Virgil

Virgil

Virgil

Virgil

Excerpt

This, the sixth volume of the series, is the first to be devoted to Virgil. It will not be the last. Virgil himself, like Shakespeare, is inexhaustible, a definitive book on him will never be written. On literature and art, his influence has been the strongest, the most pervasive, the most enduring, of any Greek or Roman author. Nor is the issue one that can be kept within the bounds of scholarship. Virgil speaks directly to the human heart: the reaction between the poet and his readers is of peculiar intensity. In the last resort, we write about Virgil in order to come to terms with ourselves.

The first two essays deal with a problem that we have only recently begun to understand—that of Virgil's originality. For the Eclogues, Professor Wormell shows how Virgil's ambition to be the Roman Theocritus implies far more than translating Greek poetry into Latin. The careful arrangement of the Eclogues Book has endowed it with an artistic unity not to be found in Theocritus. Where Theocritus describes vividly the countryside of Sicily or Cos, Virgil's poems are set in Arcadia, a country outside space or time, whose trance-like landscape can take on—but only fleetingly—the aspects of something we know. It was Virgil, too, who infused it with that nostalgic and pensive air, in which visions are seen but never realised—nec quid speraret habebat. Professor Brooks Otis—who has perhaps done more than anyone else in our time to establish a new view of Virgil—demonstrates the contrast between Homeric and Virgilian epic, between the heroic code that motivated Achilles and Ajax, and the pietas which had first claim on Aeneas. The Aeneid, as he rightly insists, is a seamless robe: unlike the Iliad, it cannot be broken down into aristeia, unlike the Odyssey, it has a programme that rises above personal ends. In both the Eclogues and the Aeneid, Virgil has used his Greek models not for imitation, but for creative transformation.

The next three essays explore various aspects of Virgil's influence on . . .

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