Dubbed 'the English Virgil' in his own lifetime, Edmund Spenser has been compared to the Augustan laureate ever since. He invited the comparison, expecting a readership intimately familiar with Virgil's works to notice and interpret his rich web of allusion and imitation, but also his significant departures and transformations. This book considers Spenser's pastoral poetry, and the genre which announces the inception of a Virgilian career in The Shepheardes Calender. It also considers to which he returns in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, throwing the 'Virgilian career' into reverse. The book first makes a case for taking seriously the allegorical mode of reading Virgil's Eclogues prominent in the commentary tradition from Servius to the Renaissance. It then examines how The Shepheardes Calender seeks to replicate the Virgilian dynamic of bargaining with power in its opposition to the D'Alencon match. When 'Colin Clouts Come Home Againe' is read in conjunction with 'Astrophel', it becomes clear that they have in common not only their central themes but also their major intertexts, both in Virgil and in Spenser's other works. They are in fact complementary parts of the same project, constructing their meaning and their poetic programme through allusive dialogue both with Virgil and with each other.
For educated poets and readers in the Renaissance, classical literature was as familiar and accessible as the work of their compatriots and contemporaries – often more so. Their creative response to it was not a matter of dry scholarship or inert imitation, but rather of engagement in an ancient and lively conversation which was still unfolding, both in the modern languages and in new Latin verse. This volume seeks to recapture that sense of intimacy and immediacy, as scholars from both sides of the modern disciplinary divide come together to eavesdrop on the conversations conducted through allusion and intertextual play in works from Petrarch to Milton and beyond, and offer their perspectives on the intermingling of ancient and modern strains in the reception of the classical past and its poetry. The essays include illuminating discussions of Ariosto, Du Bellay, Spenser, Marlowe, the anonymous drama Caesars Revenge, Shakespeare and Marvell, and look forward to the grand retrospect of Shelley’s ‘Adonais’. Together, they help us to understand how poets across the ages have thought about their relation to their predecessors, and about their own contributions to what Shelley would call ‘that great poem, which all poets… have built up since the beginning of the world’.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book describes that Spenser's poetry is filled with imitation of and allusion to the poems of Virgil, and that this is an important part of how it is intended to be perceived and interpreted. It attempts to assign to Spenser the same kind of monumental status at the pinnacle of English vernacular literature which Virgil had enjoyed in relation to Roman literature since classical times. A poem attributed to one of Theocritus' late Hellenistic followers, Moschus, to which both Virgil and Spenser respond, lays out with particular clarity the equally high status of bucolic and heroic epos. The Lament for Bion, composed in the second century BCE, identifies its subject as a bucolic poet, a singer of Doric song and 'a Theocritus'.
Damon's song suggests that very early readers of the Eclogues were sensitive to the close analogical relation between the themes of love and politics in the work, long before Servius Danielis relays these ideas in his allegories. Servius' commentary exerted a profound influence on readings of Virgil to Spenser's day and beyond. The dangers of outspoken political critique will be a major theme in The Shepheardes Calender, addressed most explicitly in September. Spenser's own inter-twining of the amatory and the political in The Shepheardes Calender, is deeply influenced by his appreciation of the games Virgil plays with Theocritus in the Eclogues. The attempt to set up a relationship of mutual obligation between poet and ruler, is obliquely thematized in the Ecloguesas a ritual of gift-exchange, taking its cue from the love-gifts of Theocritean pastoral courtship.
Aprill is unique in The Shepheardes Calender in speaking openly of the Queen. Spenser amplifies the notes of ambiguity and uncertainty in the Virgilian text. Primed by the Virgilian self-presentation of the book, the contemporary reader would have approached Januarye with an expectation that it would imitate Virgil's first eclogue. June has a relationship to Januarye similar to that between Virgil's eclogues. Aprill and Nouember work together to play the Christian and political interpretations of the commentary tradition off against one another. The failure to register the Christian hope symbolized by Christmas has often been adduced as evidence of Colin Clout's mental and emotional shortcomings by critics who take a psychologistic approach to the text. The consolatory Christian stanzas evoke the alternative Christian allegorization of Virgil's fifth eclogue, with Dido's resurrection in Christ taking the place of the resurrection of Christ which Vives found in the apotheosis of Daphnis.
June marks a radical departure from the Virgilian model, as Spenser makes clear his decision to continue on the political path of censure and critique. October stands out as being the place where Spenser discusses the question of imitating Virgil directly. It is explicitly metapoetic in a way no other eclogue in the eclogues The Shepheardes Calender is highlighted in E.K.'s Argument. One of the most assiduous exponents of the elaborate numerological structure of Virgil's eclogue-book speculates that Spenser may have 'mastered some of its essentials'. Even as the Calender negotiates its Virgilian bargain with political power, it is wary of the constraints which that negotiation could place upon the poet. Virgil's ninth eclogue exerts its influence in other places in the Calender, in all of the eclogues which formed part of that first pattern identified by authors in relation to Colin Clout.
The memory of Spenser's earlier depiction of Adonis contrasts strikingly with Astrophel, the fertility of the one highlighting the sterility of the other. The Garden of Adonis is not restricted to Spenser's epic poetry. It figures in the visionary pastoral poetics of 'Colin Clouts Come Home Againe'. Virgil's poem clearly aligns the metaphorical death with the real deaths lamented in Theocritean pastoral elegy by imitating and alluding to the elegy for Daphnis in Idyll 1, and to the sketch of a similar elegy in Idyll 7. 'Astrophel', as Raphael Falco has shown, marks a significant turning point in the posthumous image of Sidney in the emphasis it throws on his poetry rather than his military and diplomatic career. The level of inspiration implicit in Astrophel's resemblance to Colin Clouts puts him on a par with the Gallus hailed by the Muses in Eclogue 6.
The fiction of 'Colin Clouts Come Home Againe' will transfigure England into a space of exile and the Irish 'waste'into a home, with Colin's round trip beginning and ending in the pastoral space, away from Cynthia and her court. Like 'Colin Clouts Come Home Againe', the Book IV episode aligns Ralegh with the Gallus of Eclogue 10, as Timias carves Belphoebe's name into the bark of trees. In the Theogony, the Muses give Hesiod a staff as a symbol of his newfound ability to sing cosmogonic epic. The summoning of Muses, nymphs and Graces recalls the Aprill lay and the Nouember dirge. By invoking Arethusa as a virgin nymph in Arcadia, Virgil claimed poetic precedence over his Sicilian model, and constructed Arcadia as the imaginary locale of his pastoral poetics.
In the minor tradition of lament for a fellow poet which springs from the influential yet neglected Lament for Bion, the theme of literary immortality is closely bound up with the self-conscious, and self-reflexively foregrounded, practice of poetic imitation. Beginning with the Lament for Bion itself, we trace an intricate pattern of allusion to Bion’s Lament for Adonis and Theocritus’ fifteenth idyll, which infuses the grief-laden poem with an underlying optimism by evoking the resurrection of Adonis, celebrated annually in the Adonia festival, and implying that Bion will enjoy a similar immortality. The Lament presents its own imitative poetics as the channel of this ongoing life. Later poets working in this tradition not only imitate the Lament for Bion and follow the conventions it sets, but also understand the significance of its intertextual methods, and use similar means to the same end. This is shown through close readings of three examples: Statius’ Silvae 2.7 (celebrating the birthday of the dead Lucan); Spenser’s ‘Astrophel’ (on the death of Sir Philip Sidney); and Shelley’s ‘Adonais’ (on the death of John Keats). The subtextual presence of the Adonia in ‘Astrophel’ forges a link to the Garden of Adonis in The Faerie Queene, perhaps reflecting that episode’s relation to Mary Sidney’s mourning for her brother. In ‘Adonais’, meanwhile, Adonis’ resurrection is a fundamental subtext throughout, functioning as a symbol of nature’s seasonal renewal and of poetic immortality conferred through imitation, and necessitating reconsideration of Shelley’s supposed ‘Platonic turn’ at the end of the poem.
The disciplinary divide between classics and modern literary studies sets up an artificial boundary, which can obscure our view both of what poets are doing and of how they perceive their role. Such compartmentalisation is alien to the bilingual cultures of Renaissance Europe, where Latin was still a medium for prolific literary composition, and where ancient texts rediscovered and edited by humanist scholars appeared in print with the shock of the new. Though acutely aware of the historical distance between themselves and the ancients, educated readers and writers also experienced a sense of paradoxical contemporaneity with classical authors, often expressed through the common trope whereby an ancient poet is imagined as raised from the dead through imitation or translation, or present as friend and teacher in the pages of their books. The trope may seem naively ahistoricist, but the ‘revival’ of Anacreon in the verse of Herrick and Stanley’s royalist coterie during the English Civil War illustrates how central it can be to the poet’s engagement with contemporary politics, and thus to a fully responsive historicist reading. Petrarch, with his letters to the ancients, is often seen as the origin of the period’s uncanny sense of intimacy with classical ghosts, but he was joining a conversation consciously begun by Seneca. Senecan intertextuality also pervades the ‘Ascent of Mont Ventoux’ more deeply than has been recognised, suggesting that the extent even of Petrarch’s engagement with classical writers has been underestimated.