Georgics 1, lines 1 - 42

Virgil begins the Georgics

by Virgil

The dedication to Virgil’s poem on agriculture. The subject seems lowly compared with the epic wars and foundation-myth of the Aeneid, but farming the land was a major source of the wealth of big Roman political players in Augustan Rome, and when the Georgics were written around 30 BCE it had been disrupted for decades by civil wars. Highly topical, then, and, as in the Aeneid later on, the new leader, Augustus, is presented as the prospective solution to the nation’s problems. The poetry is intricate, masterful and complete to Virgil’s satisfaction – it’s worth remembering that the later Aeneid was, according to ancient sources, still so much a work in progress that he wanted it destroyed when he realised that he would die before he could revise it further. In the Georgics, he was at the top of his poetic game.

Didactic poems on agriculture went back to the earliest days of Greek literature. The audience for the poem would have been educated enough to know about that, and to enjoy Virgil’s elaborate mythological references (the “boy who showed how to use the ploughshare” was Triptolemus, who was taught about it by Ceres). The convention was to start, as Virgil does here, with invocations to twelve gods of produce and the countryside (the “brightest lights” at the beginning are the sun and moon). His two enormous sentences invoking, first, the gods, then Augustus, are sophistication itself. Afterwards, the first book will be mainly about how to grow things; and how to know what growers need to know – when to plant and reap, how to maintain the fertility of the land and when good and bad weather is coming. In Virgil’s day, finding all this out depends largely on the stars, and on other clues from nature on every scale from the cosmos to the behaviour of ants. This reliance on signs from nature, large and small, has almost vanished from our own world over the past few generations, but survives still just within living memory. I can remember old members of my country family when I was a child who would not have dreamed of planting potatoes at the wrong phase of the moon.

See the illustrated blog post here.

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Quid faciat laetas segetes, quo sidere terram
uertere, Maecenas, ulmisque adiungere uitis
conueniat, quae cura boum, qui cultus habendo
sit pecori, apibus quanta experientia parcis,
hinc canere incipiam. uos, o clarissima mundi
lumina, labentem caelo quae ducitis annum;
Liber et alma Ceres, uestro si munere tellus
Chaoniam pingui glandem mutauit arista,
poculaque inuentis Acheloia miscuit uuis;
et uos, agrestum praesentia numina, Fauni
(ferte simul Faunique pedem Dryadesque puellae:
munera uestra cano); tuque o, cui prima frementem
fudit equum magno tellus percussa tridenti,
Neptune; et cultor nemorum, cui pinguia Ceae
ter centum niuei tondent dumeta iuuenci;
ipse nemus linquens patrium saltusque Lycaei
Pan, ouium custos, tua si tibi Maenala curae,
adsis, o Tegeaee, fauens, oleaeque Minerua
inuentrix, uncique puer monstrator aratri,
et teneram ab radice ferens, Siluane, cupressum:
dique deaeque omnes, studium quibus arua tueri,
quique nouas alitis non ullo semine fruges
quique satis largum caelo demittitis imbrem.
tuque adeo, quem mox quae sint habitura deorum
concilia incertum est, urbisne inuisere, Caesar,
terrarumque uelis curam, et te maximus orbis
auctorem frugum tempestatumque potentem
accipiat cingens materna tempora myrto;
an deus immensi uenias maris ac tua nautae
numina sola colant, tibi seruiat ultima Thule,
teque sibi generum Tethys emat omnibus undis;
anne nouum tardis sidus te mensibus addas,
qua locus Erigonen inter Chelasque sequentis
panditur (ipse tibi iam bracchia contrahit ardens
Scorpius et caeli iusta plus parte reliquit);
quidquid eris (nam te nec sperant Tartara regem,
nec tibi regnandi ueniat tam dira cupido,
quamuis Elysios miretur Graecia campos
nec repetita sequi curet Proserpina matrem),
da facilem cursum atque audacibus adnue coeptis,
ignarosque uiae mecum miseratus agrestis
ingredere et uotis iam nunc adsuesce uocari.

What makes crops flourish, under what star to till the earth, Maecenas, or fix vines to the elm, how to keep cattle, and how sheep, what skills are needed for keeping thrifty bees, now I sing. You, the brightest lights of the world, who guide the year as it slips across the sky; you, Bacchus and gentle Ceres, if by your gift the world changed diet from the acorns of Dodona to rich ears of grain, discovered the grape and how to mix it into drinking-cups of water from streams; and you, native spirits of the countryside, Fauns,(approach, Fauns, and Dryad-maidens too, it is your gifts I sing); and you, for whom Earth first brought forth horses, struck by your great trident, O Neptune; and you, haunter of groves, for whom three hundred snowy cattle browse the lush brakes of Cea; and Pan, protector of sheep, leaving your ancestral grove and the clearings of Mount Lycaeus, if you care for your Arcadian home, come yourself and favour us, Tegean, and Minerva the inventor of oil, and the boy who showed how to use the curved ploughshare, and Silvanus, with a young cypress-tree, roots and all: and every god and goddess, whose charge is the welfare of farmland, who nourish new crops unsown, and send down the abundant rain from heaven on the fields. Yes, and you, Caesar: no-one knows yet which council of the Gods will receive you in time, whether you choose to be God of cities and lands, and boundless creation will receive you as giver of crops and ruler of tempests, brows girt with your mother’s myrtle; or you become God of the vast ocean, and it is your powers alone that sailors will worship, you that far Thule serves, and you that Tethys acquires as her daughter’s bridegroom with all her waves as dowry; or whether you add yourself, a new constellation, to the leisurely months, where space in the night sky opens between Virgo and the Claws – burning Scorpio himself even now, drawing in his arms, has ceded some of his too ample share: whatever you shall be (for Tartarus has no hope of you as its ruler, nor would so grim a wish for kingship occur to you – though Greece loves the Elysian Fields – nor is Proserpina keen to follow her mother when she seeks her out), clear my way, bless my first ambitious steps, share my pity for poor country folk who do not know the way, assume your office and become used now to receive their prayers.

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More Poems by Virgil

  1. Souls awaiting punishment in Tartarus, and the crimes that brought them there.
  2. A Fury rouses Turnus to war
  3. Aeneas is wounded
  4. Dido and Aeneas: royal hunt and royal affair
  5. Charon, the ferryman
  6. Catastrophe for Rome?
  7. Vulcan’s forge
  8. The death of Dido.
  9. Aeneas finds Dido among the shades
  10. The journey to Hades begins
  11. New allies for Aeneas
  12. More from Virgil’s farming Utopia
  13. Rites for the allies’ dead
  14. Aeneas sees Marcellus, Augustus’s tragic heir
  15. Aeneas’s ships are transformed
  16. Storm at sea!
  17. Aeneas saves his son and father, but at a cost
  18. Turnus at bay
  19. The Trojans reach Carthage
  20. Juno is reconciled
  21. Aeneas reaches the Elysian Fields
  22. Aeneas rescues his Father Anchises
  23. The death of Pallas
  24. Turnus the wolf
  25. Aeneas prepares to tell Dido his story
  26. Sea-nymphs
  27. Juno throws open the gates of war
  28. Laocoon warns against the Trojan horse
  29. The infant Camilla
  30. Aeneas tours the site of Rome
  31. The death of Priam
  32. The portals of sleep
  33. Aeneas learns the way to the underworld
  34. King Latinus grants the Trojans’ request
  35. In King Latinus’s hall
  36. The Harpy’s prophecy
  37. How Aeneas will know the site of his city
  38. Laocoon and the snakes
  39. The farmer’s starry calendar
  40. Signs of bad weather
  41. The Aeneid begins
  42. Rumour
  43. Aristaeus’s bees
  44. Jupiter’s prophecy
  45. King Mezentius meets his match
  46. Dido and Aeneas: Hell hath no fury …
  47. Turnus is lured away from battle
  48. Love is the same for all
  49. Hector visits Aeneas in a dream
  50. Virgil predicts a forthcoming birth and a new golden age
  51. The Trojan Horse enters the city
  52. Dido’s release
  53. The natural history of bees
  54. Aeneas joins the fray
  55. Help for Father Aeneas from Father Tiber
  56. Virgil’s poetic temple to Caesar
  57. Aeneas’s oath
  58. Fire strikes Aeneas’s fleet
  59. Anchises’s ghost invites Aeneas to visit the underworld
  60. Mourning for Pallas
  61. Virgil’s perils on the sea
  62. The farmer’s happy lot
  63. Aeneas comes to the Hell of Tartarus
  64. Omens for Princess Lavinia
  65. Palinurus the helmsman is lost
  66. Dido falls in love
  67. The death of Euryalus and Nisus
  68. The Trojans prepare to set sail from Carthage
  69. Aeneas’s vision of Augustus
  70. The Fury Allecto blows the alarm
  71. Aeneas arrives in Italy
  72. Mercury’s journey to Carthage
  73. The Syrian hostess