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Sannazaro’s Pastoral Seascape

Joshua Patch

University of Dallas

In this paper I will offer a formal analysis of several of Jacopo Sannazaro’s Piscatoriae Eclogae, concentrating on the features of the eclogues’ poetic seascape. My aim is to grasp the significance of Sannazaro’s transposition of pastoral from land to sea, beyond the apparent drive of Neo-Latin authors to “outdo” classical authors “by introducing new uses and forms of literary genres” (Grant 117). Not only is Sannazaro’s pastoral seascape integral to his poetic content in a way that transcends mere novelty, but it also disrupts normal pastoral convention. The sea in the Piscatoriae is a pasture, but also a dangerous wilderness. For Lycidas it is an impossible fantasy to transform into an “incola ponti,” with “mutato corpore” (Pisc. I.47, 48). The bay shelters the equivalent of flocks, but also strange monsters--“informes horrenti corpore phocas” (I.75). Ever present is the notion that, despite the fisherman’s vocation, the sea is not man’s natural setting.

This incongruity of setting, foreign to pastoral in the Virgilian strain, is not lost on later readers of Sannazaro. Samuel Johnson found the seascape unsuitable for pastoral, given that, “[t]o all the inland inhabitants of every region, the sea is only known as an immense diffusion of waters, over which men pass from one country to another, and in which life is frequently lost” (Rambler 36). The sea presents a blank--and perhaps a threat--to the land-dwelling imagination. William Kennedy, who emphasizes the allegorical “other world” operative in the pastoral landscape (30), notes that “[w]ith Sannazaro this ‘other’ world nearly collapses into a realistic rendering of the Neapolitan landscape” (153). Though Kennedy ultimately finds “a balance between the inner and outer worlds” in the Piscatoriae (ibid.), the specificity of the Neapolitan coastline runs counter to Virgil’s conventional bucolic environment.

I wish to argue that the setting of the Piscatoriae--and the attendant focus on piscatores rather than pastores--alters the allegorical effect of pastoral convention specifically by putting distance between the human characters and their domain. Drawing on Kennedy’s observation that the pastoral environment facilitates “reassessment, vision, and prophecy, often about literature itself” (28), I will argue that the partial incongruity of the seascape for its fisherman-poet denizens reflects a difficulty in poetic perception. Specifically for Sannazaro himself as humanist and reconstitutor of an ancient literary mode, the environment of poetry becomes foreign and obscure, and the task of poetry consequently more like fishing than tending flocks.

By combined close analysis of Sannazaro’s language and inquiry into the tradition he received, I will argue for his piscatory innovation as a meaningful addition to, rather than a displacement of, the pastoral genre.

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Neo-Latin in a Global Context: Current Approaches

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