chapter  5
37 Pages

POLITICS, POWER, AND PLAY: POLYPHONY IN VIRGIL'S GEORGICS AND OVID'S FASTI

Virgil, in his Georgics, and Ovid, in his Fasti, draw upon this Lucretian tradition - Virgil directly (Farrell 1991), and Ovid through Virgil. Both reproduce the massive framework of Lucretius' didactic epic (Virgil with four books, Ovid with a prospective twelve). Both, in their choice of themes, are profoundly serious. Both appropriate the traditions of Roman narrative epic. Let us briefly consider these last two points. Conte (1986: 144) has suggested that there was a 'Latin epic norm'. Roman epic should accord with 'the supremacy of the state as an embodiment of public good', with 'an acceptance of divine will as providential guidance', and with the 'historical ratification of heroic action'. Roman power and its ratification within history came to be the abiding concerns of Roman epic from Naevius and Ennius onwards. Virgil and Ovid invest their didactic poems both with the seriousness and with the intent of Roman narrative epic. They do this by reproducing, in their works on the land and on the calendar, the imperial and historical concerns of writers such as Naevius and Ennius. It is in this very manner that Virgil and Ovid seem to move beyond (but not better) Lucretius. Rather than replicating Lucretius' focus on the place of humans

EMPIRE AND AGRICULTURE Virgil's book of Georgics, composed between 36 and 29 BCE, is preeminently didactic. The metre is right and so is the subject matter - unashamedly and systematically technical. There is an addressee (or addressees: we shift between Augustus, Maecenas, and the general reader - cf. Schiesaro 1994) and the Georgics abound in illustrative panels (above all the 'Aristaeus epyllion' of 4.315-558). The Georgics differ in three notable ways from previous didactic poetry. Two of these I have already mentioned: scale and a focus on political matters. The third is voice. It is on voice that I will concentrate the bulk of my discussion of Virgil. Virgil's voice (offering the real unity to the Georgics) emerges above all from the polyphonic interplay of three registers: the public optimism of a committed Augustan; the less sanguine private register of the empathetic poet; and the playful and ironic stance handed down from the Alexandrians through Cicero (see Chapters 2 and 3).