VIRGIL: GEORGICS: BOOK II

Introduction.

Virgil's great work, the "Georgics" includes four books. Of these Sabidius has previously translated Books IV and I (see entries on this blog dated 11 November 2010 and 19 November 2015 respectively), and there is a fairly full introduction to the work as a whole at the beginning of the entry relating to Book IV, to which the reader is now referred. As that introduction explains, the content of Book II concentrates on the growing of trees, mainly vines and olives. 

 

Central to Book II is the business of planting, and in addressing this subject, Virgil details all the various methods of raising trees, describes their variety, and sets out rules for the management of each one. He then delineates the soils in which the different species most thrive. After an excursus in which he expatiates on the beauty of his homeland of Italy, he gives some directions on how best to identify the nature of each type of soil, he prescribes rules for dressing vines, olives and other plants, and concludes the book with a panegyric on the virtues of country life. 
 
Any translation of the "Georgics" is inevitably a fairly challenging experience, requiring as it does some knowledge of agricultural processes in general, and of the particular subjects of each of the four books in particular, but also some knowledge of the Romans' understanding of these matters, which relate after all to a time over two thousand years before the present day. At the same time, the translator has to grapple with the issues which arise whenever a piece of Latin verse is being read, namely where the order of the words, and, indeed the very words themselves and how they are connected, are adapted to meet the taxing requirements of the meter - in this case the dactylic hexameter, in which all of Virgil's poems are written. This means, for instance, that the particular word which might have best fitted what the poet was seeking to say might have been problematic in metrical terms, and so another word had to be adopted. When one considers that many Latin words can be rendered in English by a number of words often meaning very different things, it is often difficult to be sure just what Virgil is seeking to say, and quite often a phrase or indeed a passage is open to more than one interpretation. On top of such ambiguities is the way in which poetry as a medium is often used to create impressions or sensations rather than to make precise statements, and, at the same time, the figurative use of particular words, rather than their literal meaning, is natural to the composition of verse. All this helps to make the translation of "The Georgics" a demanding, albeit a rewarding, task. A number of the English translations that are currently in existence are in verse themselves, and the use of English verse as the medium of translation of a piece of Latin verse increases the possibility that such translation will involve creative rather than accurate transmission of meaning; indeed, there is a very real danger that such translation will deteriorate on occasion into something close to gibberish. In the following translation, as in the earlier ones of other books of the "Georgics", Sabidius seeks to keep as close as possible to the structure of Virgil's sentences, and to the actual words which Virgil has employed, while at the same time using English, which is demonstrably clear, and which makes sense within the context of the poem as a whole. 

 

The text for this translation is taken from "Virgil: The Georgics: A Poem of the Land," translated and edited by Kimberley Johnson, (Penguin, 2009), and Sabidius has made particular use of two prose translations, by Benjamin Apthorp (1826) and J.W. Mackail  (1934).  



Ll. 1-8.  Invocation to Bacchus.

Thus far (my song has been about) the cultivation of the fields and the stars of heaven; now I will sing of you, (O) Bacchus, and with you, of woodland shrubs and the fruit of the slow-growing olive. (Hasten) hither, O Lenaeus (i.e. Bacchus) - here all things (are) full of your bounties, for you the earth blooms, pregnant with vine-leafed autumn, (and) the vintage foams in brimming vats - come hither, O father Lenaeus, and, having removed your buskins, soak your bared legs with me in the fresh must (i.e. unfermented wine). 


Ll. 9-38.  Variety, especially as regards trees. 

In the first place, nature is versatile at propagating trees. For some sprout spontaneously themselves with no one compelling (them), and occupy the plains and winding rivers far and wide, like the pliant brook-willow and the hardy brooms, the poplar and the willow-groves glimmering with silvery leaves. And some spring from fallen seed, like the lofty chestnuts and the durmast oak (i.e. the Italian oak with edible acorns) which has the greatest foliage in Jupiter's forest, and the oaks considered by the Greeks (to be) oracular; so too the Parnessian (i.e. sacred to the Muses) laurel, tiny beneath its mother's vast shade, thrusts itself up. These methods nature first supplied, (and) from these flourishes every kind of tree and shrub and sacred grove. There are other (techniques) which practice itself has discovered along its way. One man, tearing shoots from the tender frame of the mother-tree, plants (them) in furrows; another man buries the stems, and stakes split into four parts, and pales of sharpened hard-wood in the ground; some trees await the bent boughs of a layer and slips alive in their own soil; others need no root, and the pruner does not hesitate to return and commit the highest tree-top (shoots) to the earth. Nay, even when its trunks have been cut - marvellous to relate - , an olive root is pushed out from dry wood. And often we see branches of one kind (of tree) turn into (those) of another without any loss, and a pear-tree transformed to bear implanted apples and stony cornels blushing on plum-trees.

So, come, O farmers, (and) learn the care peculiar to each species, and tame the wild fruits by cultivation, lest the earth lies idle. It is delightful to sow Ismarus (i.e. a mountain in Thrace near the coast of the Aegean) with vines, and to clothe great Tabernus (i.e. a mountain in the Apennines in central Italy) with olives.

Ll. 39-46.  Invocation to Maecenas.

Be you at hand, and traverse together (with me) this (voyage of) toil which I have begun, O Maecenas, my pride, O (you who are) deservedly the greatest part of my fame, set sail (with me) and fly over the open sea; I cannot hope to encompass everything with my verses, not if a hundred tongues and a hundred mouths, (and) an iron voice were mine; be you at hand and coast along the shore of the nearer coast-line. Land (is) in our grasp; I shall not detain you here with feigned song and by circumlocutions and tedious preambles.

Ll. 47-135.  Variety, especially as regards trees (continued).

Trees lift themselves of their own accord into the realms of light, fruitless indeed, but they spring up fair and strong; as you see, nature lurks withing the soil. And yet even these, should one ingraft (them), or, having transplanted (them), put (them) into trenches, they will discard their woodland spirit, and through frequent cultivation they will readily follow whatever course you desire. And indeed the barren (shaft) which issues from the bottom of the trunk shall do this too, if it is spread through the empty fields; now the tree-mother's towering foliage and boughs overshadow (it), and deprives (it) of fruit as it grows, and blasts its yield. Now, the tree which rears itself from fallen seed grows slowly, destined to give shade to late-born descendants, and its fruit degenerates, forgetting its former flavour, and the grape-vine bears sorry clusters, a prey for the birds. Labour must, of course, be devoted to all, and all must be forced into furrows and tamed at great cost. But olives respond better to trunks, and vines to a layer, and Paphian (i.e. from Paphos, a town in Cyprus considered to be the birthplace of Venus) myrtle from hard-wood; from shoots are born both hardy hazels and the huge ash-tree that provided Hercules' crown and the acorns of the Chaonian father (i.e. Jupiter, to whom an oracle was dedicated at Dodona in Chaonia in North-Western Greece), and also springs the tall palm-tree and the fir destined to see the dangers of the deep. But the rough arbutus, with its walnut fruit, is grafted, and barren plane-trees bear robust apples; the beech whitens with the white of chestnuts and the ash with pear blossoms, and pigs crunch acorns under elm-trees.

Nor (is there) a single method of grafting and implanting buds. For where the buds push themselves out from the midst of the bark, and burst their delicate husks, a narrow slit is made in the knot itself: here they insert an offshoot from some strange tree, and train (it) to grow in the succulent inner bark. Or, otherwise, knotless trunks are split and an opening is cleft with wedges deep into the solid (grain), (and) then fertile shoots are set therein: no long time (passes), and a huge tree with teeming branches shoots up to heaven, and wonders at its fresh leaves and the fruit not its own.

Moreover, (there is) not one kind of sturdy elm, nor of willow and lotus, nor of Idaean cypress, nor do fat olives, (oval) orchas olives, long olives and bitter-berried pausian olives spring up in one form, nor (do) the apples and trees of Alcinous (i.e. the mythical king of Phaeacia, renowned for his gardens), nor (are) are the cuttings of Crustumian (i.e. from Crustumerium, an ancient city in the west of Italy, renowned for its pears) and Syrian pears and heavy large pears alike. Nor does the same vintage hang down from our trees as Lesbos plucks from Methymna's (i.e. from a town on the island of Lesbos in the Aegean) vine-sprouts. There are Thasian vines and there are white Mareotids (i.e. from Mareotis, a lake south of Alexandria), the former suitable for rich soil and the latter for lighter (soil), and (there are) Psithian, more fit for raisin-wine, and thin Lagean, which will one day try the feet and tie the tongue, purples and early-ripeners, and by what song shall I sing your (praise) (O) Rhaetic? So, do not compete with Falernian wine-cellars! There are also Aminnean vines (i.e. a type of grape-vine grown in Campania), a full-bodied wine, to which Tmolius (i.e. a mountain in Lydia) and king Phanaeus himself bows the knee, and the lesser Argitis (i.e. a species of white-wine), with whom no grape can vie, either for its great abundance or for enduring for so many years. Nor can I pass you over, (O) Rhodian, (you who are) welcomed by the Gods and at second courses, nor (you), Bumast, with your swollen clusters. But no (one knows) how many kinds (of wine there are), nor what their names are, (nor what) is their number; for it does not matter what their number is; (he) who wants to know it, would likewise want to learn how many grains of sand are tossed by the West Wind across the Libyan plain, or to know how many Ionian waves reach the shore, when the East Wind falls with fury upon our ships.

Nor, indeed, can all soils bear everything. Willows grow by rivers, alders in thick marshlands, and barren ash-trees on rocky mountains; the shores rejoice most in myrtles; lastly, Bacchus (i.e. the grape-vine) loves exposed hillsides, and yews the cold North Wind. Look, also, at the world, tamed by ploughmen even at its remotest spots, and the Eastern homes of Arabs and tattooed Geloni (i.e. a Scythian tribe from what is now South Russia): countries are distinguished by their trees. India alone produces black ebony, only the Sabaeans (i.e. the inhabitants of South-West Arabia, now Yemen) have sprigs of frankincense. Why should I tell you of balsams dripping from fragrant wood and of the berries of the acanthus? Why (should I tell you of) the groves of the Ethiopians, white with downy wool, and how the Chinese comb their fine fleeces from leaves, or of the jungles which India, that corner at the edge of the world, breeds nearer to the ocean, where no arrows in flight can surmount the air at the top of a tree? And, in fact, that nation (is) not backward when it has taken up its quivers. Media produces the bitter juices and the lingering taste of the blessed citron, than which no aid comes in a more timely manner, whenever cruel step-mothers have drugged the cups and mixed herbs and poisonous spells, and it drives the deadly poison from the limbs. The tree itself is large and similar in appearance to a laurel; and, if it had not wafted abroad a different scent, a laurel it would have been; its leaves do not fall in any winds; its blossom is especially tenacious; with it the Medes treat (bad) breath and stinking mouths, and cure asthmatic old men.

Ll. 136-176.  Eulogy of Italy. 

But neither the land of the Medes, most rich in forests, nor the fair Ganges and the Hermus (i.e. a river in Lydia) flecked with gold can vie with Italy for praise, nor Bactria nor India, nor all Panchaia (i.e. a legendary oasis), rich in incense-bearing sands. No bulls, breathing fire from their nostrils, have sufficiently ploughed up this place with huge dragon's teeth, nor has a cornfield (ever) bristled with the helmets and serried spears of warriors; but full harvests and Bacchus' Massic fluid fill (this land), and olives and teeming flocks occupy (it). Hence, the high-stepping war-horse struts about on the plain; hence, your white flocks, Clitumnus (i.e. a river in Umbria), and the bull, that noblest of victims, bathed in your sacred stream, have often conducted Roman triumphs to the temples of the gods. Here spring (is) perpetual and summer (is) in months other than her own. Twice (a year) the cattle (are) pregnant, (and) twice (a year) the tree (is) fit for fruit. But ravenous tigresses and the savage brood of lions are absent, nor does wolfsbane deceive its wretched pickers, nor does the scaly snake sweep his immense loops along the ground, nor rear himself up by drawing so tightly into a coil. Add so many remarkable cities, the achievement of toil, and so many towns piled up on steep rocks, and rivers gliding beneath their ancient walls. Or should I tell of the sea which washes her upper and lower (shores), or of her great lakes? Of you, mightiest Larius (i.e. Lake Como), and you, Benacus (i.e. Lake Garda), heaving with waves and the roar of the sea, or should I tell of her harbours and the dam placed on the Lucrine  (i.e. a lake in Campania, near Naples, connected to Lake Avernus by a canal constructed by Agrippa in 37 B.C.) and of the indignant sea with its great hissing noises, where the Julian wave resounds far and wide as the sea is flung back, and the Tyrrhenian (i.e. the sea off the western coast) tide is launched into the channels of Avernus (i.e. Lake Avernus, a crater lake in Campania, and the supposed location of an entrance to the Underworld) channels. Likewise, she displays in her veins streams of silver and mines of copper, and has flowed abundantly with gold. She has brought forth a valiant race of men, the Marsians and the Sabine youth, and the Ligurian inured to hardship, and the Volscians, armed with javelins, (and) she (has brought forth) the Decii, the Marii, and the mighty Camilli, the offspring of Scipio, stern in war, and you, Caesar (i.e. Octavian), the greatest of all, who, already victorious on the farthest shores of Asia, now diverts the unwarlike Indian from the towers of Rome. Hail, mighty mother of harvests, (O) land of Saturn, mighty in men; for you, I take up the themes and craft of ancient praise, daring to open up these sacred springs, and I sing the song of Ascra (i.e. a town in Northern Greece and the birthplace of Hesiod, the author of 'Works and Days') throughout the towns of Rome.

Ll. 177-258.  Variety, especially as regards trees (continued).

Now (is) a passage on the characteristics of (various) soils: what is the strength of each one, what (is) its colour, and what is its capacity for for bearing produce. Firstly, unyielding soils and unfruitful hills, where the lean clay and the pebbles in the thorny fields delight in the Palladian (i.e. of the goddess Minerva, who was reputed to have invented the olive) grove of the long-lived olive. As an indication, there is, in this same tract of land, the wild olive, springing up abundantly, and fields strewn with woodland berries. But ground which (is) rich and luxuriating in sweet moisture, and a plain which (is) thick with herbage and prolific in fruitfulness - such as we are often accustomed to look down upon in the hollow valley of a mountain; hither streams trickle from high rocks and draw down their fruitful mud - and which is raised in the south and nourishes the fern, (so) hateful to the crooked plough. This (soil) will, one day, provide you with vines of superior strength and abounding with much wine, this (soil will be) prolific of grapes and of juice, such as we pour forth in cups of gold, when the fat Etruscan has blown his ivory (horn) at the altars, and we offer up the smoking entrails in curved platters. But if (he is) keener to preserve herds (of cattle) and calves, or the offspring of sheep and goats that despoil plantations, let him seek the lawns and faraway (glades) of lush Tarentum, and a plain such as hapless Mantua has lost, feeding snow-white swans in the grassy stream. (There) neither limpid springs nor pastures will be lacking to the flocks; and as much (grass) as the herds will pluck in the long days, so much will the cool dew of a short night restore.

Earth (that is) almost black and rich under the deep-driving ploughshare, and whose soil (is) crumbling - for we imitate this by ploughing - , (is) best for corn; from no (other) plain will you see more wagons going homeward with slow-moving oxen; or from where the angry ploughman has borne away a wood and has felled copses that have lain inactive for many a year, and has grubbed up the ancient habitations of birds from their lowest roots; abandoning their nests, they make for the sky, but the unworked field gleams beneath the driven ploughshare. For the barren gravel of the hilly countryside scarcely furnishes the humble cinnamon and rosemary for the bees; and its rough tufa and chalk, gnawed away by black water-snakes, say that no other lands (are) their like in bringing sweet sustenance to serpents, and affording (them) winding retreats. (That land) which exhales thin mist and flitting smoke, and imbibes moisture and emits (it) from itself whenever it wishes, and which always clothes itself in its own green grass, and does not gall the metal with scurf and salty rust, that (land) will entwine your elms with joyous vines, that (land) is productive of oil, (and) you will experience that (land) in cultivating (it), (being) both supportive of cattle and submissive to the crooked ploughshare. Such (soil) rich Capua tills, and also the coast that borders Mount Vesuvius, and (the banks of) the Clanius (i.e. a river in Campania, prone to flooding), unjust to deserted Acerrae (i.e. a town in Campania).

Now, I shall tell (you) by what means you can distinguish each (type of soil). If you were to ask (whether) it is loose or unusually thick - since one is right for corn, the other for wine, for Ceres (where it is) thicker, and for Lyaeus (i.e. Bacchus) where (it is) most loose - first you should choose a spot with your eye, and (there) order a pit to be dug deep in the ground, and then return all the earth (to its place), and flatten the sand at the top with your feet. If earth is lacking, the soil will be loose, and more fit for cattle and fruitful vines; but if it denies that it can return to its place and earth lies on the top after the trenches have been refilled, the ground (will be) compact; expect sticky clods and lumpy ridges, and plough up the ground with sturdy bullocks. But salty ground, and what is called bitter, (as it is) unfruitful for crops - it is nether softened by ploughing, nor does it maintain its class in the case of wine or their names in the case of apples - will give such a specimen (as this): pluck down from the smoky rafters stout wicker baskets and the strainers for your wine-presses. Hither let that vicious soil and sweet water from the springs be trampled to the full; for sure, all the water will be strained, and big drops will pass through the twigs; but the taste will plainly give an indication, and distort the displeased faces of the tasters by its bitter sensation. Likewise, we learn what is rich soil briefly in this way: when squeezed by the hand, it never crumbles,  but, when handled, it sticks to the fingers like pitch. Moist (soil) produces bigger vegetables, and (is) itself duly luxuriant. Ah, may that (soil) of mine not prove too fertile, nor show itself too strong when the first ears of corn (appear)! (Soil) which is heavy tacitly betrays itself by its very weight. It is easy for the eyes to discern black (soil) at once, and what is the colour of each. But it is difficult to seek out the accursed cold: only pitch-pines and noxious yew-trees or dark ivies sometime reveal its traces.

Ll. 259-457.  Care of trees, especially vines. 

In observing these (rules), remember to bake the soil long beforehand, to cut through the spacious hillsides with trenches, (and) to expose the upturned clods to the North Wind, before you plant the glad stock of the vine. Fields with crumbling soil (are) the best: the winds and the cold frost, and the sturdy digger, shaking and stirring up his acres, take care of this. But if (there are) men whom no vigilance escapes, they look first for a kindred (piece of) ground, where the first nursery may be provided for their trees, and to which they may soon be brought and planted in rows, lest the seedlings reject the sudden shift of their mother (soil). Indeed, they even mark on the bark the quarter of the sky, so that, in whatever manner each stood, on whatever side it bore the southern heats, and wherever it turned its back to the North Pole, they may return (to the same position): so strong is the force of habit in their tender (years). Ask yourself first (whether) it is better to plant your vineyard on the hills or on a plain. If you lay out (your seeds) on the fields of a rich plain, plant (them) thickly; the vine (is) not less active in thick soil; but if you (lay out your seeds on) rising ground with mounds and sloping hillsides, give space to your rows, so that, where the trees have been planted, each path may be set perfectly square with the track cut across (it). As often in mighty war, when the extended legion has deployed its cohorts, and the column has stood firm on the open plain, and the battle-line has been put in place, and the whole earth swells with sparkling brass, nor yet have they joined in grim battle, but Mars wanders, wavering, in the midst of their arms; (so) may every one of your paths be measured in equal proportions; (this is) not only so that the prospect may feed a vacant mind, but (rather) because earth will not otherwise supply equal strength to everyone, nor will the branches be able to spread themselves into empty (space).

Perhaps too, you may ask what depths your trenches should have. I would even venture to commit my vine to a shallow furrow. A tree, on the other hand, is sunk much more deeply into the ground, especially the durmast oak, which, as much (it aims for) the heavenly breezes with its top, it aims for Tartarus with its roots. So, no wintry storms, no blasts of wind, nor heavy rainfall can overthrow it; it remains immovable, and seeing many generations of men roll by, it outlasts by its endurance many ages. Then, spreading out widely its boughs and branches hither (and) thither, it sustains in the midst of itself an enormous shade.

Do not let your vineyards slope towards the setting sun, nor plant hazel between your vines, neither gather the topmost shoots (for cuttings), nor tear your slips from the top of the tree - such (is) their love of the earth - , neither damage your seedlings with a blunted blade, nor plant (them) among the trunks of the wild olive: for often a spark of fire falls from unwary shepherds, which, lurking secretly under the resinous bark at first, catches hold of the solid wood, and, darting out into the topmost foliage, dispatches a loud sound to the heavens; thence, pursuing (its way), it reigns victorious among the branches and the lofty tops, and involves the whole wood in flames, and propels the black cloud up to the sky enveloped in a pitchy vapour, especially if an overhead storm broods over the woods, and the driving wind fans the fires. When this (happens), (the trees) have no strength from their roots (upwards),  and, although lopped, they can(not) recover and grow up again in a similar form from the depth of the earth; (only) the unfavoured wild olive, with its bitter leaves, survives.

Do not let any counsellor be so wise in your eyes as to persuade (you) to disturb the hardened ground, when the North Wind is blowing. Then, winter shuts up the fields with frost, and, although the seedling has been planted, it does not allow the frozen root to affix (itself) in the ground. Planting of the vineyard (is) best, when, in the blushing spring, the white bird, hateful to long snakes, has come, or hard upon the first frosts of autumn, when the impetuous sun has not yet reached winter with his steeds, (although) summer has already passed. Spring (is) very (beneficial) to the foliage of the groves, spring (is very) beneficial to the woodlands; in the spring the soil yearns, and cries out, for the life-generating seed. Then, the almighty father Aether descends in fructifying showers on to the bosom of his joyous spouse, and, mingling with her great body, he nourishes her brood with his great (power).  Then, the lonely thickets resound with tuneful birds, and on the days appointed the herds renew their love; (then,) the fruitful earth is in labour, and the fields extend their bosoms to the warm breezes of the West Wind; a gentle moisture abounds in everything; and the grasses dare to entrust themselves in safety to the fresh suns, nor does the vine-leaf fear the rising south winds or the rain-shower precipitated from the sky by the violent north winds, but puts forth its buds and unfolds all its leaves. I do not think that any other days had shone at the first dawn of the rising world, or had held another course: it was springtime, the wide world celebrated the spring, and the East Winds refrained from their wintry blasts, when the first beasts drank in the light (of day), and the earthy race of man raised its head from the hard fields, and wild beasts were let loose in the woods and stars in the sky. Nor could these frail creatures endure this toil, unless so great a (period of) rest came between the cold and the heat, and the indulgence of the sky spared the earth.

What is left, whatever cuttings you plant across the fields, spread rich dung (over them), and carefully cover (them) with much earth, and bury (within it) spongy stone or rough shells; for between (them), the rain will trickle and and a thin vapour creep, and the crops will raise their spirits; and, indeed, (some are) found who press hard (on the earth) from above with a stone and a great potsherd; this (is) a defence against the rains, this (is a defence) when the sultry heat splits open the gaping fields with drought.

When your seedlings have been planted, it remains to break up the earth around their heads quite often, and swing the sturdy hoes, and to work the soil under the driven ploughshare, and wheel your straining bullocks between the very rows of vines; then, to fit smooth stalks and shafts of peeled rods, stakes of ash-wood and sturdy fork-shaped poles (to the vines); by the strength of these (things), may they become accustomed to climb, to scorn the winds, and to follow from stage to stage through the tops of the elms.

And, while their early age sprouts with fresh leaves, you must spare the tender (vines), and, while the joyous vine-sprout raises itself to the sky, having been launched through the clean (air) with loose reins, the sharp edge of the pruning knife itself must not yet be applied, but the leaves should be plucked by bent-back hands and clipped here and there. Thereafter, when they have now shot up, embracing the elms with their strong stems, then prune their leaves and lop their branches - before (this) they shrink from steel - , then exercise severe dominion (over them) and check their straggling boughs.

Fences, too, should be woven (around them), and all cattle must be restrained, especially while the foliage (is) tender and unaware of hardships; besides the severe winters and the overpowering sun, the wild buffaloes and the pursuing goats continually abuse (it), (and) sheep and hungry heifers are put out to graze (on it). Nor do the chills (of winter), compounded by hoar-frost, or the severe heat (of the sun) beating down upon the scorched rocks, damage (it) so much as the flocks and the poison of their hard teeth and the scar impressed (by them) on the bitten stem. For no other offence is the goat sacrificed to Bacchus on every altar, and ancient plays go on to the stage, and (for this) the sons of Theseus (i.e. the Athenians) set aside prizes for wit around the villages and crossroads, and, joyful amidst their cups, danced on goatskins smeared (with oil). (For this reason) also the Ausonian colonists (i.e. primitive Italians from Campania) a race derived from Troy, sport in uncouth strains and with uncontrolled laughter, and put on dreadful masks of hallowed bark, and invoke you, (O) Bacchus, in joyful songs, and hang waxen effigies of you from a lofty pine-tree. Hence, every vineyard ripens with abundant produce, and hollow dells and deep lawns, and wherever the god has turned his comely head, are filled (with plenty). Therefore, shall we duly ascribe his honours to Bacchus in our native songs, and offer (him) platters and sacred cakes, and the sacrificial goat, led by the horn, will stand at the altar, and we shall roast his fat entrails on spits of hazel-wood.

There is also that other task in dressing vines, on which it is never (possible) to exhaust one's efforts sufficiently: for the whole soil must be ploughed up three or four times every year and the clods must be regularly broken up by inverted mattocks, (and) the whole grove must be relieved of foliage. Going round in a circle, his labour returns to the farmer, and the year revolves (back) on itself over its own tracks. And now, when once the vineyard has shed its lingering leaves, and the cold north wind has shaken the beauty from the woods, even then the eager countryman extends his care into the coming year, and pursues the desolate vine, trimming (it) with the crooked tooth of Saturn (i.e. the scythe, or pruning hook, the symbol of Saturn), and he shapes (it) by pruning. Let him be the first to dig the ground, let him be the first to carry home and burn the brushwood, and let him be the first to bring the stakes back under his roof; may he be the last to reap (the vintage). Twice the shade (of leaves) assails the vines, twice weeds cover the corn-fields with their dense thorns; both (these things require) hard labour: let him commend large farms, (but) let him cultivate a small (one). And besides, the rough twigs of butcher's broom throughout the wood, and the watery reed on the river-banks, are cut, and the care of the uncultivated willow keeps (him) busy. Now, the vines (are) tied, now the vineyards lay aside the pruning hook, now the last vine-dresser celebrates with song his finished rows: yet, (still) must the earth be stirred, and the dust disturbed, and now must Jupiter (i.e. the weather) be dreaded by the ripened grapes.

On the other hand, olives have no (need of) any close tending; nor do they await the sickle-shaped pruning-hook and the tenacious mattocks, when once they have stuck in the soil and borne the breezes; earth, herself, supplies enough moisture, when laid open by the hooked fang, and heavy fruits, when (laid open) by the ploughshare. Thus do I nourish the rich and peace-loving olive.

The fruit trees, too, as soon as they have felt their vigorous trunks and have acquired their strength, shoot up swiftly to the sky by their own force, and without the need of our assistance. In the meantime, in the same way the whole woodland grows heavy with produce, and the untamed haunts of birds glow with blood-red berries. The clover is grazed on (by cattle), the high forest supplies torches, and at night the fires are fed and their light shed (on us). And (still) men hesitate to sow (crops) and to bestow their care (on them). Why should I pursue grander themes? - willows and lowly brooms, (even) they provide either leafage for cattle or shade for shepherds, and a hedge for the crops and food for honey - and it is delightful to behold Cytorus (i.e. a mountain in Paphlagonia in Asia Minor) waving with box, and groves of Narycian (i.e. of Naryx, a region in southern Italy settled by Greeks) pitch, and to see fields not indebted to mattocks or the care of man. Even the barren woods on the top of the Caucasus (i.e. the mountain range which joins the Black Sea to the Caspian), which the sharp East Winds are constantly ripping into and plundering, each (one) yields different produce, pines yield wood suitable for ships, cedars and cypresses (yield wood suitable) for houses. From this source, farmers have fashioned spokes for their wheels, and wheel-drums for their wagons, and they have made curved keels for their boats. Willows are fertile in twigs, elms in leaves (for cattle-food), and myrtle (is) good for stout spear-shafts, and the cornel-cherry-tree for war, while yews are bent into Ituraean (i.e. Parthian) bows. In the same way, smooth-grained lime-trees, or box polished by the lathe, receive their shape, and are hollowed out by sharp steel. Thus too, the light alder, launched on the Po, swims on the rushing stream; thus too, bees hide their swarms in the hollow bark and in the core of a rotten holm-oak. What have the gifts of Bacchus bestowed (which is so) worthy to be equally recorded? Bacchus has also given reasons for blame; he (it was who) quelled by death the raging Centaurs, Rhoetus, and Pholus, and Hylaeus, (who) threatened the Lapiths with a huge mixing-bowl.

Ll. 458-540.  Eulogy of country life.  

O exceedingly fortunate farmers, if they did but know their own good fortune! On them, far from the clash of arms, earth, herself most just, pours from her bosom their easy sustenance. (What) if no lofty mansion with proud gates belches forth a vast tide of morning callers from all her halls, neither do they gape (in admiration) at the various door-posts (inlaid) with lovely tortoise-shells, and robes decked out with gold, and Ephyreian (i.e. Corinthian) bronze (jars), nor is their white wool dyed with an Assyrian drug, or is their use of liquid olive tainted by cinnamon; but their peace (is) untroubled, and their life does not know how to deceive, (but is) rich in various (kinds of) wealth, and the peace of broad estates - caverns and living lakes and cool Tempe (i.e. a scenic valley between Mounts Olympus and Ossa in North-West Greece), and the lowing of oxen and soft slumber under a tree - (are) not missing; there (there are) lawns, and dens for beasts (of the chase), and youth inured to toil and accustomed to thrift, worship of the gods and fathers held in veneration; among them justice set her last footprints as she departed from the earth.

But may the sweet Muses, whose sacred (symbols) I bear, being smitten with violent love, receive me first before all (other) things, and may they show (me) the pathways of the sky and the stars, the various eclipses of the sun and the travails of the moon; whence (comes) the trembling of the earth (i.e. earthquakes), by what force the seas swell high, bursting their flood-barriers and subsiding into themselves once more, why the winter suns make such haste to dip themselves in the ocean, or what hindrance obstruct the lingering nights. But if the cold blood around my heart stands in my way, so that I cannot penetrate these aspects of nature, may the countryside and the streams in the valleys abounding in water delight me, (and,) unsung, may I court the rivers and the forests. O (that I might be) where (are) the plains (of Thessaly), and the (river) Spercheus, and (Mount) Taygetus, on which Spartan maidens are revelling! O, (for the man) who shall set me down in the cool valleys of the (river) Haemus, and shelter (me) with a thick shade of boughs! Happy (is he) who can understand the causes of things, and has cast all fears and inexorable fate and the sound of ravenous Acheron under his feet. Blessed too (is) he who has got to know the rustic deities, Pan and old Silvanus, and their sisters, the Nymphs: neither the rods of public (office), nor the purple of kings, and the discord of faithless brothers, or the Dacian descending from the conspiring Danube, nor Roman revolutions and kingdoms on the verge of destruction, sway him; he neither grieves as he pities the poor, nor does he envy the rich. What fruits the boughs, what (fruits) the very fields, graciously produce of their own accord, (these) he plucks; (but) the iron laws and the maddened Forum, or the archives of the people, (these) he has not seen. Some stir up uncharted seas with oars, and (others) rush to arms, (and) penetrate the court-yards and the thresholds of kings; one (man) destines a city and its wretched homes to destruction, so that he may imbibe jewels and sleep on Tyrian purple; another hoards his wealth, and broods over gold; one (man) is stupefied, astonished at the (eloquence of the) rostra; the applause across the rows of the theatre - for (it is) redoubled among both the populace and the senators - carries off another gaping (in admiration); drenched in the blood of their brothers, they exult, and exchange their homes and sweet thresholds for exile, and they seek a homeland lying under a different sun. The farmer cleaves the earth with a crooked plough: thus (comes) the annual work-programme, thus he sustains his native-land and his little grandchildren, and his herds of of oxen and trusty bullocks. Nor (is there any) respite, but the year abounds in fruit and in the brood of the flocks, or in the sheaf of corn stalks, and it loads the furrows and overwhelms the granaries with produce.

Winter comes: the Sicyonian (i.e. of Sicyon, a town in the Peloponnese) berry is crushed in the olive-press, the hogs return brimful of acorns, and the forests yield their arbutes (i.e. wild fruits); and autumn sheds its varied produce, and, high up on the sunny rocks, the mellow vintage is ripened. Meanwhile, sweet children hang about his lips, and their chaste home keeps its purity, cows droop udders full of milk, and fat kids fight among themselves with opposing horn on the shining sward. (The farmer,) himself, celebrates festal days, stretched out on the grass, where (there is) a fire in the midst, and his companions are crowning the mixing-bowl, and he invokes you, (O) Lenaeus, as he offers a libation, and for the keepers of the flock he sets up on an elm-tree contests of the swift(-flying) javelin, and they bare their hardy bodies for the wrestling match. This life the ancient Sabines once cultivated, as did Remus and his brother (i.e. Romulus), thus Etruria grew strong, and, of course, Rome has become the fairest of places. and has enclosed her seven citadels with a single (city) wall. Even before the rule of that Dictaean king (i.e. Jupiter, who was born at Mount Dicte on the island of Crete), and before the impious race (of men) feasted on slaughtered bullocks, golden Saturn led such a life on earth; nor yet indeed had (men) heard the war-trumpets blown, nor yet (had they heard) the swords clanking as they were laid on the hard anvils.

Ll. 541-542.  Epilogue. 

But we have travelled (across) a plain immense in its extent, and now the time (has come) to unharness our horses' smoking necks.


Last modified onWednesday, 01 November 2017 22:52

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated. HTML code is not allowed.