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The Channels of Song in Calpurnius Siculus and Virgil's Georgics

Julia Scarborough

This paper will argue that Calpurnius Siculus suggests a metapoetic reading of pipes in Virgil’s Georgics

as instruments of pastoral song. Calpurnius’ second eclogue uses the image of irrigating a garden through

canales (pipes) to signify song in the pastoral landscape (lines 34-35). The gardener Astacus invokes

Hesiod’s poetic initiation in the Theogony as he counters the shepherd Idas’ claim to have received a pipe

from the pastoral god Silvanus: he has been instructed by the Nymphs to take the water of their springs

and “nourish the gardens with irrigating canales.” This image develops Virgil’s metaphor of song as

watering the pastoral landscape at Ecl. 3.111 (cf. Magnelli 2006: 473). Further, in the context of the

extensive evocations of Virgil’s Georgics that immediately follow in Calpurnius’ Eclogue 2 (lines 36-51),

this image recalls those of pipes used to channel liquids in the Georgics, primarily 3.330 (currentem

ilignis potare canalibus undam). While Virgil uses several terms for reeds as musical and poetic

instruments in his Eclogues, canales are not among them. Calpurnius, however, uses the word canalis

explicitly of the pipes of song, representing an elevated style of poetry, at his Ecl. 4.76 (as well as again

of irrigation pipes, Ecl. 2.96, in a pointed reversal of Virgil’s Ecl. 3.111).

Calpurnius’ choice to use the georgic term canalis in his adaptation of the image of poetry as irrigating

song suggests that he reads metapoetic value into Virgil’s references to canales in the Georgics. In fact,

both references to canales in the Georgics – the only two uses of the word in Virgil’s poetry – prove to be

in suggestively poetic contexts. Pipes of ilex-wood are to be used for refreshing flocks in a description of

the pastoral day (3.322-28) that is strikingly evocative of Virgil’s pastoral poetry and its imagery of song

as water vital to the pastoral landscape (cf. Putnam 1975: 93-95). At Georgics 4.265, pipes made of reeds

are to be used for nourishing sick bees with honey (mellaque harundineis inferre canalibus). The

harundo (reed) of which these pipes are made is identified in Virgil’s programmatic sixth Eclogue with

the pipe of pastoral poetry, while the beekeeper in this passage is urged to “call the weary creatures to

their familiar fodder” (4.266 fessas ad pabula nota uocantem), in terms that suggest pasturing flocks and

the metaphorical value of the reed honey-pipe as a “voice” (cf. also the reiteration of pastoral vocabulary

in the passage at 4.278 pastores and 280 pabula).

This metapoetic reading of the passage in Georgics 4, supported by Calpurnius’ use of canales,

introduces a latent image of pastoral music as a source of health and nourishment, soon to be supplanted

by a more drastic measure for restoring the health of the hive: the violent bugonia (4.281-314). This

juxtaposition anticipates the tension between pastoral violence and song that the story of Aristaeus and

Orpheus will dramatize. At the same time, it suggests that, despite the apparent failure of Orpheus’ music

and triumph of Aristaeus’ violent labor with which the poem ends, the pastoral singer’s (and poet’s) art

remains a vital force in the landscape of the Georgics.

Session/Panel Title

The Bucolic Challenge: Continuity and Change in Later Latin Pastoral Poetry

Session/Paper Number


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