Introduction

Go Look at Dirt

So I was told by a friend when I began to translate the Georgics, a didactic poem on Roman agriculture 2, 188 lines in length, written by the first-century B.C.E. Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro, better known as Virgil to modern readers and best known as the author of the epic poem the Aeneid. The Georgics is a different kind of poem. It is not a narrative, resembling more an extensive essay on fundamental topics of first-century Italian farming: plowing and the weather (Book I), the cultivation of trees and vines (Book II), the rearing of livestock (Book III), and the care of bees (Book IV). The Georgics is about the land and the way of living-by-farming of first-century B.C.E. Italy that Virgil knew because that was when and where he lived.

Today, the Georgics is read mostly by academics studying classics, a university discipline based on the study of the Latin and classical Greek languages, literature, history, and culture, and by such literary-minded folk as poets and poetry lovers. The easiest description of the poem— “a didactic poem on Roman agriculture”—automatically discourages interest.

We can go about reading, and translating, the Georgics in two ways. The first is strictly academic. The translator approaches the poem armed with a full scholarly arsenal of books: at least two commentaries, a large dictionary, such books as K. D. White's Farm Equipment of the Roman World (1975) and Elfriede Abbe's The Plants of Virgil's Georgics (1965), and a few literary-critical studies, from Michael C. J. Putnam's Virgil's Poem of the Earth: Studies in the Georgics (1979) to Joseph Farrell's Vergil's Georgics and the Traditions of Ancient Epic: The Art of Allusion in Literary History (1991).

The second path we can take in translating the Georgics clarifies what the inspection of dirt has to do with Latin poetry. When a reader

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Georgics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Book I - Works and Days 1
  • Book II - The Care of Plants and Vines 41
  • Book III - Livestock 77
  • Book IV - Defining the Dilemma 117
  • Select Bibliography 149
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