Vergil's Eclogues

Vergil's Eclogues

Vergil's Eclogues

Vergil's Eclogues


An American reader's edition of a classical pastoral text

Best remembered for his unfinished epic, the Aeneid, the poet Vergil was celebrated in his time both for the perfection of his art and for the centrality of his ideas to Roman culture. The Eclogues, his earliest confirmed work, were composed in part out of political considerations: when the Roman authorities threatened to seize his family's land, Vergil's appeal in the form of Eclogue IX won a stay. Eclogue I appears to be a thank-you for that favor,

Barbara Hughes Fowler provides scholars and students with a new American verse translation of Vergil's Eclogues. An accomplished translator, Fowler renders the poet's words into an English that is contemporary while remaining close to the spirit of the original. In an introduction to the text, she compares the treatment of the pastoral form by Vergil and Theocritus, illuminating the ways in which Vergil built upon the earlier poet's work and thereby moved the genre in a new direction.


Publius Vergilius Maro was born on October 15, 70 B.C., at Andes, a village near Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy), where his father owned a small farm. He was educated at Cremona and Milan and is said to have studied later at Naples with Parthenius of Bithynia, who taught him Greek, and at Rome with the Epicurean philosopher Siro and the rhetorician Epidius. He may after that have returned home and composed the early works that are usually attributed to him: Ciris, Copa, Culex, Dirae, and Moretum.

Octavian and Mark Antony, who defeated Brutus and Cassius at Philippi in 42 B.C., had promised their veterans lands in Italy. As a result, in 41 B.C. Vergil's father was threatened with the loss of his property. At the urging of C. Asinius Pollio, then governor of Cisalpine Gaul, and his successor, L. Alfenus Varus, the young Vergil appealed to Octavian on his father's behalf. His suit was successful, and Eclogue I is a gracious acknowledgment of Octavian's favor.

It was Pollio who, according to Servius, the ancient commentator on Vergil (ca. 400 A.D.), persuaded Vergil to try his hand at pastoral verse. Vergil then composed the Eclogues in a period of three years, publishing them at the age of twenty-seven. The Eclogues, Servius also tells us, were not composed in the order in which they appear in the published collection, and that much is obvious. Eclogue IX, for instance, was written after confiscations of land near Mantua and Cremona and is apparently an appeal to Varus to save Vergil's father's farm (part of the efforts that led Varus to join Pollio in encouraging Vergil to plead his father's cause with Octavian directly). Eclogue I was obviously written after the farm had been saved. Beyond that we cannot be certain of even relative dates. Then too the notional date of a poem may not have been the date of composition. Attempts to explain the arrangement of the poems in the collection have been many, but none is conclusive. After the publication of the Eclogues, Vergil lived chiefly in Rome, where he enjoyed the patronage of Octavians' minister Maecenas. With Maecenas's encouragement, between 37 and 30 B.C. he composed the Georgics.

We know little of Vergil's personal life. He is said to have been tall and dark, and to have been, because of ill health and devotion to his work, a . . .

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