The Arcadian landscape was originally developed in Vergil to transcend an actual landscape and identify with an idealized setting temptingly abstract in order to serve as a metaphor for the redesigned pastoral genre as promoted in the Eclogues. Vergil’s Arcadia as described in Eclogue 4, for the first time in Latin literature, was a construction, a literary topos and a symbol of innovative poetics, but also of Roman history and contemporary politics interfused. Vergil’s Arcadia was an imaginary landscape. This utopia becomes — in full awareness of Vergil’s literary contemporaries and the poets following after them — an appropriate setting for the staging of imaginary literary dialogues between shepherds-poets, and the changing poetics is reflected on the changes of the archetypal landscape of the original Arcadia topography. These changes appear first in Tibullus (in selected passages from 1. 1, 1. 3, 1. 5, 1. 7, 1. 10, 2. 1, 2. 3 and 2. 5) and recur in new forms in Propertius, Horace and Ovid. The progress of transformation evidences Arcadia’s ability to observe the rules of different generic environments and anticipates the propagation of the particularly literary topos across the centuries, as a multi-leveled symbol of poetics, aesthetics and politics.
The placement of Helenus, the Trojan seer, near the end of Pythagoras’ speech in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 15, humorously comments on the Augustan projection of Rome’s predestined world conquest. In Metamorphoses 15, the philosopher Pythagoras casts himself in the light of the Vergilian Helenus. Among the various common characteristics Helenus and Pythagoras share outstanding is their metaliterary identity as conveyed in an interfusion of comprehensive knowledge, communication of uncontested truth but also adherence to deception: the Ovidian Pythagoras’ speech is ridden with inaccurate information and chronological fallacies, while Ovid’s Helenus is in fact the Vergilian Helenus, a confused individual who lives in the deceptive contentment of an a-chronic world of ghosts. By means of undermining the infallibility of prophesying through the lack of credibility of the prophet, Ovid undermines the standardization of the literary motif of epic prophecies about Rome’s world conquest, a much advertized theme in the various expressions of Augustan ideology of global conquest.
In the Western literary tradition the concept of the Golden Age and its identification with a special location is as old as the earliest poetic compositions, for it features prominently in the 8th c. BCE didactic epic Works and Days by the Greek poet Hesiod. Filtered through the sophisticated and poetically-determined poetry of the Alexandrians (Theocritus, Aratus), the Golden Age, now linked to an idyllic pastoral landscape, becomes the centerpiece, the common point of reference of all ten poems that comprise Vergil’s earliest work, the Eclogues. In Vergil’s pastoral art the Golden Age is identified with Arcadia, a location allegedly evoking the Greek area at the center of the Peloponnese, proverbial for its rusticity and shunning of civilization, and as a result, free of all pretention. The fashioning, significance and transformation of the Arcadia theme in literature, both ancient and later, and the evolution of the Augustan model, is the topic of the present volume, the structure and objectives of which are detailed in this introductory chapter.