The Pastoral Elegy: An Anthology


As an artistic form pastoral elegy begins with Theocritus' first idyl, the devices of which have been repeated through the ages. But the Daphnis legend is a late Greek development of the symbol under which earlier peoples mourned the withering vegetation of summer. "Under the symbols of Linus, Daphnis, or Adonis, the country people of early times lamented the decay of the fresh beauty of spring, under the burning midsummer heat. This primitive germ of serious feeling has perpetuated itself in that melancholy mood which runs throughout the pastoral poetry of all countries. From that tendency of the Greek imagination to give a human meaning to all that interested it, this dirge over the fading beauty of the early year soon assumed the form of the lament over the death of a young shepherd-poet, dear to gods and men, to the flocks, herds, and wild animals, to the rocks and mountains, among which he had lived. In the Daphnis of Theocritus, the human passion of love produces the blighting influence on the life of the shepherd which in the original myth was produced by the fierce heat of summer on the tender life of the year. A still later development of the myth appears in the lament over the extinction of youthful genius by early death."

As this statement fully surveys the long course of pastoral elegy from its beginnings in primitive worship, so many of its conventions may be partly explained by reference to early myths. Hylas, Hyacinthus, Narcissus, Linus, Adonis--these personifications of the destruction of the tender life of nature came to be known as youths beloved of gods, fond of hunting and rural life, famously musical...

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Austin, TX
Publication year:
  • 1939


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