Eclogues 1 - Does Meliboeus go to tea?

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jacknoutch
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Eclogues 1 - Does Meliboeus go to tea?

Post by jacknoutch »

I've been reading the Eclogues recently, and noted that Tityrus' final section at the end of the first Eclogue is sometimes translated and interpreted as an invitation. This doesn't seem right to me, however, and I wanted to ask you good folk for opinions.

The passage is either 1.79-82 or 80-83 depending on the edition:
Hic tamen hanc mecum poteras requiescere noctem
fronde super viridi
: sunt nobis mitia poma,
castaneae molles, et pressi copia lactis;
et iam summa procul villarum culmina fumant,
maioresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae.
Greenough's translation (as given on Perseus) of the bold passage: "Yet here, this night, you might repose with me, on green leaves pillowed..." In a 1990 article on this very passage, Christine Perkell interprets "Tityrus' invitation" as being made sincerely.

My understanding, however, is that no invitation is actually offered. The force of poteras requiescere, I believe, is a sort of counterfactual - "you might have rested". Fairclough in the Loeb translates is this way: "Yet this night you might have rested here with me on the green leafage..."

I've checked in Gildersleeve and Lodge, where this use of the imperfect is called a "tense of disappointment" (section 254 Remark 2): "sometimes used in [modal-like verbs] to denote opposition to a present state of things: dēbēbam - I ought (but do not); poterās - you could (but do not). These may be considered as conditionals in disguise."

I don't have any commentaries on the Eclogues to see if there's any discussion on the matter. If anyone does, I'd be obliged if you could have a look for me...?

It's an important point because it determines whether or not Tityrus ends the poem in a sympathetic mood to Meliboeus or not. I have generally found Tityrus a disrespectful character, though I like Perkell's view that Meliboeus is something too much of a dreamer to be taken over-seriously. Like so many of the Eclogues, the abrupt opening and ending allow space for the reader to supply interpretation to make sense of the dialogue. But if I am right, then we should reject that Tityrus does invite Meliboeus, and that instead, his description of an expected feast is a sort of taunt or ridicule.

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seneca2008
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Re: Eclogues 1 - Does Meliboeus go to tea?

Post by seneca2008 »

Seems some unanimity in the two commentaries I have.

Clausen :

" 79· poteras: in effect a polite invitation; cf. Ov. Met. 1 . 678-9 'at tu, I quisquis es, hoc poteras mecum considere saxo'. Possibly V. was thinking of Polyphemus' invitation to Galatea, Theocr. I I . 44 " ἅδιον ἐν τὤντρῳ παρ᾽ ἐμὶν τὰν νύκτα διαξεῖς." 'you will pass the night more pleasantly in the cave with me'. "

Coleman

" 79. Like Ecl. 2, 6, 9, 10 the poem ends with nightfall. Titryus' callousness finally melts and his belated offer of hospitality brings Meliboeus at least temporary securitas. The form of the invitation perhaps recalls Polyphemus' offer to Galatea .... - an unprecedented symptom of love in the inhospitable monster. The imperfect poteras properly implies an unreal condition: "you could have, had you wishes", but it is used to make a somewhat apologetic invitation at Hor. S. 2.1.16, Ov. M. 1.679" "

I dont really take any of these characters seriously and smile rather at their naivety. The poems seem more concerned with poetics than politics (or indeed politeness!).
Persuade tibi hoc sic esse, ut scribo: quaedam tempora eripiuntur nobis, quaedam subducuntur, quaedam effluunt. Turpissima tamen est iactura, quae per neglegentiam fit. Et si volueris attendere, maxima pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, magna nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus.

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Re: Eclogues 1 - Does Meliboeus go to tea?

Post by mwh »

Even though not technically framed as such I’d say it’s definitely best read as an invitation, a final offer of hospitality at least potentially resolving the situational tension between the two of them that’s prevailed in the poem up until this twist-in-the-tail close. It’s literally “You could (if you wished),” with no “but you don’t” implied. “Disappointment” would only apply in case of rejection. “You could come spend the night with me” is less crude than “Let’s spend the night together” but that's the only effective difference.
But you’re right jack that it’s not expressed unambiguously. The import of what is grammatically a mere statement of fact depends on the sensibility of the reader,, and your sensibility may differ.

Does Meliboeus go to tea? We’re not told, but it’s satisfying to think so.

Unlike Meliboeus’ carmina nulla canam (77) it has none of the metapoetic resonance that we’re now attuned to in Hellenistic-Augustan poetry, but rather that delicate subtlety that distinguishes the Eclogues. Or that’s how it strikes me. To seneca2008 the poems and I expect all poems “seem more concerned with poetics than politics (or indeed politeness!)." It’s inevitably true that all poems are concerned with poetics, and thanks to Theocritus the Eclogues positively ooze intertextuality, but both politics and politeness are at issue in this poem. And as for smiling at the characters’ naivety, we might smile at the naivety of such a response.
[P.S. To clarify: seneca is anything but naive, but occasionally I like to tease him, knowing he'll take it in the spirit intended.]

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seneca2008
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Re: Eclogues 1 - Does Meliboeus go to tea?

Post by seneca2008 »

Well you would all be very welcome to take tea with me.

I was thinking as I often do of something musical: The Wolf settings of the Italienisches Liederbuch. All those peasants getting amorous under the hot sun, totally unable to control their emotions. Oh how we smiled... Well perhaps not in this poem but I miss the Roman sun and its spell has left me confused.

We have quite a Mise en abyme here as you look at me naively looking at their naivety. Perhaps I should hand mirrors round?
Persuade tibi hoc sic esse, ut scribo: quaedam tempora eripiuntur nobis, quaedam subducuntur, quaedam effluunt. Turpissima tamen est iactura, quae per neglegentiam fit. Et si volueris attendere, maxima pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, magna nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus.

jacknoutch
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Re: Eclogues 1 - Does Meliboeus go to tea?

Post by jacknoutch »

mwh wrote: Wed Oct 14, 2020 5:11 pm Even though not technically framed as such I’d say it’s definitely best read as an invitation, a final offer of hospitality at least potentially resolving the situational tension between the two of them that’s prevailed in the poem up until this twist-in-the-tail close. It’s literally “You could (if you wished),” with no “but you don’t” implied. “Disappointment” would only apply in case of rejection. “You could come spend the night with me” is less crude than “Let’s spend the night together” but that's the only effective difference.
Ok, this makes sense, and I am open to accepting that my rendering may be too literal; it sounds as though there is some play in the pragmatics of the expression. I shall look up the Ovid and Horace (many thanks for the extracts, Seneca) and look for other examples. It's an interesting construction, and it feels like Vergil wished for an optative along with his other Graecisms.

I ought to add to our analytical "P"s for the poems. It was not so much poetics or politics, but performance which was in my mind when I was rereading the Eclogues, though I find more than enough room for both of the former throughout. Where reading to oneself allows for the kind of play in characterisation we've already described, reading it aloud in recitation or even acting the poems out (as seems to me moderately likely to have happened) requires some kind of directorial choice. I suppose I'm trying to work out for myself where those choices have to be made and what possibilities there are for the Arcadian characters.

Between the smiles of you two contenders, I am not fit to judge however. But if you were to sing in amoebeans, I do not doubt I would award you both with a cow, a cup, or some polished mirror to crown your subtle analysis.

Thanks both for your thoughts.

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Re: Eclogues 1 - Does Meliboeus go to tea?

Post by mwh »

Yes, the comparison passages are helpful. (And not an optative in sight.)

“Performance”—always an interesting question, one invited by the dialogic form itself. Think Plato, Herondas, Senecan tragedy, etc. etc. if the Eclogues, why not Theocritus, played by people putting on Doric accents as fake as the dialect itself? For the Eclogues, do we want musical rustic hexameter singers (plus perhaps an operatic setting with springs and pine trees and sound effects to match)? Or just recitation by a number of different readers? Or is the whole thing a literary artifact without actualization—a fallacy? I’d opt for the last myself.

The mirror goes to seneca. I’ll take the wine-cup. (Wot, no wine?) You can keep the cow.

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