In the first of Virgil’s eclogues, he addresses the issue of property and the differences in the lives of two Roman men. The two main characters in the first eclogue, Tityrus and Meliboeus discuss their living situations after the Battle of Philippi, a time when many people’s land was being seized or transferred. Tityrus regained his land and is still prosperous, while Meliboeus has very little land and has to work harder than most to maintain a decent lifestyle. The first five lines indicate to the reader that Tityrus has a more certain future than Meliboeus, “...We leave the boundaries and sweet ploughland of home. We flee our homeland; you, Tityrus, cool in shade, are teaching woods to echo Lovely Amaryllis.” [E.1.3-5] Here, also, the first of many references to shade and shadow is made. Tityrus is having to deal with the confiscation of his land by Augustus. His land is being given to Augustus’ soldiers as a reward for defeating Brutus and Cassius.
However this brings up the question how is Tityrus saving his land while Meliboeus is losing his?
Meliboeus expresses that he is not envious of Tityrus’ fate, “more amazed: the
countryside’s all in such turmoil. Sick myself, look, Tityrus...” [E.1.11-12]
claims that “a god has made this leisure ours.” [E.1.6] But when asked who that god is, all Tityrus says is, “the city men call Rome I reckoned, Meliboeus.” [E.1.20] According to Tityrus, he had always seen things as equal, regardless if they were bigger or smaller, greater or inferior, puppies or dogs. [E.1.23] Then when asked why he has begun to see her, Rome, with her head raised among the other cities, “high as a cypress tree above the guelder-rose.” [E.1.25] Tityrus responds with “liberty” [E.1.27] Here, Virgil is making a reference to the motto of Julius Caesar’s assassins. After the death of Julius Caesar, Tityrus feels that his life has taken a turn for the better. In his life, he has also achieved liberty. He had just ended a relationship with Galatea, a woman who spent all his money. With her, he had “no hope of liberty not thought of thrift.” [E.1.32] However, now that he is in a relationship with a new woman, Amaryllis, he can save enough money to reach freedom. Meliboeus describes a time when Tityrus leaves his home to for a ritual sacrifice and Amaryllis “wept and called to the god- for whom you left fruit hanging on the tree” [E.1.36] Then he goes into praising Tityrus and describing him as a “lucky old man” [E.1.46], finally admitting that he is jealous of his good fortune. This is most likely spurred by the fact that he must flee the country.
Earlier in the poem Meliboeus describes having to “leave the boundaries...of home” [E. 1.3-5] but it is not revealed to where until now. He says that they “must leave here, some for thirsty Africa, others for Scythia and Oäxes’ chalky flood and the Britanni quite cut off from the whole world.” [E.1.64] In the last lines of the poem Tityrus offers to Meliboeus a place to stay, “for tonight you could rest here with me upon green leafage: I can offer you ripe fruit and mealy chestnuts and abundance of milk cheese. Far off the roof-tops of the farms already smoke and down from the high mountains taller shadows fall.” [E.1.79-83] This passage alone says a lot about the poem and the characters in it.
Here, Meliboeus is defining his role as the more prosperous of the two. He’s describing his “green leafage” and “ripe fruit”, a luxury at the time. While, Tityrus has goats he “can hardly lead” [E.1.13] and is losing his land, Tityrus invited Meliboeus to enjoy his abundance of milk cheese with him, to experience his mealy chestnuts. Despite...