Virgil's Experience: Nature and History, Times, Names, and Places

Virgil's Experience: Nature and History, Times, Names, and Places

Virgil's Experience: Nature and History, Times, Names, and Places

Virgil's Experience: Nature and History, Times, Names, and Places

Synopsis

This book studies Virgil's ideas of nature, history, sense of nation, and sense of identity, combined with the study of attitudes towards nature throughout antiquity. Blending literature with history, and in the case of Lucretius, philosophy, it offers a vision and an interpretation of the culture of the 1st century B.C. as a whole. It argues that Lucretius and Virgil affected a revolution in Western sensibility; claiming that a book about poetry should be a book about life, it combines scholarship and precision with a sense of the importance of literature and its capacity to enhance our understanding of our past and of ourselves.

Excerpt

This is both more and less than a book about Virgil: less, in that it treats a part of his art, not the whole; more, because it also examines the literary, cultural, and social influences which acted upon him, and the effect which he had upon others. At the heart of the book is an investigation into his attitude to nature and landscape; his feeling for Rome, Italy, and small-scale locality; his sense of history, process, and the passing of time; his capacity to crystallize moments of experience and things seen; and the relationship within his imagination between these several areas of mental life. One of my primary purposes is to illuminate the meaning of the verse through a close study of the text, an enquiry into the details of language and sense (a good deal that is written about Latin poetry would apply equally if the words were prose) but also into the larger form; for no one understood better than Virgil how structure could express meaning.

It has also been my purpose to look at its central figure, or one element in him, from various angles: not only to get inside his verse, but to walk round him, to look at what lies before and behind him, to see the world that he saw, to show him in the current of his time while bringing out his uniqueness. In terms of method, I have sought to apply different kinds of thought or argument to the issue at hand: close reading, literary history, cultural history, politics and political thought, philosophy. Partly this is for the sake of Virgil himself: few poets reward a close analysis better, and yet, even more than most writers, he needs also to be seen in relation to the circumstances in which he found himself if he is to be fully appreciated. He is both a child of his time and an exceptionally original mind; here literary tradition, popular ideas, and conventional attitudes meet an acutely personal vision, and the interplay between tradition and the individual talent is as fascinating in him as anywhere in literary history. Accordingly, both the treatment of nature in Greek poetry and the culture of Italy form part of my enquiry, and are handled in the . . .

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