Plot: A little like Hesiod’s Work and Days, as it provides agricultural instruction, but in far more tranquil and enjoyable poetry. The poem is broken into four sections, the first for growing crops, the second for caring for vines and fruit trees, then animal husbandry, and lastly beekeeping.
I read the Farrar, Straus and Garoux edition translated by David Ferry (ISBN 0374530319)
My thoughts: Virgil alternates between practical instruction, and more lyric and pastoral fancies. I can’t say I was enthralled to start, although plenty have before me – Dryden calling The Georgics “the best poem by the best poet”.
By the time I got to the third section, I was starting to enjoy the work, especially the more pastoral scenes, when Virgil decided to end the chapter with a litany of livestock diseases and death.
My favourite scenes are not directly rural (Virgil casts a pretty broad net)
My inner Ben Hur particularly liked the action of this chariot race
“Headlong in frenzied competition, all
The drivers’ hearts pounding with frantic hope
Of being the first and fear of being the last,
And on and on they go, and round and round,
Lap after lap, the fiery wheels revolving,
The drivers flailing their whips, now bending low,
Stooping over the reins, now rising up –
It looks like they’re carried flying up and out
Into empty air – no stopping them, no rest,
Clouds of yellow sand blown back in the eyes
Of those who follow after, the foaming breath
Of the gasping panting horses wetting the backs
Of the chariot drivers ahead, so great their love
Of glory. So great their love of victory.” Third Georgic (page 101)
And this more mellow ocean scene
“The sea-swells rise against the keels, and
the gulls fly inland crying in their flight,
and the little sea-coots run along the shore,
looking as if they’re frolicking as they go” First Georgic (p. 31)
And this explanation of where baby bees come from
“And you will be surprised that the bees are never
Known to indulge in sexual intercourse; they never
Dissipate or enervate their bodies
By making love; they do not bring forth children
By labour of birth; instead, they gather them
By plucking the little babies with their mouths
From the leaves of trees and from the sweetest herbs.”
Fourth Georgic (page 157)
Pulled up short when it was claimed early in Book 1 that castor oil came from the testicles of beavers. No wonder it tastes awful! In actual fact, modern castor oil comes from the seeds of the castor oil plant; but in ancient times, a substitute (castoreum) was extracted from the castor sacs of beavers (between the testicles and anus) to be used in medicines and perfumes. This digression led me to reading about the improved status of the European beaver, which is being reintroduced across Europe and Asia, including China and Mongolia in the east, and Scotland and England in the west.
Personal rating: 5/10
Kimmy’s rating: I actually heard her snoring as I read, so probably not high.
Also in that year: 29 BC. Octavius (later the Emperor Augustus) closes the doors of the Temple of Janus in the Forum, signifying that Rome is at peace (finally, but no doubt briefly)
Next : The first set of Livy’s surviving volumes. The Early History of Rome (Books I-V)