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  • The Virgilian Pastoral Tradition: From the Renaissance to the Modern Era
  • Anthony DiMatteo
Nancy Lindheim . The Virgilian Pastoral Tradition: From the Renaissance to the Modern Era. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2005. xiv + 378 pp. index. append. bibl. $60. ISBN: 0–8207–0372–9.

This book performs important critical work by identifying and exploring pastoral not as a place or phase but as an ages-old ethos and style of living and writing. Compassion, pity, hospitality, and community are its principle themes and aspirations. This is Lindheim's major finding based on her close reading of Virgil's Eclogues (especially 1 and 9) and its varying influences upon Longus, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, and Beckett, with six of seven chapters given to the Renaissance poets. Both as genre or formal "song" (treated in her first three chapters), and as malleable "story" (in her last four), pastoral "suspends" oppositions and "strips away" the superfluous to reveal what is basic to humanity, to use Lindheim's often repeated verbs for what she says pastorals do. Over the long centuries pastoral emerges fully as "a tool to think with" (13), making distinctions and antagonisms of social class, birth, wealth, court, and country appear less relevant to consideration of what our human kind is. Its stripped down version of ourselves encourages readers to see how we are all shepherd-custodians of the earth and of each other, as the fortunate shepherd Tityrus's offer of hospitality to the state-dispossessed goatherd Meliboeus indicates right from the start — and foundation — of Virgil's rota in Eclogue 1. In this way, pastoral, especially in these our own aporetic times where great poverty and abundance often exist at elbow's length, "remains open to use" (13), entertaining "possibilities of counterpointed meanings" (44) for the purpose of showing how we are linked together at the level of the body's sheepish needs. Pastoral names and encompasses a "whole binary compound" (10–11), prompting reflection and tolerance rather than judgment and exclusion. Of course, this idea of pastoral as representing the complex within the simple shows the deep influence of William Empson, and especially Paul Alpers, upon Lindheim's analysis — as she acknowledges, calling herself "a tiller" in their field (13).

Proving most fruitful is the idea of the pastoral as a project basically running the entire course of her selected poets' careers. This approach runs counter to the much more typical one that restricts pastoral to ideal landscapes, innocence (especially of childhood), and literary beginnings to which a maturing writer must bid farewell if the writing is to progress to higher, more adult forms of expression. This is clearly her book's most important critical furrow. Admittedly, some chapters are more successful than others in showing a wide relevance of pastoral to the value of literature and its various kinds, an ambitious claim for a genre and mode that routinely stresses its own humbleness and uncouth style. The book's unevenness is not surprising, since it gathers old and new essays from Lindheim's lifelong scholarship on pastoral, with chapter 1 — drawn from two previous Spenser Studies articles — and chapter 3 — new with this book, on pastoral and georgic elements in "Lycidas" — her strongest ones, at least to this reader. Lindheim's impressive depth of detail earns her the right to say that in its relation to Virgil's Eclogues, The [End Page 964] Shepheardes Calender is "like a palimpsest where an earlier work has influenced the design of the overlaid text" (37). Her excellent "Lycidas" chapter shows how Milton learned from Virgil's complex self-presentation in the Eclogues and the Georgics a way to create a thick poetic voice that has a paradoxical "independent though authorial authenticity" (119).

Given the many passages of thoughtful explication throughout this book, it was surprising not to find in her Comus chapter a focus on why Milton so clearly invokes Virgil's Eclogue 1 by nominating "the soothest Shepherd" Meliboeus as the source for the tale of Sabrina. Also, her half-chapter on The Faerie Queene, book 6, faults Spenser for "turning away from pastoral," with Colin's Acidalian vision "lacking human participation" (152–53). More arguably, Colin's...


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