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And these unfinished lines are sometimes alleged as examples of such incompleteness. Not much stress can however be laid on this argument, as these lines occur in all the books of the Aeneid, though not in the Georgics: and in some cases the breaking off is rhetorically effective, and may have been intentional. Thus 792 and 815 are, it may be urged, distinctly better unfinished. Still it may reasonably be doubted whether the poet would have left them, or left all of them, if he had had time to complete the work.
Besides these there are two trifling inconsistencies (21, 865), which are discussed in the notes. But whatever view be taken of them no reasonable person could regard them as serious blemishes.
Note on Vergil's peculiarities of style.
The object of style in literature, apart from the subjectmatter, is to produce effect by successful choice of words. Sometimes the effect is produced by using the simplest words and phrases to express the idea: sometimes by the use of rare or choice words, unusual turns of phrase, stretches of meaning, or even stretches of grammar. The first we may call the simple, the second the elaborate or artificial style. It is useless to ask which is the best: each will suit best in turn the genius of certain writers, the subject of certain poems, certain situations or ideas, and the taste of certain readers: many poets will use them both at different times: and both may be most effective in the hand of a master. And each too has its danger: the simple is liable to fall into bathos and commonplace: the elaborate has a tendency to become turgid, stilted, over-artificial. Take as an instance of the simple style the well-known line of Wordsworth :-
"Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."
Or this from Milton's Christmas Ode:
"And kings sate still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran lord was by."
In these none but the commonest words are used, and yet the poetical effectiveness of the style is consummate. Now take as an example of the elaborate style Hamlet's exclamation to the Ghost:
Why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death,
Or this from Richard II.:
"Ere my tongue
Shall sound my honour with such feeble using
In these the strength of feeling finds expression in the very strangeness of the language.
These instances will illustrate one form of the contrast between the two styles; and there are many other forms. Shakespeare will supply many illustrations of both: being a dramatist and a genius, he speaks in many voices. So do many if not most poets of the first rank. Wordsworth however is a notable instance of the simplest style: Pindar perhaps the best of the elaborate style. The poets of this century in England, feeling as they did the strength of a reaction against the artificial style of Pope and his followers, produced many examples besides Wordsworth of the simple style, such as Moore, Southey, Campbell, much of Byron and Coleridge and the whole of Walter Scott. Two of the greatest however, Keats and Shelley, from the gorgeous imagination of the one and the profound inspiration of the other, supply more examples of the elaborate and forcible style.
Now Vergil's poetry belongs largely to this second class. It is true that he can be simple, and often is: he is much too great an artist to ignore any poetic resource. But for the most part he does not aim at expressing his thoughts in the simplest, but rather in the most striking manner. He often employs 'an elaboration of language which disdains or is unable to say a
plain thing in a plain way1.' He arrests attention by the vigour, the strangeness, the intensity, the emphasis, if I may so phrase it, of his language. He is often stretching constructions or the sense of words, using abstract for concrete, part for the whole, adjective for adverb; transferring epithets, varying, inverting, seeking the unusual instead of the ordinary phrase. In short he is constantly surprising the reader.
The good side of these peculiarities is freshness and force: the bad side is affectation. The protections against affectation are of course the poet's own taste, command of expression, ear for melody, dignity, imagination, and skill; and all these qualities Vergil possesses in a consummate degree.
The following are a few of the instances in this book which exhibit these peculiarities :
pugnam lacesso (429).
tempus agi res (638).
incensas perfert naves (665).
alternos orbibus orbes impediunt (584).
consessu medium (289).
pictas abiete puppes (662).
and these words :
arena 'earth' (336).
laude 'merit' (355).
gloria 'ambition' (394).
arbor 'mast' (504).
Others the reader will find by referring to the Index of Style at the end: and there is much more of the same kind that he can discover for himself. Vergil's workmanship is so careful and so perfect, that he is an inexhaustible field for the literary analyst.
1 I quote this sentence from 'Suggestions introductory to the study of the Aeneid' by Prof. Nettleship; a pamphlet which all students of Vergil will find most instructive, interesting and suggestive, as indeed is to be expected of so distinguished a scholar.
Note on the Imitations of Homer and others in Vergil.
To discover all the passages where Vergil echoes lines or phrases of earlier ancient, and especially Greek, poets, would be an endless task: but those places in this book which were clearly suggested, more or less consciously, by Homer, will be found collected in the Appendix at the end of the notes in the form of a list drawn up by aid of the commentators.
Without discussing the question fully, which would not be suitable in a brief edition like the present, a word on the question of Vergil's imitations may be found useful.
The main point is that the modern idea of imitation is entirely different from that which was held by the Roman literary men, and which indeed could not fail to be held by them. With us, literary productions belong indeed mostly to one or other main class, and so far are composed under conditions which prescribe the form: though even here constantly new varieties are invented: but both in style and subject-matter, the aim of all great writers is to be original. The Roman literature on the other hand was mainly formed on Greek models; and to adhere to those models closely, to be constantly reminding the readers of them, to imitate them much in the treatment, in the phraseology, and even in the incident, was inevitable to the Latin poets; or, rather, it was one of the very things they proposed to do in writing1. Vergil's style, indeed, is completely his own, and entirely unlike Homer's, as is plain from what has been said; his main purpose and subject are entirely his own, and truly Roman; he borrows where he does borrow (and that from Ennius, Cyclic poets, Greek tragedians, and many others besides Homer) always to suit his own purpose, and not in a servile manner; and he invariably remains master of his materials, and stamps his own mark indelibly upon them.
But to understand Vergil, it is clearly necessary to grasp the conditions under which he worked; and nothing can be a greater mistake than to feel surprise at the extent to which he was indebted to his predecessors in the poetic art.
1 See remarks on this subject on p. 9.
Outline of Vergil's life.
P. Vergilius Maro was born 15 Oct., B.C. 70, near Mantua, a town on the Mincio in North Italy, then called Cisalpine Gaul. He had not good health, and after being educated at Cremona and Mediolanum (Milan), and studying Greek and philosophy elsewhere, he came back to live (probably) on his father's farm, until about B. C. 42. In that year Octavianus, afterwards the emperor Augustus, had defeated at Philippi Brutus and Cassius, the murderers of Julius Caesar; and gave lands to his victorious soldiers in various parts of Italy, amongst other assignments being Vergil's farm. The poet's first acquaintance with Augustus was due to this event; for he applied to him at Rome for the restitution of his property, and was successful. He became the friend of the rich art-patron Maecenas, the poet Horace, and the brilliant circle of literary men who were collected at the court of Augustus. The works of Vergil are not voluminous. The Eclogues are Idylls in imitation of the Greek poet Theocritus, and were written sometime before he was 33. The Georgics, an agricultural poem in four books, of which the form was more or less suggested by Hesiod, he wrote in the next few years, finishing them sometime about his 40th year. The Aeneid, his great work, he appears to have begun about B.C. 27, when he was 43 years of age, at the wish of Augustus. A few years later, finding his health failing, he tried travelling; and in the spring of 19 he was at Athens. The summer he spent with Augustus abroad, but died a few days after reaching Brundusium on his return. The day of his death was Sept. 22, and he was not quite 51. He was buried at Naples, where his tomb is still shewn, though the authenticity of it is at least doubtful.
His character seems to have been most simple, pure, and loveable; and his poetic fame was well established even before his death.