Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Et In Arcadia Ego: Romanticism before the "Romantic Period"

The "Romantic" period (beginning somewhere between 1750 and 1800) was obviously a turning point in the history of Paganism. On this point there can be no reasonable doubt. But it is essential to understand the continuity between so-called Romanticism and cultural trends that were already well established long before Goethe started getting his Sturm und Drang on.

In fact, over four centuries before Messrs Guillotine and Robespierre teamed up, or whatever other historical marker you wish to choose for the beginnings of "Romanticism", there was a great flourishing of pastoralism starting way back at the first glimmerings of the Renaissance. Although these two terms, Romanticism and pastoralism, are infamous for meaning anything, everything and nothing, we can say quite specifically that pastoralism shares with Romanticism these two essential characteristics ("essential" that is, for understanding the role of both pastoralism and Romanticism in Pagan history): 1. a self-conscious orientation toward and emulation of the Pagan past, and 2. an equally self-conscious orientation toward and reverence for Nature. Pastoralism and Romanticism also share a common cast of characters and recurring themes, including especially: Arcadia, Pan, Sylvanus, Faunus, nymphs, satyrs, shepherds and shepherdesses.

A very specific feature often associated with Romanticism, and with English Romantic poetry in particular, is classicism, and this is also a core feature of pastoralism. That is, both pastoralism and Romanticism take their inspiration not just from the Paganism of the past generally, but from classical Greco-Roman Paganism in particular (although not exclusively so). At the same time, one of the things that distinguishes the Pagan-centricity of Romanticism from that of pre-Romantic pastoralism, is that Romanticism does tend to be both more broadly focused on Paganism generally, and at the same time more specifically focused on more "indigenous"/"national" forms of pre-Christian religion, all the while still betraying a significant classical orientation as well. It is interesting to note that in the case of Italy, where pastoralism first exerts itself as a major cultural force in the Trecento, this distinction is blurred to the point of nonexistence due to the confluence of Italian nationalism and Romanophilia.

This post will not go into any great detail about specific examples of pastoralism, which will hopefully be remedied in future posts. For now I will just give the briefest of overviews focusing on a few early highlights, and then following that I will simply list a number of significant examples of Paganizing pastoralism in chronological order.

During the Italian Trecento, Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio each authored important examples of pastoral poetry, taking their inspiration directly from Vergil's Eclogues (one of the classical pillars of pastoralism). Significantly, Sylvanus, the Roman God of the Woods (not to be confused with although often conflated with Pan), features quite prominently as the main character in one of Petrarch's Eclogues. The God Pan also made his presence felt in 15th century Florence. Lorenzo de' Medici himself composed a Platonizing Eclogue on "Pan and Apollo", and also commissioned the enigmatic painting "School of Pan" by Luca Signorelli. Poliziano and Naldi also composed Vergilian pastoral works dedicated to their "Magnificent" patron. Art historian Edith Balas has gone so far as to write that "Lorenzo, thoroughly imbued with the pagan spirit, founded a cult of Pan at Villa Carreggi, in which he identified the Florentine countryside as Arcady and his friends as shepherds." [Michelangelo's Medici Chapel: a new interpretation, p. 147]

A major event in Renaissance pastoralism was Jacques Amyot's 1559 French translation of Longus' Daphnis and Chloe. This quickly became a highly influenctial international literary sensation (and is now as much a fixture of French literature as the original is of Greek literature) and helped to increase even further the already significant popular interest in pastoral literature. George Thornely's 1656 English translation of Longus was based on Amyot's. It is worth mentioning that the God Pan is mentioned many dozens of times throughout this work. In Thornley's English translation Pan is mentioned explicitly fully 59 times, if we include Thornley's Introduction and Summaries.

English pastoralism dates back at least to  Alexander Barclay's 1514 Eclogues. Although not pastoral, Thomas Wyatt's 1530 (or so) poem, Mine Own John Poynz, is relevant because it praises Pan for surpassing Apollo in musicianship "many fold". But English pastoralism really only comes into full bloom with the ascension to King Edward's Chair of Elizabeth I (who reigned from 1558 to 1603). One of the more memorable episodes of Elizabethan pastoralism is the semi-legendary performance of the courtier/poet George Gascoigne when he, or so the story goes, delivered a verse oration to the Queen "clad like unto Sylvanus, God of the Woods," according to a contemporary account. Pastoral themes also appear in the works of Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare and many other writers of the day. This trend certainly appears to peak with Elizabeth and then to recede after her, although notable examples of pastoralism are still to come by writers including John Milton and Alexander Pope.

Below are just a few of the highlights of pastoral literature and art prior to the year 1800. Special attention is given to English pastoral literature, and especially to literature in which Arcadia and/or one or more of the Gods Pan, Sylvanus and Faunus play prominent roles. Many of the authors in question are far from obscure, such as Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Ben Johnson and John Milton.

Some significant examples of pastoral literature prior to 1800

ca. 1319 Eclogues, Dante  (Latin)
1357 Bucolicum Carmen, Petrarch  (Latin)
1367 Bucolicum Carmen, Boccaccio  (Latin)
ca. 1465 Apollo and Pan, Lorenzo de' Medici (1449-1492)  (Italian)
ca. 1480 Orfeo, Poliziano   (Italian)
1504 Arcadia, Jacopo Sannazaro  (Italian)
1514 Eclogues, Alexander Barclay  (English)
ca. 1530 Mine Own John Poynz, Sir Thomas Wyatt  (English)
1554 Menina e moça, Bernadim Ribeiro (Portuguese)
1559 Daphnis and Chloe, French translation by Jacques Amyot (French)
ca. 1559 Diana, Jorge de Montemor  (Spanish)
1575 Princely Pleasures at Kenilworth Castle, George Gascoigne (English)
1579 The Shepheardes Calendar, Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)   (English)
1579 Endymion, John Lyly (English)
ca. 1581 The Arraigment of Paris, George Peel  (English)
1590 The Fairie Queene, Edmund Spenser (English)
ca. 1590 The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, Christopher Marlowe (English)
ca. 1590 Arcadia, Philip Sidney (English)
ca. 1590 Renunciation, Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford (English)
ca. 1593 A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare  (English)
ca. 1599 As You Like It, William Shakespeare   (English)
1600  Faunus and Meliflora, John Weever  (English)
1605 The Queene's Arcadia, Samuel Daniel (English)
1605 Don Quixote, Cervantes (Spanish)
1607 L'Orfeo, Claudio Monteverdi (Italian)
1608 The Faithful Shepherdess, John Fletcher (English)
1616 To Penshurst, Ben Johnson ("Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made') (English)
1637 Et In Arcadia Ego, Nicholas Poussin (painting, French)
1645 Lycidas John Milton  (English)
1656 Daphne and Chloe, George Thornley's English translation
1667 Paradise Lost, John Milton 
1683 Venus and Adonis, John Blow
1709 Pastorals, Alexander Pope
1714 The Sphepherd's Week John Gay
1717 L'Embarquement pour Cythere, Antoine Watteau (painting, French)
1725 The Gentle Shepherd, Allan Ramsay
1728 Beggar’s Opera, A Newgate Pastoral, John Gray
1752 Le devin du village ("The Village Soothsayer"), Jean-Jacques Rousseau
1772 Arcadia, A Pastoral Poem, William Jones
1788 Morning Dream, William Cowper