Tag: Virgil

166. The Georgics by Virgil (c.29 BC)

166. The Georgics by Virgil (c.29 BC)

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.

Favourite lines/passages:

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)

 

Digressions/diversions:

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)

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163. The Eclogues by Virgil (c. 42-39 BC)

163. The Eclogues by Virgil (c. 42-39 BC)

Plot:   Ten pastoral poems set in the idyllic countryside, full of singing goatherds; sometimes with the bitter undercurrent of rejected love, but also topical themes such as agricultural dispossession as farmers are driven off their farms, which are then given to demobbed soldiers from the battle at Phillipi.

I read the World’s Classics version The Eclogues, The Georgics, translated by Cecil Day-Lewis (ISBN 0192816438), then looked at some earlier translations from the 16th-19th centuries in the Penguin classic Virgil in English (ISBN 0140423869)

My thoughts: Virgil has been hailed as a bedrock poet of European literature, inspiring a plethora of translations and imitations from the likes of Chaucer, Spenser, Marlowe, Milton, Dryden, Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Auden. However the Day-Lewis version left me indifferent, with very little to pass on of interest. More interesting was sampling the various earlier translations, showing how the style of language and literature changes with the ages.

For instance, from Eclogue I, the dispossessed farmer Meliboeus laments his fate in three different versions.

“But the rest of us must go from here and be dispersed — To Scythia, bone-dry Africa, the chalky spate of the Oxus. Even to Britain – that place cut off at the very world’s end. Ah, when will I see my native land again? after long years, or never? — see the turf-dressed roof of my simple cottage, and wondering gaze at the ears of corn that were all my kingdom. To think of some godless soldier owning my well-farmed fallow ….”       (C Day-Lewis, 1963)

“We poor soules must soone to the land cald Affrica packe hence, Some to the farre Scythia, and some must to the swift flood Oaxis, some to Britannia coastes quite parted farre from the whole world. Oh these pastures pure shall I nere more chance to behold yee? And out cottage poore with warme turves coverd about trim. Oh these trim tilde landes, shall a recklesse soldier have them?….”   (William Webbe, 1586)

“But we must roam to parts remote, unknown, under the Torrid and the Frigid Zone. These frozen Scythia, and parcht Affrick those; Cretan Oaxis others must inclose. Some ‘mongst the utmost Britains are confin’d, doomed to an isle from all the world disjoyn’d.

Ah! Must I never more my Country see, but in strange lands an endless Exile be? In my eternal banishment decreed from my poor Cottage, rear’d with turf and reed? Must impious Soldiers all these grounds possess, my fields of standing corn, my fertile Leyes?”  (John Caryll, 1684)

(PS I liked Caryll best)

Digressions/diversions: New word for the day. Stravagueing : to wander aimlessly

Personal rating:  Day-Lewis version : 2.

Also in that year:

To recap …

60 BC Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus form an alliance to further their political ambitions.

58-54 BC   Caesar defeats the Gaulish tribes, and briefly invades Britain (twice)

49 – 45 BC Caesar enters Italy with his armies of Gallic war veterans and eventually defeats Pompey’s forces, attaining supreme power of the Roman world

44 BC Caesar assassinated on the Ides of March by conspirators including Cassius and Brutus

43 BC A second ‘triumvirate’ formed between Marc Antony, Lepidus and Caesar’s adopted son Octavius

42 BC Antony and Octavius defeat Brutus and Cassius at Phillipi.

The reads in between: 

The Seeds of Time by John Wyndham (1956).  Wyndham’s other full-length novels always disappointed me after his excellent The Day of the Triffids, but this collection of science fiction short stories were a joy. The first few are gentle Wellesian tales (Chronoclasm, Time to Rest) but then Wyndham shows a more ruthless layer of steel and horror  with stories like Survival, and Pillar to Post (the latter a cat and mouse game as two men fight for the one body using mind transference across the galaxy). Might be difficult to find a copy, but recommended.

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwall (2017). Looked forward to this a great deal as Cornwall writes excellent and well researched historical novels, especially his Sharpe series. Following Richard Shakespeare, brother to William and a young thief/actor in the latter’s group of players. It started off a little slow without the adventurous setting of his other books, but by halfway I was hooked. To say too much would spoil the ride, but if you liked Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare in Love, or historical action stories …. Recommended.

Next :   Satires by Horace.