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Virgil (70-19 B.C.E.)  
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Bisexuality in the Eclogues

Later eclogues maintain this democratic balance. In the third eclogue, Menalcas scolds the goatherd Damoetas, who evens the score by alleging that Menalcas was once possessed by another male in a shrine while tittering nymphs looked on. When their rivalry takes the form of a singing contest, Damoetas sings of his love for Galatea and Amaryllis, while Menalcas salutes the boy Amyntas as his "flame."

In eclogue five, Menalcas asks Mopsus to sing a song about Phyllis or, alternatively, about the boy Alcon. In eclogue seven, another singing match finds Corydon still lamenting the "handsome Alexis" but also enraptured of the sea-nymph Galatea.

Gallus, in the tenth eclogue, shows the same lack of prejudice as to gender; he bemoans the loss of his mistress Lycoris but envies the Arcadians--if he had their musical skill, he might win any "Phyllis or Amyntas." These figures are, or course, not real characters but shadowy names: What is striking is that their sex is equally immaterial.

The Georgics

Up to this point, Virgil might have seemed to rank with Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, and other poets of the "erotic revolt" who sang of dalliance and derided traditional Roman values. But Virgil now turned from the artificialities of Theocritaean pastoral to write another set of poems, the Georgics, which dealt more realistically with the practical techniques, trials, and delights of farm life.

The poems pleased Augustus, who wanted to repopulate the Italian countryside by settling his veterans on the land. Augustus now enlisted Virgil to write a Roman epic to rival Greece's Iliad.

The Aeneid

The Aeneid was intended to celebrate Rome's roots in myth and legend, the glories of its conquests, and the divine nature of the imperial mission, which was to impose its own version of law and order on the Mediterranean world.

The emphasis in the Aeneid is on pious duty, not personal relationships. Consequently, Aeneas leaves Dido, the Queen of Carthage, after their brief love affair, to fulfill his destiny by leading the Trojans to Italy, where they become the progenitors of the Roman race.

Virgil's epic appears to downplay love as a value. But in fact, it offered him an opportunity to elevate the Roman view of male love from amorous play with a pretty slave to the heroic ideal of the Greeks.

Virgil does this by incorporating into the Aeneid the story of Nisus and Euryalus. Euryalus is a handsome soldier in the bloom of youth, Nisus a mature warrior who is bound to him by what Virgil calls an "amor pius." Their love--Virgil uses the word several times--is clearly meant to mirror the bond that unites Achilles and Patroclus in the Iliad.

Indeed, Virgil has so managed that they more nearly fulfill the classical pattern of the Greek "lover" (erastes) and "beloved" (eromenos) than do Homer's heroes.

Their story seems very closely tailored to match the ideal set forth by Phaedrus in Plato's Symposium, the ideal of two comrades in arms whose love leads to heroic self-sacrifice. To this end, Virgil repeatedly emphasizes Euryalus' beauty and Nisus' protective leadership.

In the fifth book of the Aeneid, the men take part in a footrace. Nisus stumbles and brings down with him another runner to make Euryalus the winner. The young man's good looks lead Aeneas' soldiers to condone this trick and award him the prize.

In book nine, the pair are on guard duty at night together. Nisus plans to make a dangerous foray to take a vital message to Aeneas. Euryalus begs to join him, and the pair slaughter many sleeping enemy soldiers. However, the younger man is separated from his lover in the dark and surrounded by vengeful Rutulians.

Nisus tries heroically to save him but is cut down and expires on the dead boy's body in a kind of Liebestod. (This is not quite the only example of Greek love in the Aeneid; in book ten, the valiant Cydon is briefly introduced as the lover of the handsome Clytius and characterized as a pederast.) After their deaths, Virgil salutes Nisus and Euryalus as "Fortunate both" and prophecies that their fame will last as long as Rome's.

Obviously, he hoped they would become to the Latins what Achilles and Patroclus were to the Greeks. But this was not to be: Virgil's effort to engraft the Greek ideal of heroic onto Latin culture is of great interest, but he did not succeed in influencing later writers.

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