Wizardly Virgil's Foundational Fan Fiction and Farming Facts

Next up is the three major works of the Roman poet Virgil, being the Eclogues, the Georgics, and the Aeneid.

The Eclogues have not aged well. It is essentially an overtly political idyllic poem. The issues addressed and alluded to are so particular to Virgil's time and place that I, personally, did not get much out of it. I would recommend skipping it.

Like Lucretius' De rerum natura, Virgil's Georgics is a sort of textbook in poem form. But rather than addressing the nature of the universe, it more narrowly addresses the field of agriculture. This leaves me continuing to wonder how much of the essentials of civilization could be grabbed into small poetical works for preservation. While we make use of mnemonics in schools today, I don't think that we are really using them to their full potential. Imagine if, instead of a crib sheet, you could have an unforgettable poem in your head for every exam?

There is some surprisingly "modern" farming advice in the Georgics. For example, crop rotation is discussed. If you just read Wikipedia on the subject, it skips from a mention in Leviticus to reign of Charlemagne with nothing in between. This is the sort of lapse in knowledge that you get when no-one reads the canon anymore. Centuries of knowledge just slip away as everything becomes a summary of a summary. History becomes a game of Chinese telephone

The Aeneid is definitely Virgil's greatest work, in all respects, i.e. fame, length, and worth. If you'll stretch your memory back to the very beginning of this blog with the works of Homer, you'll remember a certain war in which the Greeks destroyed a little ol' place called Troy. Virgil not only decided to write a sequel, he decided to write it about the Trojan survivors to legitimize the Roman Empire.

The first half of the Aeneid much resembles the Odyssey. Aeneas, plagued by the machinations of a bitter Juno, must lead his band of survivors from Troy to find a new homeland. They even run into the cyclops island from the Odyssey and meet one of Odysseus' men who was left behind. This wandering culminates in a near marriage between Aeneas and Queen Dido of Carthage as part of Juno's plot to prevent Rome's fated glorious future. Much ink has been spilled adapting the tragic aspects of that love story.

The second half more closely mirrors the Iliad. The Trojans arrive in Italy but find themselves at war with half the peninsula due to Juno's continued meddling. This half is seldom read. The standard edition given to young Latin students only covers the first half of the book. The second half is criticized as being "just" about battles. But the same could be easily said about the Iliad. And I find the language of the second half superior. The taunts thrown back and forth are exceptional. Also like the Iliad, there is a scene in which Aeneas receives a shield forged by Vulcan that depicts scenes from the future up until Virgil's own time.

The Aeneid speaks to a universal need for some sense of origin that we find both in countries and individuals. Every family has some story about how they are connected to some famous so-and-so, how their grandfather fought in such and such war, or how their family arrived by boat fleeing war. Even the mighty Roman Empire had to tell itself that it was descended from the demi-god Aeneas. There's comfort in continuity with the past.