Virgil and Ovid. Week 16. VIRGIL 70-19 B.C. Publius Virgilius Maro was born in northern Italy, and very little is known about his life. The earliest work that is certainly his is the Bucolics , a collection of poems in the pastoral genre that have had enormous influence.
Publius Virgilius Maro was born in northern Italy, and very little is known about his life.
The earliest work that is certainly his is the Bucolics, a collection of poems in the pastoral genre that have had enormous influence.
These were followed by the Georgics, a didactic poem on farming, in four books, which many critics consider his finest work. The Aeneid, the Roman epic, was left unfinished at his death.
Like all the Latin poets, Virgil built on the solid foundations of his Greek predecessors.
The story of Aeneas, the Trojan prince who came to Italy and whose descendants founded Rome, combines the themes of the Odyssey (the wanderer in search of home) and the Iliad (the hero in battle).
But unlike Achilles, Aeneas does not satisfy the great passion of his life, nor, like Odysseus, does he find a home and peace.
The personal objectives of both of Homer’s heroes are sacrificed by Aeneas for a greater objective. His mission, imposed on him by the gods, is to found a city, from which, in the fullness of time, will spring the Roman state.
Homer presents us in the Iliad with the tragic pattern of the individual will, Achilles’ wrath.
But Aeneas is more than an individual. He is the prototype of the ideal Roman ruler; his qualities are the devotion to duty and the seriousness of purpose that were to give the Mediterranean world two centuries of ordered government after Augustus.
Aeneas’s mission begins in disorder in the burning city of Troy, but he leaves it, carrying his father on his shoulders and leading his little son by the hand.
This famous picture emphasizes the fact that, unlike Achilles, he is securely set in a continuity of generations, the immortality of the family group, just as his mission to found a city, a home for the gods of Troy whose statues he carries with him, places him in a political and religious continuity. Achilles has no future.
When he mentions his father and son, neither of whom he will see again, he emphasizes for us the loneliness of his short career.
Odysseus has a father, wife, and son, and his heroic efforts are directed toward reestablishing himself in his proper context, that home in which he will be no longer a man in a world of magic and terror but a man in an organized and continuous community.
Summarized like this, the Aeneid sounds like propaganda, which, in one sense of the word, it is.
What saves it from the besetting fault of even the best propaganda—the partial concealment of the truth—is the fact that Virgil maintains an independence of the power that he is celebrating and sees his hero in the round.
He knows that the Roman ideal of devotion to duty has another side, the suppression of many aspects of the personality, and that the man who wins and uses power must sacrifice much of himself, must live a life that, compared with that of Achilles or Odysseus, is constricted.
In Virgil’s poem Aeneas betrays the great passion of his life, his love for Dido, queen of Carthage.
He does it reluctantly, but nevertheless he leaves her, and the full realization of what he has lost comes to him only when he meets her ghost in the world below.
The angry reactions that this part of the poem has produced in many critics are the true measure of Virgil’s success.
Aeneas does act in such a way that he forfeits much of our sympathy, but this is surely exactly what Virgil intended.
The Dido episode is not, as many critics have supposed, a flaw in the great design, a case of Virgil’s sympathy outrunning his admiration for Aeneas;
it is Virgil’s emphatic statement of the sacrifice that the Roman ideal of duty demands.
Aeneas’s sacrifice is so great that few of us could make it ourselves, and none of us can contemplate it in another without a feeling of loss.
It is and expression of the famous Virgilian sadness that informs every line of the Aeneid and that makes a poem that was in its historical context a command performance into the great epic that has dominated Western literature ever since.
43 B.C. - A.D. 17
Born in the year after Julius Caesar’s assassination, Ovid did not know the time of civil war, when no one’s property, or life, was safe.
He was twenty-four when Virgil died, and he turned to different themes: the sophisticated and somewhat racy life of the urban elite in Rome, love in its manifold social and psychological guises, Greco-Roman myth and local Italian legend.
Like Catullus and Virgil, he was profoundly influenced by the learned and polished works of the Greek Alexandrian period, but like his predecessors he translated their example into his personal idiom and used it for his own purposes.
He was a versifier of genius.
Elegance, wit, and precision remained the hallmarks of Ovid’s poetry throughout his long and productive career, and his way of telling stories was extraordinary for its subtlety and its depth of psychological understanding.
His influence on the poets and artists of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and beyond was massive, second only, if at all, to Virgil’s.
The early years of Ovid’s manhood were marked by rapid literary and social success in the brilliant society of a capital intent on enjoying the peace and prosperity inaugurated by Augustus.
The Amores, or “Love Affairs,” unabashed chronicles of a Roman Don Juan, was his first publication. It was soon followed by the Art of Love, a handbook of seduction (originally circulated as books 1 and 2, for men; book 3, for women, was added by popular request).
Not content with teaching his readers how to start a love affair, Ovid then advised them how to end it, in the Remedies of Love.
At some point he wrote a poem on women’s cosmetics; another, the Fasti (never finished), on the Roman calendar; and a collection of poetic letters, the Heroides, purporting to have been written by heroines of legend, such as Helen, to their lovers.
In A.D. 8 Ovid was banished by imperial decree to the town of Tomi, in what is now Romania.
It was on the fringe of the empire, and to a devotee of Roman high life it was a grim place indeed.
He remained there until his death, sending back to Rome poetic epistles, collected as the Sorrows and the Letters from Pontus, that asked for pardon—to no effect.
The reason for his banishment is not known. Involvement in some scandal concerning Augustus’s daughter Julia is a possibility, but the ultimate cause was probably the love poetry, which ran afoul of Augustus’s political and social program.
Augustus was trying hard, by propaganda and legislation, to revive old Roman standards of morality and cannot have found Ovid’s Art of Love, with its suggestion that Rome was a prime location for seduction, amusing. He correctly read the poem as political critique, a mode of resistance to the authoritarian imposition of moral reform.
Ovid’s greatest work, the Metamorphoses, suggests a similar critique. It was still unfinished at the time of his exile.
Virgil had written what Augustus wanted to be the “official” epic of the new order, which was to be seen as the fulfillment of a history that began with Aeneas’s journey from Troy to Italy.
The Aeneid, for all its innovations, was an epic in the traditional style: it focused on the deeds of a single hero, and it exemplified and transmitted its culture’s dominant values.
The Metamorphoses is recognizably epic; it is the only poem Ovid wrote in the epic meter, dactylic [揚抑抑格之詩 ] hexameter [六步格 ].
But it can be seen as a critical response to Virgil, even an.
Ovid produced a series of stories using the Alexandrian form of the epyllion, or “miniature epic,” and he strung these together into a long narrative of fifteenbooks.
The transitions between them, and the connections drawn by the narrator, are often transparently contrived—perhaps in mockery of the idea of narrative unity.
There is no single hero, and one would have to seek hard for representative national values presented without irony.
There is, however, a common element to these stories: all in one way or another involve changes of shape.
And despite its leisurely and roundabout course, the narrative has a discernible direction—as Ovid says in his introduction, “from the world’s beginning to our day.”
Starting with the creation of the world, the transformation of matter into living bodies (the first great metamorphosis), Ovid regales his readers with tales of human beings changed into animals, flowers, and trees.
He proceeds through Greek myth to stories of early Rome and so to his own time, including, as the final metamorphoses, the ascension of the murdered Julius Caesar to the heavens in the form of a star and the divine promise that Augustus too, far in the future, will become a god.
Ovid's Metamorphoses Book I: Apollo and Daphne Apollo pursued Daphne, who wanted nothing to do with the god. She begged her father to help, which he did, by turning her into a laurel tree. Note her fingers.