Lycidas: a Pastoral Image from Virgil

Lycidas is the most admired poem in the first edition of Milton's verse. It takes the form of a pastoral elegy on the death of a friend, distanced by being reset in ancient Greece with shepherds living in the idyllic province of Arcadia. The ultimate precedent for such poems about rural settings populated by shepherds is probably the Seventh Idyll of the Greek poet Theocritus, which describes students from the medical school on the Greek island of Kos, strolling through the countryside on their way to a farm festival, when they meet a shepherd who claims he is more artistically gifted than they, leading to a competition in poetic skills. However, Virgil's Eclogues later use a similar rural setting for a variety of episodes on various topics, and he also composed the Georgics about rural agriculture. His poems are popular models for neoclassical pastoral poets in the Renaissance and later. This painting evokes the classic elements of such pastoral verse, in a fifth century text of the Georgics, found in the Vatican Library in Rome.

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