. She furthermore examines the interaction of literary with extra-literary 'games', as regards for instance the relationship between the fictional world of 'Arcadia' and the fictional world of Italian and French Academies. Thus games would turn out to be not just a literary topos but 'a valuable indication of Arcadia's various mutations from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries'. Regardless of its other merits, the study contains several factual errors. Here is a brief list. The games in Aeneid 5 do not include a 'chariot race' but the lusus Troiae, a display of horsemanship by the Trojan youths led by Ascanius; the ships are not set on fire 'by the Trojans' but by the Trojan women (155, n. 17). The fifth event in the athletic games in honor of Massilia in Sannazzaro's Arcadia, Prose 11, is not an 'archery contest' (67) but a competition in sling-throwing (the text contains seven references to fionda, 'sling', and various names for the 'stone' thrown: pietra, selce, sasso). Mantegna's vase in the same games does not go to the winner of the race (68) but of the wrestling contest. As regards Guarini's very important note about dancing in the representation of the 'blind man's bluff' scene (il gioco della cieca, Pastor Fido 3.2), the author claims that Guarini 'emphasizes that their [the nymphs'] movements must imitate those of the cieca game' (73), i.e. to dance like those playing the game, while Guarini says exactly the opposite: 'Ma bisogna avvertire, che tutti i moti, che sogliono esser in cotal giuoco inordinati, e casuali, in questo della Scena sono studiati con numero, e armonia: in modo che non è meno ballo, che giuoco'. (1602, p. 149). An important omission as regards games in 'Pastor Fido' is that Mirtillo sees Amarilli for the first time and falls in love with her at the Olympic Games in Pisa (2.1); it is this event that triggers the kissing contest (2.1.122 ff.). And one (not insignificant) detail: why is Sannazzaro's pseudonym spelled 'Actyus' Sincerus (75) instead of 'Actius'?

Luis F. Avilés ("Care of the Self: Foucault, Guevara, and the Complexities of Courtly and Country Life") looks into the court vs. country antithesis in Contempt of Court and Praise of Village, the work of the Spanish Renaissance writer Antonio de Guevara (1481-1545). Avilés considers the book as important as Baldasar Castiglione's Il libro del cortigiano. In his book Guevara identifies 'curiosity' and 'imagination' as the main problems of courtly life; encourages self-knowledge, which lies in the successful identification of one's own 'inclination'; advises that one should abandon the court and move to the countryside; and concludes by providing guidance as to how one should cope with problems arising from the excessive otium and solitude of the 'simple' village life. Avilés revisits Guevara's text with the aid of Norbert Elias' book The Court Society (1983) and Michel Foucault's concept of the 'care of self'.

Brian W. Breed ("Inscribing Dialogue in Pastoral Poetics and Criticism") begins by reminding us of the 'problematic status' of dialogue in Virgil's Eclogues, in the sense that the reader sees 'a fundamental disjunction between pastoral's naïve shepherd speakers and the referential density of pastoral writing', and proceeds to explore aspects of the orality - textuality relationship in Virgil's poems. Breed draws the reader's attention to two examples of a physical text actually represented in the 'oral' performances of Eclogue 5: Mopsus' song is previously written on a tree bark; the voice of Daphnis is conveyed through an epigram written on his tombstone. These two cases not only address 'readers' but also become a metaphor for Virgilian-Theocritean intertextuality and for generic self-definition. Breed also points out that the 'failure' of dialogue as ideal communication in the Tityrus and Meliboeus exchange in Eclogue 1 is precisely the factor that has inspired continued interest in pastoral, because in his view it means that 'the Eclogues never idealize orality to the diminishment of the experience of a reader qua reader'.

Thomas K. Hubbard ("The Pipe that Can Imitate All Pipes: Longus' Daphnis and Chloe and the Intertextual Polyphony of Pastoral Music") argues that Philetas' 'pipe that can imitate all pipes' could be read as a programmatic statement about the intertextual polyphony of Longus' novel. Philetas' gift of the pipe to Daphnis, in recognition of his skill at playing the instrument, would be emblematic of literary succession (with a well-known precedent in Virgil, Eclogue 2). The fact that Philetas (named after Philetas of Cos, a precursor of Theocritus) does not give the pipe to his son Tityrus (who stands for Virgil) would indicate that 'Longus credits himself, rather than Virgil, with being the true heir of Greek bucolic tradition'.

Andromache Karanika ("Agonistic Poetics in Virgil's Third Eclogue") approaches amoebean songs in ancient bucolic poetry from an ethnographic perspective. Karanika focuses on Virgil, Eclogue 3, where she distinguishes between a 'real' pre-agon (1-54) and a 'literary' agon (60-107). For the first part she advances parallels from modern Cretan song exchanges (mandinades), discusses their character and function, and concludes that in Virgil (as in Theocritus) we could be dealing with re-enactments of actual pastoral performances. Distinguishing between 'real' and 'literary' is not an easy issue and modern parallels do not necessarily reflect ancient practices, but Karanika's contribution clearly makes us more sensitive to the oral background of the agonistic character of ancient bucolic poetry.

In Malcolm Lowry's partly autobiographical short story The Forest Path to the Spring the narrator gives up his old life, goes with his wife to Eridanus to spend their honeymoon and later decides to stay. In the new environment he recovers his physical well-being and, thanks primarily to the aid of his wife, he establishes an intimate relationship with nature, the cycle of seasons and creation, and simple things. But the past threatens the desired renewal and emerges in unexplained and preternatural ways. Through the narrator's frequent walks to the forest spring to fetch water the reader is able to follow changes in nature and human mood. Henrik Otterberg ("Eco-logical or Echo-logical? On the Pastoral Mode in Malcolm Lowry's The Forest Path to the Spring") argues that Lowry's story manages to retain its 'pastoral' mode, while showing awareness of the 'georgic' and 'epic' ones, and shows how 'modern pastoral' can retain some of its classical hopes and concerns without descending into self-parody. Otterberg attaches great importance to the opera the narrator composes, which 'becomes his redemption'. His overall argument is convincing, but I wonder why he chose to ignore the rich intertextuality of Lowry's 'Eden', which involves Lowry's earlier and contemporary work as well as allusions to centuries of pastoral and other poetry; not to mention that the engagement of pastoral with 'higher aspirations' appears already in Virgil's Eclogues. It would have been interesting to see how Lowry managed to accommodate the frequently Dantesque (Contemporary Literature 14, 1973, 19-30) and outworldly atmosphere of situation and character (for instance, the wife) in the genus humile of pastoral.

Jonathan Unglaub ("The Concert Champêtre and the Poetics of Dispossession") undertakes an interpretation (deriving from a 1997 article in Arion) of the famous and enigmatic painting attributed to Giorgione and dated ('on connoisseurship alone') to 1509 or 1510. Unglaub places the painting against the backdrop of the historical moment: the invasion and destruction by the forces of the League of Cambrai of the Venetian terraferma and its 'Arcadian' landscape and idyllic estates (1509). His hermeneutical tool is the pastoral tradition of loss, lament (and recovery): the Eclogues of Virgil (the death and apotheosis of Daphnis in 5; the dispossession of shepherds in 1 and 9), Petrarch's Eclogue 5, Boccaccio's Eclogue 5, and Ergasto's lament for Massilia in Sannazaro's Arcadia, Eclogue 11. The painting does not depict destruction: everything looks serene and idyllic. It is left to the viewer to see the antithesis between the historical crisis and the 'serenity of Giorgione's vision of the terraferma', and to assume either that there has been a regeneration of the landscape, as in Virgil's Eclogue 5, or that what he sees is still the unspoiled landscape of Tityrus, as in Eclogue 1 (the contemporary viewer would have felt like Virgil's Meliboeus). Unglaub adopts, however, interpretations that recognized an 'elegiac' character in the scene and compares the 'sarcophagus-like' fountain, the standing nude, and the surrounding landscape with Massilia's monument, the source, and the pastoral surroundings in Sannazzaro, Prose 10, and the creation of the painting with Ergasto's lament in Sannazzaro, Eclogue 11. Certain correspondences are a bit forced: Ergasto does not petition a nymph but the 'ben nato aventuroso fiume'; the tomb of Massilia is placed on a hill, like the Venetian villa in the painting and the 'domus ampla' in Petrarch 5; and viewers would have to connect the 'domus ampla' on the Capitoline hill, the symbol of Roman power, with a simple Venetian country villa. Also Unglaub's work would have greatly profited by considering Greek pastoral intertexts in Sannazzaro and by looking at whole poems, not just passages. I will mention the most important omission: at the conclusion of Prose 10 the pastoral company lie down beside Massilia's tomb in the midst of a luxuriant locus amoenus, as the urban travelers in Theocritus 7 and the company in the painting do, and then engage in singing. What could be more relevant to Unglaub's interpretation? Regardless of these observations, this is definitely one of the best essays in the volume.

As is usually the case, the merit of this volume of essays lies in the merit of individual contributions. The texts examined come from antiquity, the Renaissance, and the twentieth century. The last essay discusses a Renaissance painting. The majority of papers are good and a couple of them are very good. There is a welcome variety of approaches to pastoral by scholars of different training. If there is a single piece of scholarly work which several of the essays cite, it is Paul Alpers' What is Pastoral?. One of the reasons why Alpers' book continues to appeal to different scholarly milieus twelve years after its publication is probably because, whether you agree or disagree with what he says, it follows the commands of scholarly investigation and not of ideological commitment that uses the texts in order to promote its cause (a recent unfortunate development in the study of pastoral literature). The index has omissions and some wrong page numbers. Of the several typographical errors, only the five in the Greek passage of 47-48 are worthy of mention.

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