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Lifeguard Not on Duty: Water as Pastoral Danger in Sannazaro's Ovidian Salices

Charles McNamara

Jacopo Sannazaro (1459-1530), one of the foremost Neapolitan humanist poets, is recognized as an innovator in pastoral poetry for his

integration of the Italian seascape into his Piscatory Eclogues . Sannazaro himself calls attention to his novel use of water in his fourth

Eclogue , where he announces that he "was the first to bring down [the Muse of the seashore] to the salty waves, daring to risk their

dangers in an untested bark" (salsas deduxi primus ad undas / ausus inexperta tentare pericula cymba , IV.19-20). Sannazaro's interest in

the threatening seascape, however, is not limited to his Piscatoriae . He similarly explores the danger of water in a minor poem, the Salices ,

by blending pastoral tropes with an Ovidian narrative of transformation.

The Salices , a tale of the Nymphs' transformation into willow trees, begins with imagery familiar to readers of pastoral poetry. After

introductory remarks to the poem's addressee, Sannazaro describes a serene setting, evocative particularly of Vergil's Eclogue  2: heat,

cicadas, groves, alder trees, and rivulets (Putnam, xxi). But he soon departs from the tropes of bucolic and turns his attention to the

dangers of the countryside through the lens of Ovid's Metamorphoses . The Nymphs, whom the Satyrs invite to join their dances, recall

Daphne's "tribulations" (labores , 27) and Syrinx's "misfortunes" (fata , 29). Sannazaro, through these Ovidian recollections, reminds his

readers that "the pastoral world does not necessarily evoke an irresponsible golden age nor do its characters inhabit a sheltered pleasance

or locus amoenus " (Kennedy, 28).

Sannazaro's repeated mentions of water foreshadow and highlight the latent dangers of this pastoral landscape, dangers which he

underscores through Ovidian narrative. The Satyrs invite the Nymphs to leave their "green ilex" (viridis ilex  , 25) and to "come to the

riverbank" (succedite ripae , 40). When the Nymphs agree to join their soon-to-be captors, they move "with hastening step through the

moist meadows, and they at last approach the lustful gods and the riverbank" (gressuque per uda citato / prata, deis tandem cupidis,

ripaeque propinquant  , 58-59). As the Satyrs turn from their festive dancing with the Nymphs to rapacious lust, the Nymphs try to escape

but there is "no road to safety'' (via nulla salutis , 84).

In their panic, the Nymphs approach the water and call upon the help of the river god Sarnus and his attendant Naiads, recalling Daphne's

entreaty to the river god Peneus in Ovid's Metamorphoses  (I.545-546). Sarnus and his Naiads, however, are unable to come to the aid of

the Nymphs: "iron fate stands opposed and the laws of hard adamant remain unbending" (ferrea contra / stant fata, et duro leges

adamante rigescunt  , 93-94). The desperate Nymphs "yearn to make an end" (finem optant  , 98) by drowning themselves, but they are

thwarted in their attempted suicide and instead transform into willow trees. These pastoral waters, both a site of amorous peril and an

impotent source of aid, themselves become a danger from which the Nymphs must be saved.

Session/Panel Title:

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

Session/Paper Number

44.4

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