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pg 2pg 3BOOK ONEpg 4

  • pg 5 Link 1What tickles the corn to laugh out loud, and by what star
  • Link 2to steer the plough, and how to train the vine to elms,
  • Link 3good management of flocks and herds, the expertise bees need
  • Link 4to thrive—my lord, Maecenas, such are the makings of the song
  • Link 5I take upon myself to sing.
  • Link 6              Sirs of sky, grand marshals of the firmament,
  • Link 7O Liber of fertility, and Ceres, our sustaining queen,
  • Link 8by your kind-heartedness Earth traded acorns of Epirus
  • 9for ample ears of corn and laced spring water with new wine;
  • Link 10and you, O Fauns, presiding lights of farming folk
  • 11(come dance, O Fauns, and maiden Dryads,
  • Link 12your gifts I celebrate as well); and you, Neptune, whose trident's
  • Link 13booming tap on rock first fanfared to bring forth a snorting horse;
  • Link 14and you, patron of shady woods, whose many hundred head of cattle
  • 15fatten, pristine, in the chaparral of Ceos;
  • 16and you too, Pan, abandoning your native groves and glades of Lycaeus,
  • 17caretaker of the flocks, if Maenalus means anything at all to you,
  • Editor’s Note Link 18come to me, O god of Tegea,* a friend and comforter; and you, Minerva,
  • Editor’s Note Link 19who first discovered olives; and that youth, too, creator of the crooked plough;*
  • Link 20Sylvanus, too, who carries on his back a sturdy cypress, ripped up from the roots—
  • Link 21a god or goddess each of you, whose care and concern is
  • Link 22for land, who nurtures crops not grown from seed,
  • Link 23and who dispatches onto plantings heavy showers from the heavens;
  • Editor’s Note Link 24and I address you too, O Caesar,* although none knows the gathering of gods
  • pg 6 Link 25in which you soon will be accommodated, or whether you would choose
  • Link 26to oversee the city or be in charge of countryside, nor knows if the wide world
  • Link 27will come to honour you as begetter of the harvest or as master of the seasons
  • Link 28(around your brow already a garland of your mother's myrtle),
  • 29or whether you will come as lord of endless sea, and seafarers will worship you,
  • 30your power alone, and the ends of earth bow to you in homage,
  • Editor’s Note31and Tethys forfeits all her waves to have you as a son-in-law,*
  • Editor’s Note Link 32or whether you will add a new star to the zodiac* to quicken months
  • 33where there's a lull between Virgo and Libra which comes after it
  • 34(already ardent Scorpio contracts its claws for you
  • 35and allots to you more than your fair share of sky).
  • 36Whatever you will be (let not the nether world of Tartarus hope to have you
  • 37as its king, nor ever such a dread ambition lord over you,
  • 38however much Greece knows the wonders of Elysian fields
  • Editor’s Note39and Proserpina pays her mother little heed although she hears her calling her*),
  • Link 40grant me an easy course, and bless the boldness of this undertaking—
  • Link 41who shares my sympathy for countrymen whose lives are wanderings in the dark—
  • Link 42look forward now, expert already in the ways to answer our entreaties.
  • Link 43Come the sweet o' the year, when streams begin to melt and tumble down the hoary hills
  • 44and clods to crumble underneath the current of west winds,
  • Link 45it's time again to put the bull before the deep-pointed plough to pull his weight
  • 46and have the share glisten, burnished by the broken sod.
  • pg 7 Link 47 There's the crop, which twice has felt a touch of snow and twice of frosty weather,
  • 48that is a beggared farmer's prayer come true.
  • 49That's the one to fill his sheds until they're fit to burst.
  • Link 50And yet before we take our implements to unfamiliar territory
  • 51we must work to ascertain its changing weather and winds' moods,
  • 52to learn the ways and habits of that locality—
  • 53what's bound to flourish there, and what to fail.
  • Link 54For here you'll find a crop of grain, and there grapes growing in thick clusters,
  • 55and over yonder young trees thriving and grasses coming into green all on their own.
  • Link 56  Can't you see how scented saffron comes from the uplands of Lydia,
  • 57ivory from India, incense from soft-hearted races of Arabia;
  • 58and we get iron from unclothed inhabitants of Pontus, slimy castor from the Black Sea,
  • 59and the choice of mares for breeding from a region in north Greece?
  • Link 60Right from time's beginning, nature assigned these laws to last for ever,
  • 61each in its specific place, fixed such compacts from the moment
  • 62Deucalion cast onto the world the stones from which mankind
  • Editor’s Note Link 63originated, a hardy race!*
  • And so onward!
  • Link 64From the sun's first tender touch, run your mighty teams
  • 65through fertile fields, tossing sods about
  • Link 66for baking heat to break them down to dust.
  • Link 67But if you've not got high yielding soil you will do well
  • Link 68to rake it with a shallow sock by the shine of that time's brightest star,
  • 69to ensure either that weeds won't block the way for wholesome crops
  • 70or that a bare sandy plot retains whatever moisture's there.
  • 71  Take turns to let the land lie fallow after it's been harvested,
  • pg 872 let fields left to themselves recuperate and renew themselves with firmer footing
  • Link 73or, with a switch of season, set down, say, tawny emmer or einkorn,
  • 74where once you'd gathered an outpour of pulses
  • 75with their rustling pods, or drawn spindly vetch
  • 76and bitter lupins' brittle stalks and susurrating stems.
  • Link 77For it's a fact and true, a crop of flax will parch a place,
  • 78as will wild oats, as will a sprawl of poppies doused in their forgetfulness.
  • 79That said, you'll lighten loads of routine by rotation.
  • 80Don't spare dry land its fill of dung,
  • 81don't hesitate to spread a heap of grimy ashes on spent fields.
  • 82While your land gets a chance to rest by changing crops
  • 83don't think that all the while your fallow isn't earning a return.
  • 84  Frequently there's much to gain by setting flame to idle acres
  • 85and letting their thin stubble burn—either because it helps
  • 86engender some weird force and rich feed for the soil
  • 87or because the fire scalds all its faults and failings
  • 88and sweats out baleful moisture.
  • 89Or is it that the heightened heat unclogs the pores and opens passages
  • 90through which the sap ascends into new shoots
  • 91or makes clay even firmer by closing yawning waterways
  • 92so that it isn't blasted by a fall of rain or sun's excessive benison
  • 93or the bite of freezing winds that batter from the north?
  • 94  And as for that, great is the good he does a field who with a mattock breaks apart
  • 95its lumps and clumps, then with a wicker hurdle harrows it,
  • 96earning a look he likes from Ceres high on her Olympian heights,
  • 97just as he contributes much who raises flat land into ridges
  • 98by ploughing one way, then cross-ploughing,
  • 99and regularly works his lands and keeps a tight rein on his holding.
  • Link 100  The countryman should pray for wet summers and mild winters;
  • pg 9101 corn delights in hiemal dust. Then the country's in good heart—
  • 102there's nothing brings out better in places such as Mysia,
  • Editor’s Note103and Gargarus* can be amazed by its own harvests.
  • 104  Need I single him for praise who follows
  • 105hard on the heels of setting seed by crumbling heaps of unreceptive soil
  • 106and steering into tracks streams to irrigate the plantings?
  • 107And when the countryside's aglow and all that grows is withering in the heat
  • 108see how he conjures water from the brim to spill downhill in sloping channels,
  • 109a flow that grumbles over gravel, gushing onward
  • 110to allay the thirst of scorched places.
  • 111Or indeed the one who, to ensure that stalks won't lodge beneath
  • Link 112the weight of ears, grazes to the ground the tender shoots
  • 113that grow in such profusion as soon as they clear the furrow's ridge,
  • 114or that one who drains swamp-gathers in a soak-pit,
  • 115especially in the course of those unsettled months when rivers burst
  • 116their banks and smear mudspills everywhere on everything,
  • 117causing steam to rise again from hollows.
  • Link 118  And don't imagine that, for all the efforts and exertions—
  • 119man's and beast's—to keep the sod turned over, there's not a threat
  • 120from plagues of geese, or Strymon cranes, from bitter roots of chicory,
  • Link 121nor hurt or harm in shade of trees. For it was Jupiter himself
  • 122who willed the ways of husbandry be ones not spared of trouble
  • 123and it was he who first, through human skill, broke open land, at pains
  • 124to sharpen wits of men and so prevent his own domain being buried
  • 125in bone idleness. No settler tamed the plains before our Father held his sway
  • 126and it was still against the law to stake a claim to part of them.
  • pg 10127 Men worked towards the common good and the earth herself,
  • 128unbidden, was lavish in all she produced.
  • 129And it was he who instilled in snakes their deadly poison,
  • 130bade wolves to prowl, and seas to surge.
  • 131He shook down honey from the leaves and had all fires quenched.
  • 132He stopped the flow of wine that coursed rampant in the rivers
  • Link 133so that by careful thought and deed you'd hone them bit by bit,
  • 134those skills, to coax from furrows blades of corn
  • 135and spark shy flame from veins of flint.
  • 136  That was the first time ever hollowed alders sailed on water,
  • 137and seagoing men began to number, and then name, the stars—
  • 138the Pleiades, the Hyades, and Lycaon's child, the glittering Great Bear.
  • 139Then men came up with ways to try to trap wild animals, by setting snares
  • 140of sticky sticks for birds and rounding game in glades with packs of hunting hounds.
  • 141And by this time someone was dragging rivers with a net,
  • 142plumbing their depths; another trawled the open sea with his soaking mesh.
  • Link 143Then came tempered iron and the saw-blade's rasping rhythm
  • 144(for earlier man was wont to split his wood with wedges).
  • Link 145All this before the knowledge and know-how which ensued.
  • Link 146Hard work prevailed, hard work and pressing poverty.
  • Link 147  It was Ceres who first taught to men the use of iron ploughs—
  • Link 148that time wild strawberries and oak berries were scanty in the sacred groves
  • Editor’s Note149and Dodona* was miserly with her support.
  • 150Soon growing grain grew into harder work.
  • 151Blight rusted stalks, and thistles mustered into view to lord it over
  • Link 152all that you accomplished; crops began to flounder, a rough growth to advance—
  • 153goosegrass, or 'cleavers', and bristling burrs—while wild oats
  • 154and dreaded darnel ruled head and shoulder over your well-tended plot.
  • pg 11155 So, unless you're set to spend the whole day hoeing weeds,
  • 156and making noise to scare off birds, and slashing back with hooks
  • 157the branches darkening the lands, and all your prayers for rain are answered,
  • 158alas, my friend, heaps of grain next door will stare you in the face
  • 159and you'll be raiding oaks for acorns to ease the ache of hunger.
  • 160Now let me tell about the tools and tackle unflagging farmers had to have
  • 161in their arsenal, for none has sowed or saved a crop without them.
  • 162The ploughshare first, and the curved plough's solid board,
  • 163and Ceres' hefty carts for sheaves,
  • 164threshing rakes and sledges, and the heavy-weighted mattock.
  • 165And then the lighter implements of wickerwork—arbutus gates and hurdles,
  • Editor’s Note166and Iacchus' marvellous riddle* which serves to sort the chaff from grain.
  • 167So think ahead—stockpile a cache of these in time
  • 168if you're to earn the satisfactions of that heavenly estate.
  • 169  To make the plough's main curve, fashion by force
  • 170a pliant elm while it's still growing in the ground.
  • 171Then to its stock fit and fasten an eight-foot pole,
  • 172earth-timbers, and a twin-backed beam.
  • 173Light lime you will have kept aside to make the yoke,
  • 174and for the tiller a length of beech to steer it from behind.
  • 175Hung in the hearth, smoke will season wood components.
  • Link 176I could, if I'd not seen you back away from such concerns,
  • 177regale you with a store of ancient learning.
  • 178To begin: grade the threshing floor with the heavy roller,
  • 179taking pains to tamp it tight with chalk
  • 180so that no growth breaks through and it holds firm and doesn't crumble.
  • 181Let no blights of pests or parasites squat there;
  • pg 12182 for often, underground, the mouse sets up his house and home
  • 183and the groping mole excavates a bolt-hole
  • 184and you come upon a shrew or fieldmouse in a hollow
  • 185and other creatures earth turns out—the beetle scurries
  • 186to spoil heaps of wheat, the emmet hurries to safeguard against a want some rainy day.
  • 187  And so pay close attention when stands of walnut trees
  • 188disport themselves with blossoms and their fragrant boughs bend down—
  • 189if they produce abundant fruit, your corn crop will be bountiful,
  • 190great heat will follow and guarantee your harvest.
  • 191But if, instead, a luxury of leaves abounds and throws a shadow over everything,
  • 192you'll waste a world of time at grinding, end up all chaff and little grain.
  • 193I've seen with my own eyes plantsmen steeping seeds
  • 194before they set them down, drenching them in saltpetre and the dregs of olive oil,
  • 195so that their deceiving pods would grow a greater yield,
  • 196one that might amount to something over a low flame.
  • 197  And I have seen long-tried and-tested crops begin to fail
  • 198where no one took the time each year to sort and save
  • 199the finest grain, seed by seed. For that's the way it is—
  • 200world forces all things to the bad, to founder and to fall,
  • 201just as a paddler in his cot struggling to make headway up a river,
  • 202if he lets up a minute, will find himself
  • 203rushed headlong back between the banks.
  • Editor’s Note Link 204What's more, you need to keep a weather eye on sky formations*—
  • 205such as Arcturus, the twin kids of the Charioteer, or Draco, that bright light,
  • 206and stay vigilant as those mariners who, homeward bound, ride stormy seas,
  • 207yet venture close to Pontus, the Straits of Abydos and their oyster beds.
  • pg 13208And when September's equinox doles to day as many hours as to night
  • 209and splits the world in two fair halves, both equal light and dark,
  • 210then set to work the oxen, men, broadcast barley in the fields,
  • 211until midwinter's whelming showers slap you in the face.
  • Link 212Then, too, it's time to plant linseed and seeds of poppies (loved by Ceres),
  • 213time to tie yourself to the plough while the still-dry earth
  • 214accepts it and the settled weather lingers.
  • 215  Set beans in springtime, the time alfalfa happens in collapsing furrows,
  • 216and millet clamours for its annual attention,
  • 217when Taurus, gilt-horned and incandescent, gets the new year
  • 218up and running, and the Dog succumbs to his advance.
  • 219But if you've been working towards a strong output of wheat
  • 220or you're heartset on hardy ears of corn,
  • 221hold off until one of the Seven Sisters steals away from you at dawn
  • 222and the Star of Knossos, the shining Northern Crown, retires
  • 223before you entrust to the ground seed you've pledged
  • 224and invest in soil that couldn't keep its promise to repay the hopes of a whole year.
  • 225Some cropsmen thought that they could not delay till May began to wane
  • Link 226and the crops that they were counting on jeered them with hollow heads of oats.
  • 227  But if you're the kind who's satisfied with sowing seeds of vetch and tares
  • 228and second-rate green beans and don't look down even on Egyptian pulses,
  • 229you won't mistake in any way the signs a setting Boötes transmits—
  • 230you might as well get on with it, and carry on your sowing until you're up to here in frosts!
  • Link 231  This is the very reason the sun god is so faithful to his path
  • 232between each of the dozen fixed divisions of his orbit.
  • pg 14Editor’s Note Link 233Five spheres make up the heavens,* of which one, and only one,
  • 234is always blushing brightly and always flushed by his flaming fire.
  • 235And all around, left and right, a cyanic realm stretches far as far can be,
  • 236hard frosts and ice and gloomy spills.
  • 237Between this and the middle sphere a pair of zones is given
  • 238by godly grace to pitiful man, through both of which a way's laid down
  • 239and the series of signs takes turns along their roundabout way.
  • 240And the universe, just as it rises to the lofty slopes of the Riphaean ranges,
  • 241pitches downward in the south, in Africa.
  • 242There's a pole that always looms above us, while its counterpart
  • Editor’s Note243lies underfoot* in Stygian dark and the infernal shades.
  • 244Here the sky's enormous serpent slithers in and out,
  • Editor’s Note245the image of a river, between the Big and Little Dipper,*
  • 246those constellations that disdain to be touched or tainted by Atlantic's waters.
  • Link 247  There, or so they say, either it's the dead of night and so still—
  • 248a black shadow stretching over everything as if for ever—
  • 249or dawn comes back to them on its way back from us, daylight's chaperone,
  • Link 250and, when morning first inspires us with its puffing horses,
  • 251there the lamps of evening are coming on, and glow.
  • 252And so we have the power to anticipate uncertain weather—
  • 253the day to reap, the day to sow—
  • 254and when the time is right to plunge our oars into
  • 255untrustworthy seas, when to launch an armed armada,
  • 256when's best, even, to fell a pine tree in the forest.
  • 257  It's not for nothing we keep an eye on sky for signs
  • 258that come and go, or on the year's four equal parts.
  • 259Say the farmer's grounded by a cold snap's burst of rain,
  • 260he'll seize the time for odd jobs he'd be rushing when it's fine.
  • 261The ploughman points the blunted share with hammer blows
  • pg 15262 or gouges troughs from trees,
  • 263or brands the herds, or checks the stocks of grain;
  • 264another whittles stakes and twin-pronged forks
  • 265and readies sally switches to tie the dangling vine.
  • 266And now might be the time to weave fruit baskets out of brambly branches
  • 267or roast the corn beside the fire before you crush it with the quern.
  • 268  For it's a fact, on holidays you're actually allowed by gods' laws and by men's
  • 269to attend to certain labours—so let no scruple deflect you
  • Link 270if you would clear a drain, or fill a gap around the cornfield,
  • 271set traps for birds or fire to briars,
  • 272and dip the whole flock in the flow to stave off scab.
  • 273These are the times the farmer weighs the little donkey
  • 274down with creels of olive oil and fruit he's picked
  • 275and comes back later from the town with a grinding stone or a supply of pitch.
  • Editor’s Note276  The moon herself prescribed days suitable for certain work.*
  • 277Beware the fifth, the day on which grim Death
  • 278was born, as were the Furies, the day the Earth whelped ghastly giants—
  • 279Coeus, Iapetus, and restless Typhoeus—and another heinous brood,
  • 280the brothers who conspired to bring down the very heavens.
  • Link 281Three times did they essay to heap Mount Ossa on Mount Pelion,
  • 282and then—it followed—to impose on Ossa Olympus' leafy heights.
  • 283And three times he, the Father himself, blasted those piled hills with lightning.
  • 284  The seventeenth's a lucky day for laying down the vine,
  • 285for rounding up and breaking in an ox or heifer, for setting up the loom.
  • 286The ninth day smiles on anyone who runs away, but frowns on those who steal.
  • pg 16287  It's true, the small small hours are best for many things,
  • 288or that very moment the sun is fledging and the land's still dabbed with dew.
  • 289Night's the best for cutting lighter crops, night's best for well-drained meadows,
  • 290for then there is no lack of lingering moisture.
  • 291There's a certain sort of man who by winter firelight
  • 292stays up all night edging iron implements.
  • 293And all the while, with soothing songs lightening the load of her routine,
  • 294his helpmeet runs across her loom her rattling reed,
  • 295and in the hearth a flame reduces the sweet-scented must,
  • 296its bubbles simmering in a pot she skims with brush-strokes of broad leaves.
  • 297While, on the other hand, in midday's highest heat, you're better off
  • 298knocking red or ruddy grain or bruising parched produce on the threshing floor.
  • Link 299Plough on days you'd strip to the waist; sow the same.
  • 300Winter's the time for farmers to unwind. In colder months
  • 301countrymen enjoy themselves, taking turns to entertain.
  • 302Congenial winter is a treat: it banishes their woes and worries,
  • 303as if a laden ship just docked in a safe haven
  • 304and sailors had begun to decorate its stern with garlands.
  • 305Still and all, that season has its labours, they file away the hours—
  • 306the gather-up of acorns, bayberries and olive-berries, and the purple berries of the myrtle.
  • 307What's more, it's time for you to set out traps for herons, cast nets for stags,
  • 308to course the long-lugged hare and fell a hind
  • 309by hurling your coarse hempen slings the way they do in the Balearics—
  • 310all this while snow falls from the heavens, and floods advance their loads of ice.
  • Link 311What can I tell about the storms of autumn and its signs,
  • pg 17312 or, even, when the days are closing down and summer sun's abating,
  • Link 313what then must men beware of? Or, say, when spring comes tumbling
  • 314down in showers and crops of corn are tall already,
  • 315their green stalks standing proud with sap?
  • 316How often I have seen, just as the farmer's driven in to reap
  • 317the flaxen field and top the fragile barley crop,
  • 318the clash of squalls and gales in battle mode
  • Link 319as they ripped up from roots the swathes of ripe and ready corn
  • 320and held them up, the way malefic whirlwinds
  • 321toss beardless stalks around the place, hither and yon.
  • 322  At other times a rush of water cascades from the sky,
  • 323clouds spill their mass into the foul darkness of a deluge,
  • 324as the heavens open and the rainfall wipes the smiles
  • 325off the faces of the crop the oxen worked so hard to make.
  • 326Ditches fill to the brim, rampant channels overflow,
  • 327the sea rampaging up each boiling inlet.
  • 328  Then Jupiter, squire of the sky, straddling the night clouds, dispatches
  • 329from his gleaming hand a thunderbolt and makes the whole world quake.
  • 330Wild beasts take off, and everywhere human hearts
  • 331are laid low in a panic. He hurls that blazing dart
  • Editor’s Note332onto Athos, Rhodope, and the peaks of Ceraunia;*
  • 333south winds redouble and rains intensify;
  • 334now the great groves in the gale, and now the shores, burst into tears.
  • Link 335So, in apprehension, keep an eye on each month's constellations,
  • 336and note where the cold star of Saturn steals away to,
  • 337and in which orbits the planet Mercury is wandering.
  • 338Above all else, venerate the gods and pay your yearly offerings
  • 339to Ceres, when the grass is in good heart,
  • 340at the very end of winter when spring brings on clear skies.
  • 341Then lambs are fit, wine's at its best.
  • 342Sleep's pure delight, and on the heights deep shadows lie.
  • pg 18343 Have all your workers be worshippers of that goddess,
  • 344and offer milk and honey and mild wine,
  • 345and march a victim three times around fresh crops for luck
  • 346while all the others celebrate, a band of allies in support.
  • 347Let them implore her loudly to come and rest with them,
  • 348but stay the hand of anyone who'd lay a sickle to a single ear of corn
  • 349who has not wreathed his head with oak leaves in her honour
  • 350and made up dances and sung hymns to her.
  • Link 351  And so that we might be prepared to read unerring clues—
  • 352anticipate heatwaves and showers and winds precipitating cold—
  • 353he himself, the Father, decreed what each moon phase
  • 354would mean, the sign by which south winds subside,
  • 355what always indicates that farmers keep their teams in stalls
  • 356and near to hand. The minute winds begin to swell
  • 357and seas to surge, a brattling sound
  • 358starts up in the mountains, chaotic noises echo
  • 359far along the coast, and murmurs in woodlands increase.
  • 360Then the waves are in no mood to bear a ship
  • 361and cormorants dash back from sea and bring their throaty roars
  • 362to the shore; waterhens more used to waterways
  • 363play on dry land—a sign for herons to forsake
  • 364the marshes and weave their way high in the sky.
  • 365And you can readily predict impending gales
  • 366by shooting stars that blaze their way through the night sky
  • 367and leave a white trail printed there.
  • 368You'll see airy chaff and fallen leaves afloat on waves,
  • 369down and feathers fluttering there.
  • 370But then, when from the quarters of the north wind lightning flashes
  • 371and from the home place of the east and west winds thunder rumbles,
  • 372the countryside's awash with the overwhelm of ditches
  • 373and seafarers furl their soaking sails.
  • pg 19374  A spill of rain should never catch you unawares,
  • Link 375for either you'll have seen soaring cranes seek protection in the bottoms,
  • 376a heifer face the sky suspiciously and work its nose to sniff the wind,
  • 377sweet-singing swallows circle round a lake,
  • 378or heard the frogs stuck in the mud and croaking their old grumpy sounds.
  • 379More often you'll see ants transporting eggs along a narrow, well-worn way
  • 380from their safest shelter, or a mighty rainbow bending down
  • 381to take a drink, or as they evacuate their feeding grounds
  • 382a cavalcade of squawky rooks.
  • 383  Next, a host of seabirds and those contented rummaging
  • 384in grassland swamps of Asia Minor or pools along the river Caÿster
  • 385mimic each other by splashing spray onto their upper bodies,
  • 386now plunging head first into waves, now spurting underwater,
  • 387so that you'd think they're revelling in the ordinary routines of washing.
  • 388Then a crow, strutting the deserted shore,
  • 389proclaims in its mean caw, Rain, rain, and then more rain.
  • 390  In truth, even in the dark of night, young women busy carding wool
  • 391can foretell a storm's approach: they notice in their lighted lamps
  • 392a sputtering, and watch spent wicks begin to clot and harden.
  • 393And it's as easy to predict sunny days and stretches of clear weather
  • 394in the wake of heavy showers if you're attentive to the signs.
  • 395For the points of stars won't then appear blunted
  • 396nor the moon's own beams rise up as though it borrowed light from her kin
  • 397nor clouds like wispy fleeces be borne across the heavens.
  • 398Along the strand, kingfishers—favourites of the sea-nymph, Thetis—
  • 399won't extend their wings in the warm sun
  • pg 20400 nor filthy lazing swine think of tossing with their snouts the bedding in their sties.
  • 401Instead, the clouds determine to hang heavy on the lowlands,
  • 402while, at sunfall, night's silent raptor watches from above
  • Link 403and wastes its time hooting charms and hexes.
  • Link 404High in the skies Nisus comes into view, a sparrowhawk,
  • Editor’s Note Link 405and Scylla pays the price for that lock of reddish hair she stole.*
  • 406Whenever she goes flying by, splitting the heavens,
  • 407there he'll be, her father and her mortal foe, spitting screeches
  • 408and in hot pursuit; yes, where Nisus takes himself up and away
  • 409there she'll ever be, slicing heaven with her wings and cutting it to pieces.
  • 410Then ravens strain their voices to pour forth their one pure note, three times or four,
  • 411and, perched high on their roosts, croak from their green shade
  • 412in ways that we don't understand but with better than their customary cheer.
  • 413How it seems to lift their hearts, when a rain belt's hurried overhead,
  • 414to turn back to their new-hatched brood and their beloved nestlings.
  • Link 415Not that I accept, however hard I try, that they've the slightest talent given them by god
  • 416nor that fate bestowed on them any shred of ancient lore.
  • 417And yet—where there are changes in the weather and shifts in atmosphere—
  • 418Jupiter, the god of sky, with sodden southern winds condenses
  • 419all that had been airy and rarefies what had been so oppressive.
  • 420Then they have a change of heart and give themselves to different feelings,
  • 421different from when gusts were shaking up the clouds—
  • 422and that's the cause, across the country, of concord among birds,
  • 423of livestock lying down in peace and ravens crying out their hallelujahs.
  • Link 424  It's true—you keep your eye on the fleet-footed sun
  • 425and any run of moons, and dawn won't take you by surprise,
  • 426nor tricks of cloudless night catch you off guard.
  • pg 21427For when the moon collects herself in brimming fires,
  • 428if she is cradling an amorphous shape and sheen you have 'earthshine'
  • Link 429and spills of rain are on the way to those who hoe the fields and row the waves.
  • 430But if she blushes like a maiden there'll be a breeze;
  • 431the advent of the wind precipitates a flush on the fresh face of the moon.
  • 432And if, on her fourth morning (that most reliable of all),
  • 433she sallies through an open sky, her horns unblurred,
  • 434all that day long, and all the days that stem from it
  • 435until month's end, you needn't fret yourself about wind or rain,
  • 436and sailors standing safe ashore may count their blessings
  • Editor’s Note437and give thanks to those sea-deities, Glaucus, Panopea, and Ino's son, Melicertes.*
  • 438  And the sun itself, on its way up or sliding down below the waves,
  • 439offers signs—none more deserving of our heed than those attached to it
  • 440as it rises in the morning or as it meets the winking stars.
  • 441If he appears at dawn all stained with spots
  • 442or hides in clouds the middle of his face
  • 443watch out for heavy showers: there'll be a south wind pounding from on high
  • 444that is no friend to trees or crops or cattle.
  • 445But if he comes pushing through thick clouds in all directions
  • 446like bright spokes of a section of a wheel
  • 447or if the goddess of the dawn rises wanly from her consort's saffron couch
  • 448beware: there's nothing you can do for them, your ripe shoots of vines,
  • 449such heavy hail will bounce and clatter on your roof.
  • 450This, too, when he's passed through and is retiring to the heavens,
  • 451you'll do well to remember, for often we'll observe odd colours
  • 452stray across his countenance—dark blues declare
  • 453that there'll be rains, while tints of fire forecast hasky winds.
  • pg 22454 But if those hues begin to blend with glowing red
  • 455look out for gales and stormy clouds together.
  • 456On such a night, spare me the thought that anyone would contemplate
  • 457that he'd set sail or as much as touch the tie rope of his boat.
  • 458But if, when he presents the day and then retracts it,
  • 459his face is just as clear both times, your storm fears
  • 460are a thing of nothing, and you'll see trees tilting in a gentle northerly.
  • 461  In short, whatever evening's bringing on, whence winds propel
  • 462fair-weather clouds, and what wet southerlies portend,
  • Link 463the sun will advance warning signs. Who'd dare to question
  • 464the sun's word? For it is he, once more, who forestalls troubles,
  • 465hidden but at hand, of conflicts festering out of sight.
  • Editor’s Note Link 466And it was he who felt for Rome that time that Caesar fell*
  • 467and veiled his gleaming head in gloom
  • Link 468so dark the infidels began to fear that night would last for ever;
  • 469although, in that catastrophe, the earth itself and stretches of the sea,
  • 470unruly hounds, and bad-natured birds, sounded their predictions too.
  • Link 471How frequently we've watched eruptions of Mount Etna
  • 472and the expulsions from her furnaces spill on the one-eyed giants' lands
  • 473fireballs and molten lava.
  • 474The skies of Germany resounded with the din of war,
  • 475weird stirrings caused the Alps to tremble.
  • 476What's more, in quiet groves a voice was heard by many peoples,
  • Link 477a monstrous voice, and pallid spectres loomed
  • 478through the dead of night and—dare I say it?—
  • 479cattle spoke. The rivers ground to a halt, gaping holes appeared,
  • 480and in the sanctuary carved ivories began to weep the tears of mourning
  • 481and bronzes to perspire. The Po, king river, swept away in raging rushes
  • 482across the open plains whole plantations, cattle and their stalls,
  • pg 23483 swept all away. That was a time
  • 484when entrails, carefully scrutinized, showed nothing but the worst
  • 485and wellsprings spouted blood all day
  • 486and hill towns howled all night with wolves.
  • Link 487And never was a time more streaks of lightning split a limpid sky—
  • 488nor dismal comets flared at such close intervals.
  • Link 489So was it any wonder that Philippi observed for the second time
  • Editor’s Note Link 490the clash of Roman forces in a civil war,*
  • 491and gods above did not think it a shame that we, with our own blood,
  • Editor’s Note492would once again enrich wide-spreading Emathia* and the plains below Haemus.*
  • Link 493Nothing surer than the time will come when, in those fields,
  • Link 494a farmer ploughing will unearth
  • 495rough and rusted javelins and hear his heavy hoe
  • Link 496echo on the sides of empty helmets and stare in open-eyed amazement
  • Link 497at the bones of heroes he's just happened on.
  • Link 498  O Romulus, god of our fathers, strength of our homes, our mother Vesta,
  • 499who watches over our Etruscan Tiber and the palaces of Rome,
  • Link 500stand back, don't block the way of this young one who comes to save
  • Link 501a world in ruins. More than enough, and long ago, we paid in blood
  • Editor’s Note502for the lies Laomedon told at Troy.* Long, long ago since heaven's royal estate
  • Link 503begrudged you first your place among us, Caesar,
  • 504grumbling of your empathies with the cares of men and the victories they earn.
  • Link 505For right and wrong are mixed up here, there's so much warring everywhere,
  • Link 506evil has so many faces, and there is no regard for the labours
  • 507of the plough. Bereft of farmers, fields have run to a riot of weeds.
  • pg 24 Link 508 Scythes and sickles have been hammered into weapons of war.
  • Link 509Look here, the east is up in arms; look there, hostilities in Germany.
  • Link 510Neighbouring cities renege on what they pledged and launch attacks—
  • Link 511the whole world's at loggerheads, a blasphemous battle,
  • Link 512as when, right from the ready, steady, go, chariots quicken on a track
  • Link 513until the driver hasn't a hope of holding the reins and he's carried away
  • Editor’s Note514by a team that pays heed to nothing, wildly away and no control.*

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
7–18 O Liber … O god of Tegea: Virgil adds gods and culture heroes from Greek tradition. Liber: Bacchus. Neptune … a snorting horse: in their mythical contest to be divine patron of Athens, Poseidon/Neptune offered the horse, which sprang from the ground at a blow from his trident, while Athene/Minerva won with her offering of the olive tree. patron of shady woods … chaparral of Ceos: Aristaeus of Ceos, son of the nymph Cyrene and Apollo, seen here as shepherd, but he was also honoured as a cult hero or discoverer of arable farming and beekeeping (cf. note to 4.283–4 and 4.327–31: he will be the farmer's model hero who overcomes disaster by patience and perseverance in Book 4. Pan … Tegea: Pan, the Greek god of herds, came from Arcadia, whose chief city was Tegea, and he was worshipped on its mountains Lycaeus and Maenalus.
Editor’s Note
19 that youth, too, creator of the crooked plough: the first of three references (see also lines 39 and 166) to the myth of Demeter/Ceres which was celebrated in the mysteries of Eleusis near Athens. The youth is Triptolemos (also called Iacchus), the baby whom Demeter tried to make immortal when she acted as his nurse during her time on earth seeking for her kidnapped daughter Persephone/Proserpina. Interrupted by his anxious mother, she gave the mortal Triptolemos the power to invent the plough and so create agriculture.
Editor’s Note
24 you too, O Caesar: Octavian had named his own adoptive father Caesar as a god after his death, and so was expected to join the gods himself in due course. Virgil follows the mythical tradition which divided the universe into three divine kingdoms, assigning Jupiter earth and sky, Neptune the sea, and Dis the underworld. The poet of the countryside naturally stresses that Octavian may be 'in charge of countryside … begetter of the harvest or as master of the seasons' (lines 26–7), and alludes (line 28, 'a garland of your mother's myrtle') to the myrtle as flower of Venus, who as mother of Aeneas was ancestress of the Julian family.
Editor’s Note
31 Tethys forfeits all her waves to have you as a son-in-law: here, Octavian is assimilated to Achilles, son of the sea-nymph Thetis.
Editor’s Note
32 you will add a new star to the zodiac: as Julius Caesar was identified with the comet seen after his death, so his son Octavian may be deified as a constellation: the old version of the zodiac assigned two segments to the Scorpion and its Claws, until the Claws were replaced by Libra in honour of Octavian, born on 23 September.
Editor’s Note
36–9 let not the nether world of Tartarus … she hears her calling her: the underworld offered the virtuous a blessed afterlife in the Elysian fields, which was also the reward of initiates in the Eleusinian mysteries. The mysteries assimilated the grain beneath the earth to Proserpina, who stayed with her husband Dis in winter and returned only for part of each year.
Editor’s Note
62–3 Deucalion cast … a hardy race!: Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha were the only survivors when Jupiter's great flood destroyed mankind. They were instructed by the oracle of the goddess Themis to throw stones behind them which became the new race of men, hard(y) like stones.
Editor’s Note
102–3 Mysia … Gargarus: here and elsewhere (e.g. line 120, 'Strymon cranes' from Thrace), Virgil uses exotic lands as a foil for his celebration of Italy. Mysia and Gargarus were in north-west Anatolia, near Troy, Rome's original city.
Editor’s Note
149 Dodona: in Epirus, the site of a famous oracle of Zeus/Jupiter, which gave prophecy from its oak trees, the source of acorns, man's first primitive food (cf. 'acorns of Epirus', line 8).
Editor’s Note
166 Iacchus' marvellous riddle: another allusion to the symbolic use of farm tools (here a winnowing fan) in the mysteries at Eleusis. Cf. line 19 and note.
Editor’s Note
204 sky formations: most of these constellations are still known by Virgil's names, but note that Taurus (line 217) is gilt-horned as if an ox adorned for sacrifice; the Seven Sisters (line 221) are the Pleiades, and the Star of Knossos (line 222) identifies Ariadne, princess of Crete, whom Bacchus took as his consort and honoured by setting her crown in the sky.
Editor’s Note
233 Five spheres make up the heavens: these are the celestial zones reflected in the division of the earth between glacial poles, intolerable equatorial heat, and the two temperate zones habitable by men. Virgil is adapting the poetic description of the Alexandrian geographer Eratosthenes (fr. 16 Powell), also known to Lucretius, who interpreted the nature of the earth more pessimistically (Lucretius, 5.195–205).
Editor’s Note
242–3 its counterpart/lies underfoot: this account (with lines 247–51) seems to blend the idea of the Antipodes on the opposite side of the globe (whose night is our day) with the Stygian underworld beneath the earth (cf. lines 36–9).
Editor’s Note
244–5 the sky's enormous serpent … the Big and Little Dipper: these are the polar constellations Draco (line 205) and the Great and Lesser Bear (cf. 'Lycaon's child', line 138, referring to Callisto daughter of Lycaon, who with her son was transformed by Jupiter into the two constellations). Cf. line 246 ('that disdain to be touched'): viewed from Mediterranean latitudes, the constellations were always above the night horizon, and so were interpreted by myth as never sinking into the surrounding Ocean. From Homer onwards Greeks and Romans knew these constellations by both the mythical names and a homely alternative: what we call the Big Dipper they called 'the waggon'.
Editor’s Note
276 days suitable for certain work: Virgil is offering a pastiche of Hesiod's teachings about lucky and unlucky days of the month, which were numbered by the phases of the moon. 'Beware the fifth': cf. Works and Days 802.) But he has conflated several of the monstrous enemies of the Olympian gods, the Titans, Coeus, and Iapetus (Theogony 134 f.), Typhoeus (821), children of Earth, and the brothers Otus and Ephialtes (Odyssey 11.305–20). Homer had both Pelion and Ossa, the great Thessalian mountains, heaped on Olympus. Virgil's variation reverses this.
Editor’s Note
332 Athos, Rhodope, and the peaks of Ceraunia: Athos is in the Greek peninsula of Pallene, Rhodope in Thrace, and Ceraunia a mountain range on the north-west coast of the Greek peninsula nearest to Italy.
Editor’s Note
404–5 Nisus comes into view … she stole: Nisus, king of Megara, was betrayed to his enemy Minos by his daughter Scylla, who cut off his magic lock of purple hair. Minos rejected her and both Scylla and Nisus were turned into sea-birds: she became a shearwater (ciris). The story is told by Ovid (Metamorphoses 8) and in the short pseudo-Virgilian epic Ciris.
Editor’s Note
437 Glaucus … and Ino's son, Melicertes: the human fisherman Glaucus became a sea-god; Ino, aunt of Bacchus, was driven mad by Hera/Juno and jumped into the sea with her son Melicertes. They became sea-gods and protectors of sailors. At Rome they were worshipped as the goddess Mater Matuta and the god Portunus.
Editor’s Note
466 that time that Caesar fell: historians reported dreadful portents both before and after the assassination of Caesar, but the solar eclipse referred to here occurred six months after Caesar's death, in October 44. 'Infidels' (line 468) marks the sins against the gods of Rome's civil wars, assimilated to the iron age of conflict within the family and country denounced by Virgil's predecessor Catullus, and later Ovid.
Editor’s Note
489–90 Philippi observed … in a civil war: the battle of Philippi in Macedonian Thrace in 42 bce, when Octavian and Antony defeated the forces of Caesar's killers, Brutus and Cassius, is deliberately assimilated to the battle fought at Pharsalus in Thessaly at which Caesar defeated Pompey and the Republican forces six years earlier, in 48.
Editor’s Note
492 Emathia: a region of Thessaly.
Haemus: a Thracian mountain range; cf. 2.488.
Editor’s Note
502 the lies Laomedon told at Troy: Laomedon, king of Troy, deceived Neptune and Apollo into building him defensive walls around Troy and then reneged on his payment. He also cheated Hercules of his reward for killing the sea-monster sent by Neptune, and was punished, first when Hercules captured and sacked the city, and later, posthumously, when the Greeks again took the city under his grandson Priam. It was part of Augustan ideology to stress the guilt of Troy as one cause of Rome's own sufferings in the civil war.
Editor’s Note
512–14 chariots … no control: representing Rome's young leader as a charioteer will have appealed to popular admiration for these races, but may have suggested either of two Greek traditions. It is more likely that Virgil was alluding to the Platonic allegory comparing the moral aspect of the soul to a charioteer who must control his unruly horses of spirit and base appetite (see Plato, Phaedrus 253d–254e), than to the cautionary tale of Phaethon, who tried to drive the chariot of his father, the Sun, and caused a conflagration on earth.
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