The Georgics of Virgil: A Critical Survey 0521293235, 9780521293235

This highly acclaimed book was, when it was first published in 1969, the first complete book in English devoted to the G

383 87 5MB

English Pages 363 [376] Year 1969

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

The Georgics of Virgil: A Critical Survey
 0521293235, 9780521293235

Citation preview

The Georgicsof Virgil

by the sameauthor HORACE











(abridged as OVID ARTISTRY




L. P. WILKINSON Brereton Reader in Classicsin the University of Cambridgeand Fellow of King's College



Published by the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press Bentley House, 200 Euston Road, London N.W. I American Branch: 32 East 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022

© Cambridge University Press 1969 Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 75-79058 Standard Book Number: 521 07450 9

Printed in Great Britain at the University Printing House, Cambridge (Brooke Crutchley, University Printer)



Contents Preface I II

page xi





Sources Education Politics Poetry III

16 19

24 39



Politics Literary predecessors Hesiod Aratus Lucretius Varro IV



49 49 56



Time of composition 69 Structure 71 Book 1 Field crops 75 1-42: Proem to the whole work 43-203: Part I. Field crops: hard work 204-350: Part II. The farmer's calendar 351-463: Part III. The weather-signs 463-514: Finale: portentsof Rome's disasterandprayer for redemption Book 2 Trees : the Vine 85 1-8: Proem: invocationto Bacchus (39-46: Invocationto Maecenas) 9-258: Part I. Variety, especiallyas to trees 259-45 7: Part II. Care of trees,especiallyvines 458-542: Finale: praisesof countrylife




Book 3 Animals 1-48: Proem 49-283: Part I. Horsesand cattle 284-566: Part II. Sheep andgoats. Plague Book 4: Bees V
















108 AND



The unificationof Italy Thefinale of Book 1 Octavianin the proem The proem to Book 3 Augustanism VIII

page 92



153 153 159 162 165 1 73



183 223


Technicalsources Field crops Weather-signs Trees Cattle and horses Sheep andgoats Bees

223 226 234 242 252 257 260





Antiquity The Middle Ages The Renaissance '0 fortunatos ... ' The eighteenth-centuryvogue Agriculture The nineteenthcenturyand after Vlll

270 273 290 296 299 305 309


Recent literatureon the structureof the Georgics II Numericalschematismin the Georgi cs III The proem to Book 3 IV Recent literatureon the Aristaeusepyllion v Chiasticpattern of motifs in G.4.457-522 VI Literatureon agriculturallorein the Georgics VII Literatureon the Georgics in aftertimes I

page 314 316 323 325 327 329 330

List of abbreviations


Index of references


List of modernworks cited


Index of propernames


Index of passagescitedfrom the Georgics



Preface My debts are numerous, and most gratefully acknowledged. My friends Messrs D. W. Lucas, W. A. Camps and A. G. Lee read the whole typescript, and Pro£ K. D. White that of chapters IX and x. From them I adopted many useful suggestions, and they are in no way responsible for my errors. Pro£ Erich Burck of Kiel nobly lent me his own copy of his doctoral dissertation, De Vergilii Georgiconpartibusiussivis.For help of various kinds I am indebted to Dr R.R. Bolgar, Pro£ M. L. Clarke, Pro£ P. de Courcelle, Mr E. P. M. Dronke, Mr G. E. Fussell,Mr J. S. L. Gilmour, Pro£ F. J. H. Haskell, Mr E. J. Kenney, Dom David Knowles, Pro£ J. Perret, Pro£ A. T. Phillipson, the late Dr F. J.E. Raby, Dr M. L. Ryder, Pro£ W. H. Thorpe and Pro£]. H. Waszink. Acknowledgement must also be made to Doubleday and Company and Jonathan Cape Ltd for permission to quote from Mr C. Day-Lewis's translation of the Georgics, and to the Clarendon Press, Oxford, for permission to quote from Mr T. F. Higham' s translation of Works and Days in the Oxford Book of Greek Verse in Translation. Finally I must thank for their usual skill and care the University Typewriting Office, Cambridge, and the staff of the Cambridge University Press, whose production of my last book, GoldenLatin Artistry, was awarded a gold medal at the Leipzig Fair, and particularly Mr Peter Burbidge to whom this one is gratefully dedicated. L.P.W.

Cambridge August 1968


Note Superior figures in the text refer the reader to the Index of References beginning on p. 332, which is preceded by a list of abbreviations used for some moden1 works. A list of modem works cited will be found on p. 343, an index of passages cited from the Georgicson p. 360, and an index of proper names on p. 351.


I · Introduction The Georgicsis a splendid poem (I use the singular advisedly), even if it may not be, as Dryden roundly called it, 'the best Poem of the best Poet'. Yet there is no book in English devoted to it. Sellar, eloquent and judicious as ever, did it admirable justice in so far as it was understood and appreciated in the last century. 1 But since then our books on Virgil in general have tended to concentrate on the Aeneid. Thus in T. R. Glover's lively Virgil (1904) the Georgics claimed little more than half a dozen pages out of more than 300, and there are only scattered references to it in W. H. Jackson Knight's Roman Vergil (1944). Turning to America, Tenney Frank's Vergil: A Biography (1922), absorbed in building castles of sand on the basis of apocrypha, allotted it only one chapter of :fifteen short pages. H. W. Prescott's The Developmentof Virgil's Art (1927; reprinted 1963) allowed it twenty pages out of 481. In fact the sole general treatment of the poem in English in this century, apart from the lively, impressionistic survey in E. K. Rand's The MagicalArt of Virgil (1931), is the chapter, valuable if sometimes fanciful, in Brooks Otis' Virgil: a Study in Civilized Poetry (1964); and there are major aspects which he would not claim to have dealt with at all.* The collection of essays entitled Virgil and edited by Professor D. R. Dudley (1969) barely touches on the Georgics,through no fault of the editor. On the other hand, it is a significant fact that three translations in English appeared during or just after the Second World War. Cecil Day-Lewis published in 1940 a delightful version in loose six-beat lines, distinguished by fresh and sensitive phrasing-a true poet entering into the experience of another; R. C. Trevelyan produced a blank-verse translation, restrained and faithful, in 1944; and L.A. S. Jermyn another in blank verse, which did not * The standard Conington-Nettleship-Haverfield edition (1898) is good on points of scholarship, less good on husbandry. T. E. Page's edition of Virgil (1898) is best on the Georgics.He was a Lincolnshire man. There is a useful new edition of Books 1 and 4, intended for schools and General Degree students, by H. H. Huxley (1963). I




appear until 1947. There were others elsewhere: a French translation in unrhymed Alexandrines by S. Hubaux and A. Tomsin was published at Liege in 1947, and one in vers libre, made by P.A. - Nicolas in German-occupied· North Africa, at Paris in 1948. 2 It was surely a yearning to escape from the horror and chaos of a distracted generation into the timeless peace and routine of agriculture that drew these to the Georgicsin that crisis. Virgil himself, living in an age of violence and ' displaced persons ', had expressed the contrast by an inspired asyndeton and change of rhythm (G. 2. 510-13): . firatrum, gau dent per fius1. sangume exsilioque domos et dulcia limina mutant atque alio patriam quaerunt sub sole iacentem. agricola incurvo terram dimovit aratro.

Day-Lewis has described how he felt as he worked at his version in the West Country (at a time when bombs were beginning to rain on our cities) : 'I felt more and more of the kind of patriotism which I imagine was Virgil's-the natural piety, the heightened sense of the genius of the place, the passion to praise and protect one's roots, or to put down roots somewhere while there is still time, which it takes a seismic event such as a war to reveal to most of us rootless persons.'3 Jermyn's experience is still more significant; for his version was a curainvigilatathat kept him alive during years when, an elderly civilian caught in Singapore, he was interned by the Japanese in Changi gaol and Sime Road prisoncamp. For most of the day he was too weak through undernourishment to do anything. But the evening meal contained a small meat-content which gave him strength to devote half an hour every night to building up his honeycomb : tantus amor Borum et generandi gloria mellis.

Wordsworth, writing in 1805 (The Prelude,xu), testified to having found refuge in Nature from 'these distracted times': In Nature still Glorying, I found a counterpoise in her, Which, when the spirit of evil reached its height, Maintained for me a secret happiness. 2



In the matter of recent exposition and interpretation of the Georgicsthe German-speaking world has been far better served. K. Buchner' s monumental article 'P. V ergilius Maro' for the Real-Enzyclopadie (vmA, 1955), published separately in 1956, extends to nearly 500 columns, giving a full survey of recent scholarship along with personal interpretation. W. Richter's edition with commentary (1957), in spite of what may seem some errors of judgement (and beware of misprints!), is a most valuable gamer of wide learning. And F. Klingner's running commentary VirgilsGeorgica(1963) is a masterpiece of sensitive criticism which includes material already collected by him from his earlier work in Romische Geisteswelt. The French have now a Bude edition of 1956 by E. de SaintDenis, and a compact and suggestive chapter in J. Perret' s Virgile: l'homme et l'reuvre (1952). As to Italian, I much regret that I have been unable to consult Castiglioni's Lezioni intornoalle Georgiche di Virgilio (1947) or E. Paratore's Introduzione alle Georgichedi Virgilio (1938); but I have been able to read Paratore's Virgilio (1961). Book 3 has now been edited by A. Marsili (1965). The literature about Virgil is so vast, and the origin of any idea about him so hard to locate, that I have followed in the main text the sensible example of Professor Otis, making general acknowledgements, indicating particular debts only when I am specially conscious of them, and leaving documentation of recent controversies on various topics to appendixes. In the hope that this book may be readable by those whose Latin is rusty, or even non-existent, I have translated most of the passages I quote, and sometimes explained terms, for example aition, which are familiar to classical scholars. The chief obstacle to appreciation of the Georgicshas been its ostensible genre: it was deceptive and has abundantly deceived.* This is no more a didactic poem than Ovid's Ars Amatoria: it simply masquerades as such. From the very beginning, in Hesiod,


'A didactic poem ... giving practical advice to farmers on the cultivation of crops' (H. H. Scullard, From the Gracchito Nero, 2nd edn. 1963, p. 245).




didactic poetry contained passages designed for relief; till finally, in the best genuine example of the genre, the De Rerum Natura, the non-technical part has become a main object: TO1T6:pepyovKpehTOV TOV epyov. If the Georgicshas to be assigned to a genre,it is Descriptive Poetry. This seems to have been realised by the young Addison, who wrote the perceptive Essay prefixed to Dryden's translation.* 'This kind of Poetry I am now speaking of addresses itself wholly to the Imagination ... It raises in our Minds a pleasing variety of Scenes and Landskips whilst it teaches us, and makes the dryest of its Precepts look like a Description.' It was not in the nature of the Roman poet to invent a new genre-Graecis intactumcarmen(paceLucilius) ; and the Georgicsis so rich in import that Virgil may not have been fully aware of what was his principal aim. But taken as a whole the pleasure it conveys is that which, for some mysterious reason, we derive from vivid poetic description. To quote Addison again: 'We find our imaginations more affected by his descriptions than they would have been by the very sight of what he describes.' The fact that description in poetry can give pleasure was appreciated already by Homer, witness his similes, which elaborate far beyond the point of comparison. Iliad 8. 555-61 is a well-known example:


ws6' ch'

EVovpo:vc;:,o:crrpo:cpo:ElVT)V o:µcpiCJEAT)VT)V cpo:ivET' 6:pmpETieo:,OTET' ETIAETO VTJVEµos o:l0iip· EKT' Ecpo:vEV w:5:cro:i CJKorno:l Ko:i1rpwovESo:Kpo1 K0:1VCXTIO:l · ovpo:v60Ev6' o:p' VTIEppayriO:CJTIETOS o:terip, TI