Walter W. Greg.

Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama A Literary Inquiry, with Special Reference to the Pre-Restoration Stage in England online

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Che voi non foste degne ed onorate.
Ora mi dite, se vi contentate
Di star nell' alpe così poverelle? -

Più si contenta ciascuna di noi
Gire alla mandria, dietro alla pastura,
Più che non fate ciascuna di voi
Gire a danzare dentro a vostre mura;
Ricchezza non cerchiam, nè più ventura,
Se non be' fiori, e facciam ghirlandelle[41].

Other writers besides Sacchetti produced songs of the sort, but in all
alike the strictly pastoral element was accidental, and merged insensibly
into the more delicately romantic of the _novelle_ themes. The following
lines touch on a situation familiar in later pastoral and also found in
English ballad poetry. They are by Alesso Donati, a contemporary of
Sacchetti's. A nun sings:

La dura corda e 'l vel bruno e la tonica
Gittar voglio e lo scapolo
Che mi tien qui rinchiusa e fammi monica;
Poi teco a guisa d'assetato giovane,
Non già che si sobbarcoli,
Venir me n' voglio ove fortuna piovane:

E son contenta star per serva e cuoca,
Chè men mi cocerò ch' ora mi cuoca[42].

But if pastoralism made its appearance in the lyric, the lyric equally
influenced pastoral, for it is in the songs of the fifteenth century that
we first meet with that spirit of graceful melancholy sighing over the
transitoriness of earthly things, the germ of the _voluttà idillica_ of
the _Aminta_ and the _Pastor fido._ This vein is strong in Lorenzo's
charming carnival songs, which at once recall Villon's burden, 'Où sont
les neiges d'antan?' and anticipate Tasso's warning:

Cangia, cangia consiglio,
Pazzerella che sei;
Che il pentirsi dassezzo nulla giova.

The 'triumph' of _Bacchus and Ariadne_, introduced with amorous nymphs and
satyrs, has the refrain:

Quant' è bella giovinezza,
Che si fugge tuttavia!
Chi vuol esser lieto, sia:
Di doman non c' è certezza.

The flower of lyric melancholy is already full blown. So, too, in another
carnival song of his:

Or che val nostra bellezza?
Se si perde, poco vale.
Viva amore e gentilezza!

_Gentilezza, morbidezza_ - the yielding fancy in the disguise of pity, the
nerveless languor that passes for beauty - such is the dominant note of the
song upon men's lips in the troublous times of the renaissance[43].

Another of the outlying realms of pastoral is the mythological tale, more
or less directly imitated from Ovid. The first to introduce it in
vernacular literature was Boccaccio, who in his _Ninfale fiesolano_ uses
a pagan allegory to convey a favourite _novella_ theme. The shepherd
Affrico loves a nymph of Diana, and the tale ends by the goddess changing
her faithless votary into a fountain. It is written in somewhat cumbrous
_ottava rima_, and seldom shows any conspicuous power of narrative.
Belonging to the same class of composition, though of a very different
order of poetic merit, is Lorenzo's wonderfully graceful tale of _Ambra_.
The grace lies in the telling, for the plot was probably already stale
when Phoebus and Daphne were protagonists. The poem recounts how the
wood-nymph Ambra, beloved of Lauro, is pursued by the river-god Ombrone,
one of Arno's tributary divinities, and praying to Diana in her hour of
need, is by her transformed into a rock[44]. Lorenzo's _Selva d'amore_ and
_Caccia col falcone_ might also be mentioned in the same connexion.

Less pastoral in motive and less connected in narrative, but of even
greater importance in the formation of pastoral taste, is the famous
_Giostra_ written in honour of the young Giuliano de' Medici. I have
already more than once had occasion to mention its author, Angelo
Ambrogini, better known from the place of his birth as Poliziano or
Politian[45], the contemporary, dependent, and fellow-littérateur of
Lorenzo il Magnifico, and the greatest scholar and learned writer of the
Italian renaissance. As the author of the _Orfeo_ he will occupy our
attention when we come to trace the evolution of the pastoral drama.
Though he left no poems belonging to the recognized forms of pastoral
composition, his work constantly borders upon the kind, and evinces a
genuine sympathy with rustic life which makes the ascription to him of the
already quoted modernization of Sacchetti not inappropriate. He left
several other pieces of a similar nature, some of which at least are known
to be adaptations of popular songs[46]. Such, for instance, is the
irregular _canzone_ beginning:

La pastorella si leva per tempo
Menando le caprette a pascer fuora,
Di fuora, fuora: la traditora
Co' suoi begli occhi la m' innamora,
E fa di mezza notte apparir giorno.

The _Giostra_ is composed, like its predecessors, in the octave stanza,
and presents a series of pictures drawn from classical mythology or from
the poet's own imagination, adorned with all the physical beauty the study
of antiquity could supply and a rich and refined taste crystallize into
chastest jewellery of verse[47]. This blending of luxuriance and delicacy
is the characteristic quality of Poliziano's and Lorenzo's poetry. It is
admirably expressed in the phrase of a recent critic, 'the decorum of
things exquisite.' After the lapse of another half-century, during which
the renaissance advanced from its graceful youth to the full bloom of its
maturity, appeared the _Ninfa tiberina_ of Francesco Maria Molza. 'The
_voluttà idillica_[48],' writes Symonds, 'which opened like a rosebud in
the _Giostra_, expands full petals in the _Ninfa tiberina_; we dare not
shake them, lest they fall.' Like the earlier poem it possesses little
narrative unity - the taie of Eurydice introduced by way of illustration
occupies more than a third of the whole - but every point is made the
occasion of minute decoration of the richest beauty. It was written for
Faustina Mancina, a celebrated courtesan, whose empire lay till the day of
her death over the papal city. The wealth of sensuality and wit that made
a fatal seduction of Rome for Molza, scholar and libertine, is reflected
as it were in the rich cadences and overwrought adornment of his verse.
Such compositions as these had a powerful influence over the tone of
idyllic poetry. I have mentioned only a few out of a considerable list.
The _Driadeo d'amore_ earlier - a mythological medley variously ascribed in
different editions to Luca and to Luigi Pulci - and Marino's _Adone_ later,
were likewise among the works that went to form the courtly taste to which
the pastoral drama appealed. The detailed criticism, however, of such
compositions lies beyond the scope of this work.


We must now return to an earlier period in order to follow the development
of the pastoral romance. When dealing with _Daphnis and Chloe_ I pointed
out that the Greek work could claim no part in the formation of the later
prose pastoral. Between it and the work of Boccaccio and Sannazzaro there
exists no such continuity of tradition as between the bucolics of the
classical Mantuan and those of his renaissance follower. The Italian
pastoral romance, in spite of its almost pedantic endeavour after
classical and mythological colouring, was as essentially a product of its
age as the pastoral drama itself. So far as any influence on the evolution
of the subsequent Arcadia was concerned, Longus might as well never have
written of the pastures of Lesbos. Indeed, were we here concerned in
assigning to its historical source each particular trait in individual
works, rather than in tracing the general development of an idea, it would
be casier to distinguish a faint and slightly cynical reminiscence of
_Daphnis and Chloe _ in the _Aminta_ and _Pastor fido_ than in the _Ameto_
or the _Arcadia_.

In his pastoral romance, 'Ameto, ovvero Commedia delie ninfe fiorentine,'
Boccaccio set a fashion in literature, namely the intermingling for
purposes of narration of prose and verse[49], in which he was followed a
century and a half later by Pietro Bembo, the Socrates of Castiglione's
renaissance Symposium, in his dialogue on love entitled _Gli Asolani_, and
by Jacopo Sannazzaro in his still more famous _Arcadia_. The _Ameto_ is
one of Boccaccio's early compositions, written about 1341, after his
return from Naples, but before he had gained his later mastery of
language. It is not unfairly characterized by Symonds as 'a tissue of
pastoral tales, descriptions, and versified interludes, prolix in style
and affected with pedantic erudition.' It is, however, possible to
underrate its merits, and it would be easy to overlook its historical
importance. Ameto is a rude hunter of the neighbourhood of Florence. One
day, while in the woods, he discovers a company of nymphs resting by a
stream, and overhears the song of the beautiful Lia. His rough nature is
touched by the sweetness of the music and he falls in love with the
singer. Their meetings are interrupted by the advent of winter, but he
finds her again at the feast of Venus, when shepherds, fauns, and nymphs
forgather at the temple of the goddess. In this company Lia proposes that
each of the nymphs present, seven in number, shall narrate the story of
her love. This they in turn do, each ending with a song of praise to the
gods; and Ameto feels his love burn for each in turn as he listens to
their tales. When the last has ended a sudden brightness shines around and
'there descended with wondrous noise a column of pure flame, even such as
by night went before the Israelitish people in the desert places,' Out of
the brightness cornes the voice of Venus:

Io son luce del cielo unica e trina,
Principio e fine di ciascuna cosa,
Del quai men fù, nè fia nulla vicina.

Ameto, though half blinded by the heavenly effulgence, sees a new joy and
beauty shine upon the faces of the nymphs, and understands that the
flame-shrouded presence is that, not of the wanton _mater cupidinum_, but
of the goddess of divine fire who comes to reveal to him the mysteries of
love. Cleansed of his grosser nature by a baptismal rite, in which each of
the nymphs performs some symbolic ceremonial, he feels heavenly love
replacing human in his heart, and is able to bear undazzled the radiance
of the divine purity. He salutes the goddess with a song:

O diva luce, quale in tre persone
Ed una essenza il ciel governi e 'l mondo
Con giusto amore ed eterna ragione,
Dando legge alle stelle, ed al ritondo
Moto del sole, principe di quelle,
Siccome discerniamo in questo fondo[50].

Various interpretations have been suggested for this work, with its
preposterous mixture of pagan and Christian motives. This peculiarity,
which we have already met with in Boccaccio's eclogues, and in his
_Ninfale fiesolano_, was indeed one of the most persistent as it was one
of the least admirable characteristics of pastoral composition. Francesco
Sansovino, who edited the _Ameto_ in 1545, discovered real personages
underlying the characters of the romance. Fiammetta is introduced by name,
and her lover Caleone can hardly be other than Boccaccio. More recent
commentators are probably right in detecting an allegorical intention. The
seven nymphs, according to them, represent the four cardinal and three
theological virtues, and their stories are to be interpreted symbolically.
This view derives support from the baptismal ceremony, in which after the
public lustration one of the nymphs removes the scales from Ameto's eyes,
while another, 'breathing between his lips, kindled within him a flame
such as he had never felt before.' In these ministrants it is not
difficult to recognize the virtues respectively of faith and love. Ameto
may be taken as typical of humanity, tamed of its savage nature by love,
and through the service of the virtues led to the knowledge of the divine
essence. The conception of love as a civilizing and humanizing power
already underlay the sensuous stanzas of the _Ninfale fiesolano_, while
the later part of the romance was not uninfluenced by recollections of the
_Divine Comedy_[51]. It is true that a modern mind will with difficulty be
able to reconcile the amorous confessions of the nymphs with the
characteristics of the virtues, but in Boccaccio's day the tradition of
the _Gesta Romanorum_ was still strong, and the age that mysticized
Vergil, and moralized Ovid, was capable of much in the way of allegorical

The point to which this allegorical interpretation can legitimately be
carried need not trouble us here. Having set himself to characterize the
virtues, it is moreover likely enough that Boccaccio sought at the same
time to connect his figures more or less definitely with actual persons.
It is sufficient for our present purpose if we recognize in the _Ameto_
something of the same triple intention which, not to put too fine a
metaphysical point upon the parallel, we meet with in Dante and in the
_Faery Queen_. Having fashioned in accordance with these motives the
framework of his book, Boccaccio further concerned himself but little with
this philosophical intention, and the allegorical setting having served
its artistic purpose of linking them together into one connected whole, it
was upon the detail of the narratives themselves that the author's
attention was concentrated. It is, however, just in this artistic purpose
of the setting that one of the chief interests of the _Ameto_ lies; for if
in the mingling of verse and prose it is the forerunner of the _Arcadia_,
in the linking together of a series of isolated stories it anticipates
Boccaccio's own _Decameron_.

While there is little that is distinctly bucolic about the _Ameto_, the
atmosphere is eminently pastoral in the wider sense. Nymphs and shepherds,
foresters and fauns meet at the temple of Venus; the limpid fountains and
shady laurels belong essentially to the conventional landscape, whether of
Sicily, of Arcadia, or of the hills overlooking the valley of the Arno.
The Italian imagination was not careful to differentiate between field and
forest: _favola boschereccia_ was used synonymously with _commedia
pastorale_; _drammi dei boschi_ is a term which covers the whole of the
pastoral drama. But what really gives the _Ameto_ its importance in the
history of pastoral literature is the manner in which, undisturbed by its
religions and allegorical machinery, it introduces us to a purely sensual
and pagan paradise, in which love with all its pains and raptures reigns

The narratives of the nymphs, and indeed the whole of the prose portions
of the work, are composed in a style of surcharged and voluptuous beauty,
congested with lengthy periods, and accumulated superlatives and relative
clauses, which, in its endeavour to maintain itself and its subject at the
highest possible pitch, only succeeds in being intensely and almost
uniformly monotonous and dull. It is perfectly true that the work
possesses some at least of the qualities of its defects. There are
passages which argue a feeling for beauty, none the less real for being of
a somewhat conventional order, while we not seldom detect a certain rich
luxuriance about the descriptions; but it must be admitted that on the
whole the style exhibits most of Boccaccio's faults and few of his merits.
The verse interspersed throughout is in _terza rima_, and offers small
attraction to the ordinary reader: 'meschinissima cosa' is a verdict
which, if somewhat severe, will probably find few to contradict it.

In a certain passage, speaking of Poliziano's _Orfeo_, Symonds remarks
that 'while Arcady became the local dreamland of the new ideal, Orpheus
took the place of its hero.' Without inquiring too closely how far the
writers of the renaissance actually connected the hero of music, as a
power of civilization, with their newly discovered country, it is
interesting to note that the earliest work in the Italian language
containing in however amoebean a state the pastoral ideal opens with an
allusion to Orpheus.

Quella vertù, che già l'ardito Orfeo
Mosse a cercar le case di Plutone,
Allor che forse lieta gli rendeo
La cercata Euridice a condizione,
E dal suon vinto dell' arguto legno,
E dalla nota della sua canzone,
Per forza tira il mio debile ingegno
A cantar le tue Iode, o Citerea,
Insieme con le forze del tuo regno[53].

Orpheus, however, does not stand alone. Venus, Phoebus, Mars, Cupid, and
finally Jove, are each in turn invoked, to say nothing of the incidental
mention of Aeneas, Mirra, and Europa. This love of mythology in and out of
season is one of the most prominent features of the work. One of the
nymphs describes her youth in the following words:

il padre mio .... visse eccellentissimo ne' beni pubblici tra' reggenti,
e de' beni degli iddii copioso: me a lui donata da loro, nominò Mopsa, e
vedentemi nella giovanetta età mostrante già bella forma, ai servigi
dispose di Pallade, la quale me benivola ricevente nelle sante grotte
del cavallo Gorgoneo, tra le sapientissime Muse commise, là dov' io
gustai l'acque Castalie, e l'altezza di Cirra tentante, le stelle cercai
con ferma mano; e i pallidi visi, quelli luoghi colenti, sempre con
riverenza seguii; e molte volte sonando Apollo la cetera sua, lui nel
mezzo delle nove Muse ascoltai[54].

She continues for pages in the same strain with illustrative allusions to
Caius Julius, Claudius, and Britannicus.

At the risk of devoting to the _Ameto_ an altogether disproportionate
amount of the space at my disposai I must before passing on attempt to
give some notion of the kind of narrative contained in the romance, all
the more so as it is little known except to students. With this object I
have translated a characteristic passage from the tale of Agape[55].

I came from my home nigh unto the temple, before whose altars, with due
devotion, I began thus to pray: 'O Venus, full of pity, sacred goddess
whose altars I am joyful to approach, lend thou thy merciful ears unto
my prayer; for I come to thee a young girl, though fairly fashioned yet
ill-starred in love, fearful lest my empty years lead comfortless to a
chill old age; therefore, if my beauty merit that I be counted among thy
followers, enter thou into my breast who so desire thee, and grant that
in the love of a youth not unworthy of my beauty, and through whom my
wasted hours may be with delight made good, I may feel those fires of
thine which many times and endlessly I have heard praised.' I know not
whether while I was thus engrossed in prayer I fell on sleep, and
sleeping saw those things whereof I am about to tell, or whether,
indeed, I was rapt thence in bodily form to see them; all I can tell is
that suddenly I found myself borne through the heavens in a gleaming
chariot drawn by white doves, and that inclining my eyes to things below
I beheld the fruitful earth shrunk to a narrow room, and the rivers
thereof after the fashion of serpents; and after that I had left behind
the pleasant lands of Italy and the rugged mountains of Emathia, I
beheld the waters of the Dircean fount and the ancient walls raised by
the sound of Amphion's lyre, and soon there appeared to me the pleasant
Cytherean mount, and on it resting the holy chariots drawn by the
spotless birds. Whereon having alighted I went straying, alike uncertain
of the way and of the fortune that might await me, when, as to Aeneas
upon the Afric shore, so to me there amid the myrtles there appeared the
goddess I had invoked, and I was filled with wonder such as I had never
known before. She was disrobed except for the thinnest purple veil,
which hid but little of her form, falling in double curve with many
artful foldings over her left side; her face shone even as the sun, and
her head was adorned with great length of golden hair rippling down over
white shoulders; her eyes flashed with light never seen till then. Why
should I labour to tell the loveliness of her mouth and of her snowy
neck, of her marble breast and of her every part, since to do so lies so
far beyond my powers, and even where I able, hardly should my words gain
credence? But whereas she was now at hand I bowed my knees before her
godhead, and with such voice as I could command, repeated my petition in
her presence. She listened thereto, and approaching bade me rise,
saying, 'Follow me; thy prayer is heard, thy desire granted,' and
thereupon withdrew me to a somewhat loftier spot. There hidden amidst
the dense foliage she discovered to me her only son, upon whom gazing in
admiration, I found his beauty such that in all things did he appear
fashioned like unto her, except in so far as being he a god and she a
goddess. O how oft, remembering Psyche, I counted her happy and unhappy;
happy in the possession of such a husband, unhappy in his loss, most
happy in receiving him again from Jove. But even as I gazed, he, beating
the air with his sacred wings that gleamed with clearest gold, departed
with his load of newly fashioned arrows from those parts, and at the
bidding of the goddess I turned to the spring wherein he used to temper
his golden darts fresh forged with fiercest fire. Its silver waters,
gushing of themselves from the earth and shaded along the margin by a
growth of myrtle and dogwood, were neither violated in their purity by
the approach of bird or beast, nor suffered aught from the sun's
distemperature, and as I leaned forward to catch the reflection of my
own figure I could discern the clear bottom free from every trace of
mud[56]. The goddess, for that the hour was already hot, had doffed her
transparent veil and plunged her into the cool water, and now commanded
me that having stripped I too should enter the spring. We were yet
disporting ourselves in the lovely fountain, when, raising my head and
gazing with longing eyes around, I saw amid the leaves a youth, pale and
shy of appearance, who with slow steps was advancing towards the sacred
water. As I looked on him he was pleasant in my eyes, but that he should
behold me naked filled me with shame, and I turned away to hide my
unwonted blushes. And in like manner at the sight of me he too changed
colour and was troubled; he stayed his steps and advanced no further.
Then at the pleasure of the goddess leaving the water we resumed our
apparel, and crowned with myrtle sought a neighbouring glade, full of
finest grass and diapered with many flowers, where in the freshness we
stretched our limbs to rest. Thereupon the goddess, having called the
youth to us, began to speak in these words: 'Agape, most dear to me,
this youth, Apyros by name, whom thou seest thus shy amid our glades,
shall satisfy thy longing; but see that with care thou preserve
inviolate our fires, which in thy heart thou shalt bear with thee
hence.' I was about to make answer when my tender breast was of a sudden
pierced by the flying arrow loosed by the strong hand of the son of her
who added these unto her former words: 'We give him thee as thy first
and only servant; he lacks nought but our fires, which, kindled even now
by thee in him, be it thy care to nourish, that the frost that bound him
like to Aglauros being driven from his heart, he may burn with the
divine fire no less than father Jove himself.' She ceased; and I,
trembling yet with fear, no sooner opened my lips to assent to her
command, than I found myself once more in prayer before her altars;
whereat marvelling not a little, and casting my eyes around in search of
Apyros, I became aware of the golden arrow in my breast, and near me the
pale youth, his intent gaze fixed upon me, and like me wounded by the
god; and so seeing him inflamed with a passion no other than that which
burned in me, I laughed, and filled with contentment and desire, made
sign to him to be of hopeful cheer.

The advance in style that marks the transition from the _Ameto_ to the
_Arcadia_ must be largely accredited to Boccaccio himself. The language of
the _Decameron_ became the model of _cinquecento_ prose. Sannazzaro,
however, wrote in evident imitation not of the structural method only, but
of the actual style of the _Ameto_. Something, it is true, he added beyond
the greater mastery of literary form due to training. Even in his most
luxuriant descriptions and most sensuous images we find that grace and
clearness of vision which characterize the early poetry of the
Renaissance proper, and combine in literature the luminous purity of

Online LibraryWalter W. GregPastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama A Literary Inquiry, with Special Reference to the Pre-Restoration Stage in England → online text (page 4 of 43)