|Scholarly opinion found no program to speak of in the
first eclogue when I began my studies (Van Sickle 1967).
Into the vacuum rushed a vogue that imagined Virgil waiting till eclogue six before branding his entire book Callimachean (criticized by Van Sickle 1977, cf. also 1995).
It came as a relief when I first realized that Virgil had in fact provided a powerful program at the start, taking aim at the seventh idyll (Van Sickle 1975, 1978). Simichidas’ programmatic encounter with Lykidas on a country road became, in Virgil’s revision, Tityrus’ authorizing encounter with a god at Rome, signalling a new bucolic departure built on and against Theocritus. Yet two recent studies go so far as to dismiss the seventh idyll’s role, offering instead reductive and contradictory accounts of Virgil’s opening program.
In response, the present paper seeks to build more scrupulously on scholarly history, including several early modern commentators who have largely disappeared from conversation about the Bucolics but also a recent advance (Hunter 1999).
I focus attention on an array of features, such as elements of landscape, postures, sorts of musical art, and names, that enjoy traditional and quasi mythic status.
I expect to show how Virgil takes and uses these traditional motifs or mythemes to programmatic effect in defining a new poetic myth.
His mythemes have analogues, I hope to show, in Theocritus, of course, but also Callimachus, Plato, and Homer as well as Lucretius, and Cicero.
Not that I mean merely to demonstrate Virgil’s links to divers authors.
My larger goal is to show how he integrates and deploys his literary allusions to create two intertwined programs: a main thrust developed through the eloquent history of Meliboeus, with a response sketched in the stories of Tityrus.