Verse > Edmund Spenser > Complete Poetical Works
Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1908.
The Shepheardes Calender
The Generall Argument of the Whole Booke
LITTLE, I hope, needeth me at large to discourse the first originall of Æglogues, having alreadie touched the same. But, for the word Æglogues, I know, is unknowen to most, and also mistaken of some the best learned (as they think) I wyll say somewhat thereof, being not at all impertinent to my present purpose.  1
  They were first of the Greekes, the inventours of them, called Æglogai, as it were [Greek] or [Greek] that is, Goteheards tales. For although in Virgile and others the speakers be more shepherds then goatheards, yet Theocritus, in whom is more ground of authoritie then in Virgile, this specially from that deriving, as from the first head and welspring, the whole invencion of his Æglogues, maketh goteheards the persons and authors of his tales. This being, who seeth not the grossenesse of such as by colour of learning would make us beleeve that they are more rightly termed Eclogai; as they would say, extraordinary discourses of unnecessarie matter? which difinition, albe in substaunce and meaning it agree with the nature of the thing, yet no whit answereth with the [Greek] and interpretation of the word. For they be not termed Eclogues, but Æglogues: which sentence this authour very well observing, upon good judgement, though indeede few goteheards have to doe herein, nethelesse doubteth not to cal them by the used and best knowen name. Other curious discourses hereof I reserve to greater occasion.  2
  These xij Æglogues, every where answering to the seasons of the twelve monthes, may be well devided into three formes or ranckes. For eyther they be plaintive, as the first, the sixt, the eleventh, and the twelfth; or recreative, such as al those be which containe matter of love, or commendation of special personages; or moral, which for the most part be mixed with some satyrical bitternesse: namely the second, of reverence dewe to old age, the fift, of coloured deceipt, the seventh and ninth, of dissolute shepheards and pastours, the tenth, of contempt of poetrie and pleasaunt wits. And to this division may every thing herein be reasonably applyed: a few onely except, whose speciall purpose and meaning I am not privie to. And thus much generally of these xij Æglogues. Now will we speake particularly of all, and first of the first, which he calleth by the first monethes name, Januarie: wherein to some he may seeme fowly to have faulted, in that he erroniously beginneth with that moneth which beginneth not the yeare. For it is wel known, and stoutely mainteyned with stronge reasons of the learned, that the yeare beginneth in March; for then the sonne reneweth his finished course, and the seasonable spring refresheth the earth, and the plesaunce thereof, being buried in the sadnesse of the dead winter now worne away, reliveth. This opinion maynteine the olde astrologers and philosophers, namely the reverend Andalo, and Macrobius in his holydayes of Saturne; which accoumpt also was generally observed both of Grecians and Romans. But saving the leave of such learned heads, we mayntaine a custome of coumpting the seasons from the moneth January, upon a more speciall cause then the heathen philosophers ever coulde conceive, that is, for the incarnation of our mighty Saviour and eternall Redeemer, the Lord Christ, who, as then renewing the state of the decayed world, and returning the compasse of expired yeres to theyr former date and first commencement, left to us his heires a memoriall of his birth in the ende of the last yeere and beginning of the next: which reckoning, beside that eternall monument of our salvation, leaneth also uppon good proofe of special judgement. For albeit that in elder times, when as yet the coumpt of the yere was not perfected, as afterwarde it was by Julius Cæsar, they began to tel the monethes from Marches beginning, and according to the same, God (as is sayd in Seripture) comaunded the people of the Jewes to count the moneth Abib, that which we call March, for the first moneth, in remembraunce that in that moneth he brought them out of the land of Ægipt, yet according to tradition of latter times it hath bene otherwise observed, both in government of the Church and rule of mightiest realmes. For from Julius Cæsar, who first observed the leape yeere, which he called Bissextilem Annum, and brought into a more certain course the odde wandring dayes which of the Greekes were called [Greek] of the Romanes intercalares (for in such matter of learning I am forced to use the termes of the learned) the monethes have bene nombred xij, which in the first ordinaunce of Romulus were but tenne, counting but ccciiij dayes in every yeare, and beginning with March. But Numa Pompilius, who was the father of al the Romain ceremonies and religion, seeing that reckoning to agree neither with the course of the sonne, nor of the moone, thereunto added two monethes, January and February: wherin it seemeth, that wise king minded upon good reason to begin the yeare at Januarie, of him therefore so called tanquam janua anni, the gate and entraunce of the yere, or of the name of the god Janus, to which god for that the old Paynims attributed the byrth and beginning of all creatures new comming into the worlde, it seemeth that he therfore to him assigned the beginning and first entraunce of the yeare. Which account for the most part hath hetherto continued: notwithstanding that the Ægiptians beginne theyr yeare at September, for that, according to the opinion of the best rabbins and very purpose of the Seripture selfe, God made the worlde in that moneth, that is called of them Tisri. And therefore he commaunded them to keepe the feast of Pavilions in the end of the yeare, in the xv. day of the seventh moneth, which before that time was the first.  3
  But our authour, respecting nether the subtiltie of thone parte, nor the antiquitie of thother, thinketh it fittest, according to the simplicitie of commen understanding, to begin with Januarie, wening it perhaps no decorum that shepheard should be seene in matter of so deepe insight, or canvase a case of so doubtful judgment. So therefore beginneth he, and so continueth he throughout.  4

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