Thursday, July 03, 2008


I have not been blogging much lately, as I have been too busy with my things to do this summer. And now I'll be off-line with Virgil at the shore for two weeks.


mrjumbo said...

Have fun with Publius V. Maro.

My recollection is that "The Art of the Aeneid" (you know how to find it on Amazon) has never really been matched or surpassed for a classical, elegant discussion of the forms and motifs of the epic.

As with most criticism, I'd recommend taking it on only after you've absorbed the work in question.

Vergil's an interesting question in epic poetry, because he followed the model of the old oral traditions (Odyssey, Iliad, Bible, Beowulf, buncha Germanic and Nordic stuff, Indian and Persian epics, etc.), but really undid a lot of the knitting by composing it all himself from scratch instead of letting it build up over the generations through repetition and variation. I don't think he had an oral tradition to borrow from.

It's a little like what happened to the blues when recording technology became available. No longer were songs passed around only through performance; less and less did guys build up lyrics from standard formulas ("Soon one morning . . ."); more and more you had guys like Hank Williams who came up with his own stories and his own phrases for expressing them, much less rooted in the rich black loam of the Delta that had been reused a thousand times. The phrases get used today, but in a self-conscious way to add a certain tone to a tune, much as some homeowners line their chimneys with half-bricks to create an effect, even though the chimneys aren't made from brick in the first place.

That doesn't make Vergil (or Hank) bad; it's not like he was pouring sugar into beer. But it's a topic, since he mines the old stories for content.



Andrew Shields said...

Mr. J., your comments resonated for me while reading the book. Thanks!