Daphnis, Deus Pastoralis: the trail of his advent

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In the Eclogues Vergil elevates Daphnis from the lovesick cowherd of Theocritean poetry to an energizing spirit that rules the Roman countryside. To this direction, he invests Daphnis with elements from the two most contrasting heroes of antiquity: gentle and musically inclined, Daphnis experiences an Orphic death and is mourned by his mother (Verg.Ec.5.23), just like Calliope had once grieved for her son, Orpheus (A.P.7.8.5). Still, at the point of his apotheosis Daphnis is cast as another Heracles at the threshold of heavens (Ec.5.56; cf. Hes. Th.950-955). Here I argue that Vergil wished to invest the Sicilian cowherd with the mystic associations for which both Orpheus and Heracles were popular by the later Hellenistic period and whose source can be traced in near eastern pastoral traditions. Vergil acknowledged Daphnis’ affinity with these traditions, as advocated in Theocritus, but was also aware of other sources that further supported the eastern origins of the religious authority ascribed to Orpheus and Heracles. Thus, far from inventing a new god, Vergil remains faithful to his penchant for drawing on ancient traditions in order to cast Daphnis as a divine savior and an ideal frontrunner of the Augustan age.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-88
Number of pages46
JournalGiornale Italiano di Filologia
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


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