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Volume 1, Number 2
July 1993


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Farrell, Joseph, Vergil's 'Georgics' and the Traditions of 
Ancient Epic: The Art of Allusion in Literary History, New 
York, O.U.P., 1991, pp. xiii & 389. 

Peter Toohey,
Department of Classics & Ancient History,
University of New England,
Armidale, 
N.S.W. 2351,
Australia.
e-mail: ptoohey@metz.une.edu.au

Farrell's fascinating book comes as a real change. Since the early sixties Virgilian studies, above all those concerned with the Aeneid, have been locked into a debate between the proponents of what has sometimes been termed Virgil's 'public' voice (the proud, imperial voice so typified by Anchises' advice in Aeneid 6) and the 'private' voice (that made evident in the sympathetic treatment of such 'losers' as Dido, Turnus, Nisus and Euryalus, or Camilla). The debate has become almost a continental thing: the English, while never denying the importance of the private, by and large stress the pro-imperial stance of the Aeneid; the North Americans, scarred by decades of contemporary imperial adventure, seem to argue that the private, pessimistic voice of Virgil dominates the Aeneid. Most of the books written on the Georgics during the last decade (Putnam, Miles, Boyle, Perkell, Ross, even Thomas, to name but a few) reflect this debate. Their orientation, what is more, has been North American: hence it has been towards the private, upon the anti- imperial, pessimistic strains seemingly evident in Virgil's Georgics.

Change was inevitable. How could classics remain unaffected by the habits of contemporary criticism - a criticism which seems above all to downplay authorial autonomy and to downplay intention? How could it remain immune from a mode of criticism which privileged either such extra-textual features as genre, context, or mentalite, or to privilege the control that language itself can exert over meaning? One can sense this change, it seems to me, in what is a renewed interest within Roman literary studies on play (puns, allusion, ambiguities, humour, 'indeterminacies', intertextuality) and within Virgilian poetry on the ways by which 'meaning' is made less sure or, to put it in a more fashionable way, made unstable. Such a concern has inevitably meant a focusing anew on the influence upon Virgil of that most playful of literatures, that of Alexandria. Virgilian poetry, therefore, need no longer be the battleground of the public and the private. There is a destabilising third, a ludic or Alexandrian voice which disrupts what have become almost canonical certainties.

Farrell's book makes no ostensible attempt to ally itself with the fashions of postmodernism. Yet its almost obsessive concern with allusion - with Virgil's intertextuality - seems to place it unavoidably within that ambit. His book offers a striking alternative to the reiterations of the public versus private debate. To that extent it really does offer us a way forward. But Virgil's 'Georgics' and the Traditions of Ancient Epic is not one for the faint-hearted. It contains considerable amounts of untranslated Latin and Greek. It presupposes a fair knowledge of Homer, Hesiod, Alexandrian poetry, and the Roman poetry of the first century BCE. Its argument is dense and, accordingly, liable to ignored by the less patient. Most of my comments, therefore, will be restricted to an elucidation of what I see as the most important aspects of its challenging case.

The first three chapters (designated as 'Part I: Vergil's Allusive Artistry') provide a preamble. In the first ('On Vergilian Intertextuality'), Farrell surveys the recent studies of allusion in Roman poetry of the first century BCE. His concern is allusion in the Georgics (pp. 3-4) - why, he wonders, in a poem ostensibly based on Hesiod (so 2.176) does Virgil so frequently allude to, amongst others, Aratus (book 1), Lucretius (books 2 and 3), and Homer (book 4)? The answer is to be found in Virgil's use of allusion.

Farrell begins with Pasquali's 1942 article on allusion (in Italia che scrive 5 [1942], pp. 185-187). Allusion can deepen the intentional effect of a passage of poetry (thus Aeneid 6.621- 622, by echoing Varius' probable description of Marcus Antonius, underscores allusively the Augustan ideology of much of the epic). But Pasquali lacked system, unlike, say, Giuseppe Giangrande and his followers. The problem with their work is it divorces allusion from meaning and reduces poetry to mere philological game play (p. 13). Clausen's (and, by implication, that of Ross and Thomas) study of allusion has been more profitable, despite the fact that it focuses intently on Callimachus. Farrell (p. 17) believes that Virgilian or Ovidian epic 'on the grand scale' is incompatible with Callimachean principles. Its allusion is based on 'a rich diversity of sources, one that greatly helps to explain the character of subsequent Latin poetry' (p. 17). Gian Biagio Conte's studies commend themselves in this regard. For Conte allusion allows literary resonance to deepen out appreciation of a text and to unleash a 'hidden reserve of literary energy whose full potential is released only when . . . texts are brought together'. Farrell's book applies systematically these methods, especially those of Conte. His contribution, as he sees it, it to broaden the allusive base and, at the same time, to present a systematic appraisal of the role of allusion in the Georgics.

Chapter two ('Ascraeum carmen') concentrates on Virgil's claim to have written an Hesiodic poem (an Ascraeum carmen, Georgics 2.176). The phrase Ascraeum carmen 'refers, no less and perhaps more than to the poet of Works and Days, to Hesiod the ideal poet as conceived by Callimachus along with his Alexandrian and Neoteric followers' (p. 32). Farrell attempts to demonstrate this by investigating antonomasia (pp. 33 ff.) - in particular the ways that Hesiod's name is used. He concludes (p. 45): 'the sudden popularity of ho Ascraios in Hellenistic times is due to the active promotion of Hesiod as a conceptual model by Callimachus and his followers' (p. 45). Comparison of the use of this trope by the Neoterics (pp. 46-50) leads him to reassert the conclusion: Virgil's use of the motif marks him as an Alexandrian poet (through which medium he adapts Hesiod) (p. 35). The Augustan use of this trope, however, was expanded (pp. 50-59). In Horace and Propertius this type of antonomasia is used to designate Alexandrian pedigree, as well as signalling generic closure - 'an intention to tap new sources of inspiration' (p. 35).

'Vergil's Allusive Style'(chapter three) asks (p. 64) 'why, in poem that pretends to imitate Hesiod's Works and Days does Vergil allocate so much space to extensive and elaborate imitations of . . . other models'. Farrell looks at six passages from the Georgics (1.160-175, 'The Farmer's Arma' - based on Hesiod, WD 427-435; 1.276-286, 'Lucky and Unlucky Days' - based on Hesiod, WD 802-813; 1.351-464, 'Weather Signs' - based Aratus, Ph. 733-1154; 3.478-566, 'The Plague of Noricum' - based on Lucretius, DRN 6.1090-1286; and the finale to book 4, 315-558, 'Aristaeus' - based on *Iliad 1.345- 427 and 18.22-137, and Odyssey 4.351-572). Here allusion is made not merely to the basic source (Hesiod, or Aratus, or Lucretius, or Homer), but also to other writers. 'Lucky and Unlucky Days', for example alludes not just to Hesiod but also to Homer - there exists in all of these passages, he argues, a type allusive contaminatio. It is as if Virgil intends to create a relationship not just with 'a single poem or even a single author's oeuvre, but the epic tradition within which both Hesiod and Homer - and, for that matter, Aratus and Lucretius and a multitude of others worked'

Georgics 1 is the focus of chapter four ('Hesiod and Aratus'). The models for this book are, primarily, Hesiod's Works and Days and Aratus' Phaenomena. The repeated allusions to Hesiod's Works and Days organise 'Georgics 1 into a discourse on opera and dies that closely parallels that of Hesiod' (p. 135). Virgil provides a structural revision of Hesiod. He purges his 'Works' section (1.43-203) of references to 'Days' (even if this means bringing in material from later in Hesiod's poem) and, conversely, his 'Days' section (1.204-350) of 'Works' material. Thus 'by subjecting his source to significant redaction and revision, Vergil seems to forestall the charge that his own poem is a derivative composition'. But, in Georgics 1 there is also imitation of Aratus (pp. 157-168), beginning somewhere after line 311. Does this mean that Virgil has abandoned his Hesiodic model? Part of the answer has already been given. When Virgil designates his poem as an Ascraeum carmen (2.176) he indicates its Hesiodic and Alexandrian pedigree.

How then is Lucretius to be fitted into this Alexandrian witch's brew (chapter five, 'Lucretius')? Tradition has Lucretius as precisely what the Roman Alexandrians, the Neoterics and the Augustans, were attempting to escape. Thus, it is often believed, Lucretius' influence is not crucial for the Georgics. Farrell maintains that Virgil based 'the tonal movement of Georgics 2- 3 on that of De Rerum Natura 5-6, and by actually intensifying the thematic and tonal opposition he found in Lucretius, Vergil uses his source in much the same way he uses Hesiod and Aratus in Book 1' (p. 205). By imitating Lucretius Virgil asserts both the place of Lucretius within the 'tradition of didactic epos' and 'a new, non-Callimachean component of his literary-historical goals' (p. 206).

Farrell looks first at what he sees as Lucretian influence in Georgics 1.118-258. This passage (containing the 'Aetiology of Labour', 118-159, the 'Farmer's Arma', 160-175, 'Likelihood of Failure', 176-203, 'Farmer' Calendar', 204-230, and 'Climactic Zones', 231-258) is a 'continuous meditation on man's place in the universe'. There is the alternatively pessimistic/optimistic Hesiodic passage, the 'Aetiology of Labour' (which seems deliberately to rebut Lucretius), the relative optimism of the Aratean 'Climactic Zones', and, in the centre, the pessimistic and Lucretius-inspired 'Likelihood of Failure', echoing such passages as DRN 5.206-217. As for Georgics 2-3, Farrell believes that the dominant influence is DRN 5-6 (with 5 matching 2 and 3 matching 6 - especially in the Plague of Noricum passage). 'Georgics 2 [is] . . . a sustained reworking of two Lucretian themes, variety and creativity' (p. 191). But here Lucretius' pessimism has been banished - Virgil seems to view nature as a source of 'delight and wonderment'. Farrell likes to link these books through the notions of birth and death (p. 200): Georgics 2 (=DRN 5) reflects birth, Georgics 3 (=DRN 6) reflects death. Like their Lucretian models, therefore, the two books form a pair. They climax in the plague scene of book 3, which of course echoes the climax of the DRN.

In chapter six ('Homer') Farrell begins by reviewing (pp. 210- 238) Homeric references in Georgics 1-3. Using passages such as 1.104-110 (matching, he believes, Iliad 21.256-264), he attempts to show how Virgil 'converted a generic element typical of heroic epos into something that fits more comfortably into the generic vocabulary of the Georgics' (p. 212). As for book 4: its bees of book 4 become like Homeric warriors (especially so are 4.67-87 [pp. 239-241]). Farrell concentrates on the relationship between Virgil's similes and those of Homer (pp. 239-253). He reaches two conclusions. First 'the similes of Vergil's bee discourse are closely connected amongst themselves and . . . serve to relate the context in which they occur to the chief thematic concerns of the poem' (p. 252). Second, the bees confirm Virgil's pessimistic view of the world. When Homeric heroes are compared to bees they are going to war (especially Iliad 2.87-93). Farrell concludes (p. 253): 'the sound of bees, moreover, is mentioned only twice: when they swarm - i.e. when they go to war - and when they are sick. It is at this point, when their warlike nature succumbs to disease and death, that the bees are most frankly Homeric. It is at this point too, when the hive has been irrevocably lost, that we must learn how to acquire a new one'.

What does he make of the Aristaeus episode (4.315-558)? Rejecting Servius' claim that this is a replacement for a praise passage for Cornelius Gallus, he revives the notion of Virgilian allegory (pp. 257 ff.). He singles out the song of Iopas at Aeneid 1.742-746 (who also sings a didactic poem concerning natural philosophy, p. 259). The allusion here, he believes, is to Demodocus' songs in Odyssey 8. Demodocus' second song is all about Ares and Aphrodite - Love and Strife, the cornerstones of Empedocles' didactic poem - on which, of course, Lucretius relied so heavily. Farrell claims (p. 260): 'we are therefore justified to infer that Vergil followed this tradition by substituting Iopas' overt cosmogony for Demodocus' "allegorical" one'. Thus Virgil 'incorporates . . . a tradition . . . [of] heroic epic that . . . represented] a profound meditation on the very nature of the universe' (p. 261). (That is an ideal to which Virgil has subscribed in Georgics 2.) How does all of this relate to the Aristaeus episode and to Georgics 4 generally? Love and strife symbolise rebirth and death. This is the process mirrored in the lives of the bees, especially through the Bugonia: 'the bugonia holds out the possibility of rebirth, just as the story of Orpheus and Eurydice acknowledges the forces of oblivion' (p. 265). Proteus, furthermore, offers Aristaeus (and Menelaus in Odyssey 4) the possibility of a nostos - a type of rebirth. But even more is involved than just this complex equation: 'Vergil united in the 'Aristaeus' allusions to the central themes of the Homeric poems as determined by the allegorical tradition that explained Homer as a poet of natural philosophy' (p. 272). This happens in part through the Iopas substitution mentioned above, but also through Aristaeus' conflation with Achilles in Iliad 1 and 18, both of which episodes 'introduce passages that ancient critics regarded as allegorical cosmogonies'. It is, according to Farrell, a matter of contagion by juxtaposition.

The final two chapters attempt to 'situate the Georgics in the literary history of first-century Rome' (p. 276). Farrell looks at Neoteric poetry and at the Eclogues in chapter seven ('Vergil's Early Career'). He argues that the early Virgil reconciled the poetic polarities of the Callimachean tradition (imitated by the Neoterics) and the Ennian tradition (reges et proelia, Lucretius, and so forth). He examines the Pollio Eclogues (3, 4 and 8), where Virgil contrasts 'his own work with that of another in terms of their mutual adherence to Alexandrian and Neoteric ideals'. The 'other' is Asinius Pollio who, Farrell contends, was composing a type of poetry which, though loftier (probably tragedy) than Virgil's is nonetheless composed in the Callimachean mode (p. 285). There is a dense evaluation of Eclogue 6 (pp. 291-314). This poem attempts to sum up (and offer future direction for) the epic (including didactic) tradition to date. It does this above all through the figure within the Song of Silenus of Orpheus ('who stands for Vergil's conception of "a poetry of 'science'"', p. 324). Through a dense use of allusion it embodies a 'tradition of "Orphic" poetry - a poetry at once of science and of myth - that ranges far beyond the boundaries of Theocritean pastoral, drawing on poets as diverse as Ennius and Callimachus, Lucretius and Apollonius, Calvus and Empedocles, Gallus, "Hesiod", and even Homer'.

'After the Georgics' (chapter eight) attempts briefly to compare what has been argued for the Georgics to the Aeneid and to the poetry of Propertius, Horace, and Ovid. Farrell is particularly concerned with allegory (more so seemingly than allusion) and states (pp. 331-332) that 'once Vergil had successfully engaged Homer on the so to speak favorable terms offered by didactic epos, he was ready to enter his last and greatest agon . . . the allegorical tradition . . . provided Vergil . . . with a means of coming to terms with Homer. It is not, I think, going too far to infer that, had Vergil not made the first step that we have traced in the Georgics, the Aeneid would never have been written'. What of Horace and Propertius? 'Both', he states (p. 339), 'probably wrote before they had a clear idea of what the Aeneid would be like . . . but their reactions closely paralleled Vergil's earlier treatment of Pollio'. And Ovid? 'Ovid stands squarely on Vergil's shoulders as he celebrates the possibility of moving freely between what had once been treated as discrete traditions, the tradition of Hesiod and that of Homer, and his treatment of Vergilian material in the Metamorphoses declares his debt to Vergil's pioneering reconciliation of them' (p. 342).

The traditional argument between the proponents of the public and the private Virgil is based upon privilege. Each critical persuasion believes it has access to a higher truth and that its methods are the more valid. But this despite the fact that, for many years, no one has doubted the polysemy of poetry. Nor has anyone doubted that the capacity of literary language to provoke more than one level of response is what, in part, defines its success.

That Farrell's book systematically opens up another level of understanding within the Georgics represents a real advance. And yet, as my paraphrase of 'Virgil's Georgics and the Traditions of Ancient Epic' may have indicated, even this book is valorises a type of reading - the elitist pleasure of allusion and intellectual game-play. There are other possible and equally important readings - even beyond the bourns of the public and the private.

If we were to ask the simple question, 'Why do people keep on reading the Georgics?', the extent of the 'privilege' offered by Farrell's concentration on allusion becomes clear. I doubt that the popularity of Virgil's Georgics has ever been predicated on its capacity for allusion (or, for that matter, pessimism or imperial praise) - except perhaps amongst a small group of contemporary cognoscenti. Unless one is an utter historicist agnostic (different eras have their own unrelated Georgics), then one is forced to admit that the persistent popularity of the Georgics is based on its capacity to evoke sympathetically (and nostalgically) a rural, agricultural world and the nature within which it is placed; on its capacity to empathise (romantically) with the animals within that rural world; on its capacity to sensationalise such a world (thus the Noric plague, animal sexuality, bees); on the sheer variety of the topics treated within the poem (not just viticulture or animal husbandry, but praise of Augustus, and bizarre myths of decapitation and marital disharmony). We ought to be clear on this point. Farrell has helped elucidate one level of the significance of the Georgics. The power and the denseness of his argument is liable to obscure this fact. That allusion is not the key level is immediately apparent if one asks the sort of question I put above. Farrell, to be fair however, has asked a wholly different question: 'What was Virgil's prime purpose in writing the Georgics?'.

There are also queries of a more basic nature. What is it that constitutes a convincing allusion? I think that not everyone would agree with many of Farrell's instances. They might question accordingly the evidential basis of much of this book. Here are two examples. The first is one cited by Pasquali (in the first instance we have Aeneid 6.621-622, in the second Varius De morte, fr. 1 [Morel-Buechner, 1982.130] - see Farrell, p. 11):

vendidit hic auro patriam dominumque potentem imposuit, fixit leges pretio atque refixit

vendidit hic Latium populis agrosque Quiritum eripuit, fixit leges pretio atque refixit.

There can be little doubt, in a passage such as this, that we have direct allusion. But allusion is not always this clear. Compare this instance (the first from Georgics 1.138, the second from Works and Days 615 - see Farrell ,p. 214):

Pleiadas, Hyadas, claramque Lycaonis Arcton

Pleiades th' Hyades te to te sthenos Orionos

The reminiscence is in the first three words of each line. Is this a real allusion? Or are we dealing with something so trivial that it defies the tag of allusion? Where else in the hexameter line would one place the names of these constellations? In a case like this it is perhaps a matter of limited metrical possibilities. Is one justified, therefore, in basing an interpretation upon such evidence? Farrell sometimes seems to base allusion not merely on words, but on thematic repetition (note especially the key passages on p. 231).

This question of what it is that constitutes an allusion is tied up with the notion of literacy and that with intention. Virgil's intellectual milieu was doubtless an oral one (the extent to which he read silently is even open to debate). Education favoured the mnemonic. We can speculate, with little fear of contradiction, that a poetic memory such as Virgil's must have been well stocked with ill-remembered and doubtless ill-attributed tags, half-lines, and even lines. Their use is inevitable. Minor allusions are surely the result of this essentially oral culture. I think too, given the paucity of poetry surviving from the first century BCE, that the game of attributing allusion becomes extremely dangerous. Who knows, after all, how we would read Virgil, were we still to possess the poetry of Cinna, of Calvus, of Varius, or of Varro of Attax? (Dickson, TAPhA in 1932 found traces of twenty-four lost Augustan epics.) And orality and allusion lead inevitably to the problem of intentionality. Farrell's Georgics is based upon what Virgil intended. But what of what he may not have intended? Allusion is an obvious instance of how a tradition can come to control a well stocked imagination. Could we therefore not read much allusion as working against Virgil's perceived intention (imperial or otherwise), as undercutting his aims? Might not, therefore, the notion of the Georgics as the culmination of the epic tradition be better seen as a manifestation of pure accident?

Farrell's book is quite an achievement. It forces one to reread Virgil and to construe him in a different way. My small objections should be taken in that light: aemulatio, perhaps, of his fine exemplification of epic tradition.

Peter Toohey
e-mail: ptoohey@metz.une.edu.au

COPYRIGHT NOTE: Copyright remains with authors, but due reference should be made to this journal if any part of the above is later published elsewhere.

Electronic Antiquity Vol. 1 Issue 2 - July 1993
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
antiquity-editor@classics.utas.edu.au
ISSN 1320-3606

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