Caesar at war
29 BCE to 25 BCE
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Caesar at war
Virgil, Georgics IV.559-562
Author(s) of this publication: Kimberley Fowler
Publishing date: Fri, 07/29/2016 - 14:13
Visited: Tue, 06/06/2023 - 13:51
In this passage, coming near the end of the fourth Georgic, Virgil elevates Caesar Octavian’s military prowess, contrasting it to his own somewhat tranquil occupation. In addition to emphasising Octavian’s success and vigour (illustrated by the image of him “thundering” towards his enemy) in battle, Virgil also highlights his role as a law giver. That the conquered falling under Augustus’s laws are described as “willing” (volens) suggests that Octavian’s regime is not one of tyranny, but one which his subjects recognise as beneficial.
The poem draws an analogy between the world of battle and that of agriculture, with Octavian at battle in the East contrasted with the poet himself enjoying composing poetry in salubrious Naples (Parthenope). Jenkyns notes that despite Virgil’s honourific tone in his reference to Octavian, they both receive the same amount of space in the passage – four lines, and it is Virgil, not Octavian, who occupies its end by praising his surroundings. Virgil effectively entreats Caesar, advancing ever onwards towards imperial glory and immortality (IV.562), to understand the ordinary world of the farmer, and the greatness of the land. The poem’s wider political aims are grounded in the fact that the physical land of Italy itself is something worth loving and protecting (Jenkyns, Virgil’s Experience, p. 318-321). Octavian’s charge, therefore, is not just to expand the empire, but to defend and glorify the land which gave birth to the Roman people. As Griffin has argued, this Georgic qualifies the splendour of imperialism against artistic pursuits, recognising the centrality of military exploits in Roman honour culture, yet implying that art has a place in the emerging empire – the great role it can play for the imperial cause will be shown more fully in Virgil’s next work, the epic Aeneid (Griffin, “The Fourth Georgic,” p. 72). Interestingly, however, in Aeneid VI.852, Aeneas’s father will tell him that unlike the Greeks, Rome’s true “art” will not take the form of literature and music, but rather the law and order that it will bring to a chaotic world. By the time he writes his epic, then, Virgil seems to allow Octavian’s imperial mission to occupy the entire stage.