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Playing the Farmer

Playing the Farmer: Representations of Rural Life in Vergil’s Georgics

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Playing the Farmer
    Book Description:

    Playing the Farmerreinvigorates our understanding of Vergil'sGeorgics, a vibrant work written by Rome's premier epic poet shortly before he began theAeneid.Setting theGeorgicsin the social context of its day, Philip Thibodeau for the first time connects the poem's idyllic, and idealized, portrait of rustic life and agriculture with changing attitudes toward the countryside in late Republican and early Imperial Rome. He argues that what has been seen as a straightforward poem about agriculture is in fact an enchanting work of fantasy that elevated, and sometimes whitewashed, the realities of country life. Drawing from a wide range of sources, Thibodeau shows how Vergil's poem reshaped agrarian ideals in its own time, and how it influenced Roman poets, philosophers, agronomists, and orators.Playing the Farmerbrings a fresh perspective to a work that was praised by Dryden as "the best poem by the best poet."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95025-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [viii]-[ix])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Outside of the profession of classics, readers who are still on familiar terms with Vergil’sGeorgicsare no longer easy to find. It was not always thus: in ancient Rome, emperors, knights, and senators quoted the poem in public, scholars taught it in the schools, and poets of every stripe drew on it for inspiration.¹ There was a high-end trade in autograph manuscripts of the poem, with texts featuring corrections in the author’s own hand, purportedly straight from the Vergil estate’s archives; no doubt these were all the work of enterprising forgers, but they still provide an indication of interest...

  4. ONE Agricolae
    (pp. 17-37)

    What kind of person counted as a farmer—anagricola—for the Romans? We might be tempted to apply the term to anyone who worked the soil with their hands. But the slaves on whose labor Roman farmsteads depended did not bear that designation. Clearly then, working the soil was not enough; cultivators had to be freeborn in order to qualify. One group of the freeborn who did merit the term were the class of self-sufficient peasants and yeoman farmers. But now what about their social superiors, the aristocratic owners of large slave-run plantations who were notoriously loath to dirty...

  5. TWO Playing the Farmer
    (pp. 38-73)

    At the end of the last chapter, we observed that theGeorgicsregularly treats its addressee as anagricola, and on occasion explicitly identifies him as such. To the extent then that the reader identifies with the addressee, the poem provides him or her with the imaginary experience of being a farmer. For the most part that experience did not correspond to anything in the daily routine of Vergil’s ancient Roman readers (to say nothing of his modern ones). Accordingly, I shall refer to that experience as a fantasy, one in which the reader “plays the farmer.” That fantasy is...

  6. THREE Nobility in Rustication
    (pp. 74-115)

    As Vergil began work on theGeorgicsin 36 b.c.e., Rome was still recovering from a series of convulsions that represented the ongoing fallout from Julius Caesar’s assassination. Only seven years had passed since the last wave of proscriptions, when Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus had conspired to mark out hundreds of prominent men—nearly all wealthy landowners—for death. Six years had passed since the bloody battle of Philippi and the suicides of Brutus and Cassius, four years since the Perusine War, a civil conflict fought on Italian soil, and only one since the final defeat, off the coast of...

  7. FOUR A Protreptic to Agronomy
    (pp. 116-151)

    If theGeorgicsis a didactic poem about farming, it is a highly idiosyncratic one, with an approach to teaching and the presentation of its subject that finds no ready parallel in ancient letters. Vergil’s work is, in comparison to other ancient treatises on agronomy, enormously selective, omitting or giving short shrift to a host of essential topics such as profit and expense, the raising of donkeys and swine, farm buildings, and the management of agricultural laborers. Even as the poem skips over necessary matters, it gives pride of place to irrelevant ones, indulging long tangents on subjects of no...

  8. FIVE To Enchant Readers
    (pp. 152-201)

    In this chapter we return one more time to Seneca’saperçuabout theGeorgics, this time to linger on its first clause: to enchant readers. The phrase may seem like a casual one, the ancient equivalent of a book reviewer’s blurb, yet the opposition it invokes takes us straight back to ancient discussions about the essential purpose of poetry. Two views regarding this purpose held sway in antiquity, showing a remarkable degree of persistence over time.¹ According to the first, it was the chief business of poetry to edify or instruct its audiences. This instruction (didaskalia) was understood in a...

  9. SIX The Reception of the Georgics in Early Imperial Rome
    (pp. 202-244)

    And so one might feel about the text we have been describing: that it would be interesting to see it alive and out in the world, as a creature no longer tethered, so to speak, to the designs and intentions of its author, but exposed to the contingencies of reception, the readings and misreadings, eulogies, acknowledgments, allusions, parodies, criticisms, and denunciations that it was driven by its special fate to undergo. In the case of theGeorgicsthere is no shortage of evidence for that adventure, and a particularly rich collection can be found in the works that represent the...

  10. APPENDIX ONE. Vergil’s Economic Status
    (pp. 245-247)
  11. APPENDIX TWO. Early Readership of the Georgics
    (pp. 248-256)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 257-290)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 291-304)
  14. General Index
    (pp. 305-310)
  15. Index Locorum
    (pp. 311-326)