<[EMAIL PROTECTED]>, David
Wilson-Okamura <email@example.com> 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:
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 Virgil really on their side?
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?
- Is the force of these lines limited by their speaker, Anchises/Julius
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.
- Are the verses regretful?
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.
- Does it mean anything that Anchises omits poetry and philosophy?
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.
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