Ancient words of the day: Arcadian Idyll


Arcadian Idyll: an idealised vision about rural life, a country paradise.

Arcadia was and still is, a mountainous region in Greece. It was populated mainly by shepherds and the sleepy and fluffy flocks of sheep.

In reality, rural life in Arcadia was harsh, poor and beholden to the ravages of unpredictable weather.   

Arcadian Idyll

However that reputation changed when ancient Roman poet Virgil decided to give Arcadia a PR boost.

In his collection of verses Eclogues, Virgil put Arcadia on the map with tales of merry herdsmen having love affairs and living their best lives in a country locale of sylvan and unmatched beauty.

From then on, Arcadia came to represent imagined rural bliss and a bucolic utopia.

Virgil: Eclogues ‘The Golden Age’

And for you, boy, the uncultivated earth will pour out

her first little gifts, straggling ivy and cyclamen everywhere

and the bean flower with the smiling acanthus.

The goats will come home themselves, their udders swollen

with milk, and the cattle will have no fear of fierce lions:

Your cradle itself will pour out delightful flowers:

And the snakes will die, and deceitful poisonous herbs

will wither: Assyrian spice plants will spring up everywhere.

And you will read both of heroic glories, and your father’s deeds,

and will soon know what virtue can be.

Virgil, Eclogues
An Arcadian Idyll by Georges Auguste Elie Laverne (1863-1942). An arcadian idyll with Pan playing pipes and nymphs reclining. The triptych was found on wooden panelling in an apartment in Paris built in 1895.

Et In Arcadia Ego by Nicolas Poussin

Nicolas Poussin – Et in Arcadia ego (deuxième version) 1637-1638 . Source: Wikipedia

Translates to ‘Even in Arcadia, death exists’. A solemn reminder that even in the midst of blissful idyll, death lurks around the corner.  

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