Monday, January 05, 2009

Virgil's Sixth Eclogue

One theme in Horace's poetry is that he does not want to write epics, but only his poems of everyday life. Since I read Virgil backwards (first the Aeneid, then the Eclogues and Georgics), I found it especially amusing to come across Virgil making the same claim in the Sixth Eclogue:

When I began to write, my Muse did not
Disdain to play Sicilian games nor did
She blush to live in the woods, and when I thought
Of singing of kings and battles, the god Apollo
Tweaked my ear and said to me, "A shepherd
Should feed fat sheep and sing a slender song."
So now—since there are plenty to sing your praise
And plenty to celebrate grim deeds of war—
I'll study how to play the pastoral reed
And win the favor of the country Muse.
I'll will not sing what I'm not supposed to sing.

But of course Virgil went on to write a great epic of praise of the Muses and the "grim deeds of war," so this is probably more a matter of "sing what you want to sing now and don't force yourself to sing things that aren't really what you want to sing now just because you think you ought to." :-)

David Ferry's translation again.

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