The Symbolic Value of Grafting in Ancient Rome


Some scholars have read Virgil's grafted tree (G. 2.78-82) as a sinister image, symptomatic of man's perversion of nature. However, when it is placed within the long tradition of Roman accounts of grafting (in both prose and verse), it seems to reinforce a consistently positive view of the technique, its results, and its possibilities. Virgil's treatment does represent a significant change from Republican to Imperial literature, whereby grafting went from mundane reality to utopian fantasy. This is reflected in responses to Virgil from Ovid, Columella, Calpurnius, Pliny the Elder, and Palladius (with Republican context from Cato, Varro, and Lucretius), and even in the postclassical transformation of Virgil's biography into a magical folktale.