Vita Suetonii vulgo Donatiana
Translation by Andrew Laird
m = reading of part of the MS tradition
P = reading on a papyrus
Numbering follows G. Brugnoli and F. Stok, Vitae Vergilianae antiquae (Rome, 1997).
1 P. Vergilius Maro Mantuanus parentibus modicis fuit ac praecipue patre, quem quidam opificem figulum, plures Magi cuiusdam uiatoris initio mercennarium, mox ob industriam generum tradiderunt egregieque substantiae siluis coemendis et apibus curandis auxisse reculam reculam Daniel: regulam M.
1 Publius Vergilius Maro was from Mantua; his parents were of modest background, especially his father who according to some traditions was a craftsman and a potter, but more have related that he was at first the hired servant of a one Magus, a public servant, and then his son-in-law owing to his diligence, and that he impressively increased the yield of his estate by buying up woodland and keeping bees.
2 natus est Cn. Pompeio Magno M. Licinio Crasso primum conss. Iduum Octobrium die in pago, qui Andes dicitur et abest a Mantua non procul.
2 Virgil was born in the first consulship of Pompeius Magnus and Licinius Crassus, on the 15th October in a district called Andes, not far from Mantua.
3 praegnans eum eum m: eo m mater somniauit enixam se laureum ramum, quem contactu terrae coaluisse et excreuisse ilico in speciem maturae arboris refertaeque uariis pomis et floribus. ac sequenti luce cum marito rus propinquum petens ex itinere deuertit atque in subiecta fossa partu leuata est.
3 When his mother was expecting him she dreamt that she gave birth to a branch of laurel, which on touching the earth took root and on that very spot grew to the size of a full-grown tree, full of different kinds of fruits and blossoms. The next morning as she was heading with a husband to a country area nearby, she turned from her course and in a furrow by the road was relieved by giving birth.
4 ferunt infantem, ut sit editus, neque uagisse et adeo miti uultu fuisse, ut haud dubiam spem prosperioris geniturae iam tum daret.
4 They say that the infant did not cry at birth and his expression was so peaceful that even then it gave them the firm expectation that his birth was quite auspicious.
5 et accessit aliud praesagium, siquidem uirga populea more regionis in puerperiis eodem statim loco depacta ita breui eualuit tempore, ut multo ante satas populos adaequauisset; quae ‘arbor Vergilii’ ex eo dicta atque etiam consecrata est summa grauidarum ac fetarum religione et suscipientium ibi et soluentium uota.
5 There was a further omen: the sapling of a poplar which, in the custom of that region, was immediately planted in the same spot that a child was born, grew in such a short time that it matched the height of poplars planted long before. On that account it was called ‘Virgil’s Tree’ and it was even the object of great veneration for the pregant or newly delivered women who undertook or fulfilled vows there.
6 initia aetatis Cremonae egit usque ad uirilem togam, quam XVII XVII m: VII m: XV Reifferscheid anno natali suo accepit isdem illis consulibus iterum duobus duobus om. m, quibus erat natus, euenitque ut eodem ipso die Lucretius poeta decederet.
6 He spent his early years in Cremona until he took the toga virilis in his seventeenth year when there were the same two consuls as when he was born, and it so happened that the poet Lucretius died on that very day.
7 sed Vergilius a Cremona Mediolanum et inde paulo post transiit in urbem.
7 Virgil though went from Cremona to Milan, and some time after that moved to the city.
8 corpore et statura fuit grandi, aquilo colore, facie rusticana, ualetudine uaria: nam plerumque a stomacho et a faucibus ac dolore capitis laborabat, sanguinem etiam saepe reiecit.
8 He was of great size and high stature, of dark complexion, with the appearance of a countryman and of uneven health; as he suffered with his stomach and throat as well as from headaches; he often coughed up blood as well.
9 cibi uinique minimi, libidinis in pueros pronioris, quorum maxime dilexit Cebetem et Alexandrum, quem secunda Bucolicorum ecloga Alexim appellat, donatum sibi ab Asinio Pollione, utrumque non ineruditum, Cebetem uero et poetam.
9 He took very little food or wine; he had a readier desire for boys - he was very attached to Cebes and Alexander, whom he calls Alexis in the second eclogue of his Bucolics and who had been given to him by Asinius Pollio. Neither of the two boys lacked education: Cebes was even a poet.
10 uulgatum est consuesse eum et cum Plotia Hieria. sed Asconius Pedianus adfirmat, ipsam postea maiorem natu narrare solitam inuitatum quidem a Vario ad communionem sui, uerum pertinacissime recusasse.
10 It was put about that Virgil consorted with Plotia Hieria. But Asconius Pedianus holds that later when she was of an advanced age she used to recount that Virgil had indeed been invited to associate with her by Varius, but very steadfastly refused.
11 cetera sane uita uita m: uitae m et ore et animo tam probum constat, ut Neapoli ‘Parthenias’ uulgo appellatus sit, ac si quando Romae, quo rarissime commeabat, uiseretur in publico, sectantes demonstrantesque se suffugeret suffugeret Reifferscheid: suffugere m: subterfugere m in proximum tectum.
11 With regard to the rest of his life it is certainly agreed that he was so correct in his speech and mind, that in Naples he was commonly known as ‘Maidenly’, and if he was ever seen in public in Rome where he very seldom travelled, he would flee into the nearest house from those who followed him or showed their admiration.
12 bona autem cuiusdam exsulantis offerente Augusto non sustinuit accipere.
12 Indeed he could not bring himself to accept Augustus’ offer of the property of someone in exile.
13 possedit prope centiens sestertium ex liberalitatibus amicorum, habuitque domum Romae Esquiliis iuxta hortos Maecenatianos, quamquam secessu Campaniae Siciliaeque plurimum uteretur.
13 He possessed almost ten million sesterces, from the generosity of friends and he had a house on the Esquiline in Rome near the gardens of Maecenas, although he mostly lived in his retreats in Campania and Sicily.
14 parentes iam grandis amisit, ex quibus patrem captum oculis et duos fratres germanos, Silonem impuberem, Flaccum iam adultum, cuius exitum sub nomine Daphnidis deflet cf. Ecl. 5.20.
14 Already a grown man he lost his parents – his father who had lost his sight, and his two brothers, Silo still a child, Flaccus just having reached adulthood: he laments his death under the name of Daphnis.
15 inter cetera studia medicinae quoque ac maxime mathematicae operam dedit. egit et causam apud iudices unam omnino nec amplius quam semel:
15 Amongst his other pursuits, he devoted attention to medicine and especially to mathematics. He also conducted a court case but on no more than one occasion:
16 nam et in sermone tardissimum ac paene indocto similem fuisse Melissus tradidit.
16 and Melissus has passed on that he was also very slow at speaking, almost like someone uneducated.
17 poeticam puer adhuc auspicatus in Ballistam ludi magistrum ob infamiam latrociniorum coopertum lapidibus distichon fecit:
monte sub hoc lapidum tegitur Ballista sepultus.
nocte die tutum carpe, uiator, iter. Anth. Lat. 261
deinde Catalepton Catalepton Diehl: catalecton M et Priapea et Epigrammata et Diras, item Cirim et Culicem, cum esset annorum XXVI XXVI Scaliger (cf. Suet. Vita Luc., Stat. Silv. 2.7.73-4): XV m: XVI m: XVII m.
17 He made his first venture in poetry whilst still a boy, a couplet on the schoolmaster Ballista, stoned to death for his notorious robberies:
Under this heap of stones Ballista is buried,
By night or day, traveller, safely make your way.
Next came the Catalepton, Priapea, Epigrammata, and the Dirae, and then the Ciris, and the Culex, when he was twenty-six years old.
18 cuius materia talis est: pastor fatigatus aestu, cum sub arbore condormisset et serpens ad eum proreperet e palude, culex prouolauit atque inter duo tempora aculeum fixit pastori. at ille continuo culicem contriuit et serpentem interemit ac sepulcrum culici statuit et distichon fecit:
parue culex, pecudum custos, tibi tale merenti
funeris officium uitae pro munere reddit. Cul. 413-4
18 This is its subject: when a shepherd worn out by the hot weather had fallen asleep under a tree and a snake crept up to him from a marsh, a gnat flew out and stung the shepherd between the temples. He straightaway squashed the gnat and killed the snake, and then set up a tomb for the gnat and composed this couplet:
Little Gnat, a shepherd renders to you, as you merit it,
the rite of burial in return for the gift of life.
19 scripsit etiam, de qua ambigitur, Aetnam. mox cum res Romanas inchoasset, offensus materia ad Bucolica transiit, maxime ut Asinium Pollionem, Alfenum Varum et Cornelium Gallum celebraret, quia in distributione agrorum, qui post Philippensem uictoriam ueteranis triumuirorum iussu trans Padum diuidebantur, indemnem se praestitissent.
19 He also wrote the Aetna: about that there is debate. Then since he had embarked upon Roman themes but was put off by the subject matter, he turned to the Bucolics, particularly in order to celebrate Asinius Pollio, Alfenus Varus and Cornelius Gallus, because after the victory of Philippi they had ensured that he was unaffected by the redistribution of lands beyond the Po to veterans by order of the Triumvirs.
20 deinde Georgica in honorem honorem m: honore m Maecenatis <scripsit> Georgica in honorem Maecenatis <scripsit> Hardie: <scripsit> Georgica in honorem Maecenatis Diehl: <edidit> Georgica in honorem Maecenatis Hagen, qui sibi mediocriter adhuc noto opem tulisset aduersus ueterani cuiusdam uiolentiam, a quo in altercatione litis agrariae paulum afuit quin occideretur.
20 Then he wrote the Georgics in honour of Maecenas, who had offered him help when he was still barely known, in the face of violence from a veteran, by whom he narrowly avoided being killed in an altercation about the boundary of his land.
21 nouissime Aeneidem inchoauit, argumentum uarium ac multiplex et quasi amborum Homeri carminum instar, praeterea nominibus ac rebus Graecis Latinisque commune, et in quo, quod maxime studebat, Romanae simul urbis et Augusti origo contineretur.
21 Last of all he began the Aeneid, a varied and manifold story, rather like both poems of Homer, but which also mixed together Latin and Greek names and subjects and in which he he went to the greatest lengths to incorporate the origin of the city of Rome and of Augustus.
22 cum Georgica scriberet, traditur quotidie meditatos mane plurimos uersus dictare solitus ac per totum diem retractando ad paucissimos redigere, non absurde carmen se more ursae parere dicens et lambendo demum effingere.
22 When he wrote the Georgics, the tradition is that it was his daily custom to dictate a very large number of verses in the morning, and to reduce them to a very few after revising them over the course of the whole day, very appropriately remarking that he, like a female bear was bringing forth his poem and licking it into shape.
23 Aeneida prosa prius oratione formatam digestamque in XII libros particulatim componere instituit, prout liberet quidque, et nihil in ordinem arripiens.
23 After he gave the Aeneid its first form in prose and arranged it into twelve books, he set about composing it in bits, taking a part up as he wished and not in any order at all.
24 ac ne quid impetum moraretur, quaedam imperfecta transmisit, alia leuissimis uersibus ueluti fulsit, quos per iocum pro tibicinibus interponi aiebat ad sustinendum opus, donec solidae columnae aduenirent.
24 So that nothing would impede the flow, he set down some uncompleted passages, he set up others, as it were, with very insubstantial verses, which he jokingly said he was inserting as props to hold the work up until the solid pillars arrived.
25 Bucolica triennio, Georgica VII, Aeneida XI perfecit annis.
25 He finished the Bucolics in three years, the Georgics in seven and the Aeneid in eleven.
26 Bucolica eo successu edidit, ut in scaena quoque per cantores crebro pronuntiarentur.
26 He had so much success in publishing the Bucolics that they were even regularly performed by singers on stage.
27 Georgica reuerso post Actiacam uictoriam Augusto atque Atellae reficiendarum faucium causa commoranti per continuum quadriduum legit, suscipiente Maecenate legendi uicem quotiens interpellaretur ipse uocis offensione.
27 He gave a continuous reading of the Georgics over four days when Augustus returned following his victory at Actium to stay in Atella and rest his throat. Maecenas took turns at reading every time the poet’s faltering voice caused him trouble.
28 pronuntiabat autem cum suauitate, cum lenociniis miris.
28 Still, he used to declaim smoothly in a manner that was amazingly seductive:
29 ac ac Hagen: ut m Seneca tradidit Iulium Montanum poetam solitum dicere, inuolaturum se Vergilio quaedam, si et uocem posset et os et hypocrisin: eosdem enim uersus ipso pronuntiante bene sonare, sine illo inanes esse mutosque.
29 Seneca has put on record that the poet Julius Montanus used to say that he would steal some passages from Virgil, if he could also steal his voice, mouth and technique of delivery: the same verses which sounded so good when Virgil pronounced them, were empty and mute without him.
30 Aeneidos uixdum coeptae tanta exstitit fama, ut Sextus Propertius non dubitauerit sic praedicare:
Cedite, Romani scriptores, cedite Grai:
nescio quid maius nascitur Iliade. Prop. 2.34.65-6
30 The fame of the Aeneid, though it was hardly underway, reached such a pitch that Sextus Propertius had not hesitation in prophesying:
Give way, writers of Rome, give way Greeks
Something greater than the Iliad is in birth.
31 Augustus uero, nam forte expeditione Cantabrica aberat, supplicibus atque etiam minacibus per iocum litteris efflagitaret, ‘ut sibi de Aeneide,’ ut ipsius uerba sunt, ‘uel prima carminis ὑπογραφή ὑπογραφή Hagen: hypographae, hypographa uel sim. m uel quodlibet κῶλον κῶλον Hagen: colon M mitteretur.’
31 In fact Augustus who happened to be away on his campaign in Cantabria, wrote letters persistently urging with imprecations and even with jocular threats that ‘either the first outline or any suitable section’ (these were his words) of the Aeneid be sent to him.
32 cui tamen multo post, perfectaque demum materia, tres omnino libros recitauit, secundum quartum et sextum; sed hunc notabili Octauiae adfectione, quae, cum recitationi interesset, ad illos de filio suo uersus: ‘tu Marcellus eris Aen. 6.883,’ defecisse fertur atque aegre focilata post focilata add. est m.
32 Only long afterwards, once the content of the work was at last completed, did he recite to him three books in total: the second, fourth and sixth – but that one prompted a remarkable reaction from Octavia. It is reported that when she was present at the reading, those verses about her son– ‘You will be Marcellus’ – caused her to faint, and she could only be revived with difficulty.
33 recitauit et pluribus, sed neque frequenter et ea fere de quibus ambigebat, quo magis iudicium hominum experiretur.
33 He also recited to many more people, but not often, and almost always those passages about which he was in doubt to benefit all the more from others’ opinions.
34 Erotem librarium et libertum eius exactae iam senectutis tradunt referre solitum, quondam eum in recitando duos dimidiatos uersus complesse ex tempore. nam cum hactenus haberet: ‘Misenum Aeoliden Aen. 6.164,’ adiecisse: ‘quo non praestantior alter Aen. 6.164,’ item huic ‘aere ciere uiros Aen. 6.165,’ simili calore iactatum subiunxisse: ‘Martemque accendere cantu,’ statimque sibi imperasse, ut utrumque uolumini adscriberet.
34 They say that when he was of advanced age that his freedman and scribe Eros was in the habit of reporting that Virgil on one occasion at a reading completed two half-verses ex tempore. Having got as far as ‘Misenus, son of Aeolus’ he is supposed to have added ‘than whom there is none more outstanding’; again to his phrase ‘they drove the men on with bronze’, in the heat of the moment he came out with what was to be added below ‘and ignited Mars with their song’, immediately bidding him to add both of these phrases to his manuscript.
35 anno aetatis quinquagesimo secundo impositurus Aeneidi summam manum statuit in Graeciam et in Asiam secedere triennioque continuo nihil amplius quam emendare ut reliqua uita tantum philosophiae uacaret. sed cum ingressus iter Athenis occurrisset Augusto ab oriente Romam reuertenti, destinaretque non absistere atque etiam una redire, dum Megara uicinum oppidum feruentissimo sole cognoscit, languorem nactus est, eumque non intermissa nauigatione auxit ita, ut grauior aliquanto Brundisium appelleret, ubi diebus paucis obiit XI Kal. Octobr. Cn. Sentio Q. Lucretio conss.
35 When he was about to put the final touch to the Aeneid in his fifty-second year, he decided to retire to Greece and to Asia for a three-year period with no aim other than correcting the poem, so that the remaining part of his life would be free to devote to philosophy. But when after embarking on his journey he met Augustus as he was returning to Rome from the East, he decided not to leave and even to return together with him, he caught a fever while he was touring the nearby town of Megara in a very hot sun. He worsened it by not breaking his journey, so that he was in a far more serious condition as he approached Brundisium. There he died within a few days, on the eleventh before the Kalends of October, in the consulship of Gnaeus Sentius and Quintus Lucretius.
36 ossa eius Neapolim translata sunt tumuloque condita, qui est uia Puteolana intra lapidem secundum, in quo distichon fecit tale:
Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc
Parthenope. cecini pascua rura duces.
36 His remains were borne to Naples and laid in a tomb which is on the road to Puteoli, within two miles of the city. On the tomb is a couplet he composed
Mantua gave birth to me, Calabria snatched me away, now
Parthenope holds me; I sang of pastures, the countryside, and leaders.
37 heredes fecit ex dimidia parte Valerium Proculum fratrem alio patre, ex quarta Augustum, ex duodecima Maecenatem, ex reliqua L. Varium et Plotium Tuccam, qui eius Aeneidem post obitum iussu Caesaris emendauerunt.
37 He appointed his heirs: Valerius Proculus, his brother by another father, had half his estate; Augustus a quarter; Maecenas a twelth part, the rest went to Lucius Varius and Plotius Tucca, who revised the Aeneid after his death on Augustus’ orders.
38 de qua re Sulpicii Carthaginiensis exstant huiusmodi uersus:
iusserat haec rapidis aboleri carmina flammis
Vergilius, Phrygium quae cecinere ducem.
Tucca uetat Variusque simul; tu, maxime Caesar,
non sinis et Latiae consulis historiae.
infelix gemino cecidit prope Pergamon igni,
et paene est alio Troia cremata rogo. cf. Anth. Lat. 653
38 On that matter the following verses of Sulpicius of Carthage survive:
The destruction of these verses by consuming flames was bidden by
Virgil: verses which sang of the Trojan leader.
Tucca prohibits it, and Varius; so too do you, greatest Caesar
You do not allow it and so protect the history of Latium
Unhappy Troy almost fell by a second fire
And Troy was almost burnt on a further pyre.
39 egerat cum Vario, priusquam Italia decederet, ut si quid sibi accidisset, Aeneida combureret; at is ita at is ita Hagen: ita m: et his m: et is: et hec m facturum se pernegarat. igitur in extrema ualetudine assidue scrinia desiderauit, crematurus ipse; uerum nemine offerente, nihil quidem nominatim de ea cauit.
39 He had arranged with Varius before he left Italy that if anything should happen to him, that he should burn the Aeneid; but Varius had insisted he would not do it; so at the end of his life he continually asked for his writing tablets, intending to burn them; but when no one brought him anything, he left no specific provision about the poem.
40 ceterum eidem Vario ac simul Tuccae scripta sua sub ea conditione legauit, ne quid ederent, quod non a se editum esset.
40 But he entrusted his writings to the same Varius and to Tucca on the condition that they would not publish anything which he would not publish himself.
41 edidit autem auctore Augusto Varius, sed summatim emendata, ut qui uersus etiam imperfectos, si qui erant, reliquerit. quos multi mox supplere conati non perinde ualuerunt ob difficultatem, quod omnia fere apud eum hemistichia absoluto perfectoque sunt sensu, praeter illud ‘quem tibi iam Troia.’
41 Varius did publish it, on Augustus’ authority, but only glancingly corrected it so that he left even the unfinished verses as they were; many attempted to finish but they did not manage because of the difficulty posed by almost all the half-lines having a complete and self-contained meaning except this one: ‘Whom Troy now for you’.
42 Nisus grammaticus audisse se a senioribus aiebat, Varium duorum librorum ordinem commutasse, et qui nunc nunc m: tunc m secundus sit sit m: erat m in tertium locum transtulisse †et qui ... transtulisse† Stok: qui tunc secundus esset in tertium locum transtulisse Hagen: qui nunc secundus sit <in primum, tertium in secundum et primum> in tertium locum trasntulisse Reifferscheid: qui nunc secundus sit <ex primo, tertium ex secundo, et primum> in tertium locum transtulisse G. Funaioli, Studi di letteratura antica II.1 (Bologna, 1948), 142-3., etiam primi libri correxisse principium, his uersibus demptis:
ille ego qui quondam gracili modulatus auena
carmina et egressus siluis uicina coegi,
ut quamuis auido parerent arua colono,
gratum opus agricolis, at nunc horrentia Martis
arma uirumque cano.
42 The grammarian Nisus used to say he had heard from older people that Varius had switched the order of two books, moving what had once been the second into third place, and also that he had corrected the beginning of the first book by removing these verses:
I am he who once composed poetry in a pastoral strain,
and then coming from the woods I compelled the neighbouring fields
to obey their owner, however demanding. That work
was pleasant for farmers, but now of Mars’s bristling
arms and of the man I sing.
43 obtrectatores Vergilio numquam defuerunt, nec mirum, nam nec Homero quidem. prolatis Bucolicis Numitorius quidam rescripsit Antibucolica, duas modo eclogas sed insulsissime παρῳδήσας, quarum prioris initium est:
Tityre, si toga calda tibi est, quo tegmine fagi? cf. Ecl. 1.1
dic mihi, Damoeta: cuium pecus, anne Latinum?
non. uerum Aegonis nostri sic rure loquuntur. cf. Ecl. 3.1-2
alius recitante eo ex Georgicis: ‘nudus ara, sere nudus,’ subiecit: ‘habebis frigore febrem.’
43 Virgil never lacked detractors, and no wonder: Homer certainly was not short of them either. Once the Bucolics were in circulation, one Numitorius wrote some Anti-bucolics, just two eclogues, but parodied in a very bland way. The beginning of the first one is:
Tityrus, if you have a warm toga, what’s the cloak of a beech tree for?
The start of the second is:
‘Tell me, Damoetas, is cuium pecus Latin?’
‘No, but it is our friend Aegon’s – that’s how they talk in the country.’
Another when he was reciting ‘Sow naked and plough naked’ from the Georgics capped it with: ‘And you will catch the death of cold.'
44 est ante est add. et m aduersus Aeneida liber Caruili Caruili Gronovius: carbili, cabili uel sim. m Pictoris, titulo ‘Aeneidomastix’. M. Vipsanius Vipsanius edd.: Vipranius M a Maecenate eum suppositum appellabat nouae cacozeliae repertorem, non tumidae nec exilis, sed ex communibus uerbis atque ideo latentis. Herennius tantum uitia eius, Perellius Faustus furta contraxit.
44 There is also a book by Carvilius Pictor attacking the Aeneid with the title of ‘Scourging the Aeneid’. Marcus Vipsanius used to call Vergil a surrogate child of Maecenas, and said he was inventor of a poor new variety of emulation, which was neither bombastic nor minimalist, but more covert because it was in ordinary words. Herennius made a compilation of his deficiencies and Perillius Faustus his literary thefts.
45 sed et Q. Octaui Auiti Ὁμοιοτελεύτων octo uolumina, quos et unde uersus transtulerit, continent.
45 And the eight volumes of Resemblances by Octavius Avitus contain verses Virgil lifted and their provenances.
46 Asconius Pedianus libro, quem contra obtrectatores Vergilii scripsit, pauca admodum obiecta ei proponit, eaque circa historiam fere et quod pleraque ab Homero sumpsisset; sed hoc ipsum crimen sic defendere assuetum ait: ‘cur non illi quoque eadem “furta” temptarent? uerum intellecturos facilius esse Herculi clauam quam Homero uersum surripere.’ et tamen destinasse secedere, ut omnia ad satietatem maleuolorum decideret.
46 In a book he wrote against Virgil’s detractors, Asconius Pedianus set out just a few criticisms – those involving history – and the things he took from Homer, but he says that the poet defended himself against the charge like this: ‘Why don’t these people attempt the same 'thefts' themselves? Indeed, they will realise that it is easier to steal the club of Hercules than a verse from Homer.' But all the same, he decided - according to Asconius - to retire, in order to cut down all his writings to the satisfaction of his maligners.
47 quoniam de auctore summatim diximus, de ipso carmine iam dicendum est, quod bifariam tractari solet, id est, ante opus et in ipso opere. Ante opus titulus causa intentio. titulus, in quo quaeritur cuius sit, quid sit; causa, unde ortum sit et quare hoc potissimum ad scribendum poeta praesumpserit; intentio, in qua cognoscitur, quid efficere conetur poeta. in ipso opere sane tria spectantur: numerus ordo explanatio.
47 Since we have spoken cursorily about the author, something should be said about the poetry itself which is usually treated in two parts: what is prior to the work and what is in the work itself. Prior to the work is the title, the cause and the intention. Through the title it may be discerned whose the work is and what it is; from the cause, its provenance and most importantly why the poet undertook to write it; and from the intention what the poet is striving to achieve. In the work itself three things are surveyed: number of parts, their order and their interpretation.
48 quamuis igitur multa ψευδεπίγραφα, id est, falsa inscriptione sub alieno nomine sint prolata, ut Thyestes tragoedia huius poetae, quam Varius suo nomine edidit, et alia huiusmodi, tamen Bucolica liquido Vergilii esse minime dubitandum est, praesertim cum ipse poeta, tamquam hoc metuens, principium huius operis et in alio carmine suum esse testatus sit dicendo:
carmina qui lusi pastorum audaxque iuuenta,
Tityre, te patulae cecini sub tegmine fagi. G. 4.565-6
48 So although there are many pseudepigraphic writings: that is to say works put out under another’s name by being falsely signed (like this poet’s Thyestes which Varius published under his own name or other examples of this sort), there is no doubt that the Bucolics are clearly by Virgil, especially since the poet himself, as though fearing it was in question, attested in another poem that the beginning of the work was his, saying:
I played at shepherd’s songs and bold with youth
Tityrus, I sang of you under the cover of a spreading beech tree.
49 Bucolica autem et dici et recte dici, uel hoc indicio probasse suffecerat, quod eodem nomine apud Theocritum censeantur; uerum ratio quoque monstranda est. tria genera pastorum sunt, quae dignitatem in bucolicis habent, quorum minimi sunt qui αἰπόλοιdicuntur a Graecis, a nobis caprarii; paulo honoratiores qui μηλονόμοι ποιμένες, id est, opiliones dicuntur; honoratissimi et maximi, qui βουκόλοι, quos bubulcos dicimus. unde igitur magis decuit pastorali carmini nomen imponi nisi ab eo gradu, qui fere apud pastores excellentissimus inuenitur?
49 There have been adequate grounds for proving that these poems are called Bucolics and rightly, because they were given the same title in Theocritus; the principle for this should also be revealed. There are three kinds of herdsman which have a given worth in bucolic matters. The most insignificant of them, called aipoloi by the Greeks, are known to us as goatherds; a little more esteemed are those mêlomenoi poimenes [herdsmen grazing sheep] namely our ‘shepherds’; most great and respected are the boukoloi whom we call ‘oxherds’. From where, then, could a more appropriate name for pastoral poetry be found, if not from the rank deemed superior for herdsmen?
50 causa dupliciter inspici solet, ab origine carminis et a uoluntate scribentis.
50 The cause is often examined on a dual basis: that of the poem’s origin and of the writer’s wish.
51 originem autem bucolici carminis alii ob aliam causam ferunt. sunt enim qui a Lacedaemoniis pastoribus Dianae primum carmen hoc redditum dicant, cum eidem deae per bellum, quod toti Graeciae illo tempore Persae inferebant, exhiberi per uirgines de more non posset.
51 As for the origin of bucolic poetry, different people attribute it to a different cause. There are those who say this song was first rendered to Diana by Lacedaemonian shepherds, since it could not be presented to the same goddess by virgins as was customary, during the war the Persians were waging on all of Greece in that time.
52 alii ab Oreste circa Siciliam uago id genus carminis Dianae redditum loquuntur, et redditum per ipsum atque pastores, quo tempore de Scythia Taurica cum sorore profugerat, subrepto numinis simulacro et celato in fasce lignorum unde Fascelinam Dianam perhibent nuncupatam, apud cuius aras Orestes per sacerdotem eiusdem numinis Iphigeniam sororem suam a parricidio fuerat expiatus.
52 Others report that this kind of song was rendered to Diana by Orestes as he wandered around Sicily, offered up to her by him and the shepherds, at the time he had fled with his sister from Taurine Scythia: the image of the goddess had been secretly snatched and concealed in a bunch of sticks, so that they traditionally referred to her as ‘Diana Fascelina’. It was at her altar that Orestes was expiated for his parricide by the priestess of the goddess, his own sister Iphigenia.
53 alii Apollini νομίῳpastorali scilicet deo, qua tempestate Admeto boues pauerat.
53 Others say the song was offered to Apollo Nomios, obviously a pastoral god at the time he had grazed oxen for Admetus.
54 alii Libero nympharum et satyrorum et id genus numinum principi, quibus placet rusticum carmen.
54 Others say it was for Liber, prince of nymphs, satyrs and divine powers of that kind, to whom a rustic song gives pleasure.
55 alii Mercurio Daphnidis patri, pastorum omnium principis et apud Theocritum et apud hunc ipsum poetam.
55 Others think it was for Mercury father of Daphnis, prince of all shepherds, in Theocritus and in this very poet [Virgil].
56 alii in honorem Panos scribi putant peculiariter pastoralis dei, item Sileni, Siluani, atque Faunorum.
56 Others again think they were written in honour of Pan, a particular pastoral god, or again Silenus, Silvanus and the Fauns.
57 quae cum omnia dicantur, illud erit probabilissimum, bucolicum carmen originem ducere a priscis temporibus, quibus uita pastoralis exercita <est> <est> Hagen, et ideo uelut aurei saeculi speciem in huiusmodi personarum simplicitate cognosci, et merito Vergilium processurum ad alia carmina non aliunde coepisse nisi ab ea uita, quae prima in terris fuit. nam postea rura culta et ad postremum pro cultis et feracibus terris bella suscepta. quod uidetur Vergilius in ipso ordine operum suorum uoluisse monstrare, cum pastores primo, deinde agricolas canit, et ad ultimum bellatores.
57 Since all these different things are claimed, it is most probable that bucolic poetry had its origin in ancient times, when the pastoral life was led and for that reason a kind of golden age can be seen in the simplicity of characters of this sort, and Virgil rightly would advance to other kinds of poetry after beginning with nothing other than the kind of life which was the first in the world. Later he treated the cultivation of the countryside and lastly the wars that were undertaken for those cultivated and fruitful lands. It seems that this is what Virgil wanted to show through the very order of his works, since he sings of shepherds first, then farmers, and lastly of warriors.
58 restat ut, quae causa uoluntatem attulerit poetae Bucolica potissimum conscribendi, considerare debeamus. Aut enim dulcedine carminis Theocriti ad imitationem eius illectus est, aut ordinem temporum secutus est circa uitam humanam, quod supra diximus, aut cum tres modi sint elocutionum, quos χαρακτῆρας Graeci uocant, ἰσχνός qui tenuis, μέσοςqui moderatus, ἁδρός qui ualidus intelligitur,
58 We still need to consider what cause prompted the poet’s will to write the Bucolics. Either he was drawn by the sweetness of Theocritus’ poetry to imitating it, or he followed the order of ages involved in human life, which we pointed out earlier; or, since there are three kinds of style which the Greeks call charackteres: ischnos which is understood as thin [tenuis], mesos which is ‘moderate’ [moderatus] and hadros ‘strong’ [validus],
59 credibile erit Vergilium, qui in omni genere praeualeret, Bucolica ad primum modum, Georgica ad secundum, Aeneidem ad tertium uoluisse conferre.
59 it would be credible for Virgil who excelled in every kind of style, to devote the Bucolics to the first, the Georgics to the second, and the Aeneid to the third.
60 an ideo potius Bucolica scripsit, ut in eiusmodi poemate, quod et paulo liberius et magis uarium quam cetera est, facultatem haberet captandae Caesaris indulgentiae repetendique agri, quem amiserat ob hanc causam:
60 Or rather he wrote the Bucolics so that in a poem of a sort which is a little more free and varied than others, he might have the chance to win Caesar’s favour and get back the land he had lost for this reason:
61 occiso in curia die Iduum die Iduum Gronovius: die tertio m: die III m Martiarum C. Caesare, cum Augustum Caesarem paene puerum sibi ueterani non abnuente senatu ducem constituissent, exorto ciuili bello Cremonenses cum ceteris eiusdem studii aduersarios Augusti Caesaris adiuuerunt.
61 once civil war broke out the people of Cremona and others of the same persuasion gave help to the enemies of Augustus Caesar, even though the veterans appointed him, almost a boy, as their leader with the full assent of the Senate, after the day of the Ides of March when Gaius Caesar had been killed in the Curia.
62 unde factum est, ut cum uictor Augustus in eorum agros ueteranos deduci iussisset, non sufficiente agro Cremonensium Mantuani quoque, in quibus erat etiam poeta Vergilius, maximam partem finium suorum perdidissent, eo quod uicini Cremonensibus fuerant.
62 Hence when the victorious Augustus ordered his veterans to be allocated the land of the people from Cremona which was not quite enough, the Mantuans (of whom Virgil was one) ended up losing a very great part of their territories because they were neighbours of the Cremonans.
63 sed Vergilius merito carminum fretus et amicitia quorundam potentium centurioni Arrio cum obsistere ausus esset, ille statim, ut miles, ad gladium manum admouit, cumque se in fugam proripuisset poeta, non prius finis persequendi fuit, quam se in fluuium Vergilius coniecisset atque ita in alteram ripam enatauisset. sed postea, et per Maecenatem et per triumuiros agris diuidendis Varum, Pollionem et Cornelium Gallum fama carminum commendatus Augusto, et agros recepit, et deinceps imperatoris familiari amore perfruitus est.
63 But Virgil, relying on the worth of his poems and the friendship of some powerful individuals, dared to stand up to the centurion Arrius, and the latter as a soldier immediately reached for his sword. The poet then rushed out in flight: there was no end to the chase until Virgil plunged into the river and swam to the other bank. But afterwards, with the help of Maecenas as well as the three men in charge of land division, Virgil was commended to Augustus through the reputation of his poetry, he won back his fields, and from then on enjoyed the close affection of the emperor.
64 intentio libri quam σκοπόν Graeci uocant, in imitatione Theocriti poetae constituitur, qui Siculus ac Syracusanus fuit. est intentio etiam in laude Caesaris et principum ceterorum, per quos in sedes suas atque agros rediit, unde effectus finisque carminis et delectationem et utilitatem secundum praecepta confecit.
64 The intention of the book – which the Greeks call its skopos – is rooted in the imitation of the poet Theocritus who was Sicilian and from Syracuse. The intention also lay in the praise of Caesar and other leaders, through whose help he returned to his estates and lands: hence the end and effect of the poem produced pleasure and practical help, according to the rules.
65 Quaeri solet, cur non ultra quam decem eclogas conscripserit, quod nequaquam mirum uidebitur ei, qui considerauerit uarietatem scenarum pastoralium ultra hunc numerum non potuisse proferri, praesertim cum ipse postea postea m: poeta m circumspectior Theocrito, ut ipsa res indicat, uideatur metuere, ne illa ecloga, quae ‘Pollio’ Pollio edd.: Pollioni M inscribitur, minus rustica iudicetur, cum id ipsum praestruit, dicens:
Sicelides Musae, paulo maiora canamus Ecl. 4.1,
65 It is often asked why Virgil did not write more than ten eclogues. This will not seem at all amazing to anyone who has realised that the variety of pastoral scenarios could not be extended beyond this number, especially since the poet himself, warier than Theocritus as this very matter shows, seemed to fear the eclogue which is entitled ‘Pollio’ might be judged not rustic enough, as he headed it as follows:
Muses of Sicily, let us sing of somewhat greater things.
66 et item similiter in aliis duabus facit. illud tenendum esse praedicimus, in Bucolicis Vergilii neque nusquam neque ubique aliquid figurate dici, hoc est per allegoriam. uix enim propter laudem Caesaris et amissos agros haec Vergilio conceduntur, cum Theocritus simpliciter conscripserit, quem hic noster conatur imitari.
66 He did something similar again in two other poems. We state in advance something to be remembered: neither nowhere nor everywhere in Virgil’s Bucolics is something said figuratively (that is allegorically). For it is scarcely on account of the praise of Caesar and the loss of his land that these things are granted to Virgil, since Theocritus composed in a literal way and this poet of ours sought to imitate him.
67 sequitur id, quod in ipso carmine tractari solet, id est, numerus ordo explanatio.
67 There follows what is usually treated in the poem itself: namely number, order and exposition.
68 numerus eclogarum manifestus est, nam decem sunt, ex quibus proprie bucolicae septem esse creduntur, quod ex his excipiantur ‘Pollio’, ‘Silenus’ et ‘Gallus’. prima igitur continet conquestionem publicam, priuatam gratulationem de agro, et dicitur ‘Tityrus’; secunda amorem pueri, et dicitur ‘Alexis’; tertia certamen pastorum, et dicitur ‘Palaemon’; quarta genethliacum, et dicitur ‘Pollio’; quinta ἐπιτάφιον, et dicitur ‘Daphnis’; sexta μεταμορφώσεις et dicitur ‘Varus’ uel ‘Silenus’; septima delectationem pastorum, et dicitur ‘Corydon’; octaua amores diuersorum sexuum et dicitur ‘Damon’ uel ‘Farmaceutria’; nona propriam poetae conquestionem de amisso agro et dicitur ‘Moeris’; decima desiderium Galli circa Volumniam Volumniam Hagen: uoluminam m: polimniam m: polymniam m Cytheridem et dicitur ‘Gallus’.
68 The number of eclogues is evident, as there are ten, out of which seven are deemed to be properly bucolic, since ‘Pollio’, ‘Silenus’ and ‘Gallus’ should be excepted. The first eclogue containing public complaint and private thanks about land is called ‘Tityrus; the second on love for a boy is called ‘Alexis’; the third on a contest of shepherds is called ‘Palaemon’; the fourth is a poem to celebrate a birth and is called ‘Pollio’; the fifth, an epitaphion, is called ‘Daphnis’ , the sixth on metamorphosis is called ‘Varus or ‘Silenus’; the seventh is on the amusements of shepherds and called ‘Corydon’; the eighth is on the love affairs between different sexes and is called ‘Damon’ or ‘The Sorceress’; the ninth contains the poet’s own appeal for his lost land and is called ‘Moeris’; the tenth is on Gallus’ longing for Volumnia and is called ‘Gallus’.
69 quod ad ordinem spectat, illud scire debemus, in prima tantum et in ultima ecloga poetam uoluisse ordinem reseruare, quando in altera principium constituerit, ut in Georgicis ait:
Tityre, te patulae cecini sub tegmine fagi G. 4.566,
in altera ostenderit finem, quippe cum dicat:
extremum hunc, Arethusa, mihi concede laborem Ecl. 10.1.
uerum inter ipsas eclogas naturalem consertumque ordinem nullum esse certissimum est. sed sunt qui dicant, initium Bucolici carminis non ‘Tityre’ esse, sed:
Prima Syracusio dignata est ludere uersu Ecl. 6.1.
69 As regards the order, we should know that the poet only wished to keep a sequence in the first eclogue and in the last. In the former he established the beginning, as he says in the Georgics:
Tityrus, I sang of you under the cover of the spreading beech.
In the latter he signalled the end, as indeed he says:
Grant this final labour to me, Arethusa.
But amongst the eclogues themselves it is very clear that there is no natural, connected order. But there are those who say that the beginning of the Bucolic poetry is not ‘Tityrus’ but:
she first thought to play in Syracusan verse.
70 superest explanatio, quam in ordinem digeremus, cum praedixerimus illud imprimis tenendum esse: bucolicum poema usque adeo ab heroico charactere distare, ut uersus quoque huius carminis suas quasdam caesuras habeant et suis legibus distinguantur.
70 The explanatio remains, which we will go through in order, although we should make clear that this should be grasped at the outset: a bucolic poem is different from the heroic style in that the verses of this kind of poetry have their own caesurae and are distinguished by their own rules.
71 nam cum tribus his probetur metrum: caesura scansione modificatione, non erit bucolicus uersus, nisi in quo et primus pes partem orationis absoluerit, et tertius trochaeus fuerit in caesura, et quartus pes dactylus magis quam spondeus partem orationis terminauerit, <et> <et> Hagen quintus et sextus pes cum integris dictionibus fuerint, quod tamen Vergilius a Theocrito saepe seruatum uictus operis difficultate neglexit,
71 For a metre is recognised by these three things: caesura, scansion and measurement. A verse will not be bucolic, unless its first foot contains a complete part of speech; unless the third foot should be a trochee followed by a caesura [–vXv]; unless the fourth foot is a dactyl rather than a spondee and completes a part of speech, and unless its fifth and sixth feet have self-contained expressions. That was often maintained by Theocritus, but Virgil neglected to do this, perhaps overwhelmed by the difficulty of the task.
72 in solo principio incertum industria siue casu bucolico uersu posito. nam ‘Tityre’ dactylus pes partem orationis absoluit; ‘Tityre tu patulae recubans’ tertium trochaeum circa praepositionem quamuis de composita dictione conclusit; ‘Tityre tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi’ quartum spondeum pro dactylo cum parte orationis exhibuit; ‘tegmine fagi’ integrum comma perfecit, cuius rei diligentiam licet in Theocriti multis uersibus admirari.
72 Only at the beginning did he place a bucolic verse and it is unclear whether this was done as a result of deliberate effort or by chance: the dactylic foot Tityrus contains a part of speech; Tityre/ tu patu/lae recu/bans contained a third foot trochee [-lae re-] on the prefix re-, although it is from a compound word [recubans]; Tityre tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi showed a fourth foot spondee [-bans sub], instead of a dactyl, with a part of speech incorporated; tegmine fagi rounded off a complete period. Attentiveness to this may be admired in many verses of Theocritus.