ElAnt v1n5 - Allegory and the Eclogues

Volume 1, Number 5
October 1993


Richard Levis,
Department of Classical Studies,
University of Ottawa,
Ontario K1N 6N5,
e-mail: 055281@ACADVM1.UOTTAWA.CA

It is difficult, if not impossible, to delve very deeply into the extensive secondary literature on the Eclogues without coming across the word allegory. Rarely, however, does anyone take the trouble to define exactly what is meant by this technical term.( 1 ) One should not assume the term to be either obvious or consistent in its usage either today or in the past. The term 'allegory' refers to different methods of interpretation and to different types of works and it has been defined by grammarians and applied by critics variously from one age to another. Certainly, Coliero's definition of 'a deeper import than the surface meaning' is far from precise.( 2 ) Nor has anyone taken the trouble to examine how the understanding of the term in literature contemporary to the Eclogues might affect the status of relevant commentary which attempts to shed light on the significance of various characters, images and descriptive passages in the work. Moreover, how Servius read the Eclogues some four centuries after their publication can only be understood in relation to his work, his era and his pedagogic intentions. The all inclusive literal translation 'other speaking' allows for a wide range of possible definitions from simple abstract personification( 3 ) to complex and extended historical analogue,( 4 ) from Crates' interpretation of Homer's gods as physical forces( 5 ) to religious moralizing,( 6 ) from etymological allegory to parable and exemplum.( 7 ) Allegory, in short, can be an abstract generalization, a single extended representation of a person, place or thing, a systematized literary world-view, or a comprehensive political critique.

Cicero and Quintilian furnish us with examples of the term allegoria that may serve as standards of immediate relevance to the Eclogues and the earliest commentators of the poetic work. Cicero used the term only twice and both times in Greek script possibly suggesting that as a Latin literary term it becomes popular in the following years. Commenting on his fear of the political instability in the summer of 59, Cicero tells Atticus that if he cannot find a trusty messenger he will write obscure and en einigmois . Clarifying somewhat his obscure and enigmatic intentions Cicero declares: in iis epistulis me Laelium, te Furium faciam .( 8 ) Although allegory is not mentioned directly in connection with creating these coded names,( 9 ) Cicero declares in the following letter that if he must write more to Atticus he will obscure it in allegories, plural.( 10 ) Clearly, Cicero intends his allegorization to include the coded names of the previous letter as he continues the general inference that he will obfuscate his letters in a manner that only he and Atticus will understand.

Just over a century later, Quintilian grappled with the term allegoria and arranged his definitions under two main groups each of which have various sub-groups.( 11 ) Quintilian translates allegoria as the Latin inversio , which is presenting something either in words that have another sense or in words that are contrary in sense. The first group consists of extended metaphor,( 12 ) historical allegory (i.e. personal experience transferred to a fictional character), mixture of metaphor and historical,( 13 ) commonplace expressions, exemplum and aenigma . The second category of allegory, known to the rhetoricians as illusio includes sarcasm, urbane wit, contradiction and proverbs.( 14 ) Although Quintilian designs his definitions to incorporate examples of whatever he can find that means something other than what it says he assumes that people will be able to understand what is meant. The aenigma , allegory that is too obscure, he considers a blemish.( 15 )

Both Cicero and Quintilian are well aware of the extended meaning for the term allegoria . One can therefore assume that the term was similarly understood among the scholars, commentators and grammarians of the same period. Given this relatively contemporary understanding of allegory derived from usage both in practice and in theory one can turn to the process of the interpretation of the Eclogues as allegory.

The extant evidence for the interpretation of the Eclogues as allegory begins with a few instances roughly contemporary with their publication and then increases proportionally as time passes. Two citations of contemporary allegorical readings decipher the enigmas of Eclogues 3 and identify the puer of Eclogues 4. The Berne Scholia state that a certain Cornelius had heard Vergil himself declare the answer to the first riddle; but the same note continues to say that Asconius Pedianus claimed to have heard Vergil call the riddles the 'grammarian's cross'.( 16 ) In the second instance, Servius notes that Asconius Pedianus had heard Gallus himself say that the puer was Pollio's son.( 17 ) Other citations of Augustan grammarians, such as Iulius Hyginus, discuss the poet's texts, his proclivities in regard to individual words and his use of various myths but not allegory.( 18 ) Servius even twice quotes what Pollio said about the Aeneid .( 19 ) One might ask, if allegory is such an integral part of the Eclogues , why is there no surviving quote on what Pollio or any other of the concerned nobiles had to say about their interpretation.( 20 )

Readings for the Eclogues as allegory expand in the first century C.E. Suetonius reports that the grammarian Quintus Remmius Palaemon discovered his own name in Eclogues 3 and declared that:

nomen suum in Bucolicis non temere positum, sed praesagante Vergilio, fore quandoque omnium poetarum ac poematum Palaemon iudicem. (Suet. De Gram. 23.)

his name appeared in the Bucolics not without purpose, but because Vergil predicted that Palaemon would at some time be the judge of all poets and poems.

Palaemon certainly made expedential use of the self- promotional possibilities he found in reading the Eclogues as a proleptic medium of prophecy. For a second allegorical reading Suetonius, in de Poetis , maintains that the Daphnis of Eclogues 5 is in fact Vergil's brother Flaccus.( 21 ) Quintilian quotes the description of lost land at Eclogues 9. 7-10 and states that Menalcas is Vergil and the loss of land is biographical but he gives no source.( 22 ) Aulus Gellius, writing in the second century, read many authors who wrote during Vergil's life or within a generation of his death; he mentions Varro, Nigidius Figulus, Iulius Hyginus and Annaeus Cornutus among others.( 23 ) Gellius concerns himself with topics that are far reaching and some of them verge on and include various aspects of allegory. For example, Gellius discusses the aenigma (12.6), Nigidius' work on ambiguous words (12.9), the difference between conscious and unconscious lying (11.11) and Cornutus on figurative language( 24 ) but he does not connect these discussions with the Eclogues , although the opportunity obviously presents itself and he discusses the poetic work on other occasions.( 25 ) From another source, the post-Servian scholar Macrobius does not use the term allegory and his only character identification is the puer of Eclogues 4 with Pollio's son.( 26 )

Servius maintains that in certain places Vergil is giving thanks through allegory to Augustus or other nobles by whose favour he recovered his lost land.( 27 ) Although he maintains a certain consistency in this view and even reiterates at 3.20 that allegory must be refuted except when it has to do with some necessity of lost land,( 28 ) Servius frequently includes suggestions of allegory even if land is not involved.( 29 ) The variety of his suggestions, however, clearly demonstrates that Servius does not know who is supposed to be who and that he is merely following whatever sources he has at his disposal and adapting them as he feels necessary for his didactic purposes by means of the current critical trend of the day.( 30 ) To his credit, Servius refers to many important sources whose proximity to the publication of the Eclogues warrants their careful consideration. At various points in his commentary he mentions Cato (6.76), Lucretius (6.33), Varro (8.12), Sallust (2.4; 7.41), Calvus (6.47), Cicero (6.58), Ovid (10.62), Lucan (1.7), Probus (6.76) and even Juvenal (1.33), but when he is in doubt Servius resorts to the impersonal passive voice or anonymous indirect speech that follows alii ferunt or multi volunt .( 31 )

Read at face value, without reference to his disclaimers, Servius' allegorical interpretations do not allow that Vergil was consistent. For example, Tityrus of Eclogues 1 is Vergil at line 1, but at lines 28 and 46 (reference to the white beard and fortunate senex ) Tityrus is not Vergil.( 32 ) Again, in Eclogues 5, Servius notes at line 20 that Daphnis is thought by some to be Caesar and by others Quintilius Varus. At line 54, however, when Daphnis is referred to as puer , Servius notes that Caesar was not young enough when he died to deserve such an appellation.( 33 ) This type of historical allegory is a matter of either historical knowledge or of personal interpretation, of either biographical coincidence or convienient exigencies. The allegorical readings that Servius includes essentially interpret three things: first, that characters are dressed to the necessities of bucolic convention but are in fact representing historical persons; second, that the events of the Vergilian bucolic world mirror specific historical or contemporary events; and third, that certain items of content in the poems represent historical or biographical particulars.( 34 ).

The proposed allegory often disregards any inconsistencies of content or characterization that might argue against such an interpretation. The variety of extended meanings encompass not only specific characters (e.g. et hoc loco Tityri sub persona Vergilium debemus accipere , 1.1) but also references to general 'background' characters ( Arcades pastores 10.31); actions (9.1, Vergil's conflict with Arrius), places (e.g. 1.38, pinus=Roma ) and things (e.g. 1.39, fontes=senatores ).( 35 ) While allowing for this wide range of interpretations to his use of the term allegoria , Servius himself is not always consistent in its application. For example, Servius simply states that Gallus' Lycoris of Eclogues 10 is Cynthia without using any technical term (10.2).( 36 )

As a hermeneutic comparison Servius, in his proemium, contrasts the two terms allegorica and simplex .( 37 ) The former he refers to Vergil's bucolic work and the latter to Theocritus'. Of course we cannot tell what, if any, of Theocritus Servius had read but this contrast does reveal his basic understanding of the term in question here. Whatever word or image that he thought held a one to one correspondent was simplex ; any word or image that he thought meant something other than what its surface value stood for was allegoria . The subjective basis of such interpretative methodology was obviously not apparent to the author.

It would, of course, be impossible to overestimate the value of Servius' fourth century commentary on Vergil's work but that does not mean that his critical analysis and unreferenced citations should be read with any less scrutiny than scholars today afford each other. Of many questionable statements that Servius makes it might be kept in mind that he recognizes the self-evident fact that whomever a wolf sees first becomes speechless (9.54).( 38 ) It should also be noted that a near contemporary of Servius, the grammarian Pompeius Iulianus, discusses the various types of grammatical tropes including allegory with examples from all three of Vergil's works but he does not mention the poet's intention of historical people behind the rustic masks.( 39 )

The extant early commentary on Vergil's Eclogues reveals that the allegorical interpretations begin gradually after publication and accumulate over time at the hands of various scholars and commentators. It is curious that so few commentators mention an early source in connection with 'who's who' in the Eclogues although such sources are often cited in reference to other matters. With this observation I do not rule out the fact that Vergil bases his work on some type of personal experience or at times makes veiled political statements, but the confusion obviously arises in the interpretation of the stylized literary work. Allegory, both in use and in interpretation, attempts to make specific that which is obscure or problematic, whereas the poet of the Eclogues took that which is specific, namely his own experience of the effects of war, of the desire for peace, of the loss of land, of the poet in need, and made that experience universal.


1. Bibliography on the history of allegorical interpretation consulted for this paper includes: D. Dawson, Allegorical Readers and Cultural Revision in Ancient Alexandria (Berkeley/Los Angeles/ Oxford, 1992); G.A. Kennedy, ed. The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism: Volume 1, Classical Criticism (Cambridge, 1989); A. Patterson, Pastoral and Ideology: Vergil to Valery (Berkeley, 1987); P. Rollinson, Classical Theories of Allegory and Christian Culture (Pittsburgh, 1981); M. Quilligan, The Language of Allegory: Defining the Genre (Ithaca and London, 1979).

2. E. Coliero, An Introduction to Vergil's Bucolics with a Critical Edition of the Text (Amsterdam, 1979), p.18.

3. M. Bloomfield, 'A grammatical approach to personification allegory', Modern Philology 60 no. 3 (Feb. 1963), pp. 161- 171. 'As a very general definition, it may be said that personification allegory is the process of animating inanimate objects or abstract notions, and that a personification is the animate figure thereby created' (p. 163).

4. E.g. John Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel: A Poem (1681).

5. Suet. Gramm. 2, on Crates' visit to Rome. Also see, J. Tate 'On the history of allegorism', CQ 28 (1934), pp. 105-114.

6. E.g. John Bunyan's all encompassing Pilgrim's Progress (1678).

7. ...apologationem. cui confine, est paroimias genus illud, quod est velut fabella brevior et per allegoriam accipitur . Quint. 5.11.21.

8. Att.

9. According to Abbott Cicero never carried out this plan, see, F. Abbott, Selected Letters of Cicero , (Oklahoma, 1964) Letter 7, Att. 2.19, n. 5.

10. itaque posthac, si erunt mihi plura ad te scribenda, allegoriais obscurabo ( Att.

11. Quint. 8.6.44-59.

12. quemadmodum allegoriai facit continua metaphora (Quint. 2.46.7-8).

13. For example, Quintilian maintains that Cicero uses allegory when he says that Marcus Caelius had a good right hand but a weak left referring to the latter's ability to bring charges - strong offensive, right sword hand - but inability to defend - weak left shield hand (Quint. 6.3.69).

14. Quint. 8.6.54-59.

15. Sed allegoria, quae est obscurior, aenigma dicitur; vitium meo quidem iudicio, si quidem dicere dilucide virtus . . . (Quint.

16.Berne Schol. Ecloga III. 105. This is what survives although the school of the so called Vergilii Obtrectatores according to Suetonius thrived ( Vita Vergili 43ff.). The Berne Scholia admit, more or less, that every character in the Eclogues is representative of some historical person, but the representation is not necessarily internally consistent even in the same eclogue; e.g. the proemium to Eclogues 3, in hac ecloga Virgilius nunc personam Menalcae accipit, nunc Damoetae . This statement is made only a few lines after the declaration that Menalcas is Cornificus, Damoetas Vergil and Palaemon Caesar: Scholia Bernensia ad Vergili Bucolica atque Georgica (Hildesheim, 1967).

17. For the problems of this association see: I. M. Du Quesnay, 'Vergil's fourth Eclogues ', Papers of the Liverpool Latin Seminar (Liverpool, 1976), p. 33.

18. The following statements are based on: Hyginus Funaiolus, Grammaticae Romanae Fragmenta (Stuttgart, 1969), especially 'Grammaticae Aetatis Augusteae Fragmenta', pp. 443 ff.

19. G.R.F. C. Asinius Pollio frag. 14 and 15 both of which are on the Aeneid and admittedly noted as of dubious authorship.

20. Coliero, pp. 20-21, maintains a persona non grata theory for those involved when Augustus held the reigns of power, but that does not coincide with other evidence e.g. Horace Odes 2.1 did not shirk from celebrating Pollio and Propertius, for example, mentions Gallus at Bk. 2.34.91.

21. Flaccum...cuius exitum sub nomine Daphnidis deflet . (Suet. De Poet. , Vita Vergili 14; also in Vita Donati 46-47.

22.Certe equidem audieram, qua se subducere colles Incipiunt mollique iugum demittere clivo Usque ad aquam et veteris iam fracta cacumina fagi, omnia carminibus vestrum servasse Menalcan. ( Ecl. 9.7-10) Hoc enim loco praeter nomen cetera propriis decisa sunt verbis, verum non pastor Menalcas, sed Vergilius est intelligendus (Quint. 8.6.46-47).

23. E.g. Aul. Gel. 19.14 (Varro and Nigidius); 2.6 (Cornutus); 5.8 (Hyginus); 11.11 (Nigidius). See especially Aul. Gel. 1.21 citing Hyginus as in possession of a manuscript from Vergil's own household.

24. Aul. Gel. 9.10; Gellius complains that Annaeus Cornutus in his second book of De Figuris Sententiarum was excessive in his criticism of Vergil's use of the word membra .

25. Gellius comments on the Eclogues at 2.6; and 9.9.

26. Macrobius Sat. 7.1. He does not mention Varus or Gallus or allegory.

27. intentio poetae haec est, ut imitatur Theocritum Syracusanum, meliorem Moscho et ceteris qui bucolica scripserunt,..., et aliquibus locis per allegoriam agat gratias Augusto vel aliis nobilibus, quorum favore amissum agrum recepit . G. Thilo, Servii Grammatici: in Vergilii Bucolica et Georgica Commentarii (Hildesheim, 1961), Proem. p. 2. The following comments are based upon the compiled Servius, the Servius Auctus, known as the DS.

28. 3.20 sed melius simpliciter accipimus: refutandae enim sunt allegoriae in bucolico carmine, nisi cum, ut supra diximus, ex aliqua agrorum perditorum necessitate descendunt .

29. Ex. at Eclogues 2.1 where he lists the various possibilities for Corydon and Alexis.

30. Among the many points A. Patterson makes one significant reminder is that Servius was influenced by his own time. She comments on the reflection of the grammarian and his age: 'the sense of the imperial presence as controlling culture; the belief in the ancient idea of Rome as Vergil had definitively articulated it; the strange focus on the issue of land ownership; and the concept of compulsion and necessity as components of authorial motive' (p. 41). I would add two other points: the contemporary popularity of the panegyric as a form of literature and the fact that both Donatus and Servius wrote in the same era of literary achievement as Prudentius who wrote the allegorical Psychomachia . Naturally, the allegory of Prudentius and the allegorical reading of the Eclogues are drawn from two different literary intentions but the basic principles are the same, i.e. patently extending the meaning of one's words for a desired audience response whether political or religious. For Servius as a reliable source also see: J. Zetzel, 'Servius and the triumviral history in the Eclogues ', Classical Philology 79 (1984), pp. 139-142.

31. For examples see 2.1 and 7.21 respectively.

32. et hoc loco Tityri sub persona Vergilium debemus accipere; non tamen ubique, sed tantum ubi exigit ratio . Serv. n. 1.1; aut mutatio personae est... non Vergilium per allegoriam... aut certe est mutanda distinctio... Serv. n. 1.28; non ad aetatem Vergilii refert... Serv. n. 1.46.

33. Puer ipse: modo Daphnin intellegimus: nam Caesar non puer occisus est, sed maioris aetatis (5.54).

34. At 3.20, Menalcas accuses Damoetas of hiding behind the hedge while intending the theft of Damon's goat and Servius reports that some commentators read the goat as an allegory for a tragedy that Vergil had written, given to Varus' wife (with whom Vergil had an adulterous affair) who claimed it as her own.

35. Furthering still his quest to extract meaning from every possible location, Servius also reveals in his proemium the etymology of the names Tityrus and Meliboeus while noting the significance of the names to the genre.

36. For extended name association without the term allegory note, Lycoris pro Cytheris; licet enim poetis alia nomina pro aliis ponere (10.2).

37. in qua re [allegoria] tantum dissentit a Theocrito: ille enim ubiqui simplex est,... Serv. Proem .

38. On Servius' vague knowledge of the dates of composition see J. Farrell, 'Asinius Pollio in Vergil's Eclogues 8', Classical Philology 86, 3 (1991), pp. 204-21, and G. Bowerstock, 'A date in the eighth eclogue', HSCPh 75 (1971) pp. 73-80. G. P. Goold, 'Servius and the Helen episode', HSCPh 74 (1970) also discusses the grammarian's inaccuracies on pp. 118-119.

39. H. Keil, Grammatici Latini 5 (Hildesheim, 1961), pp. 310- 312. E.g. for the line et iam tempus equum fumantia solvere colla Geo. 2.542, he notes that this means of course: carmen esse finiendum.

Richard Levis
e-mail: 055281@ACADVM1.UOTTAWA.CA

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Electronic Antiquity Vol. 1 Issue 5 - October 1993
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606