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Serta Mihi Phyllis Legeret: Epigrammatic Echoes in Vergil's Eclogues

Edgar Adrián García

University of Washington

    In the final Eclogue, Gallus imagines a scenario where he, either as a shepherd of a flock or a dresser of ripened grapes, would receive the attention of Phyllis or Amyntas as he lays among the willows under a supple vine. In his longing to have been an Arcadian himself and expressing a desire for either Phyllis or Amyntas or any other passion, Gallus, as Coleman notes, "accepts the bisexuality of Arcady" (Coleman 1977). In doing so, Gallus turns to the two characters in the Eclogues that Hahn has labeled as "universal darlings" (Hahn 1944). Gallus proceeds to defend his love for Amyntas, despite Amyntas' dark skin, and does so by mentioning that violets and bilberries are dark as well. Gallus then says that he would lie under a supple vine among the willows and Phyllis would gather garlands for him and Amyntas would sing for him (serta mihi Phyllis legeret, cantaret Amyntas, Ecl. 10.41). 
    Coleman, Williams and Clausen make no comment on this last line detailing Phyllis and Amyntas' potential activities in Gallus' dream scenario (Coleman 1977, Williams 1979, Clausen 1994). Fabre-Serris notes that Phyllis' activity is significant, stating that "the weaving of garlands is a metaphor for poetic composition" and that serta mihi Phyllis legeret "results from an amalgamation of two successive actions: gathering the flowers and weaving them into garlands" (Fabre-Serris 2013). Fabre-Serris then states that the Latin word legere also means "to read" and proceeds to make an argument for reading certain themes and words of Gallus in Eclogue 10.
    In this paper, I take Fabre-Serris' claims that serta... legeret can refer to the weaving of garlands and that legere here could be construed as reading, but rather than reading Gallus' poetry, I will argue that serta... legeret can also mean that Gallus is imagining a scenario where Phyllis is reading garlands, that is, collections of epigrams, to him. The fact that Phyllis, whose name essentially means "foliage" in Greek, is the one reading the garlands to Gallus makes this reading more attractive. One is perhaps also invited to read legeret as "to read" in line 41 of Eclogue 10 by the juxtaposition between legeret and cantaret, as well as the placement of the caesura in the fourth foot of this line. Breed has discussed how the Eclogues highlight the distinction of speech and writing as two different manifestations of language and how they are characterized in different manners.
    Part one of the discussion focuses on the literary and mythological background of the Phyllis character, taking into account how she turned into a leafless almond tree as well as the authors who reference the story of Phyllis. Part two addresses the role that Phyllis plays in the Eclogues and the passages where Phyllis' name coincides with epigrammatic moments in the Eclogues. Among these passages, there will be an analysis of the aforementioned Gallus passage as well as the inscribed flower riddle from Eclogue 3. 
    In the conclusion, I will turn to the first three lines of Eclogue 10 where the narrator asks the nymph Arethusa to yield to him this last task: a few songs must be sung to his Gallus, songs which Lycoris herself might read (pauca meo Gallo, sed quae legat ipsa Lycoris, / carmina sunt dicenda. neget quis carmina Gallo?, Ecl. 10.2–3). Although the songs are to be sung by the narrator, he envisions them as at some point being written down and allows for the possibility for them to be read. The same pairing of singing a song and reading a poem that are present with Phyllis and Amyntas are present at the very beginning of the Eclogue.

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Latin Poetry

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