Georgic 1, lines 351 - 392

Signs of bad weather

by Virgil

Modelling his poem closely on Greek predecessors, Virgil explains how to foresee bad weather. Some of the signs – for example how chaff blows in the wind and the behaviour of ants – are on a very small scale, while others, such as the phases of the moon, are literally cosmic. Others, including thunder, lightning and seas pounding on the beach, seem too obvious to need much explanation. But if as a practical forecaster’s handbook Virgil’s text seems lacking, it is lively, varied and charming as a piece of poetry; and it is that, rather than a a working farmer’s almanac, that the Georgics aspire to be.

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Atque haec ut certis possemus discere signis,
aestusque pluviasque et agentis frigora ventos,
ipse Pater statuit, quid menstrua Luna moneret,
quo signo caderent austri, quid saepe videntes
agricolae propius stabulis armenta tenerent.
continuo ventis surgentibus aut freta ponti
incipiunt agitata tumescere et aridus altis
montibus audiri fragor aut resonantia longe
litora misceri et nemorum increbrescere murmur.
iam sibi tum a curvis male temperat unda carinis,
cum medio celeres revolant ex aequore mergi
clamoremque ferunt ad litora, cumque marinae
in sicco ludunt fulicae notasque paludes
deserit atque altam supra volat ardea nubem.
saepe etiam stellas vento inpendente videbis
praecipitis caelo labi noctisque per umbram
flammarum longos a tergo albescere tractus;
saepe levem paleam et frondes volitare caducas
aut summa nantis in aqua colludere plumas.
at Boreae de parte trucis cum fulminat et cum
Eurique Zephyrique tonat domus: omnia plenis
rura natant fossis atque omnis navita ponto
humida vela legit. numquam inprudentibus imber
obfuit: aut illum surgentem vallibus imis
aëriae fugere grues, aut bucula caelum
suspiciens patulis captavit naribus auras,
aut arguta lacus circumvolitavit hirundo
et veterem in limo ranae cecinere querelam.
saepius et tectis penetralibus extulit ova
angustum formica terens iter et bibit ingens
arcus et e pastu decedens agmine magno
corvorum increpuit densis exercitus alis.
iam variae pelagi volucres et quae Asia circum
dulcibus in stagnis rimantur prata Caystri,
certatim largos umeris infundere rores:
nunc caput obiectare fretis, nunc currere in undas
et studio incassum videas gestire lavandi.
Tum cornix plena pluviam vocat inproba voce
et sola in sicca secum spatiatur harena.
ne nocturna quidem carpentes pensa puellae
nescivere hiemem, testa cum ardente viderent
scintillare oleum et putris concrescere fungos.

And so that we could foretell heat, rains and winds that bring the cold by clear signs, Jupiter himself decreed what the moon’s phases would warn of, under which constellation the south winds would drop, what sights, often seen, should make farmers keep stock closer to the byre. When winds get up, straight away the choppy seas begin to swell, a dry crashing starts to be heard on the mountain heights, the beaches to be churned and to boom along their whole length, and the threshing of the woods to grow louder. Unrestrained, the sea washes at the curved keels of ships, while gulls fly back from open sea and bear their calls to shore, sea-mews frolic on dry land and the heron leaves wetland haunts and flies high above the cloud. When wind is coming, you will often see meteors, sliding steeply down the night sky, leave long, white-hot trails of fire behind them, chaff and fallen leaves dancing in the air, and feathers play, skimming on the water. When it lightens from the direction of the north wind, and thunders in the houses both of east and west winds, the whole countryside swims, with ditches full, and sailors at sea all furl wet sails.
Rain should never catch farmers unaware: either the cranes will have fled it, flying high as it rises from the valley bottoms, or the heifer will have looked skyward and sniffing the air with nostrils wide, shrieking swifts will have been wheeling round the ponds, and the frogs singing their old song in the mud.
The ant, fraying its narrow way, will have carried out the eggs more often from its inner sanctum, the rainbow drunk from the waters and the great army of crows
have come down cawing from the pasture, wing close by wing, in a dense column. Now you see seabirds of all kinds, and those that forage in the fresh water
on the meadows by the Cayster, vy to pour the water wide over their shoulders, now thrust their heads
into the waves, now run on the surface, and exult in their vain attempts to bathe; and the cocky raven
calls at the top of its voice for rain, strutting
alone on the dry sand. Nor would girls, carding their wool at night, have been unaware of coming rain,
seeing the oil glitter in the burning lamp,
and snuff growing on the wicks.

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