Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0008771, Sat, 18 Oct 2003 11:44:33 -0700

Background on PALE FIRE's "Et in Arcadia Ego"

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jansy Berndt de Souza Mello" <jansy@aetern.us>
To: "Vladimir Nabokov Forum" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 1:41 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: pynchon-l-digest V2 #3604 PALE FIRE

> Classical Arcadia, Arcadian Ideal and the meaning of the "Et in Arcadia
> Two Texts from the Net
> "Arcadia: A region of ancient Greece in the central Peloponnesus. Its
> inhabitants, somewhat isolated from the rest of the world, proverbially
> lived a simple, pastoral life. Any region offering rural simplicity and
> contentment. The term Arcadia is used to refer to an imaginary and
> place"
> Source: A Glossary of Definitions, Terms, Names, Contexts and Allusions in
> Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, Act I, Scene 1
> "ET IN ARCADIA EGO " or "The Arcadian shepherds", by Nicolas Poussin
> Get the picture in bigger size
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ----
> Classical Arcadia
> by Marc Wiesmann, Professor of French and Classics
> Arcadia is an actual region of Greece, a series of valleys surrounded by
> high mountains and therefore difficult of access. In very ancient times,
> people of Arcadia were known to be rather primitive herdsmen of sheep,
> and bovines, rustic folk who led an unsophisticated yet happy life in the
> natural fertility of their valleys and foothills. Soon, however, their
> down-to-earth culture came to be closely associated with their traditional
> singing and pipe playing, an activity they used to pass the time as they
> herded their animals. Their native god was Pan, the inventor of the Pan
> pipes (seven reeds of unequal length held together by wax and string). The
> simple, readily accessible and moving music Pan and the Arcadian shepherds
> originated soon gained a wide appreciation all over the Greek world. This
> pastoral (in Latin "pastor" = shepherd) music began to inspire highly
> educated poets, who developed verses in which shepherds exchanged songs in
> beautiful natural setting preserved pristine from any incursions from a
> dangerous "outside." In the third century BC, a Sicilian poet, Theocritus,
> created a literary genre called "bucolic poetry" (from the Greek
> a herdsman), poems called "Idylls" that used these exchanges of verses by
> fictional shepherds as a compositional strategy. Mainly, these idealized
> shepherds recounted their heterosexual or homosexual love affairs and
> praised the poetry they loved and the master singers they admired. Two
> centuries later, the greatest of Roman (and perhaps of European) poets,
> Virgil (70-19 BC), used Theocritus's Greek Idylls in order to create in
> Latin 10 masterpieces of bucolic poetry, known as the "Eclogues" or
> "Bucolics." Unlike Theocritus, who had placed his shepherds in Sicily,
> Virgil locates them back in Arcadia, an Arcadia, however, which has
> strikingly resembling those of Northern Italy, where Virgil was born. Just
> as their Theocritean counterparts, the inhabitants of Virgil's Arcadia
> about love and its poetry, but they also make several crucial references
> the political situation of Virgil's turbulent times. Many subsequent
> have in fact insisted that the "Eclogues" are stuffed full of references
> politics and politicians, such as Julius Caesar and Octavian (Augustus
> Caesar). Virgil's poetic superiority has insured that his "Eclogues" never
> remained unknown in all the subsequent centuries of European culture. They
> became especially popular and imitated in the Italian, Spanish, French and
> English Renaissances of the 14th to 17th centuries, a period in which a
> of verse called Pastoral Poetry was much appreciated by the intellectual
> cultural elites. Parallel to the literary vogue of pastoral there existed
> this period a rich pictorial tradition, paintings and prints representing
> shepherds and shepherdesses in a bucolic or idyllic setting of forests and
> hills. In the seventeenth century, the French painter Nicolas Poussin
> (1594-1665) used this pictorial tradition to paint one of his most famous
> canvasses, known as "The Arcadian shepherds" or as "ET IN ARCADIA EGO"
> (1647). This painting represents four Arcadians, in a meditative and
> melancholy mood, symmetrically arranged on either side of a tomb. One of
> shepherds kneels on the ground and reads the inscription on the tomb: ET
> ARCADIA EGO, which can be translated either as "And I [= death] too (am)
> Arcadia" or as "I [= the person in the tomb] also used to live in
> The second shepherd seems to discuss the inscription with a lovely girl
> standing near him. The third shepherd stands pensively aside. From
> painting, Arcadia now takes on the tinges of a melancholic contemplation
> about death itself, about the fact that our happiness in this world is
> transitory and evanescent. Even when we feel that we have discovered a
> where peace and gentle joy reign, we must remember that it will end, and
> that all will vanish.
> For a fundamental discussion of Poussin's great painting, see Erwin
> Panofsky's essay in his book "MEANING IN THE VISUAL ARTS". In this essay,
> analyzes brilliantly the possible interpretations of the expression ET IN
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> From the book (in French):
> Les Bergers d' Arcadie: Le secret d' un tableau d' exception
> ...D'abord, constat est fait de l'apparition pour la premiere fois de la
> locution "Et in Arcadia ego" dans un tableau de Giovanni Francesco
> dit le Guerchain, peint entre 1621 et 1623.
> Deux bergers s'arretent devant un crane humain pose sur un bloc de
> maconnerie grave des mots "Et in Arcadia ego". Il ne fait guere de doute
> qu'il faille comprendre que la mort apostrophe le spectateur, pour lui
> : "Meme en Arcadie, moi, la Mort, j'existe" et lui rappeler ainsi sa
> presence au sein des paysages et des activites les plus heureux. On
> que l' expression "Et in Arcadia ego" a ete suggeree par le prelat Giulio
> Rospigliosi, grand amateur et protecteur des arts (qui deviendra le pape
> Clement IX). Il aimait les allegories, et c'est pour lui, suppose-t-on,
> Poussin va ensuite realiser les Bergers d'Arcadie. Depuis la remarque
> par Louis Marin, il est admis que le R pointe du doigt dans le mot ARCADIA
> par l'un des bergers du tableau est l'initiale du commanditaire du
> Pour tout dire, l'origine de l'expression "Et in arcadia ego" reste
> douteuse ; elle pourrait se trouver dans un poeme ou une chanson de la
> renaissance, maintenant oublies...
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Gallery
> Main Page
> Portrait of Poussin
> Self-portrait of Poussin from Louvre
> About the meaning of Poussins' paintings
> and the "At in Arcadia Ego"
> Related links
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "D. Barton Johnson" <chtodel@cox.net>
> Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 4:22 PM
> Subject: Fw: pynchon-l-digest V2 #3604 PALE FIRE
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "pynchon-l-digest" <owner-pynchon-l-digest@waste.org>
> To: <pynchon-l-digest@waste.org>
> Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 11:53 AM
> Subject: pynchon-l-digest V2 #3604
> >