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Virgil As Orpheus: A Study of the Georgics (S U N Y Series in Classical Studies) Paperback – 4 Jan 1996
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I think it is very useful as a popular introduction to a text that many readers must be curious about. It is, so to speak, the written record of an ideal college course on Virgil s Georgics open to majors and non-majors alike. Steven F. Walker, Rutgers University"
"I think it is very useful as a popular introduction to a text that many readers must be curious about. It is, so to speak, the written record of an ideal college course on Virgil's Georgics open to majors and non-majors alike." -- Steven F. Walker, Rutgers University
About the Author
M. Owen Lee is Professor of Classics at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Fathers and Sons in Virgil's Aeneid and Death and Rebirth in Virgil's Arcadia, both published by SUNY Press. He has also written books on Horace's Odes and Wagner's Ring, and is an internationally known commentator on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts.
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Owen Lee sets out to display the Georgics as Vergil’s gift to the most powerful man in the world. The object was to inform the youthful Caesar, who was credited with renewing the Roman state, what he should know about human nature and the natural world if he was to rule. The seven years of the poet’s leisure (Lat., ‘otium’) were an extended sabbatical provided by Augustus himself as Vergil’s patron. Whether Vergil succeeded in his literary aims remains debatable; during those seven years Caesar was rather busy elsewhere. The whole of the Georgics was read to Augustus, ca. 13 August 29BC.
Although the Georgics are often said to be ‘difficult,’ and are not as well known as the ‘Eclogues,’ or the epic of the Aeneid, the elements of original myth inherited from Greece by the Roman poet also included his poetic method. The in-set ‘epyllion,’ a mini-epic, a tale within a tale, balances the tragedy of Orpheus with the bee farmer Aristaeus. (A nineteenth-century coinage, ‘epyllion’ refers for the most part to a kind of erotic and mythological extended elegy of which Vergil’s later follower, Ovid, was the master.) This take on the myth of Orpheus was likely the poet’s own invention but, if the Georgics were a song of death and rebirth, then Orpheus could well belong there. However, the episode of Aristaeus is oddly foreign to Augustus’s reputed accent on traditional moral values. The figure of Aristaeus is doubtless that of the destructive Octavian of 36-29BC, but the violent nature of the bee-farmer evokes strange flights of the imagination.
For all its excellent academic learning the narrative makes for easy reading – it is not a dense text (as too many classical volumes are). It is an ideal accompaniment to classical and literary studies, and the Latin extracts are immediately translated into clear and lucid English. The ten chapters cover the historical and literary background, and each of the four sections of the Georgics is given its own chapter, followed up by a chapter on the literary device of the ‘epyllion’ - and another on the eight lines of epigram which ends the Georgics, the ‘sphragis’ as coda or seal on the whole. The twenty pages of notes are thorough and provide for further reading, plus the bibliography is a useful resource – albeit it’s only ‘selected’ and did not provide me with any surprises.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
While Owen is clearly is knowledgeable writer the commentary is of modest value. It was not a good fit for the occasional reader of ancient poetry such as myself. Owen moved quickly over contextual material where I would have appreciated greater discussion, and, occasionally digressed in speculative internecine discussions, probably of interest only to Virgilian scholars. The text greatest limitation, however, is its failure to include the poem, requiring the reader to purchase and refer to a second text. Often, in commentaries, the inclusion of the source text is not feasible, however, in this case given its modest length it could have been done.
Overall, this is probably a pass for most readers. For those looking to read the Georgics, I suggest a version that includes both the poem and a commentary