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The Commodification of Carmina in Baptista Mantuanus’s Eclogues

Caleb M. X. Dance

In 1498 Johannes Baptista Mantuanus (1447-1516) published a revised version of his

Adulescentia, a collection of ten eclogues in Latin hexameters. The Carmelite friar engaged

deliberately with his Mantuan poetic predecessor through repeated references to noster Tityrus

(2.8, 3.172-174, 5.86-89)—a poetic figure who, in singing about wars, agriculture, and pastures,

assumes the identity of Vergil himself. Pastures populated by herdsmen provide a fittingly

Vergilian setting for Mantuanus’s eclogues, but the two poets from Mantua differ markedly in

how their shepherds value songs and singing within their collections. Drawing upon occasions in

the first half of the Adulescentia when Mantuanus’s shepherds regard poetic song as a

commodity with absolute value in their pastoral economy, I argue that, unlike the shepherds of

Vergil’s Eclogues (and Theocritus’s Idylls), Mantuanus’s shepherds sing neither for free nor, it

seems, for fun.

A locus amoenus is regarded as reason enough for Vergil’s shepherds to pick up their pipes in

Ecl. 3.55-57 and 9.59-61. Similarly, Lycidas and Simichidas in Theocritus’s Id. 7.35-37 agree to

sing bucolic songs simply to pass the time. A herdsman may take to singing to give voice to his

lovesickness in a dense forest (Ecl. 2) or, perhaps, to remedy it on the seashore (Polyphemus’s

φάρμακον in Id. 11.17). And while the songs of Vergilian and Theocritean shepherds might be

rewarded with a prize (e.g., Ecl. 5.81 and Id. 1.25-28), they are not sung with the expectation of

material reward unless in the context of a competition with declared stakes.

Mantuanus’s shepherds demand payment for their songs even before agreeing to sing. Iannus

tells his interlocutor Alphus in 4.11-12 that a funny story he is itching to share “cannot be

narrated for free; what reward may one hope for? What gifts do I obtain?” (non est narrabile

gratis; / quid pretii sperare licet? quae dona reporto?). Alphus counters in 4.84-85 that a song

he knows also warrants payment (quas referes grates? et quid mercedis habebo?). In

Mantuanus’s fifth eclogue, Silvanus requests a song from Candidus, a shepherd-poet who refuses

to perform until duly compensated: “Whenever I sing, I grow thirsty; but no one extends cups to

thirsty me” (cum cecini, sitio; sitienti pocula nemo / porrigit). Candidus later explains that his

poverty prevents him from properly maintaining his shepherd’s pipe (fistula). Uncompensated

performance compromises the future of song.

An exchange of songs that, at first blush, seems relaxed and inspired by a locus amoenus also

comes with strings attached. In the opening lines of the first poem in the collection, Fortunatus

notes the ideal pastoral surroundings and suggests to Faustus that they together recount their

former loves (antiquos paulum recitemus amores, 1.1-2). He clarifies the proposal in the

subsequent verses: they should sing to stave off sleep and, in so doing, remain watchful for

threats to the flock (1.3-5). Even this first song must not be sung for its own sake.

In my conclusion, I consider the potential impact of Mantuanus’s “commodification” of poetic

song on other features of his pastoral. If songs deserve a paying audience, then a more basic

implication is that songs deserve an audience. Perhaps this is why the dramatic monologues that

constitute half of Vergil’s collection are absent from the Adulescentia. In a collection comprising

exclusively dramatic dialogues, the fifth and tenth eclogues are the nearest Mantuanus comes to

agonistic poetic competitions. But Mantuanus’s hexametric disputes never shift from external

debates to internal, refereed amoebaean exchanges, like those of Eclogue 3 and Idyll 6. I thus

propose that the most startling effect of Baptista Mantuanus’s revaluation of poetic song in his

Adulescentia is that his eclogues cease to be, at least in the Vergilian sense, poems about poetry.

Session/Panel Title:

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

Session/Paper Number

44.3

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