Virgil’s Georgics: A mission for a man living in civilization (summary)

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A Summary

Virgil’s Georgics: A mission for a man living in civilization



It is well recognized that civilization is one of the main themes of the Georgics. This paper, paying attention to two key words in the Georgics, labor and amor, examine how Virgil treats this theme.

In the first ‘digression'(1.118-159), man’s labor is religiously justified, for Virgil suggests that labor alone should cause Jupiter’s will to be realized on earth. In the Georgics, labor can be taken as cooperation with a benevolent divinity, rather than as mere hard work. We should also note that Virgil shows us two paradigms of civilized society which man could bring about; the civil war in the epilogue of Book1 (1.463-5140 is a negative example, while ‘Praise of Italy’ (2.136-176) may give us a positive one. This sharp contrast might suggest that man’s control of inner nature should be the decisive element in determining the characteristic of society.

Corresponding to these opposite descriptions of society, two ‘digressions’ deal with amor from a contrasting view; 3.209-283 shows a negative force of amor, which as blind love passion compels each animal to death, while 2.315-345 displays a positive one, where amor symbolizes the power of reproduction, without which no animals could continue in existence.

In light of this contrast, we may understand that the work of rearing cattle (the theme of Book 3) is fundamentally close to that of growing crops and plants (the theme of Books 1 and 2), because in each work man is required to find out the best way of controlling or making use of natural energy, which lies both inside and outside the animals.

Like the animals, man has his amor, which he must control creatively. In fact, analysis of the examples of amor in the Georgics might show that Virgil regards man’s amor as his inner energy to create various activities, both constructive and destructive.

In this respect, Virgil’s idea is quite different from that of Lucretius, because for the latter any passion may be the cause of worry and trouble In the so-called ‘Praise of the country life’ (2.458-542), Virgil compares a happy farmer with a happy philosopher who represents this Epicurean view. Virgil’s farmer, who as here interpreted, controls his amor creatively, lives in harmony with nature, his labor being described as a positive factor in sustaining not only his family but also his country as a whole. the philosopher, on the other hand, is happy because he has nothing to fear or care for. We may understand, however, that this philosopher lacks the vigor (positive amor) to engage in any kind of constructive labor.

But here in the ‘Praise of the country life’, we find another contrast; that is, between the happy farmer and a city dweller who eagerly seeks wealth and fame. The latter is bitterly criticized, for he only indulges in consumption and doesn’t produce anything good for society. In short, he lives for the sake of himself, and in this respect, can be compared with the Epicurean philosopher. But as this city dweller is full of passion to acquire wealth and fame, he may also be close to the “greedy farmer’ (auari agricolae, 1.47-48). Yet we can deny such similarity, for the farmer’s amor and that of the city dweller are quite oppositely directed; the farmer’s labor, driven by his positive amor, will always harmonize itself with Jupiter’s will, while any activity of the city dweller, driven out of control by amor and motivated by what we call ‘egoism’, will bring about a conflict and ultimately civil war.

It is interesting that this criticism of the city dweller is made with such expressions as are found in the work of Lucretius. This means, I think, that Virgil intends to emphasize his original point of view on amor and labor. What are we to think then of the epilogue of Book 3, a tragic description of disaster in the animal world, which also reflects Lucretius’ description of the plague at Athens (D.R.N. 6.118f.)? This suggests the theme of fear of death. As we have seen , the philosopher in the ‘Praise of the country life’ is said to have attained happiness because he knows the rural gods (2.490-494). Does this comparison imply that Virgil has shown us his original view of fear of death in the Georgics? Or should the farmer be tormented by fear of the death he cannot avoid?

I have pointed out that Virgil’s farmer lives for the sake of others and contributes to civilization, which will develop forever. If the farmer’s labor always finds itself going in the direction Jupiter has set before him, it is because his labor is prompted by such amor as is well controlled in conformance to Jupiter’s will. Virgil’s farmer, for whom the walls of the ego will recede will not suffer from fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue and be motivated by divine will.

In light of this interpretation of everlasting life, the deification of Augustus can be easily understood. He is promised deification, because he has brought peace to all the world, and has set a foundation for Rome’s perpetual growth and development. Through own labor Augustus has set the best example for every citizen of Tome who seeks to perform his mission in his own way. In the Georgics, as here understood, Virgil has given a religious explanation for man’s role and mission in Rome, the most highly civilized nation.

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