In message <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>, David Wilson-Okamura <> writes
Yesterday I was lecturing on these lines, which we all know by heart:
excudent alii spirantia mollius aera
(credo equidem), uiuos ducent de marmore uultus,
orabunt causas melius, caelique meatus
describent radio et surgentia sidera dicunt:
tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento
(hae tibi erunt artes), pacique imponere morem
parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.            (Aen. 6.851-53)

Normally I concentrate on the last three verses. But while my mouth
was unpacking pax and subiectus, my mind was thinking about the first
part, which seems to confirm something a lot of my students think
anyway, that the liberal arts are for sissy Greeklings. Some questions,
which, one day later I still can't answer:

- Is Virgil really on their side?
Meaning P. Vergilius Maro the man, who at the time was living in the Greek city of Neapolis, presumably because he found it more congenial, or the poetic voice that narrates the poem, behind which there may or not be others?
- Is the force of these lines limited by their speaker, Anchises/Julius
No, because they represent, with one exception, a state of affairs that was manifestly true, as obvious as when we British admitted at the height of our imperial and Parliamentary pride that the French were ahead of us in certain amenities of life such as cookery, but decided that what we excelled in mattered more. Even in the poet's own day, and even in Rome, the plastic arts rested largely on the hands of Greek craftsmen; in astronomy the Romans did not even compete. The exception is 'orabunt causas melius', which even at a time when Cicero was an unperson and his style out of fashion is hard to take: if you wanted a bronze or marble statue you went to a Greek, but you did not go to a Greek when bringing or defending a case in the Roman courts. Have we a case of what the Australians call cultural cringe, that Romans found it hard to believe they could match the Greeks even when they did?
- Are the verses regretful?
Not as such, in that they do not force regret upon the reader, but capable of being read with as much or as little regret as any individual reader might bring to them.
- Does it mean anything that Anchises omits poetry and philosophy?
If by philosophy you mean serious and original thought, the pursuit of sophiam sapientia quae perhibetur (Ennius, Annales 211-12 Skutsch), as opposed to the _haute vulgarisation_ of a Lucretius or a Cicero, then Vergil (I am speaking of the man, not the poetic voice), now that he has been firmly attested at Herculaneum, knew perfectly well even from personal experience that that was something conducted in Greek; not only by Greeks, but the Greeks generally regarded the Roman participants as mere dabblers, which is certainly the impression left on to the serious philosopher (or philistine if you prefer) by the beginning of Anchises' speech, a farrago of incompatible philosophoumena assembled for the creation of an atmosphere, in other words for a poetical purpose. The abstract and systematic intellectualism that we associate with the medieval and the modern Latin mind was not characteristic of the ancient (the nearest approach was in the law, but even there it was the Glossators and Postglossators who achieved it); and it was certainly not Vergil's (has it ever been any half-decent poet's?) for all his exposure to Greek thought; perhaps he did not value it highly enough, as he did sculpture and astronomy, to mention it here.

But poetry he certainly did value, and here there was no cultural cringe whatever; he knew that he, Horace, and others of his contemporaries, were producing work on a par with anything the Greeks had ever done, and even if we believe in his deathbed doubts, when his judgement was clouded by illness, he manifestly aspired to be the Roman Homer as he had already been the Roman Theocritus and the Roman Hesiod. However ironically some scholars have taken Propertius' nescioquid maius nascitur Iliade, it was surely not only Propertius who was saying so.


Leofranc Holford-Strevens
67 St Bernard's Road                                         usque adeone
Oxford               scire MEVM nihil est, nisi ME scire hoc sciat alter?

tel. +44 (0)1865 552808(home)/353865(work)          fax +44 (0)1865 512237


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