Damoetas. All right, begin, if you have anything to sing. I shall not keep you waiting. I am not going to run away from any judge. I only beg Palaemon, our good neighbour here, to listen to our songs with all his ears. This is a serious matter.

Palaemon. Sing on, then, since we are seated on soft grass, and the year is at its loveliest, with growing crops in every field, fruit coming on every tree, and all the woods in leaf. Damoetas, you will lead off, and Menalcas follow, replying to you every time. Alternate song is what the Muses love.


Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro), Are these Meliboeus' Sheep?, from: The Pastoral Poems (The Eclogues), translated by E.V. Rieu, Penguin Classics, 1949, p. 35.

PLACE: Northern Italy (see also card no.542)

TIME: During Virgil's lifetime, ca. 49 B.C.

CIRCUMSTANCE: singing contest in alternate form.

In such contests, for which the technical term is amoebaean, one of the singers leads off with a short song of a few lines on a theme of his own choice, and is immediately followed by his rival with an utterance of equal length on the same or a contrasted theme, designed to cap, refute, or in some way improve upon the lines it answers. The first singer then proceeds either to open another aspect of the theme, or to broach a new topic, which his opponent would have thought that the challenger must deal with as before. One would be handicapped by being allotted the second place, which must surely have taxed the invention and wit of the contestants far more than the first. But this was not so. Here, for instance, Damoetas, the challenger, though he offers to waive his right to the first place, is ordered by the umpire to begin. (Essay no. III, p. 95)