Billeder på siden

Servius in the fourth are the most important. The early Christians in the belief, still unquestioned in the days of Pope, that the fourth Eclogue contained a prophecy of Christ, looked upon him almost with reverence, and it is not merely as the greatest of Italian singers, but also as something of a saint, that Dante claims him as his master and guide in the Inferno. In popular esteem he was long regarded as a wizard (possibly owing to his description of the Sibyl and the under world in the sixth Aeneid), and it was customary to consult his works as oracles by opening them at random and accepting the first lines which were chanced upon as prophetic. The emperor Alexander Severus thus consulted the Sortes Vergilianae, and opened at the words Aen. 6. 852 tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento, while Charles I. in the Bodleian Library at Oxford came upon the famous lines Aen. 4. 615-620: at bello audacis populi vexatus et armis, finibus extorris, complexu avulsus Iuli, auxilium inploret, videatque indigna suorum funera; nec, cum se sub leges pacis iniquae tradiderit, regno aut optata luce fruatur,

sed cadat ante diem mediaque inhumatus harena.

In considering Virgil's writings, it must be borne in mind that, with the exception of satire, Roman poetry is entirely modelled on Greek. Terence copies Menander, Lucretius Empedocles, Horace Alcaeus and Sappho, Propertius Callimachus, and so on. Virgil in his Eclogues professedly imitates Theocritus, in his Georgics Hesiod, and in the Aeneid Homer. The

1 See his Messiah, a sacred Eclogue in imitation of Virgil's Pollio.'

cultured circle of readers for whom he wrote would probably have turned aside with contempt from a poem which relied wholly on native vigour, and did not conform, at any rate outwardly, to one of the accepted standards of literary excellence. They relished some happy reproduction of a Greek phrase, which was 'caviare to the general,' much in the same way that English scholars sometimes dwell with peculiar satisfaction on passages of Milton which it needs a knowledge of Latin to appreciate. Horace in his treatise on Poetry (1. 268) lays down the law which was considered universally binding on all poets:

vos exemplaria Graeca

nocturna versate manu, versate diurna;

and Seneca (Suas. 3) tells us that Virgil borrowed from the Greeks non surripiendi causa, sed palam imitandi, hoc animo ut vellet adgnosci.


The Bucolics (Bovкoλiká songs about herdsmen') consist of ten short poems commonly called Eclogues (i.e. Selections') and belong to the class of poetry called 'pastoral.' They are largely copied from Theocritus, a Greek poet who flourished during the first half of the third century B.C., and who, though born at Cos and for some time resident in Alexandria, spent the chief portion of his life in Sicily. His poems, called 'Idylls' (Eidúλλia) or 'small sketches,' are descriptive for the most part of country life and often take the form of dialogue. Their origin is to be traced to that love of music and song which is developed by the ease and happiness of pastoral life in a southern clime (Lucr. 5. 1379 seq.), and to the singing-matches and improvisations common at village feasts, especially among the

Dorians who formed so large a proportion of the colonists of Sicily. The Idylls, however, differ from the Eclogues in a marked manner. They are true to nature; the scenery is real; the shepherds are beings of flesh and blood ';1 their broad Doric has the native vigour of the Scotch of Burns. The Eclogues, on the other hand, are highly artificial. They are idealised sketches of rustic life written to suit the taste of polished readers in the metropolis of the world. 'Grace and tenderness' are, as Horace notes,2 their chief characteristics, and the Lycidas of Milton is an enduring monument of his admiration for them, but true pastoral poetry can scarcely be written under such conditions. The shepherds and shepherdesses of the Eclogues, like those depicted on Sèvres porcelain or the canvases of Watteau, are 'graceful and tender,' but they are imaginary and unreal.

The Georgics (Tewpуiká) are, as their name implies, a Treatise on Husbandry' consisting of four Books (containing in all 2184 lines), of which the First deals with husbandry proper, the Second with the rearing of stock, the Third with the cultivation of trees, and the Fourth with bee-keeping. They profess to be an imitation of Hesiod, a very ancient poet of Ascra in Boeotia, whose poem entitled 'Works and Days ' 4 1 Fritzsche, Theocr. Introd.

2 Sat. 1. 10. 44 molle atque facetum | Vergilio annuerunt gaudentes rure Camenae.

3 G. 2. 176 Ascraeumque cano Romana per oppida carmen. Virgil, however, borrows largely from other writers, e.g. from the Diosemeia and Phaenomena of the astronomical poet Aratus, from Eratosthenes of Alexandria, and from the Onplaкé of Nicander.

4 Ἔργα καὶ Ημεραι.

consists of a quantity of short sententious precepts thrown into a poetic form. Such poetry is called 'didactic' because its aim is to convey instruction. In early ages, when writing is unknown or little used, proverbs and precepts are naturally cast into a poetic mould for the simple reason that they are thus rendered less liable to alteration and more easy of recollection.1 Even when prose writing has become common a philosopher or a preacher may endeavour to render his subject more attractive by clothing it in poetic dress,2 and shortly before Virgil began to write Lucretius had so embodied the philosophic system of Epicurus in his De Rerum Natura. That splendid poem was constantly in Virgil's mind when he wrote the Georgics, but, though he found in Lucretius a source of inspiration and in Hesiod a model, he differs widely from them both. Hesiod wrote didactic poetry because in his day it was practically useful, Lucretius wrote it in the interests of what he believed to be philosophical truth; Virgil's object is on the other hand not primarily to instruct but to please. What he writes is excellent sense, for he thoroughly understood his subject, and his love for agriculture and the 'divine country' is undoubtedly genuine, but he writes to gratify the artistic and literary tastes of his readers and not with any practical aim. The characteristic indeed of the Georgics is their consummate art. They are written with slow3 and elaborate care. Each line

1 The use of rhyming rules is known to all boys.

2 Cf. Lucr. 1. 934 Musaeo contingens cuncta lepore.

3 Allowing seven years for their composition, we get an average of less than a line a day.

has been polished to the utmost perfection, or, to use a phrase attributed to Virgil,1 licked into shape like a bear's cub.' The Aeneid is conventionally spoken. of as Virgil's greatest work, and, possibly, the dramatic power of the fourth Book and the imaginative grandeur of the sixth surpass anything in the Georgics, but as a monument of his literary skill they stand unequalled.2

The Aeneid consists of twelve books, and is an epic poem professedly modelled on Homer. The first six books describe the wanderings and the second six the .wars of Aeneas, so that the whole work constitutes a Roman Odyssey and Iliad in one.

Book I. relates how Aeneas, a Trojan prince, son of Venus and Anchises, while sailing with his fleet from Sicily, encounters a storm stirred up by Aeolus at the request of Juno, who, still cherishing the wrath first aroused in her by the fatal judgment of Paris, desires to destroy the last remnant of the Trojan race, and so prevent their founding in Italy a second and mightier empire. Cast ashore on the African coast Aeneas and his followers are hospitably welcomed by Dido, the Phoenician queen, who is just completing the building of Carthage. At a banquet given in their honour Dido, who through the schemes of Venus has become

1 Vita Donati, carmen se ursae more parere dicens, et lambendo demum effingere.

2 This statement may be definitely tested in one point. Let any one take the first Georgic and examine the exquisite finish of rhythm exhibited in lines 27, 65, 80, 85, 108, 181, 199, 281-3, 293, 295, 320, 328-334, 341, 356, 378, 388, 389, 406-9, 449, 468, 482, There is nothing like it in the Aeneid.

3 Large portions are also copied from the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius, an Alexandrine poet (222-181 B.C.)

« ForrigeFortsæt »