Places: Arcadia

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1590; revised, 1593 as The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia; revised, 1598

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Pastoral

Time of work: Antiquity

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedArcadia

Arcadia. ArcadiaArcadia is a real place in southern Greece’s mountainous Peloponnese region; however, its name has been used conventionally for idyllic pastoral settings since Heliodorus’s Aethiopica (third century c.e.). Sidney depicts Arcadia both as the ideal realm of eternal youth and joy and as a real kingdom that has fallen into chaos because its ruler, Basilius, has allowed his passion for Zelmane to overcome the reasonable rule of his family and his subjects. The peaceful Arcadia of literary tradition serves both as an example of what the real Arcadia could be and as a basis for satire, showing how far the real world has fallen from the ideal.

*River Ladon

*River Ladon. Clear stream near Basilius’s Arcadian retreat, where Philoclea and Zelmane (Pyrocles) are finally able to be alone together. It is also the stream in which Philoclea and Pamela are bathing when Zelmane discovers the love-stricken Amphialus spying on them. The river symbolizes Philoclea’s natural, swiftly flowing feelings (Philoclea is described as “environed with sweet rivers of clear virtue”), in contrast to Pamela’s more solid use of reason to temper her own feelings.

Cecropia’s castle

Cecropia’s castle. Located on a high rock in the middle of a large lake, this castle, in which the princesses are held captive by Amphialus and his ambitious mother, is the emblem of Pamela, whose “determination was built upon so brave a rock that no shot of hers [Cecropia’s] could reach unto it. . . .” Pamela resists not only Cecropia’s attempts to persuade her to marry Amphialus, but also the courtship of Prince Musidorus, disguised as the shepherd Dorus. Only after he rescues her from the castle does she confess her love and agree to elope with him.

Zelmane’s cave

Zelmane’s cave. Found near Basilius’s lodge, this cave is used by Zelmane as a sanctuary for the expression of her unrequited feelings for Philoclea, just as Gynecia uses it to weep over her inability to win the disguised Pyrocles. Driven to extremes by Gynecia’s threats of exposure, Zelmane tricks both Gynecia and Basilius into a rendezvous in the cave, where Basilius mistakenly believes he has finally slept with Zelmane. In the cave Basilius drinks the magic potion intended for Zelmane and is presumed dead, precipitating the final trial scene. The cave is a symbol both of death and of the eventual rebirth from passion into reason.

*Laconia

*Laconia. Barren country troubled by civil war, in which the opening scenes of Arcadia are set. There two shepherds lament the departure of their beloved Urania, symbol of virtue and reason. Laconia foreshadows the anarchy with which its hitherto peaceful neighbor to the north, Arcadia, will be threatened because of Basilius’s irresponsibility and Cecropia’s malice. Laconia’s desolate environment also mirrors the desperate straits of Pyrocles and Musidorus when they are shipwrecked on its shores.

Kalander’s house

Kalander’s house. Home of an Arcadian nobleman who befriends the shipwrecked Musidorus. His house, built of durable yet beautiful stone, indicates its owner’s upright character. The home’s decoration, depicting such myths as those of Aeneas, virtuous son of Venus; Actaeon, destroyed because he spied on the bathing Diana; Atalanta, swift enough to outrun her suitors; and Omphale, who inspired Hercules to dress as a woman, foreshadows some of Arcadia’s major characters and events. Also, in Kalander’s house, Pyrocles first sees Philoclea’s portrait and falls in love with her.

*Thessalia

*Thessalia and *Macedon. Homes of Musidorus and Pyrocles, respectively. Euarchus of Macedon, Pyrocles’ father and Musidorus’s uncle, is the major figure of reason in the Arcadia, reminiscent of Alexander the Great. His severe judgment of his passion-ridden son and nephew restores order to the political chaos that threatens the country and the private intemperance that threatens the major characters.

*Asia Minor

*Asia Minor. Region–which is now the eastern part of Turkey–in which Musidorus and Pyrocles prove their prowess and virtue through chivalrous deeds. Sidney uses the geography of the ancient Greek world to comment on England’s contemporary, close-knit royals and their intrigues. For example, his tale of Leonatus and his bastard brother Plexirtus, sons of the king of Paphlagonia and the inspiration for the Gloucester plot of Shakespeare’s King Lear (pr. c. 1605-1606), illustrates how these brothers fall far short of the ideal friendship between cousins Pyrocles and Musidorus.

BibliographyDavis, Walter. “A Map of Arcadia: Sidney’s Romance in Its Tradition.” In Sidney’s “Arcadia.” New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965. A thorough study of the work’s complex background in Greek, Latin, and Spanish pastoral romance.Lanham, Richard. “The Old Arcadia.” In Sidney’s “Arcadia.” New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965. The first close analysis of Sidney’s prose style and its relation to classical modes of rhetoric; the starting point for discussion of Sidney’s language.Levao, Ronald. Renaissance Minds and Their Fictions: Cusanus, Sidney, Shakespeare. Berke-ley: University of California Press, 1985. A brilliant discussion of the old Arcadia and how Sidney’s narrative refuses to allow readers any stable reference point for judging the characters’ moral dilemmas.Raitiere, Martin N. Faire Bitts: Sir Philip Sidney and Renaissance Political Theory. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1984. Places Sidney’s work in the context of continental Protestant politics and elucidates Sidney’s intellectual relations with his close friend, the French political theorist Hubert Languet. An important study.Robertson, Jean, ed. The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (The Old Arcadia). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973. The first modern scholarly edition of the old Arcadia; Robertson’s introduction provides an excellent starting point for study of the work.
Categories: Places