Finding a literary origin for the Golden Bough has been very difficult, as is 
generally acknowledged.  Servius, as I remember, says that the image comes from 
Pythagoras' belief that the bough or Y-shape represents the sharp divergences 
of fate.  This is interesting but fails to say anything about gold.  The only 
clear verbal parallel comes as far as I know from Garland, a poem by Meleager 
of Gadara who died about when V was born and who was quite well known: the 
golden branch of the ever-divine Plato, shining all through with virtrue.  
Mackail, who worked on both Meleager and V, remarks that this is one of the 
best-ever few-word critical judgements, assuming that the great Plato not some 
lesser poet of the same name is meant, and that it might have contributed to 
V's conception of the Bough - David West makes this phrase the key to a 
Platonist interpretation of much of the Katabasis story.  For my less qualified 
part I find it hard to think that V did not know of Meleager's phrase; moreover 
we are aware that V, from his treatment of Berenice's Lock of Hair, which left 
Berenice's head as unwillingly as Aeneas left Dido's realm, was well prepared 
to take Hellenistic phrases which had been merely charming and turn them into 
something much more stern and dramatic. Perhaps the word charming 
underestimates Meleager, but I would think in spite of Mackail's praise that M 
was not really trying to be profound.  His theme is the association of a series 
of poets with a series of flowers and fruits making the Garland: quite common 
botanical things, like violets, spurge, cyclamen and pears.  When he comes to 
Plato does his golden branch come from a mythical or supernatural context 
unlike all the other ones?  Or is he again referring to something quite common? 
 The obvious candidate seems to me to the plant we know as Golden Rod, solidago 
virgaurea, which does have a pleasantly bright appearance and also has inner 
goodness in form of medicinal properties (good for kidney stones, apparently).  
The point I was thinking of is that if V is exploiting an inherited, rather 
charming, comparison of Plato to a common garden flower he is also transforming 
the idea that he inherits, raising it to another plane, and one should not 
assume that he retains from the tone of his original an uncritically flattering 
view of political Platonism.  How nice it would be to find another source that 
took us out of the garden and into a rather more sacred and mythological realm 
where V's Bough seems to belong. Unless Meleager is using his anthology to 
encode some deeper ideas. - Martin Hughes 

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