Further to my comments on the lines from Meleager cited by Martin: Gow
and Page, in _Hellenistic Epigrams_ ii. 604 ad loc., do their best to
botanize the golden bough: 'chrusánthemon is the name of more than one
flower, and if one of these is meant there is no way of deciding which.
Klw^na however suggests shrub or tree rather than flower and we should
consider also chrusókarpos, _ivy_, and chrysóxulon, _fustic_, _Rhus
continus_. Since _aei_ presumably qualifies chrúseion these seem more
suitable than a flower.'
Not a hint that the expression may be figurative, but also (which is
more significant) not a hint that the phrase is paralleled elsewhere.
Plato they refer to a note on the epigrams ascribed to him (and
declaring 'Plato the Younger', AP 9. 13, 748, 751 to be too late for the
Garland); but by saying of the participial clause 'perhaps "bright with
the author's excellence', but the phrase is flat' they eliminate any
reference to Plato as a moral philosopher.
A search on the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae produced only one other golden
bough, in 'political verses' [i.e. accentual iambics of 15 syllables to
the line] by Theodore Prodromos on the birth of Alexios, son of the
Sebastokrator Anronikos, grandson of the Emperor John II (1118-43),
great-grandson of the Emperor Alexios I (Alexius Comnenus, 1081-1118).
John, called 'flourishing, very broad, and great tree' is informed that
tw^n chruoklw'nwn aúxhsin ek tw^n paraphuádwn
kaì tw^n blastw^n tw^n eugenw^n kaì tw^n apoblastídwn:
(Carmina historica, 44: 39-40),
which appears to mean 'increase of the golden boughs (the imperial
house) from the offshoots (his brothers), the noble shoots (his sons),
and the shoots of shoots (his grandsons)'; for the continuation runs
'Count with your children and your children's children this newborn
Sebastokratorid too, the offspring of your sweetest child Andronikos.
Add another new Komnenos to the Komnenoi, and attach another general to
It seems impossible to relate this to any image that might have been
used by, or derived from, either Meleager or Vergil; but in so literary
a culture as the Byzantine that suggests that Theodore knew no more of a
golden-bough tradition than poor Cornutus, who alas did not know about
the clipping of the deceased's hair either.
Meleager (whom Vergil can hardly not have known) is describing the
poets whose works he has included in his collection as flowers or other
delights for his garland. Some of the phrases seem more specific than
others; they include 'Sappho's slight things, but roses' and 'the sweet
myrtle of Callimachus, ever full of stinging honey'. The Plato intended
is undoubtedly Plato the philosopher, but as the ascriptive author of
epigrams whose authenticity we no longer believe in; there is no reason
to read anything special into the phrase so far as Meleager is
concerned, nor single out one couplet rather than set it against all
the other impressionistic judgements in the poem. So far as Vergil is
concerned, however, there is no reason why it should not have given him
ideas; if he blended it with the Pythagorean Y and the Aureum Carmen,
that would be entirely within his method, to draw on two or more
sources and make something of his own.
In message <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>, Rosemary Grayston
<[EMAIL PROTECTED]> writes
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
67 St Bernard's Road usque adeone
Oxford scire MEVM nihil est, nisi ME scire hoc sciat alter?
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