Exploring the powerful sexual drive that acts on both people and animals, Virgil in his Georgics uses mares as his example of the creatures most sensitive of all to its compulsion. The illustration (a stallion not a mare, but from this angle it might be either) is the famous racehorse Whistlejacket, painted by George Stubbs. Hear Virgil’s Latin and follow in John Dryden’s seventeenth-century English here.

Glande sues laeti redeunt: the pigs come home regaled with acorns … in Virgil’s rural paradise, even the livestock live off the fat of the land. The swineherd knocking down mast from the trees for his animals is from a famous late-mediaeval Book of Hours, the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

Hear Virgil’s Latin and follow in John Dryden’s charming but not very faithful 17th century translation here.

Not everyone welcomed the Paris of the boulevards that we so admire today when in the nineteenth century swathes of a much-loved, ancient city were swept away to make way for it. Today’s poem uses the classical motif of Andromache, widow of Troy’s greatest warrior, Hector, and the image of a trapped and desperate swan to express Baudelaire’s vision of Paris changed for ever and the anguish of all those who long for something irretrievably lost. Hear the poem in the original French and follow in English here.

In North Africa, fearing that fourteen of his ships may be lost, Aeneas is exploring the country. His mother Venus, disguised as a Phoenician girl, has told him the story of Queen Dido and now delivers good news about his missing ships and men by interpreting a sighting of swans as an oracle.

Hear the Latin and follow in English here.

Rainer Maria Rilke uses the swan to make a point about the difficulty of life and the serenity of death. Agree or disagree? Hear the German read by Tatjana Pisarski and follow in translation here.

Even with Octavian in the ascendant, around 29 BCE Rome is still at risk from the legacy of civil war. In his Georgics, comparing the city to a racing chariot out of control, Virgil turns abruptly from the life of the countryside to implore the Gods to allow the future Emperor Augustus to restore its threatened fortunes.

Hear Virgil’s Latin and follow in English here.