Monday, October 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Virgil

Today in 70 BC, Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) was born. Author of The Georgics (written to recruit Romans back to the rural life), Virgil won a lifetime stipend from Augustus and settled down to write the Aeniad. However, he contracted a fever and died before his masterpiece was finished. He asked for it to be burned, since it wasn't completed, but his heirs (fortunately) ignored that instruction and listened to the emperor, instead.

arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque venit
litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum, saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram,
multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem
inferretque deos Latio; genus unde
Albanique patres atque altae moenia Romae.
Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso
quidve dolens regina deum tot volvere
insignem pietate virum, tot adire labores
impulerit. tantaene animis caelestibus irae?

Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc'd by fate,
And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate,
Expell'd and exil'd, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin'd town;
His banish'd gods restor'd to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.
O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;
What goddess was provok'd, and whence her hate;
For what offense the Queen of Heav'n began
To persecute so brave, so just a man;
Involv'd his anxious life in endless cares,
Expos'd to wants, and hurried into wars!
Can heav'nly minds such high resentment show,
Or exercise their spite in human woe?
-- John Dryden

My epic theme is war, and a man who, through fate, came as a refugee from Troy's coasts to Italy, and the shores of Lavinium. This man was battered helplessly both on land and at sea by the viciousness of the higher powers, thanks to the obdurate wrath of Juno the savage. Much, too, did he suffer through war, until he could establish a city, and bring his gods home to Latium. This is how the Latin peoples came to be, whence the forefathers in Alba, and the walls of mighty Rome.

Muse, remind me of the reasons: through what damage to her power, what wound, did the queen of the gods drive a man famous for his respect to live through so many agonies? Can so potent a fury blaze in a god's heart?
-- Andrew Wilson

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