With this translation of Book III, Sabidius has concluded his rendering into English of Virgil's magnificent poem, the "Georgics". His translations of the other three books are to be found on this blog under the following dates: Book I - 19th November 2015; Book II - 24th January 2017; Book IV - 11th November 2010. In his translation of Book IV, Sabidius has provided an introduction to the work as a whole, and to this the reader is referred once more.   


The "Georgics" falls into two pairs of books, dealing with vegetables (Books I and II) and animals (Books III and IV) respectively. Because the start of Book III coincides with the start of the second part of the work as a whole, there is an extensive proem at its beginning which is designed to relate this second part of the poem to the world outside. Hence, this proem begins with the invocation of two rural deities, one Italian (Pales) and one Greek (Apollo), and a compliment to Caesar Octavian, after which Virgil directs himself to his patron, Maecenas, before he ends with a promise to sing next about Caesar, which is a prelude to his next and greatest work, the "Aeneid". 


The subject of Book III of the "Georgics" is livestock farming; in it Virgil lays down rules for the breeding and management of horses, oxen, sheep, goats and dogs. He deals first with the larger animals, the horses and cattle, and then with the smaller ones, the sheep, goats and dogs.  In the latter part of the book he discusses the diseases which affect cattle, and he ends with a grim description of the fatal murrain that, within living memory, had formerly raged in the region of the Alps. Virgil, himself, had come from a farming background, and there is no doubt that Virgil was interested in the details of agricultural management. However, the "Georgics" is certainly not a manual of instruction for farmers. The fact that he writes so much about the horse, an animal which plays little part in the business of farming in Roman times, but was of great interest to humans because of its use in riding, racing and warfare, indicates that the purpose of the book was fundamentally poetic entertainment. At the same time, Virgil says nothing at all in the book about donkeys or mules, or, indeed, about pigs or poultry, despite the importance of all these animals to the farmer. Moreover, the amount of time he devotes to the mating practices of the bigger animals, and the force of animal love and its concomitant dangers (see ll. 209-283), is a further indication of the poem's primary function of entertainment, since it allows him to relate the content to the human situation. Within this section of the poem is the renowned passage (see ll. 219-241) on the contest between two bulls for the attentions of a beautiful cow, a passage with an evidently anthromorphic focus. Also designed to entertain are a number of excursuses within the book, such as the description of a chariot race (ll. 103-112) and the havoc caused by the gadfly (ll. 146-156). There is also a long passage on the rigours of the freezing Scythian winters (ll. 349-383), where the readers' entertainment is clearly the main purpose. Similarly out of proportion in relation to its length is the long finale to the poem concerning cattle disease (ll. 440-566). With regard to this passage, L.P. Wilkinson writes in the notes to his edition of the "Georgics", first published by Penguin Books in 1982, "Virgil does not scruple to enhance his rhetoric at the expense of realism by the intrusion of legendary characters and a Fury from Hell." The second part of the book ends with the devastation caused by animal plague, just as the first part end with the disasters which are brought about by passion. The "Georgics", although ostensibly a didactic poem about farming, is, in fact, a poem which confronts its readers with the moral problems and dilemmas of human life.

In his introduction to Book II, Sabidius discusses with the reader some of the reasons which explain why some of the passages of the "Georgics" are difficult to translate. These difficulties also apply to Book III. Sometimes, one finds that the words lack the coherence of meaning that one anticipates. Even what are apparently quite simple sentences can give rise to a number of different translations. An example of this is set out in the appendix at the bottom of this translation.   

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. 1-48.  Proem to Maecenas. The poet and Caesar. 

Of you too, O great Pales (i.e. the goddess of shepherds and flocks), and you, renowned shepherd of Amphrysus (i.e. the god Apollo; Amphrysus was a river in Thessaly in N.E. Greece, where Apollo worked as a shepherd while in exile from Mount Olympus) (and) you, woods and streams of Lycaeus (i.e. a mountain in Arcadia, in the northern part of the Peloponnese, sacred to Pan), shall I sing. Other (themes) which would have occupied idle minds with poetry, all (of these are) now quite common. Who is unacquainted either with the severe Eurysthenes (i.e. the king of Mycenae who, at the behest of Juno, tasked Hercules with the Twelve Labours) or with the altars of the infamous Busiris (i.e. the Egyptian king who sacrificed to his gods all strangers who visited his dominions)? Who has not been told of the boy Hylas (i.e. Hercules' page who was drowned by nymphs), and of Latona's Delos (i.e. the island in the Aegean where Latona bore Apollo and Diana) and Hippodameia (i.e. Pelops' wife, whom he won in a chariot race), and Pelops, the keen charioteer, famed for his ivory shoulder (i.e. the shoulder he was given by the gods after he was brought back to life, having been killed and served up at a banquet by his father Tantalus). I must attempt a way, whereby I, too, can raise myself from the ground and fly victoriously through the mouths of men. If only life remains, I shall be the first to lead the Muses with me into my native-land, when I return from the Aonian mountain (i.e. Mount Helicon in Boeotia, sacred to the Muses); for you, (O) Mantua (i.e. Virgil's birth-place), I will first bring back the Idumaean (i.e. Syrian) palms, and I shall erect a shrine of marble next to the water, where the mighty Mincius (i.e. the river which flows from Lake Garda, past Mantua and into the Po) meanders in its slow windings, and adorns its banks with slender reeds. In the midst, I shall have Caesar (i.e. Octavianus Augustus), and he will inhabit the shrine: for him, I, conspicuous in Tyrian purple, shall drive a hundred four-horsed chariots in triumph along the river. For me, all Greece, leaving the Alpheus (i.e. the Olympian Games) and the groves of Molorchus (i.e. the Nemean Games), will compete in foot-races and with the brutal boxing-glove. I, myself, my head adorned with the leaves of the shorn olive, shall award the prizes. Even now it delights (me) to lead the stately processions to the shrines and to watch the bullocks sacrificed, or (to see) how the stage-scene vanishes when the sets are shifted (around), and how the Britons raise the purple curtain on which they are embroidered. On doors I shall delineate in gold and solid ivory the battle against the hordes of the Ganges and the arms of our conquering Quirinus (i.e. Octavian), and here (I shall show) the Nile billowing in war and flowing majestically, and columns rising up on the bronze (prows) of ships. I shall add the vanquished cities of Asia and subdued Niphates (i.e. part of the Taurus mountain range in Armenia), and the Parthian relying on flight and arrows fired from behind, and two trophies snatched by force from different foes, and nations triumphed over twice on each shore (i.e. Octavian's victory over Antony at the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. followed by his conquest of Egypt). (Here) too shall stand Parian marbles (i.e. Paros was an island in the Aegean famous for the quality of its fine white marble), breathing statues, the offspring of Assaracus, and the (great) names of the race descended from Jupiter and our ancestor Tros, and the Cynthian founder of Troy (i.e. Apollo, born on Mount Cynthia on the island of Delos). (Here) wretched envy shall dread the Furies and the grim stream of Cocytus (i.e. the river of lamentation in Hades), and Ixion's twisting snakes and monstrous wheel (i.e. Ixion was bound by twisting snakes to an ever turning wheel), and the insuperable stone (i.e. Sisyphus was condemned to roll to the top of a hill a stone which always fell back again). Meanwhile, let us follow the woods and untrodden lawns of the Dryads (i.e. tree nymphs), no easy commands of yours, Maecenas. Without your (inspiration), my mind can take up no lofty (theme); come now, burst through any idle delays; Cithaeron (i.e. a mountain near Thebes, famous for hunting and bacchic revels) calls with a loud shout, and the hounds of Taygetus (i.e. a mountain in the Peloponnese overlooking Sparta and also famous for hunting) and Epidaurus, tamer of horses (i.e. a city in the Peloponnese south-east of Corinth) (also call), and the cry redoubled by the approval of the groves echoes again. Soon, however, I shall be prepared to sing of Caesar's battles, and to bear his name with honour through as many years as Caesar is distant from the birth of Tithonus (i.e. the brother of King Priam, who was granted immortality but not eternal youth). 

Ll. 49-122.   Breeding stock. 

Whether any one breeds horses (while) admiring the prizes of the Olympic palms, or any one (breeds) sturdy bullocks for the plough, let him choose with particular care the bodies of the dams. The best shape for a cow (is) fierce, (one) whose head (is) hideous (and) whose neck (is) thick, and her dewlaps hang down from chin to leg; then, (there is) no limit to her long flank; all her (parts are) large, even her feet; and her ears (are) shaggy under her crumpled horns. Nor would she be displeasing to me (if she were) marked with spots of white, or (were) impatient of the yoke and sometimes rough with her horns and, in her appearance, nearer to a bull, and (if) she (were) wholly elevated (in her gait) and sweeps her footsteps with the tip of her tail as she goes along. The age (for a cow) to undergo Lucina (i.e. childbirth) and the Hymeneal rites (i.e. lawful wedlock) ends before ten, (and) begins after four years; during the other years (she is) neither fit for breeding nor strong (enough) for the plough. In the meantime, while sprightly youth abounds in the herds, let the males loose; be the first to send your cattle to mate, and supply one generation after another by procreation. All the best days of life fly away first  from wretched mortal creatures; diseases and sad old-age and travail follow immediately, and the severity of harsh death seizes (them). There will always be (some cows) whose bodies you would wish to be changed (for the better): so repair (them) all the time, and, lest you afterwards look in vain for your losses, anticipate (matters) and choose (new) stock for your herd each year. 
And you (must) bestow (upon those) whom you propose to rear as the hope of the race your especial effort even from their tender (years). From the first, the colt of a noble breed steps higher in the fields and puts down nimble legs; (he is) the first (who) dares to lead the way and to brave threatening rivers and entrust himself to an unknown bridge; nor does he take fright at idle sounds. His neck (is) lofty and his head graceful, his stomach (is) small and his back stout, and his proud chest swells with muscles. The bay-browns and the greys (are) in demand, and the worst colour (are) whites and duns. Then, if any arms have furnished a sound from afar, he does not know how to stand his ground, but pricks up his ears and trembles in (every) joint, and, snorting, he rolls the gathered fire beneath his nostrils. His mane (is) thick and, (when) tossed up, it falls back on his right shoulder; a double spinal bone runs down between his loins and his hoof gouges up the earth and makes deep noises with its solid horn. Such (was) Cyllarus (i.e. the horse given to Castor and Pollux by Juno), tamed by the reins of Amyclaean (i.e. Spartan) Pollux, and (those) of which the Greek poets remind (us), (namely) Mars' yoked brace of horses and the chariot-team of the mighty Achilles. Such too (was) swift Saturn himself, (when) on his wife's arrival, he spread a mane on his (assumed) horse's neck, and filled lofty Pelion (i.e. a mountain in Thessaly) with his shrill neighing as he fled.  
When he fails, burdened with sickness and enfeebled with years, lock him in his barn and do not pity his inglorious old age. An elderly (horse) is cold in love-making, and vainly draws out the joyless task, and, if ever he is brought to an engagement, he rages in a futile manner, like when a great fire (rages) without strength amid stubble. So, you must chiefly mark his mettle and age; then, his other qualities, and his parents' pedigree, and what grief (he displays) when vanquished, and what pride when victorious. Don't you see, when the chariots have seized the field in the rapid race and stream forth in a torrent from the starting-pen, (and) when young men's hopes (are) aroused, and throbbing fear drains their bounding hearts? On they press with the curling lash, and leaning forwards, they give (full) rein (to the horses), (and) the axle flies along glowing fiercely; and now low and now high, they seem to be borne aloft through the empty air, and to mount up into the skies; (there is) neither slackening nor respite; but a cloud of yellow sand is tossed up, and they are made damp by the foam and breath of their pursuers: so great (is) their love of praise, so great is the importance of victory. Erichthonius (i.e. a legendary king of Athens) was the first to venture to yoke four steeds to a chariot and to stand triumphantly over the flying wheels. The Pelethronian (i.e. Thessalian) Lapiths (i.e. the enemies of the Centaurs), mounted on (horse-)back bestow reins and rings and taught the armed rider to spurn the ground and gather (his horse's feet) proudly together as he prances along. Each task (is) alike, and with equal care the trainers look out for a young (horse) of warm mettle and sprightly in the races, though often he may have driven (before him) foes who have turned in flight, and he may claim Epirus or bold Mycenae as his birthplace and his ancestry from Neptune's own line.

Ll. 123-156.  Care of the Sire and Dam.

Having noted these things, they work hard as the time (draws near) and devote all their care to swell with thick fat (the one) whom they have chosen as leader and husband to the herd; and (for him) they mow the grass and supply river(-water) and corn, lest he cannot survive the easy toil, and feeble sons repeat their fathers' leanness. Moreover, they purposefully starve the mares themselves into leanness, and at the time when known pleasure incites the first sexual unions, they deny (them) the leaves and fence off the springs. Often too, they harass (them) in the race and tire (them) in the sun, when the threshing-floor groans heavily as the corn is flailed, and when the empty chaff is tossed to the west wind. They do this, so that by too much pampering the use of the fruitful field is not too dulled, and clogs the sluggish furrows with mud, but that it may thirstily seize the (fruit of) love (i.e. the seed) and bury it more deeply.  
In turn, the care of the sires begins to wane, and (that of) the dams to take its place. When their months are fulfilled and they roam around heavy (with young), let no one allow them to draw the yokes of heavy wagons, nor clear the way with a jump, and scour the meadows in violent haste, or swim in swirling rivers. Let them feed in spacious lawns and beside full rivers, where (there is) moss and a bank very green with grass, and may caves shelter (them) and the shade of rocks project over (them). There is around the groves of the Silarus, and Alburnus, green with oaks (i.e. a river and a mountain in Lucania in southern Italy), a swarming flying (creature), which has the Roman name asylus - the Greeks calling (it) in their language the gad-fly - ; a fierce, sharp sounding (insect), on account of which whole herds scatter in terror through the woods; the sky is stunned and maddened by their bellowings, as are the woods too, and the banks of the parched Tanagrus (i.e. a small river which rises in Mount Alburnus). By this monster, Juno wreaked her terrible wrath, when she devised a pest for Inachus' heifer (i.e. Io, the daughter of the river god Inachus, whom Jupiter had transformed into a heifer). This too, for in the noontide heat it presses more keenly, you must keep off pregnant cattle; and you must feed your herds when the sun has just risen or when the stars bring on the night. 

Ll. 157-208.  Care of Calves and Foals.

After the birth, all the care is transferred to the calves, and, from the first, they brand the marks and the names of their breed on (those) which they choose to rear for stock-breeding, or to keep sacred for the altar, or to cleave the soil and to turn up the field all rugged with broken clogs. The rest of the herds graze amidst the green pastures. While (they are) yet calves, coax (those) whom you will  shape for service and employment on the farm, and set (them) on the path of training, while their youthful minds (are still) adaptable and their age (is) pliant. First, fasten around their necks loose collars of slender twigs; next, when their free necks have grown accustomed to servitude, yoke your bullocks in pairs, fastened by those same collars, and make (them) keep step together. And now let empty (cart-)wheels often be drawn by them along the ground, and let them imprint their tracks in the surface of the dust. Afterwards, let the beechen axle creak, as it labours beneath a heavy load, and let the bronze hitch-pole draw the harnessed wheels. Meanwhile, you may not only feed your untamed young (cattle) with grass or the leaves of willow-trees and marshy sedge, but you will pluck corn sown by hand; nor shall your newly delivered cows fill snowy milk-pails in the custom of our fathers, but they will exhaust (the content of) their udders on their sweet offspring.

But, if your inclination is more towards war and fierce squadrons (of cavalry), or to skim your wheels past Pisa's Alphean rivers and to drive flying chariots in Jupiter's grove (i.e. Pisa was the name of a district in that part of Elis in the north-west of the Peloponnese, through which the river Alpheus flowed, and in which stood the temple of Olympian Jupiter), the first task of your horse is to behold the courage and the arms of warriors, to endure the trumpet(-blasts), to bear the wheels groaning in their career, and to hear the bridles jingling in the stall; then, to rejoice more and more in the endearing praises of his trainer, and to love the sound of his neck being patted. And let him venture these things as soon as (he is) weaned from his mother's teats, and, in turn, when (he is) weak and even unsteady, (and) also inexperienced due to his age, let him entrust his mouth to gentle halters. But after three (years) have elapsed, when his fourth summer has arrived, let him start forthwith to run around the circuit, and to stamp with regular steps, and let him bend the curves of his legs alternately, and to be like (someone) working hard; then, let him challenge the wind in races, and flying over the open plains as if free from the reins, let him barely place his footprints on the surface of the sand; as when a dense north wind has come down from Hyperborean regions, and spreads abroad the wild weather and rainless clouds of Scythia: then the tall corn-fields and the waving plains quiver in the gentle gusts, and the tops of the woods make a (rustling) sound, and the lengthy waves press towards the shore; (on) it (i.e. the  wind) flies, sweeping the fields and seas alike in its flight. Hence, (such a horse) will either sweat around the turning-posts and spacious courses of the Elean plain and drive the bloody foam from his mouth, or will better bear the Belgic war-chariots with his docile neck. Then at last, when they have just been tamed, may you be allowed to fatten their ample bodies with a thickening mash; for, (if so fed) before they are tamed, they will raise their spirits (too) high, and, when caught, they will refuse to suffer the pliant lash and to obey the hard bits.

Ll. 209-283. The Dangers of Sexual Desire.

But, whether the employment of oxen or of horses is more pleasing to one, no other effort supports their strength more than staving off Venus (i.e. sexual desire) and the goads of passion. And so they consign the bulls to far away places and solitary pastures behind an opposing mountain and across broad rivers, or keep (them) shut up inside, near well-stocked mangers. For the female gradually consumes his vigour, and he burns at the sight (of her), nor indeed does she, with her sweet allurements, allow (him) to keep in mind his groves or his grasses, and often she drives her proud lovers to fight it out between themselves with their horns. A lovely heifer is grazing in the great (forest of) Sila (i.e. a forested mountain in Bruttium in southern Italy); they, in turn, join battle with mighty force (and) with frequent wounds, dark blood washes their bodies, and opposing horns are pressed into their steadfast (foes) with an enormous groan, and the woods and protracted Olympus (i.e. the sky) re-echo (it). Nor (is it) the custom for the belligerents to share a stall together, but the one who is vanquished retires and becomes an exile far away on unknown shores, bemoaning his disgrace and the blows of his haughty conqueror, (and) then the loves, which, unavenged, he has lost; and, gazing at the stalls (i.e. in which the cows he loves are installed), he quits his ancestral realms. So, he cultivates his strength with the utmost care and lies all night on a bare bed between hard rocks, feeding on prickly leaves and sharp sedge, and he tests himself and learns (how) to take it out on his horns, (by) butting (them) against a tree, and he buffets the winds with his blows, and practises for battle by pawing the sand. Afterwards, when his vigour (has been) collected and his strength renewed, he advances his standards, and rushes headlong on his unsuspecting foe: (it is) just as when a wave begins to whiten in mid-ocean, and, at some distance, it draws its curve from the deep, and, as it rolls towards the land, it makes a frightful noise among the rocks, and falls forward (like something) no less than a veritable mountain, while the water at the bottom boils in its whirlpools and tosses up black sand from the deep.

Indeed, every species on earth, both men and wild beasts, and the marine species, and cattle and bright coloured birds, rush into this fire and these frenzies. Love (is) the same for all. At no other time does the lioness, forgetful of her cubs, range the plains, nor do the unshapely bears, commonly spread so much destruction and havoc through the woods; then (is) the boar ferocious, then (is) the tigress at her worst; alas, unhappy (it is) to stray in the desolate lands of Libya. Don't you see how a tremor sizes a horse's whole body, if but a scent can bring (them) familiar smells? And now neither men's bridles, nor cruel whips, nor cliffs and hollow rocks, nor rivers in their way that whirl away on their torrent (whole) mountains which have been carried off, can hold them back. Even the Sabine boar charges on and whets his tusks and digs up the ground with his feet, rubs his flanks on a tree, and on this side and on that side inures his shoulders to wounds. What (of) the youth, in whose bones unrelenting passion fans a mighty flame? Of course, he (it is who) swims, late in the dark night, the straits (which are) disturbed by bursting storms; over him (i.e. Leander) heaven's huge portal thunders, and the sea, dashing against the rocks, re-echoes; nor can his wretched parents recall (him), nor the maiden (i.e. Hero) who will die (too) because of his cruel death. What (of) Bacchus' spotted lynxes and the fierce species of wolves and dogs? What (of) the battles which unwarlike stags wage? But surely the madness in mares is conspicuous beyond all (of them); and Venus herself endowed (them) with this feeling, at the time when the four-horse team of Potnia (i.e. a place near Thebes) tore Glaucus' (i.e. a king of Corinth killed by his own horses) limbs apart with their jaws. Love leads them (i.e. the mares) over (Mount) Gargarus (i.e. a mountain in the mountainous area of the Troad, and next to Mount Ids) and across the roaring Ascanius (i.e. a river in Bithynia in the north-west of Asia Minor); they climb and swim across rivers. And, straightaway, when the flame is kindled in the eager marrow -  chiefly in the spring when heat returns to the bones -  they all stand on high rocks with their mouths turned towards the West Wind, and catch the gentle breezes, and, (having been made) pregnant without any mates, (but,) wonderful to relate, by the wind, they scatter over rocks and cliffs and low-lying valleys, not, (O) East Wind to your rising (points), nor (to those) of the sun, (but) towards the North and the North-West Winds, or from where the darkest southerly originates and clouds the sky with freezing rain. Only then, does the poison, which shepherds call, by its true name, hippomanes, (i.e. horse-madness, a fluid that exudes from mares when on heat) drip from their loins. that hippomanes, which wicked step-mothers have often gathered, and brewed with herbs and noxious spells.


Ll. 284-294.  Proem to Part II.

But, meanwhile, time flies, (and) flies irretrievably, while I, captivated by passion, describe each (detail). This (is) enough on herds: the other part of my charge remains, (namely) to manage the fleecy flocks and shaggy goats. This (is) hard work; hence, be hopeful of praise, (O you) sturdy farmers. Nor am I in two minds as to how hard it is to capture this in words, and to impart such distinction to lowly themes; but sweet love (of the Muses) seizes (me) and carries me off over the lonely heights of (Mount) Parnassus (i.e. a mountain in central Greece, sacred to Apollo and the home of the Muses); it is delightful to range over the heights, where no other of our forebears' wheel -tracks runs down to Castalia (i.e. the Muses' spring on Mount Parnassus) by a gentle slope. Now, revered Pales, now must we sing in a lofty voice.
Ll. 295-338.  The Care of Sheep and Goats.

To begin with, I decree that sheep should pluck the grass in soft pens, while leafy summer is soon brought back, and that you strew plenty of straw and handfuls of fern on the ground beneath (them), lest the cold ice harms the tender flock and brings on mange and ugly foot-rot. After this I move on and tell (you) to provide the goats with leafy (sprays of) arbutus (i.e. the strawberry-tree), and to supply (them) with fresh river (water) and to place their pens away from the wind and facing the sun at midday, just at the time when the once cold Aquarius (i.e. the Water Carrier constellation) sets and moistens the departing year. Nor should these (goats) be tended by us with any less care, nor will the profit be less, although Milesian fleeces (i.e. products of Miletus, a city on the west coast of Asia Minor well-known for the quality of its woollen cloth) dyed in Tyrian purple, are bartered for a high (price): from them (there will be) a more numerous breed, from them (there will be) an abundant supply of milk; the more the pail froths with (the contents of) their exhausted udders, the more will joyous streams flow from their pressed teats. Meanwhile, (the farmers) clip the beards and the hoary chins of the Cinyphian he-goat (i.e. goats bred along the banks of the river Cinyps, which flowed through Libya into the Mediterranean), and his hairy bristles as well, for the use of the camps and (as) coverings for wretched sailors. Indeed, they feed off the woods and the peaks of (Mount) Lycaeus, and its rough brambles and hill-loving thorn-bushes. And, remembering (to do so) themselves, they return home, and lead their (kids with them), and, with their heavy udders, they can scarcely surmount the threshold. As they have less need for man's care, so you should, with all due attention, protect (them) from the ice and snowy winds, and readily bring (them) food and the fodder of twigs, nor should you shut your hay-loft for the whole of the winter. But then, when joyous summer, summoned by the West Winds, sends both flocks (i.e. the sheep and the goats) to the glades and to the pastures, let us go, with the earliest star of Lucifer, to the cool countryside, while morning (is) new and the grass (is still) hoary, and the dew on the tender grass is most welcome to the flock. Then, when the fourth hour of the sky brings on thirst, and the plaintive cicadas shall rend the grove with their song, I shall instruct the flocks to drink the running water from oaken troughs at the side of wells and near deep pools. But in the noontide heat, let them seek out a shady valley, wherever Jupiter's vast oak with its ancient trunk stretches forth its huge branches, or wherever a grove, dark with numerous oak-trees, lies in its sacred shade; then, give (them) clear waters once more, and graze (them) again at sunset, when the cool evening tempers the the air, and the dewy moon now refreshes the glades, and the shores echo with the sound of the kingfisher, and thorn-bushes (with the sound of) the goldfinch.  
Ll. 339-383.  The Herdsmen of Africa and Scythia.

Why should I tell you in verse of the shepherds of Libya and their pastures, and of the cottages with meagre roofs in which they dwell? Their flocks often graze (all) day and night and for the whole of a month one after another, and go into long (stretches of) desert without any shelter: so wide does the plain extend. The African herdsman carries everything with him: his house and home, his arms and his Amyclaean (i.e. Spartan) hound, and Cretan quiver; (he is) just like the fierce Roman, when he goes in his country's arms under an unfair burden, and, having pitched camp, he stands in battle- array before the enemy expects (it).

But (it is) not (so) where (there are) Scythian tribes and the waters of Maeotis (i.e. the Sea of Azov, which flows into the north of the Black Sea) and the disordered Danube, whirling up its yellow sands, and where (Mount) Rhodope (i.e. a mountain range in Thrace with a northward-pointing arc) runs back, stretching up towards the mid-pole (i.e. the North Pole). There, they keep their herds shut up in stalls, nor is any grass to be seen on the plain or leaves on the trees; but, far and wide, the land lies shapeless under heaps of snow and deep ice, and rises up to seven ells (in height). (There it is) always winter, and the North-West Wind (is) always blowing cold (air). Then, the Sun never dispels the pale shadows, neither when, borne on his steeds, he makes for the lofty sky, nor when he washes his precipitate chariot in the ruddy surface of the ocean. Sudden ice-floes form in the flowing river, and then the water carries iron-clad wheels on its back, it (being) formerly welcoming to boats, (but) now to broad wagons; bronze (vases) commonly shatter, clothes stiffen once they've been put on, they chop their liquid wine with axes, whole pools turn into solid ice, and the jagged icicle hardens on their unkempt beards. Meanwhile, it snows across the whole sky at the same time: cattle perish, the large bodies of oxen stand enveloped by hoar-frost, and the deer in a packed herd are benumbed under the strange load, and scarcely project the tips of their antlers. These they do not hunt with unleashed hounds or with any nets, nor (do they pursue animals) terrified by the fear of purple feathers, but, as they vainly push with their breasts against the mountain (of snow), they cut (them) down at close quarters with a sword and slaughter (them) as they bray piteously, and carry (their bodies) back joyfully with loud acclamations. (The people) themselves, in caves dug deep underground, lead (lives of) untroubled ease, and roll (logs of) wood and whole elm-trees to their hearths, and give (them) to the fire. Here, they pass the night in play, and happily mimic our draughts of wine with beer and sour service-berries (i.e. a kind of cider). Such (is) the unbridled race of men placed beneath the seven stars of the Far North (i.e. the two constellations, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, each of seven stars, near to the North Pole), (who) are buffeted by the East Winds from Rhipaea (i.e. a fabled land in the extreme north beyond Scythia, supposed to be permanently shrouded in darkness and covered in snow), and (whose) bodies are clothed by the tawny furs of beasts.

Ll. 384-439.  Tending the Flocks.

If wool-growing (is) your concern, first let prickly woods and burs and thistles be far away; shun rich pastures; And, right from the beginning, choose flocks (that are) white with soft wool. Moreover, even if a ram may be white himself, should he have but a dark tongue in his drooling palate, cast him aside, lest he should sully the fleeces of new-born (lambs) with dusky spots, and search for another in the well-stocked field. Thus, Pan, the god of Arcadia, if (the story) is worthy of belief, deceived you, (O) moon, when he captivated you by a gift of snowy wool, (while) inviting you into his deep groves; nor did you spurn (him) when he called (you). But let him who (has) a love of milk carry clover and an abundance of lotus and briny grasses to the pens. As a result, (the animals) both desire the rivers more, and distend their udders more, and they carry a slight taste of salt in their milk. Many (farmers) separate the kids from their mothers as soon as they are grown up, and fix iron-clad muzzles on the front of their faces. What they have milked at day-break and during the daylight hours they press (into cheese) at night; what (they have milked) at dusk and at sunset, they carry off at dawn in bowls, (and) the shepherd goes to town (with it); or they add a pinch of salt (to it), and store (it) away for the winter.

Do not let your last concern be for the dogs, but feed the swift Spartan pups and the fierce Molossian (hound) together on fattening whey. With these as your guards, you will never fear the nocturnal robber in your stables, nor the incursions of wolves or the restless Iberians in your rear. Often too you will pursue in the chase timorous wild asses and the hare with hounds, (and) you will hunt deer with hounds. Often, as you drive on, you will disturb with a cry boars which have been driven from their woodland lairs, and you will push a huge stag over high mountains into the nets with a shout.

Learn how to burn fragrant cedar in your pens, and to drive away offensive water-snakes with the scent of galbanum. Often a viper, deadly to the touch, has lurked under unmoved mangers, and shuns the light in fear, or a snake, a bitter plague to the oxen, used to climbing up under the roof and from its shelter to sprinkle its venom on the cattle, hugs the ground. Take up stones with your hand, take up clubs, (O) shepherd, and, as he rises up in menace and swells his hissing neck strike (him) down. And now, he hides his timid head deep in flight, while he loosens the entwining of his guts and the wreathes at the tip of his tail, and the last curve slowly drags its folds. There is also that vile snake in the Calabrian lawns, winding up its scaly back with an erect breast and its long belly speckled with large blotches, who, while any rivers burst from their fountains, and while the soil is damp with the moist spring  and the rainy south-westerlies, haunts the pools, and, (while) inhabiting the banks, he greedily fills his black gorge with fish and croaking frogs; when the marsh (is) burnt up and the earth cracks open with drought, he slithers forth on to dry (ground), and, revolving his blazing eyes, he rages in the fields, exasperated by thirst and fearful of the heat. Let it not please me then to enjoy soft slumbers in the open air or to lie along the grass on the ridge of a wood, when, renewed by sloughing off his skin and sleek with youth, he rolls along, leaving either young ones or eggs in his den, and, rearing up towards the sun, he flickers at the mouth with a three-forked tongue.

Ll. 440-477.  The Treatment of Diseases. 

I will also teach you about the causes and signs of diseases. Vile scabies attacks sheep when cold rain and winter, bristling with white frost, sinks into their live (flesh), or when dirty sweat sticks (to them) after shearing, and prickly thorn-bushes have torn their bodies. For this reason, their keepers plunge the whole flock into fresh river water, and the ram is immersed in the pool, and (is) then sent to float downstream; or they smear their bodies with bitter lees of oil, and (with it) they mix silvery foam and natural sulphur, pitch from (Mount) Ida and wax rich in fat, and sea-onion, rank hellebore and black bitumen. But there is no more ready remedy for these troubles than if someone has been able to cut open the top of the ulcer's mouth: the disease is nourished and thrives by being covered, while the shepherd refuses to apply his healing hand to the wound, and sits (there), begging the gods that all (should be for) the better. And indeed, when the malady slips into the innermost bones of the bleating (creatures) and rages (there), and a dry fever feeds their limbs, it avails (one) to avert the fiery heat and to lance the vein (which is) throbbing with blood between the lowest (parts) of the feet (i.e. the hooves); to this usage are the Bisaltae (i.e. a Macedonian tribe living on the River Strymon) accustomed, and the fierce Gelonian, (i.e. belonging to a Scythian tribe living in the Asiatic steppes) when he flees to Rhodope and the wilds of the Getae (i.e. a tribe living in Thrace near the western coast of the Black Sea), and (there) drinks milk curdled with the blood of horses. Should you see some (sheep) either drifting far away into the soft shade or listlessly plucking the top of the grass and following the rear (of the flock), or lying down in the middle of the plain as she is feeding and returning alone late at night, check the fault with a knife at once, before the dreaded infection gradually spreads through the heedless multitude. The tornado that drives a wintry storm does not rush as thickly from the sea as plagues (are) frequent in cattle. Nor do diseases carry off single bodies, but suddenly (the product of) a whole summer, the flock and its hope together, and the whole tribe at its root. Whoever views the sky-high Alps and the castles of Noricum (i.e. Bavaria) on the hills, and the fields of the Iapygian Timavus (i.e. an Illyrian river that runs through the north-west Balkans into the Adriatic), and the realms of the shepherds, even now, after (they have been) deserted for so long, and the pastures lying waste far and wide, may he then know (this).

Ll.  478-566.  The Noric Animal Plague.

Here deplorable weather once arose from the sickness in the sky, and became inflamed throughout by the heat of autumn, and delivered all the race of cattle (and) all wild animals to death, and poisoned the lakes (and) infected the pastures with plague. Nor was their way of death straightforward, but, when fiery thirst, running through every vein, shrivelled their wretched limbs, the watery fluid welled up once more, and absorbed all the bones into itself, as they were consumed bit by bit by disease. Often, in the midst of (making) an offering to the gods, the victim standing at the altar, while a woollen fillet is bound (around its temples) by a snowy head-band, falls dying among the hesitant attendants. Or, if the priest had killed one with a knife, then the altar does not blaze, when the entrails (are) placed (there), nor can the seer make a response (when) consulted, and the knives, (when) applied, are barely tinged with blood, and the surface of the sand is (only) stained with a very little blood. Then, the calves are dying everywhere in the luxuriant grasses, and give up their sweet lives near the full mangers; here rabies comes upon the gentle dogs, and a wheezing cough shakes the sickening swine, and throttles (them) with swelling throats. The unfortunate horse, (once) victorious, (but now) forgetful of his exercises and of the grass, fades away, and avoids the springs and frequently paws the ground with his foot; his ears droop, (and) at that very moment, he develops a fitful sweat, and that (sweat is) cold indeed amid the dying (horses); his hide is dry and hard to the touch, (and) he resists (anyone) touching (it). They show these symptoms in the early days before death; but if, in the process (of time), the sickness begins to grow worse, then indeed their eyes (become) inflamed, and their breath (is) drawn from the depth (of their chests), sometimes heavy with groaning, and they strain their innermost entrails with a protracted sob, black blood flows from their nostrils, and a rough tongue chokes their blocked throats. It helped to pour Lenaean fluids (i.e. wine) (down their throats) through a horn put into (their mouths); this seemed the sole remedy for the dying (animals); soon, this very thing was the cause of their destruction, and, having been revived, they burned with fury, and now at the point of painful death - may the gods (send) better things to the righteous and such a fate to our foes - they themselves began to tear their own mangled limbs with their bare teeth. But lo! the bull, fuming under the oppressive ploughshare, collapses, and vomits blood mingled with foam from his mouth, and invokes his last groans. The ploughman, unyoking the bullock that is mourning his brother's death goes away sadly, and abandons the plough firmly fixed in the midst of its work. Neither the shades of the deep groves, nor the soft meadows, nor the stream purer than amber, which, tumbling over the rocks, seeks the plain, can stir his spirits; but the bottom of his flanks are loosened, and a stupor comes over his listless eyes, and his neck sinks to the ground, drooping under its weight.

What do their hard work and good services avail (them)? What (does it avail them) to have turned over the heavy soil with the ploughshare? And yet no Massic gifts of Bacchus (i.e. wine from Campania), no repeated feasts have (ever) harmed these (creatures): for their food, they graze on leaves and simple grass, their cups are clear springs and rivers busy in their running, and no care interrupts their wholesome slumbers. (Then and) at no other time, they tell (us) that oxen (were) being searched for in those regions for Juno's sacred rites, and that chariots were drawn to her lofty shrine by ill-matched buffaloes. Therefore, with difficulty, they tear open the ground with mattocks, and they implant the corn with their very nails, and, with straining necks, they drag the creaking wagons over the high mountains. No wolf plans ambushes around the sheepfolds, nor prowls around the flocks at night; a sharper care tames him; timid deer and fugitive stags now wander among the dogs and around the houses. Now, the waves wash the offspring of the vast sea and every kind of swimming (creature) on to the edge of the shore, like shipwrecked bodies, (and) strange sea-calves (i.e seals) take refuge in the rivers. The viper, protected in vain by her winding den, perishes too, as do the surprised water-snakes with their scales standing up (in terror). The air becomes unfavourable even to the birds, and, falling headlong, they abandon their lives beneath the lofty clouds. Moreover, it does not matter now that their fodder should be changed, and the (medicinal) arts they sought prove harmful; its masters, Chiron, the son of Phillyra (i.e. the legendary centaur), and Melampus, the son of Amythaon (i.e. a seer, famous for his ability to understand the language of animals) have failed. Pallid Tisiphone (i.e. one of the three Furies) rages, and having been sent forth to the light from the Stygian gloom, she drives before (her) diseases and fear, and, while arising day by day, she lifts up her greedy head (still) higher; the streams and the dry banks and the sloping hills resound with the bleating of the flocks and the incessant lowing (of the cattle). And now she (i.e. Tisiphone) deals out destruction in droves, and heaps up in the very stalls carcasses rotting away with foul contagion, until they learn to cover (them) with earth and to hide (them) in pits. For neither was there any value in their hides nor could anyone either cleanse their flesh with water or purge (it) with fire; nor could they even shear the fleeces, consumed (as they were) with disease and filth, nor touch the putrid yarn; but yet, if anyone tried on the hateful vestments, burning blisters and foul sweat would cover his stinking limbs, and then, with no long (period of) time intervening, the accused fire began to consume his infected limbs.

Appendix.  Alternative translations of ll. 470-471. 

a.  Virgil's text:

"Non tam creber agens hiemem ruit aequore turbo,
quam multae pecudum pestes." ................................

b.  The text reordered by Benjamin Apthorp Gould for the purpose of translation:

"Turbo, agens hiemem, non ruit tam creber aequore, quam multae (sunt) pestes pecudum."

c.  The imagery portrayed in the sentence:

The disruption of a herd of cattle by the plague is compared to the the size and force of a whirlwind. The juxtaposition of the words "turbo" (whirlwind) and "aequore" (level sea) heightens the dramatisation of the contrast.

d.  Various translations:

i. "The whirlwind that brings on a wintry storm, rushes not so frequent from the sea, as the plagues of cattle are numerous." Benjamin Apthorp Gould, 1826.

ii. "Less thick and fast the whirlwind scours the main
      With tempest in its wake, than swarm the plagues
      Of cattle ..... " J.B. Greenough, 1900.

iii. "Not so thick with driving gales sweeps a whirlwind from the sea, as scourges swarm among                cattle." H.R. Fairclough, 1916.

iv.  "Not so heavy comes the rush of rain when a squall sweeps over the sea as diseases multiply in            the flock." J.W.MacKail, 1934.

v.     ........................."Thicker than squalls                                                            
       Swept by a hurricane from off the sea
       Plagues sweep through livestock ....."  L.P. Wilkinson, 1982.

vi. "A hurricane from the sea's not as thick with driving winds,
       as the herds with disease." A.S. Kline, 2001.

vii. "Not so rampant bursts the hurricane, driving squalls from                                                                       open sea." Kimberley Johnson, 2009.                                        

viii. "The tornado that drives a wintry storm does not rush so thickly from the sea from the sea, as                plagues are frequent in cattle." Sabidius, 2017.

e.  Conclusion:

The differences in the translations reflect to some extent the poetic nature of the imagery, but also the awkwardness involved in seeking to compare the force of a stormy wind from the sea with the number of animals affected by plague. Virgil's sentence is constructed around the adverbial correlatives "tam ... quam",  (as ... as ... ), and the best translations above reflect this. Apthorp Gould is probably correct to suggest that the copulative verb "sunt" should be understood in the second part of the sentence, although another possibility is that a repetition of the main verb "ruit" should be understood in the second part of the sentence. The problem with that, however, is how to connect a repeated "ruit" with "multae" which surely means "numerous" or "frequent" in this context. In the end Sabidius' translation is closer to the words of the oldest of the above renderings, i.e. that of Apthorp Gould, than to any of the others. The considerable variety exhibited in the above translations of what is a relatively short sentence, both in respect of the words used and in its structure, demonstrates how subjective the outcome of translating Virgil's poetry can be.
Last modified onWednesday, 01 November 2017 22:52

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