Locus Amoenus

by practicalspactical

Latin for “pleasant place”, locus amoenus is a literary term which generally refers to an idealized place of safety or comfort. A locus amoenus is usually a beautiful, shady lawn or open woodland, sometimes with connotations of Eden. In 1953, Ernst Robert Curtius wrote the concept’s definitive formulation in his European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages.

A locus amoenus will have three basic elements: trees, grass, and water. Often, the garden will be in a remote place and function as a landscape of the mind. It can also be used to highlight the differences between urban and rural life or be a place of refuge from the processes of time and mortality. Some gardens in the genre also have overtones of the regenerative powers of human sexuality.[1]

The literary use of this type of setting goes back, in Western literature at least, to Homer, and it became a staple of the pastoral works of poets such as Theocritus and VirgilHorace (Ars poetica, 17) and the commentators on Virgil, such as Servius, recognize that descriptions of loci amoeni have become a rhetorical commonplace.

In Ovid‘s Metamorphoses, the function of the locus amoenus is inverted. Instead of offering a respite from dangers, it is itself usually the scene of violent encounters. [2]

In the works of William Shakespeare, the locus amoenus is the space that lies outside of city limits. It is where erotic passions can be freely explored, away from civilization and thus hidden from the social order which acts to suppress and regulate sexual behavior. It is mysterious and dark, a feminine place, as opposed to the rigid masculine civil structure. Examples can be found in A Midsummer Night’s DreamAs You Like It, and Titus Andronicus.