CHAPTER III
LITERATURE. -- 2. CONTEMPORARIES

Not from a vain or shallow thought
His awful Jove young Phidias brought;
Never from lips of cunning fell
The thrilling Delphic oracle;
Out from the heart of nature rolled
The burdens of the Bible old;
The litanies of nations came,
Like the volcano's tongue of flame,
Up from the burning core below --
The canticles of love and woe. -- EMERSON, The Problem.

ONE of the things that mark Virgil as different from the other poets of his day is the long and increasingly vigorous life of his poetic genius. Fate snuffed out some of his contemporaries in comparatively early manhood, but not, one thinks, before they had given mankind all, or nearly all, the light they had to give. Others survived their genius, and either became silent altogether or took refuge in imitating themselves. Horace avowed that poetry had been for him an affair of youth and poverty; that, now he was older and more well-to-do, he did not care to write; he preferred reading Homer and making excursions into popular philosophy; somebody else, who, like Lucullus' soldier, had 'lost his purse,' might write now1. It may have been that he felt, as he grew to have a deeper appreciation of the meaning and purpose of poetry, that he was not entirely fit for the work -- though after all it is hard to see why a genuine Epicurean should ever wish to write poetry at all. But Virgil, on the other hand, shows a steady growth in insight and in power of expression. Poetry was not with him either an amusement or a trade. He wrote

____________________
1
Horace, Epp. ii. 2. 26-40, and following (cf. Epp. i. 2. I). Dean Wickham finds here 'some irony and exaggeration, no doubt, but some substantial truth' (Horace for English Readers).

-62-

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