Georgics 4: Vergil on the rites of poetry and philosophy at the dawn of a new era

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Abstract

The chapter reviews previous readings of the Bugonia in Georgics 4 to offer a new interpretation and an additional paradigm in support of recent scholarship that insists on Vergil’s philosophical tenets. The most accepted reading of Georgics 4 perceives an alignment between Aristaeus and Augustus, as task-minded proponents of progress, versus Orpheus and Vergil, as sentimental poets, who unable to forgive and forget, are destined to live through their verses alone. My paper challenges this juxtaposition by stressing the common traditions of Aristaeus and Orpheus, as theologians, poets, and hierophants, able to instruct the people in the agricultural basis of civic virtue which was instituted during the original Golden Age, as described by poets (Hesiod and Aratus) and revised by philosophers (Plato). The similarities of Aristaeus and Orpheus become more evident when we consider Aristaeus’ assimilation with the figure of Aristeas of Proconnesus, also known to Cicero (Verr. 2.4.127-128). In using ritual to hail the Augustan period as a new Golden Age, Vergil is preoccupied with a major contemporary debate: whether poetry or philosophy can induct people into the new society under Augustus and their new identities. While Plato, often cited by Cicero, insists on the citizens’ initiation to philosophy, Vergil uses Bugonia and its Golden Age associations to defend poetry as the means of preserving knowledge, negotiating human progress in times of crises, and redefining civic virtue. The rites of Aristaeus, like those of Orpheus, invite the Romans to a new civic awareness.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMemory, ritual, and identity in ancient Greece and Rome
EditorsVassiliki Panoussi, William Hutton
PublisherDe Gruyter
ISBN (Electronic)9783111197456
ISBN (Print)9783111197319
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024

Publication series

NameTrends in Classics - Supplementary Volumes
PublisherDe Gruyter

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