In my introductory post to Cole’s series – The Course of Empire – the first painting (The Savage State) shows a Native American hunter on a stormy day in pursuit of a deer. Canoes are paddled up river and on the far shore is seen a clearing with a cluster of wigwams around a fire.
I had wanted to correspond verses from Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage to each painting in the series, but I think it’s enough of a background to know the poem was Cole’s inspiration. I couldn’t possibly interpret* the poem as Cole did. For the second painting in the series, Pastoral or Arcadian State, he brings the viewer to a pre-urbanized ancient Greece.
The sky has cleared and we are in the fresh morning of a day in spring or early summer. The viewpoint has shifted further down the river, as the crag with the boulder is now on the left-hand side of the painting; a forked peak can be seen in the distance beyond it. Much of the wilderness has given way to settled lands, with plowed fields and lawns visible.
What I see in this painting is further exploration of Arcadia and for that my dear friend Wikipedia travels with me. Cole’s painting is used as the visual reference to its description of Arcadia, which I have edited below:
Arcadia (Greek: Ἀρκαδία) refers to a vision of pastoralism and harmony with nature. The term is derived from the Greek province of the same name which dates to antiquity; the province’s mountainous topography and sparse population of pastoralists later caused the word Arcadia to develop into a poetic byword for an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness. Arcadia is associated with bountiful natural splendor, harmony, and is often inhabited by shepherds.
The inhabitants were often regarded as having continued to live after the manner of the Golden Age, without the pride and avarice that corrupted other regions.The inhabitants of this region bear an obvious connection to the figure of the Noble savage, both being regarded as living close to nature, uncorrupted by civilization, and virtuous.
According to Greek mythology, Arcadia of Peloponnesus was the domain of Pan, the virgin wilderness home of the god of the forest and his court of dryads, nymphs and other spirits of nature. It was a version of paradise only in the sense of being the abode of supernatural entities, not an afterlife for deceased mortals.
UPDATE: The next post may detour from The Course of Empire to the Noble savage – the phrase first appeared in playwright John Dryden’s, The Conquest of Granada (1672):
I am as free as nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.
* FINAL UPDATE: It wasn’t hard to find complimentary verses from Byron’s poem – they were all in Canto The Fourth.
The Noble savage, on the other hand, is a fairly complex issue unless I want to focus solely on The Conquest of Granada (I don’t.)