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The Beauty of Virgil’s Eclogues

For those unfamiliar, an eclogue is the roman or Latin version of a greek bucolic poem. And, a greek bucolic poem is what we would call today a pastoral poem. In poems as such, we find the contrast between the urban and the rustic or provincial. In most cases, the narrators of such works are shepherds or similar figures that are in a very interconnected, constant, and direct relationship with nature.

The difference between Virgil and other types of pastoral poems is that Virgil is the fact that Virgil adds a political aspect to his poems, as well as more mythical and even erotic turbulence, usually not associated with such an idyllic writing form.

In this article, I want to go through two of my favorite Eclogues the IV and the VIII. The fourth is the most famous out of the bunch, with a lot of interpretations, spending from Virgil’s days to the days of the Renneisacens when Christians simply had to appropriate it as their own. If you want to dive deeper into all the interpretations of the fourth eclogue this Wikipedia page is a good place to start.

Eclogue IV

Now the last age by Cumae’s Sibyl sung
Has come and gone, and the majestic roll
Of circling centuries begins anew:
Justice returns, returns old Saturn’s reign,
With a new breed of men sent down from heaven.
Only do thou, at the boy’s birth in whom
The iron shall cease, the golden race arise,
Befriend him, chaste Lucina; ’tis thine own
Apollo reigns. And in thy consulate,
This glorious age, O Pollio, shall begin,
And the months enter on their mighty march.
Under thy guidance, whatso tracks remain
Of our old wickedness, once done away,
Shall free the earth from never-ceasing fear.
Untended, will the she-goats then bring home
Their udders swollen with milk, while flocks afield
Shall of the monstrous lion have no fear.
Thy very cradle shall pour forth for thee
Caressing flowers. The serpent too shall die,
Die shall the treacherous poison-plant, and far
And wide Assyrian spices spring

Eclogue VIII

I have discovered that this eclogue is also called the Sorceress and I just had to laugh. Reading this work seems like I was chanting a hypnotic spell. Poetry has to be read out loud and once you get into the groove of this eclogue it is quite the journey your being takes. The line “Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays” serves as a reinforcement of the magical spell that the “Sorceress” casts on both the reader and those who hear the poem being read.

Here are my favorite lines from the VIII Eclogue

Rise, Lucifer, and, heralding the light,
Bring in the genial day, while I make moan
Fooled by vain passion for a faithless bride
Ever hath Maenalus his murmuring groves
And whispering pines, and ever hears the songs
Of love-lorn shepherds, and of Pan, who first
Brooked not the tuneful reed should idle lie.
A little maid I saw you- I your guide-
Plucking the dewy apples. My twelfth year
I scarce had entered, and could barely reach
The brittle boughs. I looked, and I was lost;
A sudden frenzy swept my wits away.
Draw from the town, my songs, draw Daphnis home.
Songs can the very moon draw down from heaven
Circe with singing changed from human form
The comrades of Ulysses, and by song
Is the cold meadow-snake, asunder burst.

I have listened to the free Librivox version which can be found here.

If you want to read the Eclogues yourself you can do so by clicking on this Project Gutenberg link.

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