The Georgics by Virgil.

The Georgics (Georgica) is a poem by Virgil written, perhaps, around the same time as his most famous epic the Aeneid. The title comes from the Greek γεωργικά - georgica - which relates to all things agricultural, and it's modelled on Hesiod's Works and Days (8th Century B.C.). It's divided into four books.


The first book begins by addressing his patron Gaius Maecenas (also the patron of Horace):
What makes the corncrops glad, under which star
To turn the soil, Maécenas, and wed your vines
To elms, the care of cattle, keeping of flocks,
All the experience thrifty bees demand -
Such are the themes of my song.
Virgil then, as tradition demands for such poetry of this time, invokes the gods:
You brightest lamps
That lead the year's procession across the sky;
Liber and nurturing Ceres, since your grace
Procured that earth should change Chaonia's acorns
For the rich ears of grain, and grapes be found
For lacing cups of Archeloüs' water;
You too, the present help of farmers, Fauns
(Come, Fauns and Dryad maidens, dance together:
Yours are the gifts I sing); and you for whom
The earth, smitten with your great trident, first
Brought forth the champion horse, Neptune; and you,
Haunter of woods, for whom in Cea's brakes
Three hundred snow-white bullocks crop rich pasture;
Yourself, leaving the high Arcadian glades,
Your birthplace, Pan of Tegea, graciously
Draw near; Minerva who revealed the olive,
The boy-inventor of the curving plough,
Silvanus with a young uprooted cypress,
Come you; and all the gods and goddesses
Who love to guard the country, you who foster
New fruits unsown, and you who from the sky
Send down abundant shows upon the sown.
And you above all, you of the unknown future -
Whether some council of the gods will soon
Receive you, Caesar; or whether you may be choose
To visit cities, succour lands, and be
Acknowledged over this wide world (your brow
Bound with a wreath ancestral, Venus' myrtle)
Author of fruits and potentate of seasons;
Or whether as deity of boundless sea
You come, and sailors recognise alone
Your godhead, furthest of Thulê be your slave,
And Tethys proffer all her waves for your dowry;
Or whether, to reinforce the zodiac,
You bring to the slow months your added presence,
Where now a space between the Virgin gapes
And the Claws that chase her (already in your favour
The flaring Scorpion is drawing in his arms
To yield his usurpation in the sky) -
Be what you will (save that the Underworld
Hopes not for you as king, and never may
Such dread desire for kingship come upon you,
Though Greece is spellbound by the Elysian Fields
And Proserpine is loath to follow Ceres
Calling her back to earth);
But smooth my path, smile on my enterprise,
Pity with me the unguided steps of farmers,
Come forward, and learn already to answer prayer.
He then writes on the matter of crops, soil, harvest, and even ploughs, and then, interestingly, the impact of civil wars on farming and land. He also writes on the seasons, the stars and, of course, the weather. We see the influence of Hesiod in this part, from Work and Days but also Theogony in the reference to the ages of man, as well as Lucretius in his ideas on the degeneration of soil and earth.


In Book II Virgil turns his attention to trees and vines. It begins,
Thus far my song has been of tilth below
And stars above; now, Bacchus, it shall be
Of you, and with you the woodland saplings
And the rearing of the slow-maturing olive.
Come, Father of the Winepress: yours are the gifts
That here abound; for you the land burgeons
Pregnant with vine-leafed autumn, and the vats
Foam to the brim. Come, Father of the Winepress,
Swiftly pull off your buskins and with me
Dip your bare legs deep in the new must.
He goes on to write on the propagation of trees and their different needs, writing -
Come, farmers, and learn the form of tendance
Each kind of tree requires; domesticate
The wild by culture.
Do not let your land
Lie idle. O what joy to plant with vines
All Ismarus and clothe the great Taburns
With olives!
Virgil then moves on to grafting, then suddenly and movingly writes in praise of Italy, before returning to the matter of soil, then cattle and olives, describing agriculture and the struggle of man against nature.


Book III begins,
You too, great Pales, we will sing, and you
Farmed keeper of flocks beside Amphrysus' stream
And, Pan's Arcadian woods and rivers, you.
Those other themes that might have served to charm
The idle mind are all so hackneyed now.
Who has not heard about the grim Eurystheus
Or those notorious altars of Busiris?
Who has not harped upon the youthful Hylas,
Latona's Delos or Hippodameia
And Pelops, charioteer conspicuous
For his ivory shoulder? I must find a way
Of my own to soar above the common ground
And 'fly victorious on the lips of men.'
This section largely deals with the matter of animals: horses and cattle, then sheep and goats. The main themes of it are breeding and death, and it includes a description of a plague in Noricum.


This final book is on the subject of bees. It begins,
The heavenly gift of honey from the air
Is my next theme. Look kindly on this too,
Maecenas. I will show you a spectacle
To marvel at, a world in miniature,
Gallant commanders and the institutions
Of a whole nation, its character, pursuits,
Communities and warfare. Little the scale
To work on, yet not little is the glory
If unpropitious spirits do not cramp
A poet and Apollo hears his prayer.
Book IV is my favourite part of the Georgics. Virgil writes on bee-keeping and, inevitably, likens the bees to the ideal of mankind - hard-working men. He then writes on Aristaeus, a Greek god (Ἀρισταῖος ) who was believed to have invented bee-keeping.

I won't lie and say the Georgics is a pleasure to read: it has its beautiful parts of course, but it is a little bit of an effort. It's primarily of interest from an agricultural and historical point of view, and I enjoyed it when considering it in relation to Hesiod, who I love. Like Hesiod it's full of instruction and practical detail but Virgil interweaves politics, history, and myth in with it, for example the description of Orpheus rescuing Eurydice from the Underworld in Book IV. Despite not thoroughly enjoying it, though, I would read it again: indeed this is my second or perhaps even third read. There is something soothing about reading it and thinking of the land in times of old.

And that was my 7th title for the Deal Me In Challenge, as well as my 120th title from my Ancient Greek and Roman Challenge! My next 'ancient', I think, will be the poems of Catullus, which I'm hoping to start today, and my next title for the Deal Me In Challenge will be, appropriately, Of Winter by Thomas Dekker, the first essay to come up in this challenge.

Comments

  1. I'm so looking forward to reading this but I must admit that I'm glad that you read it first. I think I might like the interwoven topics. Great review!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. It's only superficial though, there's a lot more going on in the Georgics. It's a funny book for me - I never really love it but I keep going back! :)

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  2. i acquired a copy of this quite a while ago, but (blush) i haven't read it yet... soon, tho... nice of you to post about it...

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    Replies
    1. Do you have the Eclogues as well? I think I remember loving that one... :)

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    2. i don't think so... i'll have to look...

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