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Virgil Georgics

Virgil's Georgics in a modern verse translation offered as a free pdf ebook with introduction, facing Latin, notes and bibliography.

virgil's geogics translation book cover

Only the outline is known of Virgil's life, but the man seems to have remained the shy and awkward rustic, unmarried, and of indeterminate sexual orientation. He was born in the rural district of Andes, near Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul on October 15th 70 BC, the son of a farmer prosperous enough to give his son an excellent education.

When twelve, Virgil was sent for secondary schooling to Cremona, and in 54 BC to study rhetoric in Rome.

Public performance was not congenial, however, and Virgil seems to have appeared only once in the courtroom. He made literary friends, embraced Epicurean philosophy and left the street warfare of Rome for the holiday air of Naples, later dividing his time between this elegant resort, his country estate in Campania and a town house on the Esquiline.

Though required to write the great Roman epic of the Aeneid by Octavian, and famous in his day, and indeed wealthy, the poet kept out of politics and public life. {2} {3} He fell ill on a short trip to Greece in 19 BC, and was persuaded by Octavian to return with him to Italy, where he died, an ending some see as sinister, Greece being the better supplied with doctors.

Nature of the Georgics

The Georgics, ostensibly a guide to agriculture, and the most finished of Virgil's productions — indeed of all Latin literature — was written between 37 and 29 BC as the last phase of civil wars ended with Octavian in sole command of the Roman world. Social unrest, what happens when men do not work sensibly together for some common good, forms the backdrop to the Georgics, which is divided into four Books. The first opens with an invocation to the Muses, cites Maecenas and Octavian, deals with the growing of crops and weather lore, and ends with an extended prayer to Octavian. The second considers the cultivation of trees, especially the grape and olive, and contains a loving description of the Italian countryside. The third covers the rearing of animals, especially cattle, horses and sheep, and ends with the dreadful Noricum plague. The fourth is more mixed: it opens with a mock heroic description of bees and bee-keeping, moves into the epic style with the tale of Aristaeus and thence into the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. The ending has a short tribute to Octavian and a quote from Virgil's previous work, the Eclogues.

The free virgil georgics e-book in pdf format includes the Latin text, glossary, notes on the translation and references.

Significance of the Poem

The Georgics is not a handbook on husbandry. Landowners turned to M. Terrentius Varro for such needs, or, later, to Pliny the Elder. Nor do the Georgics give us a real picture of contemporary life. Comparatively little of Italy in Virgil's time was in the hands of smallholders, most being cultivated in vast latifundia with slave labour. Virgil was beholden to the Caesarian faction, but by no stretch of the imagination was Octavian an outstanding general, or even a competent leader in his early years. His victory over Antony was brought on by the latter's reckless Parthian adventure, his association with Cleopatra, and to the superior admiralship of Agrippa, who seized Antony's fortresses in Greece and trapped his fleet at Actium. But calculating, long-headed and ruthless, Octavian was the consummate politician, however, slowly turning public opinion against the Antonine faction by vilifying Cleopatra as a sorceress who had bewitched their Consul and threatened Rome, and later by concentrating power into his own hands while still observing the outward forms of Republican life.

How sincere is Virgil in the Georgics? Most scholars believe the future Augustus did make a genuine effort to rebuild the Republic on more lasting foundations: to re-establish firm government, refurbish Rome and ensure the arts celebrated a new beginning. Virgil was given his country estate by Maecenas, and his father may well have been helped by the Octavian faction to recover land seized by returning veterans. Virgil was also an Epicurean, and on friendly terms with the likes of C. Asinius Pollio and Cornelius Gallus, all members of the Octavian circle. The Georgics served Octavian well when he was conducting his propaganda war against Antony and Cleopatra, its praise of the traditional Roman country life contrasting with their supposed excesses, but are the dedications not a little overdone?

We have to accept the conventions of the time, which expected dedications to deities and contemporary rulers. Octavian is commemorated in the exordia of Books One and Three, and in the tailpiece to Book Four, for which, however, there was no precedent. But where Virgil's words express simple enthusiasm, those of the independent Propertius in his elegy on Actium verge on the burlesque. Did the literati secretly loathe their emperor? Virgil was famous when he died, but no contemporary writer mentions his death. Propertius and Catullus simply disappear from the record. Ovid, the well-connected man-about-town, is later exiled to Tomis for some concealed misdemeanour — perhaps an unwise political association, perhaps for making fun of the family values Augustus wished to promote: little is known for certain. But Octavian brought peace after a hundred years of bloodshed and civil wars, and, while many recalled his savagery at Perusia and elsewhere, they were equally grateful for the settlement, accommodating themselves to a society they couldn't then materially alter.

Excerpt from the Translation

Book One: Invocation

What makes the cornfields prosperous? What star will tell
us turn the earth, Maecenas? How may vines be fastened
to the elm? What husbandry to breed the ox,
or care for herds? What knowledge have the thrifty bees?
With such I start my song. And you, O radiant lights
that through the heavens lead the passing year, and you,
both Liber and propitious Ceres, who have turned
Chaonian acorn lands to thick-sown fields of wheat
and mixed in drafts of Archeloüs new-made wine;

10. and Fauns, you rustic deities who serve for local
powers — so dance you Dryad girls and gods — your gifts
I celebrate. And Neptune giving birth to neighing
horse when your great trident struck the earth, and you,
the dweller of the woods, for whom three hundred head
of snowy cattle browse the Ceos thicket lands;
Tegean Pan that guards the flocks, though much you love
Maenales lands, come, leave your own Lycaeus groves
and favour us; Minerva of the olive gift,

and you, young man, who first revealed the curving plough,
20. Sylvanus, planter of the pliant cypress tree,
and you, obliging gods and goddesses who watch
our fields, to nourish native fruits we have not sown,
and make the heavens so plentifully water crops.

And you, great Caesar, who in time will join the gods,
in unknown company, but choosing, it may be,
to safeguard cities, care for lands, become the source
of wondrous harvest on the widespread earth, the seasons'
potentate that wears his mother's myrtle crown,
who broods on boundless seas, the sovereign breath
30. that mariners to far-off Thule look to, Tethys
furthers, winning you as son-in-law with waves,
or as a star which lengthens out the warmth of summer
months you blaze in Virgo, free of grasping claws
now fiery Scorpio has withdrawn her arms and left
a worthier portion to you of the heavens. Be as
you will, for Hades wants you not as king, that power
should overwhelm itself, although Elysium
bewitched the Greeks, for Proserpina could not hear
her mother calling and return to earth. Assent
40. to what is here so rashly ventured on, regret
with me our ignorance of country ways, and grow
in your divinity accustomed to our prayers.