Bookburning and the poetic deathbed: The legacy of Virgil

Nita Krevans

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

21 Scopus citations


Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life. Oscar Wilde, Intentions The Virgilian tradition preserves three problematic and somewhat contradictory sets of testimonia about Virgil's role in framing his own corpus as a ‘career’. On the one hand, there are the passages where Virgil himself clearly marks his own progression from Eclogues to Georgics to Aeneid. These include instances of self-quotation (Ecl. 5.85–7; Geo. 4.566) and promises of future work in higher style (Ecl. 8.6–13, Geo. 3.46–8) as well as less explicit passages whose imagery is now interpreted as foreshadowing the pastoral–didactic–epic progression – for example, the closing lines of Eclogues 1 and 10 often read as a transition to the harsher world of the Georgics. Reinforcing and completing these internal signposts are two pseudo-Virgilian texts. First, there is Virgil's supposedly self-composed ‘epitaph’, which neatly concludes cecini pascua rura duces (‘I sang pastures, farms, and war-leaders’). The other passage is the famous ille ego prologue which, according to Servius and Donatus, originally opened the Aeneid. It offers a brief literary biography of the poet: first I composed with a ‘slender reed’ (gracili … auena); then I left the woods and produced a work ‘pleasing to farmers’ (gratum opus agricolis), ‘but now’ (at nunc) I sing of arms and the man. The potent combination of Virgil's own statements, the pseudepigraphical additions, and the canonization of the Aeneid quickly transformed the Virgilian corpus into a poetic version of the cursus honorum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationClassical Literary Careers and Their Reception
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780511778872
ISBN (Print)9780521762977
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2010.


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