Calpurnius Siculus

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Nero (37—68 ad) Roman emperor 54–68

Claudius (10 bc — 54 ad) Roman emperor

Theocritus (c. 310—250 bc)

Campus Martius


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The author of seven pastorals, Calpurnius may be dated with reasonable security to the Neronian age. The crucial pieces of evidence are Eclogue 1. 75 ff., which seemingly allude to the comet that foretold Claudius' death and Nero's accession in ad 54, and Eclogue 7, which celebrates the construction of a wooden amphitheatre in the Campus Martius, and, almost certainly, the Munus Neronis (Neronian Games) which inaugurated it in 57. Nevertheless, attempts continue to ascribe Calpurnius to a later period, on internal, stylistic, metrical, and lexical grounds. Of the author's life virtually nothing is known: his cognomen Siculus may not refer to his homeland, but symbolize his debt to Theocritus. He is sometimes credited with the Laus Pisonis (‘Panegyric on Piso’).

Of the Eclogues, 1, 4, and 7 are court-poems, dealing in ascending chronological order with the early years of Nero's reign. All three contain extensive monologues. By contrast, 2, 3, 5, and 6 are in dialogue form, and are concerned with rustic matters of a more traditional kind. In 1, two shepherds, Ornytus and Corydon—who is generally identified with Calpurnius—discover verses inscribed by Faunus on the bark of a tree, prophesying a new golden age. In contrast to Calpurnius' model, Virgil Eclogue 4, the prophecy incorporates detailed references to contemporary politics. In 2, a shepherd and a gardener (an innovation in pastoral) sing without rancour of the love which they share for Crocale. Eclogue 3, which is structured around a parallel between a wayward woman and a wayward heifer, presents a contrasting view of love. In it Lycidas, an unpleasant personage as are several of Calpurnius' characters, attempts to recover the affections of Phyllis, whom he has beaten in a jealous rage. His pleas for forgiveness combine the roles of elegiac lover and shepherd-poet; he also exhibits resemblances to the elegist's bêtenoire, the dives amator or rich rival. Eclogue 4, the longest and most fulsome of the poems, celebrates the pacifying and fructifying effect which the divine Nero has had on rural life. Corydon's opening statement that the times are now more propitious for literary endeavour is balanced by a concluding plea for imperial patronage. Eclogue 5 reports old Micon's advice on how to keep sheep and goats. Both the subject-matter and the insistence on hard work are georgic rather than pastoral. In Eclogue 6 a singing-contest is, unusually, aborted by the extreme quarrelsomeness of the competitors, Lycidas and Astylus, who stake prizes of a most unpastoral kind. Eclogue 7 describes Corydon's bedazzlement at the Munus Neronis, and his resultant alienation from his rural existence.

Lindsay Cameron Watson

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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