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The lark ascending: 'Corydon, Corydon' (Vergil, Ecl. 7.70).

At the end of the singing contest of Thyrsis and Corydon in the seventh Eclogue, the narrator Meliboeus summarizes its result in the poem's last lines (69-70):

haec memini, et victum frustra contendere Thyrsim:

ex illo Corydon Corydon est tempore nobis.

As many have observed, this conclusion plainly echoes the similar summary of the singing contest between Daphnis and Menalcas at the end of Theocritus Id. 8 (8.92): [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], `and from that day Daphnis was first amongst the herdsmen'. Commentators have debated the meaning of the repetition of the name at Ecl. 7.70, generally favouring one of two interpretations. The first interpretation is ably summarized by T. E. Page: `a peculiar way of saying "Corydon is peerless in our judgement", the name Corydon being substituted for an adj. expressing unrivalled merit'.(1) This has some virtue in having roughly the same sense as the Theocritean model, and in seeing that the second `Corydon' is most obviously interpreted as predicative, but fails to explain the particular emphasis on the name which the repetition imparts; there is no other evidence in the Eclogues or elsewhere that `Corydon' is synonymous with `supreme singer', and in the only other poem where Corydon's singing appears it is described as incondita, `unpolished' (2.4, admittedly at a point when the singer is distressed and perhaps not as competent as usual). The second is implicit in the translation of R. D. Williams: `ever since then it's Corydon, Corydon for us', i.e. `all we have heard since then is "Corydon, Corydon"'.(2) The name of the victor is repeated to celebrate the victory. This again seems difficult to parallel, even though Greek and Roman victory exclamations generally feature iteration of various terms.(3) Thus neither interpretation seems satisfactory: indeed, a recent scholar has suggested emendation as a solution, removing the first Corydon and conjecturing primus Corydon to match [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Theocritus.(4)

I should here like to propose a new interpretation which allows full weight to the proper name and explains its repetition. The name `Corydon', like a number of the names in the Eclogues,(5) is a `speaking name' with an obvious sense in Greek. [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Greek means `lark' (though as often in ancient ornithology there is some controversy amongst experts as to precisely which bird is meant(6)): that form of the name is found only at Aristotle, Hist. An. 609 a 7, but the commoner form, [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is found in Aristophanes and more particularly at Theocritus, Id. 7.141: [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] `larks and finches sang, the dove moaned', a Source which would naturally be familiar to Vergil. Though the song of the [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is not universally admired in antiquity,(7) this Theocritean context is plainly a locus amoenus, and the song of the various creatures is intended to be pleasant rather than the opposite. Corydon, then, has the name of a Greek bird which in at least some contexts is seen as a pleasant songbird. This is what explains the repetition of that name: `since that time Corydon (The Lark) has been the lark for us', i.e. Corydon has lived up to his name by his acknowledged expertise in singing.

(1) T. E. Page, P. Vergili Maronis Bucolica et Georgica (London, 1898), p. 155; this view is that adopted by W. Clausen, Virgil: Eclogues (Oxford, 1994), p. 232. Callimachus Ep. 51.8 Pf., [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] `without whom not even the Graces are Graces', adduced by Jeffrey Wills, Repetition in Latin Poetry. Figures of Allusion (Oxford, 1997), p. 53, would be syntactically similar, but of course the Graces are unlike Corydon in being already quasi-proverbially supreme in their own field. My interpretation clearly matches this one in regarding the second `Corydon' as predicative.

(2) R. D. Williams, Virgil. The Eclogues and Georgics (London, 1979), p. 121; this view is also that adopted by Robert Coleman, Vergil: Eclogues (Cambridge, 1977), p. 225.

(3) Cf. Wills, op. cit. (n. 1), pp. 58-60.

(4) S. J. Heyworth, PCPS n.s. 30 (1984), 73.

(5) Cf. J. J. O'Hara, True Names. Vergil and The Alexandrian Tradition of Etymological Wordplay (Ann Arbor, 1996), pp. 243-52, recording Greek etymological plays on the names Alexis at Ecl. 2.6, Scyllam at 6.74, Daphnide at 8.83, and Hylax at 8.107.

(6) For ornithological discussion see D'Arcy W. Thompson, A Glossary of Greek Birds(2) (Oxford, 1936), pp. 164-8, and F. Capponi, Ornithologia Latina (Genoa, 1979), pp. 47-50.

(7) For adverse verdicts cf. A.P. 9.380, 11.195; for a positive verdict cf. Marcellus, De Medicamentis 29.30 corydallus avis ... quae animos hominum dulcedine vocis oblectat.
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Title Annotation:Eclogue
Author:Harrison, S.J.
Publication:The Classical Quarterly
Date:Jan 1, 1998
Words:803
Previous Article:'Hebdomades' ('binae'?).
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