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England, feeling as they did the strength of a reaction against the artificial style of Pope and his followers, produced many examples besides Wordsworth of the simple style, such as Moore, Southey, Campbell, much of Byron and Coleridge, and the whole of Walter Scott. Two of the greatest however, Keats and Shelley, from the gorgeous imagination of the one and the profound inspiration of the other, supply more examples of the elaborate and forcible style.
Now Vergil's poetry belongs largely to this second class. It is true that he can be simple, and often is: he is much too great an artist to ignore any poetic resource. But for the most part he does not aim at expressing his thoughts in the simplest, but rather in the most striking manner. He often employs 'an elaboration of language which disdains or is unable to say a plain thing in a plain way?' He arrests attention by the vigour, the strangeness, the intensity, the emphasis, if I may so phrase it, of his language. He is often stretching constructions or the sense of words, using abstract for concrete, part for the whole, adjective for adverb; transferring epithets, varying, inverting, seeking the unusual instead of the ordinary phrase. In short he is constantly surprising the reader.
The good side of these peculiarities is freshness and force: the bad side is affectation. The protections against affectation are of course the poet's own taste, command of expression, ear for melody, dignity, imagination, and skill; and all these qualities Vergil possesses in a consummate degree.
The following are a few of the instances in this book, which exhibit these peculiarities:
pedibus per mutua nexis (66).
commisit funera pugnae (542). 1 I quote this sentence from ‘Suggestions introductory to the study of the Aeneid' by Prof. Nettleship; a pamphlet which all students of Vergil will find most instructive, interesting and suggestive, as indeed is to be expected of so distinguished a scholar.
acies ex agmine (703).
and these words:
auro for 'cup' (245).
volnus for ' weapon’ (533). Others the reader will find by referring to the Index of Style at the end: and there is much more of the same kind that he can discover for himself. Vergil's workmanship is so careful and so perfect, that he is an inexhaustible field for the literary analyst.
Note on the Imitations of Homer and others in Vergil.
To discover all the passages where Vergil echoes lines or phrases of earlier ancient, and especially Greek, poets, would be an endless task: but those places in this book which were clearly suggested, more or less consciously, by Homer, will be found collected in the Appendix at the end of the notes in the form of a list drawn up by aid of the commentators.
Without discussing the question fully, which would not be suitable in a brief edition like the present, a word on the question of Vergil's imitations may be found useful.
The main point is that the modern idea of imitation is entirely different from that which was held by the Roman literary men, and which indeed could not fail to be held by them. With us, literary productions belong indeed mostly to one or other main class, and so far are composed under conditions which prescribe the form : though even here constantly new varieties are invented : but both in style and subject matter, the aim of all great writers is to be original. The Roman literature
on the other hand was mainly formed on Greek models; and to adhere to those models closely, to be constantly reminding the readers of them, to imitate them much in the treatment, in the phraseology, and even in the incident, was inevitable to the Latin poets; or, rather, it was one of the very things they proposed to do in writing? Vergil's style, indeed, is completely his own, and entirely unlike Homer's, as is plain from what has been said; his main purpose and subject are entirely his own, and truly Roman; he borrows where he does borrow (and that from Ennius, Cyclic poets, Greek tragedians, and many others besides Homer) always to suit his own purpose, and not in a servile manner; and he invariably remains master of his materials, and stamps his own mark indelibly upon them.
But to understand Vergil, it is clearly necessary to grasp the conditions under which he worked; and nothing can be a greater mistake than to feel surprise at the extent to which he was indebted to his predecessors in the poetic art.
Outline of Vergil's life. P. Vergilius Maro was born 15 Oct., B.C. 70, near Mantua, a town on the Mincio in North Italy, then called Cisalpine Gaul. He had not good health, and after being educated at Cremona and Mediolanum (Milan), and studying Greek and philosophy elsewhere, he came back to live (probably) on his father's farm, until about B.C. 42. In that year Octavianus, afterwards the emperor Augustus, had defeated at Philippi Brutus and Cassius, the murderers of Julius Caesar; and gave lands to his victorious soldiers in various parts of Italy, amongst other assignments being Vergil's farm. The poet's first acquaintance with Augustus was due to this event; for he applied to him at Rome for the restitution of his property, and was successful. He became the friend of the rich art-patron Maecenas, the poet Horace, and the brilliant circle of literary men who were collected at the court of Augustus. The works of Vergil are not voluminous. The Eclogues are Idylls in imitation of the i See remarks on this subject on p. 9.
Greek poet Theocritus, and were written sometime before he was 33. The Georgics, an agricultural poem in four books, of which the form was more or less suggested by Hesiod, he wrote in the next few years, finishing them sometime about his 40th year. The Aeneid, his great work, he appears to have begun about B.C. 27, when he was 43 years of age, at the wish of Augustus. A few years later, finding his health failing, he tried travelling; and in the spring of 19 he was at Athens. The summer he spent with Augustus abroad, but died a few days after reaching Brundusium on his return. The day of his death was Sept. 22, and he was not quite 51. He was buried at Naples, where his tomb is still shewn, though the authenticity of it is at least doubtful.
His character seems to have been most simple, pure, and loveable; and his poetic fame was well established even before his death.
P. VERGILI MARONIS
Tu quoque litoribus nostris, Aeneia nutrix,
Iamque rubescebat radiis mare, et aethere ab alto