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Reading After Actium

Vergil's Georgics, Octavian, and Rome

Christopher Nappa

Publication Year: 2005

Reading after Actium is a study of Vergil's Georgics, a didactic poem ostensibly about farming but in fact a brilliant exercise challenging readers to develop a broader perspective on the basic problems and the dangers of human life. Octavian is treated as one of the poet's students and given the opportunity to learn lessons in handling power, in controlling Rome's vast resources, and in preventing the bloody cycle of civil war from beginning again. Most of all the Georgics asks Octavian to consider what is involved in assuming godlike power over his fellow citizens. Reading after Actium provides an introduction to the history of scholarship surrounding the Georgics and the political questions surrounding Octavian and his career. Nappa gives a book by book analysis of the entire poem, and a conclusion that draws together the themes of the whole. Reading after Actium will appeal to students and critics of Vergil and other Augustan Literature as well as those of didactic poetry and its traditions. Students of Roman history and politics should read this as well. Christopher Nappa is Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Minnesota.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

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PREFACE

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pp. vii-viii

Any study of Vergil is in constant peril of being smothered with too much citation; accordingly, I have tried to limit myself to citing work crucial to my own argument, and I am conscious of having omitted much. My general debts to other scholars are set out in the Introduction; in the notes I have mostly signaled specific debts or disagreements that might be useful to readers. The nature of the present study would also have allowed constant citation ...

CONTENTS

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pp. ix-

ABBREVIATIONS

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pp. xi-xii

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INTRODUCTION: READING THE GEORGICS

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pp. 1-22

The title of the present study refers to several “readings after Actium”: to the literal reading of the Georgics after the battle of Actium envisioned in the passage of Donatus quoted above, to the post-Actium reading of the Arst Eclogue provoked by the end of the Georgics(the subject of the conclusion), and more generally to the interpretation of the Agure of Octavian/Augustus ...

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1. KINGS OF GODS AND MEN

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pp. 23-67

These verses have long been seen as providing a book by book summary of the poem, but they also suggest several of its larger thematic concerns.1 For instance, the poet’s Arst (indirect) question has to do with making crops laetas, a word that connotes both biological fertility and emotional happiness. Thus, the Arst four words of the poem already suggest that the farm is analogous to ...

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2. THE RIDDLES OF BACCHUS

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pp. 68-114

The Arst book of the Georgics casts the cultivation of Aelds as man’s work in a universe fundamentally shaped by the interventions of Jupiter. Against that backdrop, Octavian is asked to consider his role as ruler of the Roman world and the dangers that he, and it, must confront. Book 1 ends with the imminent crash of the chariot racer, who, as we saw, is simply the ...

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3. THE FIRE IN THE FLESH

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pp. 115-159

The third book of the Georgics recapitulates themes of the Arst two in a particularly compelling way by bringing the audience into the world of animals.1 The very human-seeming animals of the Georgics help Vergil further elaborate the idea that man is not essentially different from animals or even plants in his relationship to the wider world. Distinctions between wild and cultivated, nature and civilization are again elided, and readers must explore ...

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4. PUZZLES OF GLORY AND GRIEF

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pp. 116-218

The last book of the Georgics departs sharply from the relentless grimness with which Book 3 ends. The syllabus with which the Georgics began told us to expect beekeeping, and that is indeed where the fourth book picks up.1 However, the Book 1 proem also suggested that the agricultural topics of the poem would lead to something else, and indeed they did as each book came to comprehend the greater problems of life, politics, and history. Yet that same ...

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CONCLUSION: THE RETURN OF MELIBOEUS

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pp. 219-232

At the poem’s very end, Vergil identifies himself as the poet of the Bucolics, for he once sang Tityre, te patulae . . . sub tegmine fagi, “You, Tityrus, shaded by the spreading beech” (4.566). This is a strange, even exasperating, way to end the poem, for it sends us back to the beginning, not of the Georgics but of an earlier set of poems, one that deals with only some of the same things. Yet it is also significant for decoding the way the present poem ...

NOTES

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pp. 233-272

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 273-280

PASSAGES CITED

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pp. 281-286

INDEX

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pp. 287-293


E-ISBN-13: 9780472025831
E-ISBN-10: 047202583X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472114757
Print-ISBN-10: 0472114751

Page Count: 306
Publication Year: 2005

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Subject Headings

  • Virgil -- Political and social views.
  • Didactic poetry, Latin -- History and criticism.
  • Augustus, Emperor of Rome, 63 B.C.-14 A.D. -- Influence.
  • Politics and literature -- Rome.
  • Agriculture in literature.
  • Actium, Battle of, 31 B.C.
  • Emperors in literature.
  • Rome -- In literature.
  • Virgil. Georgica.
  • Augustus, Emperor of Rome, 63 B.C.-14 A.D. -- In literature.
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