Gregem meum ripae flumenis affebam, lente
Gregem meum ripae flumenis affebam, lente,
Prope radem collis, cum subito vidi
Pastora duo, Daphnem et Tityrum, qui sedebant
Ante epulum casei et fructoris dulcis;
Daphnis arridevit et mihi evocavit:
“Sede, amicus, sede, bibe, et nos junge,
Et nos amorum bellorum meliorem judica.”
“Quid de Damone?” rogavi, dispiceo puerum
In gramine prope aquae, arte dormit.
“Hic furebat, cum vis Bacchi in sangue fluet,
Ut corruevit, in somno floribus basiaverunt.”
“Immo,” dico dum rideo. “De nos amorum narra,
Et de nos sponsionis, pro vere gravem rem hic est.”
“Tityro sertum praestantem quercus obligavi
Si me vincet, pro ille arbor maxime amat.”
“Coronam laureum pro meum amicus texebo, sponte,
Si me superat, tantum nullam folium fovet.”
“Vere! Tityre, incipe, et tuae amatae canta.”
“Mea Celia mollem ac ventus vesperi haec est,
Et est suavem ac susurrus Somni intrare regnum.
Abjicet curas diei et mentem leniter sedat.”
“Mea Silvia solem vernum ipsum haec est,
Ambo facie claro et tactu callido habet;
Ridet haec, florent flores et sua volitat odor.”
“Ornara laute de materiae nobilitatis,
Amata mea ac patellae epuli auream haec est,
Et ac filum vestis civitatis lucet;
Vinum bonum est, omnes sua praesentia placet
Et haec aulam lentum efficet cum risu dulci.”
“Amata mea hereditatis silvae habet:
Mollis roscidum gramen est, ubi reclinamus,
Hic in pastum; aquae clarae nos mundans se est,
Haec nos sanat per nos ejus excellentiae bibens.”
“Aspice propter – vides ille magnum quercum?
Amatur mei et ac ejus perstat: verendum vires
Caelum ipsum ac ingens Atlas atollent, vere;
Quercus constanter servit, sine querela ulla,
Ut nos juberemus voluptes sacrificat.”
“Tamen verte et vide umbram jucundum lauri,
Consecratus Phebo, per qui artifex viget.
Inclinat, demittens soli et stellis, deprimens ipsum
Adjuvare illos sedens sub suus folii.
Per suus ramos ventus aestivus est commutatus
In cantum laudis illis optans domare artes.”
“Mopse, me excusa! Sententia tua, nunc do,
Mihi haud necessarium deceit, pro concedeo
Comes meus Daphnis suam rem provabit bene
Et se mereit folii laurea aestimat magni.”
I was bringing my flock to the riverbank, slowly,
Near the foot of the hill, when suddenly I saw
Two shepherds, Daphnis and Tityrus, who were sitting
Before a feast of cheese and sweet fruit;
Daphnis smiled and called to me:
“Sit, friend, sit, eat, and join us,
And of our fine loves pass judgment on which is best.”
“What of Damon?” I asked, seeing the boy
On the grass near the water, soundly sleeping.
“He was raging, with the strength of Bacchus flowing in his blood,
When he fell, kissed by the flowers in his slumber.”
“Well,” I say, laughing. “Tell me of your loves,
And of your wager, for truly this is a weighty matter.”
“I have pledged to Tityrus an exceptional oak wreath
If he defeats me, for he loves that tree most of all.”
“A garland of laurel for my friend will I weave, freely,
If he bests me, for no leaf does he cherish so much.”
“Indeed! Tityrus, begin, and sing of your beloved.”
“My Celia is as soft as the wind in the evening,
And is as inviting as a whisper from Somnus to enter [his] realm.
She casts aside the worries of the day and gently relaxes the mind.”
“My Silvia is the very spring sun itself,
Having both a bright face and a warm touch,
[When] she laughs, the flowers bloom and send their fragrance into the breeze.”
“Richly ornamented of the stuff of nobility,
My love is golden as the platters of a feast,
And like the thread of a robe of state she shines;
She is the good wine, her presence pleases all
And she brings about a leisurely court environment with sweet laughter.”
“My love has a woodland heritage:
She is the soft, dewy grass where we rest,
Here in the pasture; she is the clear waters cleaning us,
She heals us by our drinking of her excellence.”
“Look nearby – do you see that large oak?
It is beloved of me, and like her it stands: awesome powers
Like mighty Atlas hold up heaven itself, truly;
The oak serves steadfastly, without any complaint,
So that we might enjoy the pleasures it sacrifices.”
“Yet turn and see the refreshing shade of the laurel,
Blessed by Phoebus, through whom the artist prospers.
It bends, bowing to the sun and stars, humbling itself
To aid those sitting beneath its leaves.
Through its branches the summer wind is transformed
Into a song of praise for those who wish to master the arts.”
“Mopsus, excuse me! Your judgment, I now admit,
Has become unnecessary to me, for I concede,
My companion Daphnis has proven his case well
And has earned for himself the laurel leaves he prizes.”
This eclogue (that is, a pastoral poem usually written in the form of a debate or dialogue between shepherd characters), written for Elspet Byndelase on the occasion of her recognition as a Mistress of the Laurel, is inspired by and in imitation of the eclogues written by Virgil, Dante, Boccaccio, and other late medieval and early Renaissance poets who followed the Neo-Latin tradition.(1) Like almost all the classical/medieval eclogues, there are no explicit references to any real individuals, instead relying on implications and stock character names for those who do appear or speak within the poem. Despite this lack of explicitness, the poem’s audience would easily recognize those mentioned within it – usually the shepherds and their loves (when such women are discussed) are the poet and his friends or the patron(ess) and his or her close companions. Therefore, don’t let the lack of any recognizable names within this poem confuse you – it is fundamentally a celebration of Elspet and her virtues.
The medieval/Renaissance eclogue is a genre of pastoral poetry that almost universally seeks to imitate the ten eclogues of Virgil, the most celebrated poet of antiquity (those unfamiliar with any other of his works may at least be familiar with his epic The Aeneid).(2) In Virgil’s ten eclogues, and in almost every eclogue that followed, at least two shepherds argue over some topic (usually personal or relatively mundane/unimportant), and the poem ends with a clear victor in the debate.(3) These discussion subjects range from the superiority of either shepherd’s beloved maiden (or a young boy) to the superiority of music over poetry (and, given the fact that the eclogue is a poetic form, poetry always seems to win out over music).
Medieval poets that imitated Virgil copied his subject matter, manipulating the shepherds’ discussions to reflect on more contemporary (and especially personal) issues. Dante, for example, wrote an eclogue to his friend Giovanni del Virgilio discussing whether or not he would ever accept the laurel wreath for his own excellence in poetry.(4) Boccacio had his shepherds lament lost loves, criticize the growth of tyranny, and celebrate the return of spring. A number of poets used the form as a platform with which to honor their patrons, connecting the latter’s knowledge, honor, and power to that of Rome through any number of allusions and metaphors; this connection to the Roman Empire was an important and powerful consideration for both the learned and the elite classes during the Middle Ages, since Rome served as the comparative epitome of civilization.(5) This has continued into the present day in the SCA, as well: the Order of the Laurel itself, meant to create a connection in its name and imagery with the donning of the laurel leaves in the Middle Ages by recognized artists, is really recalling the laurel leaves of ancient Rome, when emperors and poets wore laurel garlands to note their Apollonian qualities (as military victor or artist).
The standard meter for pastoral poetry (or love poetry, tragic poetry, or really any poetry regarding a non-epic subject) was normally what is called ‘elegiac meter’ today; this is a line of dactylic hexameter followed by a line of dactylic pentameter. To provide an extremely general overview of these two metrical patterns, examine the following:
Dactylic hexameter: – X | – X | – X | – X | – x x | – –
Dactylic pentameter: – X | – X | – | – x x | – x x | –
(where ‘–’ is a long syllable, ‘x’ is a short syllable, and ‘X’ is either one long or two short syllables; the ‘|’ marks separate each multisyllabic ‘foot’ of the line)
Virgil broke from this standard by employing for his eclogues the metrical pattern traditionally associated with epic poetry: straight dactylic hexameter. By doing this, the Roman poet created a connection between the heroes of epic literature (those of the Greek Iliad and Odyssey, since Virgil had not yet written The Aeneid when he composed his eclogues) with the relatively ‘unremarkable’ farmers and shepherds that roamed the Roman countryside, taking the romanticism of the pastoral life to a new level, and one that would be imitated for over a thousand years. This can be seen most noticeably for us in the pastoral poems of the English Renaissance, where writers like Spenser,(6) Marlowe,(7) and Donne(8) (to name only a few) celebrate the romanticized notion of the rustic shepherds while adhering to strict rules of courtly poetry meter and rhyme. The idea here was to elaborate on the virtues of simple, honest country life, but to do so with extremely specific and ornate rhyme, meter, and (sometimes) vocabulary, balancing the ‘country’ nature of the poem with the ‘courtly’ reputation and learned skill of the author.
About This Poem
This poem is fundamentally an effort to celebrate Elspet in the manner I believed would be most fitting medievally: I am trying to connect Elspet to Rome in order to help ‘validate’ her worth in the eyes of the medieval populace (not that she needs it! the superb quality of her efforts speaks for itself).(9) While this may sound awkward at first, I want to imitate the medieval poets that sought to validate their patrons and leaders by infusing the leaders’ reputations with Roman connections. This ranged anywhere from descriptive allusion (comparing or associating a medieval individual with a Roman one, or with lauded Roman qualities or virtues) to an implied knowledge on the patron’s part of Roman history and literature (by using both within one’s writing as a means of identifying the patron with Rome).
I chose to work with the ‘epic’ meter of Virgil’s eclogues, the constant dactylic hexameter he employs (as opposed to elegiac meter), in the hopes of imitating him more closely than I might have otherwise been able to in terms of imagery or characters’ speech patterns. This was easily the most difficult aspect of writing this poem, as I am not an expert in Latin and my abilities in condensing ideas or phrases into strict metrical patterns in such a language were taxed to their fullest. I will admit readily that there may be lines that Latinists will find to be incorrectly counted or note the forced shift of syllabic emphasis in order for a word to be included. My first response to this is that I am only a student, and my skill in accurately discussing and celebrating such excellence in my subject – Elspet – is not the equal of Virgil or any of his medieval imitators. A second response, not so much a revelation that I knew what I was doing, but an excuse for future readers, should Elspet wish it, is to note that many medieval poets (especially French poets whose history of preference toward the vernacular is apparent from the early 12 th century troubadours onward), though perhaps not the most skilled of their kind, swapped out classical usage and rule sets for their own contemporary styles when they deemed it fit.(10) A recognizable analogy for the SCA may be the desire to write “medieval” poetry but to do so with an SCA subject or related frame: eventually, the latter will make itself apparent, and the audience will enjoy it as being more familiar than the former might have been on its own.
There are four shepherds that appear in this poem: Daphnis, Tityrus, Damon, and Mopsus. The first two are the individuals arguing about their respective beloved maidens; Daphnis appears in Virgil’s eclogues five and eight as the object of a shepherd’s love (as opposed to a direct speaker within either poem) before making a more substantial appearance in Boccaccio’s seventh and thirteenth, while Tityrus shows up in Virgil’s first eclogue before serving in Dante’s place within that poet’s eclogue. Damon first appears in Virgil’s eighth eclogue, then in Boccaccio’s first and eighth (and later appears as the protagonist of four pastoral ‘mower’ poems – as in someone who cuts grass with a scythe – by seventeenth-century poet Andrew Marvell(11)). Mopsus is a character first in Virgil’s fifth eclogue and then in Dante’s eclogue to stand in as the poetic counterpart to Giovanni del Virgilio. The shepherds in Elspet’s poem do not necessarily correlate to a real person on a 1:1 bases, though I personally imagined the debate between Daphnis and Tityrus as having taken place between Aldis and Elspet’s lord Robert (just as the classical poets often sung about young boys as much as maidens, I think a mix of romantic and platonic love here works well, so that the words of “Aldis” do not have to be taken literally as the words of a young shepherd in love so much as the words of one person celebrating a friend). Of course, Daphnis himself may be Elspet – the shepherd wins a laurel wreath at the end of the poem for praising art, and this could easily be not so much an “argument” as an “embodiment” of the importance of art within our Society.
One potentially confusing aspect of the poem is that I claim that Daphnis and Tityrus are arguing about the same woman (Elspet) even though they are clearly using two different names for her. These names are descriptors, meant to signify the way in which each shepherd thinks about his beloved; ‘Celia’ means ‘heavenly’ and ‘Silvia’ means ‘of the pasture/woods’ (essentially, ‘earthy’ as a counterpart to heavenly). By using these differing perspectives to expound upon the potential virtues of a superior lady, the shepherds manage to explain how their loved ones embody the qualities they describe, and as a result Elspet’s own character becomes an amalgam of the two arguments, rather than only one or the other (that is, they are both ‘right’ interpretations rather than one right and one wrong). It is especially important to note that these arguments do not fall into the earlier medieval dichotomy of economic/legal “nobility” versus “villainy” (meaning peasants); by the end of the 14 th century, the growing gentry had offset the traditional social structure enough that the ethical sense of nobility could be separated from the elite ruling class. This is evident in several geographical areas: Italy’s The Decameron, Burgundy’s Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles (“One Hundred New Stories”), and England’s The Canterbury Tales (all of which, it can be argued, have ties to one another in a kind of idea-exchange and one-upmanship relationship)(12).
As a result, the ethical “nobility” that the shepherds can argue about is free from the trappings of the earlier Middle Ages, allowing them to discuss their subject matter without being caught up in semantics about virtue only existing through noble birth(13): here, Elspet can not only have that virtue, but her own actions and spirit make her even more virtuous. Likewise, her virtues can come from similarities not only to nobles, but also to the shepherds themselves – the pastoral is, after all, a celebration of country life, and it is only when the Middle Ages begin to wane that literature is able to once again cherish such a life – making it the perfect genre to utilize in order to celebrate Elspet in a proper late medieval way.
1. Isabel Rivers defines the philosophy behind this tradition thusly: “Renaissance humanism was primarily an educational movement which began in Italy in the early fourteenth century and reached England at the end of the fifteenth. A humanist was a classical scholar with two complementary aims: to recover the moral values of classical life, and to imitate the language and style of the classics as a means to that end. He hoped to unite wisdom (sapientia) and eloquence (eloquentia)” (Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry, 125). Even though Rivers focuses on the development of English Renaissance poetry, this fundamental concept is no different for Italian or French poems than it is for English ones; the major difference, as she notes, is that England received this “wave” of classicism later than the other two countries.
2. See Grant, W. Leonard. Neo-Latin Literature and the Pastoral, p. 62: “In pastoral poetry, largely modeled on the Eclogues of Virgil, we come to one of the most popular literary vogues of Renaissance Latin poetry: between 1300 and 1700 over two hundred Neo-Latinists wrote anywhere from one to twenty eclogues apiece—a complete collection would fill well over three thousand octavo pages[.]”
3. The most direct translation of Virgil’s eclogues is the Loeb Library edition translated by H. Rushton Fairclough. Following the eclogues in the edition is the Georgics, Virgil’s 4-book celebration of rural labor and (it can be argued) the stoic life. Due to its far less lyrical nature than the Eclogues, I have not chosen to imitate the Georgics within my own poem.
4. There is a second eclogue that has been attributed to Dante although most scholars believe it is most likely not composed by him; the text (accompanied by some notes) is available in A.G. Howell’s A Translation of the Latin Works of Dante Alighieri, pp. 380-5.
5. For a political example, think about the creation of the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ to add extra credibility and power to Charlemagne’s hold over his kingdom.
6. See Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender and Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, both available with extensive commentary in Hugh MacLean & Anne Lake Prescott’s Edmund Spenser’s Poetry.
7. See “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” collected in Mark Burnett’s Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Poems.
8. Donne is a trickier case: he constantly reminds the reader of his wit (he cannot help it, I think) even when he turns to pastoral matters. See “The Indifferent,” “Twicknam Garden,” “The Good-Morrow,” and “The Baite” (a parody of Marlowe’s “Passionate Shepherd”) for examples of Donne’s play with pastoral themes. C.A. Patrides’ John Donne: The Complete English Poems has all of the aforementioned works with notes.
9. I should also note that after Petrarch and Boccaccio, Latin poetry exploded (not just as a result of these two, who pushed for more vernacular poetry as Dante had before them) and the fifteenth century – Elspet’s preferred time period, I believe – is absolutely overflowing with Neo-Latin poetry across Europe. For an excellent discussion of the growth of late medieval/early Renaissance Latin poetry, see Grant, Neo-Latin Literature.
10. See Witt, Ronald, In the Footsteps of the Ancients: The Origins of Humanism from Lovato to Bruni, p. 67 and onward, speaking of the general body of medieval French poets: “even the few who mastered the ancient rules readily followed contemporary tastes when it suited them.” This book is in its entirety an outstanding examination of the early development of the Renaissance, and is worth extensive examination.
11. The mower poems (along with a number of other seventeenth-century pastoral works) are collected in Mario Di Cesare’s George Herbert and the Seventeenth Century Poets. Marvell’s poems are titled “The Mower Against Gardens,” “Damon the Mower,” “The Mower to the Glowworms,” and “The Mower’s Song.” The ultimate English Renaissance celebration of pastoral poetry may be Sir John Denham’s “Cooper’s Hill,” of which an excellent version is collected in MacLean’s Ben Jonson and the Cavalier Poets.
12.Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles takes several stories from The Decameron, as does The Canterbury Tales; in addition, Chaucer very obviously had hoped to outdo Boccaccio, with a planned 120 total stories to be told along the pilgrimage. G.H. McWilliam’s translation of The Decameron, Larry Benson’s Riverside edition of Chaucer’s works, and Judith Diner’s translation of LCNN are all excellent.
13. Constance Bouchard’s Strong of Body, Brave & Noble and Linda Paterson’s World of the Troubadours both go into excellent detail about the progression of “nobility” from the early middle ages into its high point, discussing the growth between elite rulership and church and the formulation of chivalry and courtesy as ethical concepts as opposed to purely military and sociolegal ones.
Benson, Larry, ed. The Riverside Chaucer. 3 rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Decameron. Trans. G. H. McWilliam. London: Penguin, 1972.
Dante. A Translation of the Latin Works of Dante Alighieri. Trans. A.G. Howell. New York: Greenwood, 1969.
Di Cesare, Mario, ed. George Herbert and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Poets. New York: Norton, 1978.
Diner, Judith Bruskin. The One Hundred New Tales = Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles. New York: Garland, 1990.
Donne, John. The Complete English Poems. Ed. C.A. Patrides. London: J.M. Dent, 1994.
MacLean, Hugh, ed. Ben Jonson and the Cavalier Poets. New York: Norton, 1974.
Marlowe, Christopher. The Complete Poems. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett. London: J.M. Dent, 2000.
Spenser, Edmund. Edmund Spenser’s Poetry. Eds. Hugh Maclean and Anne Lake Prescott. New York: Norton, 1993.
Virgil. Virgil. Trans. H. Rushton Fairclough. London: W. Heinemann, 1922.
Bouchard, Constance Brittain. Strong of Body, Brave & Noble: Chivalry & Society in Medieval France. Ithaca, NY: Cornell U Press, 1998.
Grant, W. Leonard. Neo-Latin Literature and the Pastoral. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 1965.
Paterson, Linda. The World of the Troubadours: Medieval Occitan Society, c. 1100-c. 1300. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 1993.
Rivers, Isabel. Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1996.
Witt, Ronald. In the Footsteps of the Ancients: The Origins of Humanism from Lovato to Bruni. Boston: Brill, 2003.