The Eclogues | Study Guide


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The Eclogues | Themes


The Effects of Loss and Upheaval

Soldiers were promised land in return for fighting in the civil wars over who would rule Rome. When Augustus returned to Rome from the wars, he began to carry out the policy of confiscating farmers' and shepherds' land to give to the soldiers as war spoils. Men, women, and children protested in Italian cities where this was to take place. They did not affect the outcome. Wealthy and influential citizens were spared through connections but working families were badly impacted. Criminality reigned as neighbors turned in neighbors, and slaves informed on their masters. Throughout "The Eclogues" Virgil explores the misery, confusion, and upheaval caused by the Roman land confiscations. Eclogue 1 features the shepherd Meliboeus who is miserable because he just lost his farm and juxtaposes him with the shepherd Tityrus who just got his farm back after it was confiscated. Tityrus comforts Meliboeus and invites him to his home for a meal. Eclogue 9 deals with the isolation and pain that can result when misfortune and loss occur. The poem expresses the importance of art in consoling people through the difficult times in their lives.

The Darkness Behind "Bucolic" Life

"The Eclogues" take the form of "bucolic" or "pastoral" poetry which looks at country life as simple, moral, and pleasant. Virgil adds to the genre by incorporating realism about the negative aspects of the shepherds' lives. The shepherds do not live an innocent, carefree life as they often do in the bucolic poetry Virgil used as a model for "The Eclogues." The violent political upheaval that characterized Rome as it fell into years of civil wars plays a central role in the shepherds' lives even though they are not directly involved. Their farms are confiscated by the Roman government to give to soldiers as payment for fighting in the war. Crime is rampant as people struggle to survive in confusing and constantly changing circumstances. The "bucolic" experience of nature, love, and other human experiences is mixed and complex rather than innocent and simple in Virgil's telling.

"Love Conquers All"

Some shepherds and poets featured in "The Eclogues" experience unrequited love that drives them to mental instability. The shepherd Corydon pines in vain for the young boy Alexis in Eclogue 2. Corydon suffers internally until he convinces himself that he will someday find a "new Alexis." Eclogue 8 questions the efficacy of rituals meant to convince someone to return romantic love. Eclogue 9 details the story of the wealthy poet Parthenius who dresses as a peasant and moves to a rural setting to find happiness and love. Parthenius fails at wooing a peasant woman and ends up miserable. The famous saying "love conquers all" describes the belief that human love is beyond our control. As much as a person might want another person to love them, rituals, courtship, and other attempts to find love often backfire. "Love conquers all" and people need to understand that they have no control over its strong emotional force.

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