Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Roman Studies


A.G. McKay


In this dissertation I have offered studies on selected aspects of the third book of the Georgics, the second 'published' work of Vergil. The Georgics is a didactic poem in four books in which Vergil presents a discussion of various aspects of farming, advice on the maintenance of the land, the planting of crops with special attention to the cultivation of the vine and the olive, and the keeping of livestock and bees. At various points in his presentation, Vergil suspends his didactic approach to offer comment on contemporary problems, the political corruption and, chaos evident throughout all of Italy. These editorial intrusions by the concerned poet have prompted modern critics to transcend the limited critical approach which views the Georgics as nothing more than an agricultural manual in verse, and to appreciate the broader philosophic design of the poem. Within the technical framework of his poem Vergil is offering a vision of civilization with important moral and political implications for his age.

In spite of this enlightened critical approach to the poem as a whole, the third book of the Georgics has suffered from scholarly neglect. Structurally its position in the poem is crucial: Vergil abandons the preoccupations with the vegetable world and inanimate Nature which characterize books I and II, and turns to animate representatives of Nature, cattle, horses, sheep, and goats, whose lives are marked by passionate involvement and turnmoil. The principal themes of book III are love and death, and although Vergil never directly abandons his preoccupation with animals, I believe that he does intend his discussion to have important moral and political implications for men as well. In my study of the third Georgic I have emphasized a vital political direction for Georgic III: Vergil uses his agricultural material as metaphor and the principal representatives of the domestic agrarian world as symbols in his vision of concern for the fate of Rome and all of Italy.

I have begun my study with a consideration of the changing agricultural patterns in the Italian peninsula during the last two centuries of the Republic in order to expose the glaring discrepancy between patterns of land utilization in peninsular Italy in the late Republic and the simple, subsistence farming which Vergil discusses in the Georgics. Vergil was aware of the agricultural conditions of his age and obviously did not intend his treatise to be interpreted literally as a technical manual. A close comparison of his technical material with the agricultural discussion provided by Varro in the De Re Rustica, Vergil's principal source for his agricultural precepts, offers strong evidence of a basic disparity between the sophisticated artistic presentation of the third Georgic and the uninspiring prosaic aspects of his subject matter, and additional proof that Vergil intends a broader design for the third Georgic, a philosophic statement about man and the world.

This broad direction is confirmed by a consideration of the echoes of Lucretius' philosophic poem, the De Rerum Natura, which we find in Georgic III. Lucretius introduced a discussion of sex and plague into his own poem and Vergil profits from the example of his predecessor. But never resorts to slavish imitation, but leaves behind Lucretius' preoccupation with abstract philosophical principles to offer his own vision of hope in a living ruler, Octavian.

The ultimate message of Georgie III is intrinsically connected with the final book of the series. With his discussion of apiculture Vergil offers a vision of order, control, and political community which cancels his earlier concerns with disorder and divisive passion.

In the epyllion which concludes the poem, Vergil turns directly to the world of men, Aristaeus, the farmer, and Orpheus, the poet. With the miraculous tale of bougonia, the resurrection of a swarm of healthy new bees from the rotting corpse of a steer, Vergil offers a dramatic representation of regeneration which dispels the pessimistic obsession with death with which book III concludes, and signals optimistic hope for the political future of Rome. The tragic story of Orpheus, on the other hand, confirms Vergil's earlier judgment on passion and its destructive hold on the lives of men. At the same time, with the figure of Orpheus, Vergil considers the role of the poet in society and raises an issue which is not resolved concerning the possibilities for creative expression in the new regime.

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