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Virgil's second eclogue depicts the shepherd Corydon's lament for the unrequited love of handsome Alexis. Even though Corydon recognizes the folly of his ardor, he cannot resist love. Though Byron pretended to think this poem "horrid" (Don Juan 1.42) because of its depiction of homoerotic love, Corydon's complaint, at once comic and profound, inspired numerous literary imitators.

Calpurnius Siculus (fl A.D. 50-60) imitated Theocritus' fifth idyll in his sixth eclogue, which figures a debate full of homoerotic jokes and connotations between the shepherds Astylus and Lycidas.

Nemesianus (late third century A.D.) followed in Virgil's footsteps with a tender eclogue that registers the equivalency of hetero- and homoerotic desire through a series of alternating speeches by Mopsus, whom the maiden Meroe shuns, and by Lycidas, whose love the young man Iollas spurns. As with numerous other pastorals about male-male attraction, the emphasis in Lycidas' speech is on the shortness of time and Iollas' physical maturation, a central concern of classical pederastic relations.

Medieval Pastorals of Homoerotic Yearning

Post-classical pastoral works generally avoid direct expressions of homoerotic passion and experience; they do, however, often maintain a homoerotic undercurrent through imitation of Greek and Roman prototypes. From 1318 to 1321, Dante (1265-1321) and a young scholar at Bologna, Giovanni del Virgilio, exchanged a brief series of Latin epistles in the form of pastoral eclogues that were instrumental in establishing the importance of pastoral for later European authors.

Virgilio began by writing to Dante, who was in exile at Ravenna, asking him to come live with him at Bologna. Eclogue I is Dante's reply. Styling himself as the shepherd Tityrus and his companion Dino Perini as Meliboeus, he refuses Virgilio's (Mopsus) suggestion by detailing the simple pastoral delights he and Perini possess: a humble cottage, a shared bed, and a warm meal.

Virgilio's Responsive Eclogue asks Dante not to afflict one who loves him, but to come and share his cavern. He invokes the homoerotic power of Virgil's second eclogue by saying he will have Corydon call Alexis to strew Dante's couch with fragrant thyme. In his concluding Eclogue II, Dante gives his final refusal of his admirer's entreaties, a predictable end to their Virgilian exchange.

Eclogue VIII of Petrarch's Bucolicum Carmen is a dialogue between two shepherds, Amyclas and Ganymede. The poem consists of an argument in which Ganymede attempts to persuade Amyclas, who has lived with Ganymede for twenty years, to remain in their pleasant valley. Allegorically, Amyclas represents Petrarch and Ganymede figures Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, whom Petrarch left at Vaucluse when he returned to Italy in November of 1347.

Ganymede's traditionally homoerotic identity underwrites his principal argument that Amyclas' departure would be an unjust abandonment of his loving shepherd comrades, and invites speculation on one of Petrarch's significant male relations.

English Pastorals of Homoerotic Yearning

In the January eclogue of Edmund Spenser's (ca 1552-1599) Shepheardes Calendar (1579)--itself a foundational pastoral text for the English Renaissance--the shepherd Colin Clout is enamored of a woman named Rosalinde who will not return his devotion. As it turns out, the gifts Colin gives to Rosalind had been given to him by his own rejected male suitor, Hobbinol.

The gloss to this provided by the enigmatic E. K. troubles any heterosexist reading of the text by explaining that Hobbinol's relationship with Colin is not an example of "disorderly" pederastic love, but of a variety of pederasty that the ancients deemed moral and above "gynerastice," the love of men for women.

Christopher Marlowe's (1564-1593) poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," an Ovidian plea to revel in love, also follows in the tradition of Virgil's second eclogue. The speaker of this poem has generally been assumed to be male and the auditor a woman. However, Marlowe's poem undermines these gender ascriptions by refusing a definitive gender to either of the characters. (The title was not added until it was anthologized in The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599, six years after Marlowe's death.)

Based on its self-conscious imitation of a homoerotic Virgilian original, and in the context of Marlowe's other works, this pastoral poem warrants a rereading attentive to its homoerotic potential.

Related in spirit to Marlowe's work, Richard Barnfield's (1574-1627) The Teares of an Affectionate Shepheard Sicke for Love (1594), also titled The Complaint of Daphnis for the Love of Ganimede, is a rapturous account of the shepherd Daphnis' unrequited love for the amber-locked Ganimede. While his rival Guendolena desires Ganimede only for his beauty and her own pleasure, Daphnis' love conforms to the classical ideal of worshipping a male beloved's inner virtue.

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