NEW Slow Reading Pathway – The Eclogues, by Vergil
Duration: 1 Quarter (July, August, September) 2023
Days/Times: Mondays, 8:30 pm-10 pm EST/7:30-9:00 pm Central/5:30-7:00 pm Pacific
First Session: July 10
- July 10: Eclogue 1
- July 17: Eclogue 2
- July 24: Eclogue 3
- July 31: Eclogue 4
- August 7: Eclogue 5
- August 14: Eclogue 6
- August 21: Eclogue 7
- August 28: Eclogue 8
- September 4: Labor Day (no meeting)
- September 11: Eclogue 9
- September 18: Eclogue 10
Meeting Frequency: Weekly
Leader: Eric Stull
Text: Other translations may be helpful to look at, but the one we’ll use as our main text is The Eclogues of Vergil, David Ferry’s 1999 Farrar, Straus and Giroux translation (ISBN: 9780374526962 for paperback; 9780374146344 for hardback).
One supposes that the poet whose dying wish for the destruction of his last and greatest work, the epic that he had not polished to his satisfaction, would have appreciated the irony: that the same countermanding voice that had saved the epic had once commanded shepherds and farmers to give up their land taken so that it could be given to soldiers who had served in the civil war. Such is the voice of commanders turned emperors. Vergil himself seems to have had some land expropriated during these years. His lyric poetry, in the years that followed, before he came to epic, had been about shepherds and farmers. For poets speak in a different key from commanders. These ten, subtly connected short poems consist of dialogues, singing competitions, lovers’ complaints — to name some of their modes. While celebrating pastoral life, nature’s power to evoke joy and grief, in ways so familiar that they have become easy prey for parody down the centuries, these poems are immediately aware of the country’s susceptibility to disruption by the powers that rule the city. Perhaps through such awareness they subtly enlarge the scope of the political community. Since Rome, in Vergil’s time, was enlarging its dominion while diminishing its polity, this may be no small achievement. Just as Vergil was influenced by Greek poems, Theocritus’ Idylls in the Bucolica (Eclogues and Bucolica may be used interchangeably) and, later, Hesiod’s Works and Days in the Georgics, “the Eclogues,” as David Ferry says in the introduction to the translation we’ll use, “are everywhere” in their influence on English poets: Shakespeare, Spenser, Marlowe, Marvell, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, and on and on. One supposes that even the idea of utopia may be understood as an offshoot, or an outgrowth, of the dream of an Arcadian idyll. But interesting as such influences are, not least because they represent the transmission of a conversation in which we ourselves are engaged, the best reason to read Vergil’s poems is their intrinsic excellence, beauty, humanity. A gentle poet in a harsh world may give voice to the humble and thereby cast light on the human shadows that lie outside the brilliant, unbearable glare. And this poet does so, from the first word of the first poem. They ought to make for lovely, leisurely summer reading.
Would you like to learn to read this book in Latin? Learn more here!