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Virgil's Georgics Verse Characteristics

Once the basics of the hexameter are grasped, we can look at what makes Virgil's verse the most accomplished in Latin. Virgil was a fastidious writer, and developed an extraordinary ear for cadence and verbal music by building on the work of two near contemporaries. The first was Lucretius, to whose majestic hexameters Virgil added tact, balance and variety. The second was Cicero, to whose carefully orchestrated periods Virgil added refinement and grace. The result in RC Trevelyan's words was 'pure poetry, by which I mean poetry whose power to charm consists almost entirely in the physical beauty of the verse, its imagery, and the atmosphere or the sentiment which it expresses. . . [where] the physical beauty and majestic sonority of the verse is everything, or nearly everything.' {12} L.P. Wilkinson spoke of the energy, appropriateness and grace in what would otherwise be dull, miscellaneous and workaday subject matter. {3}

Verse Characteristics

Several features are characteristic of Virgil, which we need to respect. {3} {13}

First is a beauty of phrasing, unmatched in Latin.

Second is an expressiveness, a shaping of phrasing and verse texture to bring out vividly whatever is being said. Wilkinson gives many instances in his sympathetic reading of the verse. Three examples:

1. 201-2: a spondaic rhythm to represent persistent effort.

non aliter, quam qui adverso vix flumine lembum
remigiis subigit,

as will a skiff a rower draws against the stream:

1. 341-2. lazy summer pleasures expressed by sleepy spondaic lines.

Tum pingues agni et tum mollissima vina,
tum somni dulces densaeque in montibus umbrae.

The lambs are fattened, wine grows full, and sweet is sleep
as shadows congregate about the hills.

1.369: twirl of in aqua amid the spondees suggesting the light movement of feathers:

aut summa nantis in aqua colludere plumas.

float and dance about the frothed-up water's top.

Third is a tact, refinement and variety. Alliteration is used a more refined manner than is the case with Lucretius. The so-called golden and silver lines {14} (abVerbAB and abVerbBA respectively, where a and b are adjectives and B and A are substantives) are used much more sparingly than in Catullus.

Fourth is a superflux of rhythm and a tendency to carry it further than lesser hands would have done.

Fifth, lines in the Georgics are not end-stopped, but content is allowed to flow across the versification: an important consideration in choosing an appropriate English form.

References and Resources

References can now be found in a free pdf compilation of Ocaso Press's Latin pages.