Classics and Religious Studies


Date of this Version

January 1979


Published in THE CLASSICAL BULLETIN Volume 55, no. 3, January 1979.


The first question one must ask of a work of literary art is purpose. Once the purpose is clear, the method of construction can be seen, and the workmanship better evaluated. There is no better shortcut to an author's purpose in construction than to see where he ends: He has total control over where his words go. Presuming a planning author rather than an automatic amanuensis, which school of writing has its adherents, one has as a corollary a literary law: if X is where the author arrived, X is where he intended to go, meditating all the while on how he could get there. Consider the mystery; it ends with the clever solution. Structurally, all that preceded was set-up to that end. Consider now Book 1 of the Georgics. It begins, of course, once we are past the fourline table of contents (which itself merits at least a separate article) with an invocation to twelve gods appropriate to Vergil's ostensible topic. You could write on the matter of farming without such an invocation - there is, for instance, no such thing in Cato's De Agricultura. Apart from Vergil's work being verse, not prose, the clear reason for the invocation to gods of farming is so Vergil can invoke Caesar as one of them. Is it really uncertain what divine jurisdiction Octavian is to hold? (cf. lines 36-39). No. The invocation identifies, even defines him, by the company he is given, as a god of farming - a logical development from his being apotheosized as the Justice of Peace which makes possible the work of peace, farming. But Book 1, being a fourth of the Georgics. does not take us so far. It takes us to the assassination of Caesar with the plow abandoned, the world gone to war, turned into a chariot without a driver, a problem for which Octavian's unchallenged rule will be - as is intimated by the prayer at the close of Book 1 - the solution. Now how does one get to such a close if the chosen vehicle - I mean that in several senses here - is a plow? This paper will suggest that the thirty-three weather signs of Book 1 are there because (1) they subtly underscore a favorite message of Vergil's, the insufficiency of individual unfated effort, or "whatever comes up by itself is weeds," and (2) because Vergil saw them and used them as his route to the assassination of Caesar and to the posing of anarchic war, with attendant stoppage of farming, as the principle problem. It will, ambulando, record that, in so far as I have been able to observe them, the weather signs from the sun and moon are true: they mean what Vergil says they mean.

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