Two questions to which, as far as I can see, nobody is sure of the answers. One: why are Virgil's Bucolica known as Eclogues? Eclogue (ecloga
; from the Greek ἐκλογή) means 'selection', 'choice'. There are theories, of course -- perhaps these Eclogues we have are a 'selection' of the best of a larger body of bucolic poetry written by Virgil. But nobody is certain. And two: who is the 'god' mentioned right at the start of Eclogue 1?
Meliboeus. Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui Musam meditaris avena;
nos patriae fines et dulcia linquimus arva:
nos patriam fugimus; tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.
Tityrus. O Meliboee, deus nobis haec otia fecit:
namque erit ille mihi semper deus; illius aram
saepe tener nostris ab ovilibus imbuet agnus.
Ille meas errare boves, ut cernis, et ipsum
ludere, quae vellem, calamo permisit agresti
You, Tityrus, 'neath a broad beech-canopy
Reclining, on the slender oat rehearse
Your silvan ditties: I from my sweet fields,
And home's familiar bounds, even now depart.
Exiled from home am I; while, Tityrus, you
Sit careless in the shade, and, at your call,
"Fair Amaryllis" bid the woods resound.
O Meliboeus, 'twas a god vouchsafed
This ease to us, for him a god will I
Deem ever, and from my folds a tender lamb
Oft with its life-blood shall his altar stain.
His gift it is that, as your eyes may see,
My kine may roam at large, and I myself
Play on my shepherd's pipe what songs I will. [rather fruity old translation by R M Millington]
The standard line is that the 'deus' is Octavian:
Interpretations of the First Eclogue have now come full circle. Much significant scholarship has centered around the problems inherent in an identification of the deus with Octavian. Some critics maintain that the poem is Virgil's thank-offering to Octavian for protection from land confiscation; others, though fewer in number, are equally as insistent that the eclogue expresses the poet's disapproval of his government's land policy. A recent attempt has been made to unite the basic arguments of both sides into a more
balanced statement. According to this interpretation Octavian is regarded as
"having wrought both good and evil" in the past, but Virgil succeeds in revealing him to be "a savior, a force for good, and a source of hope for the future. To the contrary, I propose that an even stronger case can, and ought, be made that, in the First Eclogue, Virgil not only condemns the government land policy, but he also adroitly queries the very structure of Octavian's political program and ethic during this period. [Rosemary M. Nielsen, 'Virgil: Eclogue I', Latomus (1972), 154]
Very likely. But this is what occurs to me: in these poems, Virgil reworks Theocritus' idylls, in detail, down to including many embedded passages and quotations translated from Greek into Virgillian Latin. I wonder if Θεόκριτος isn't the god who opened the leisure of the pastoral idyll to Virgil. Θεός means 'god' after all, as Virgil would have known. And κριτος? Well κριτος means 'selection', 'choice'. It means eclogue
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