The utility of poetry was widely acknowledged by Roman authors of the late Republic and early Empire. The Augustan ideal of the vates, in particular, encapsulated “the belief that the poet has a serious contribution to make to the progress of his society, and that poetry and music have a regulatory and civilising effect” (Hardie 1986, 16). While Virgil at times also celebrates the importance of the poet’s task, these passages are regularly offset by others that appear to cast doubt upon the value of his art (see e.g. Putnam 1970; Johnson 1976, 99-114; Boyle 1986; Perkell 1989).
This paper argues that Virgil’s shifting representation of the poet in the Georgics was informed by Epicurean attitudes towards poetry, most notably the works of his teacher Philodemus, who called into question the moral utility of poetry and its efficacy as a mode of didaxis. Focusing on the didactic narrator’s relationship to Octavian, Virgil’s depiction of the archetypal poet Orpheus, and his selfrepresentation in the sphragis at the end of book 4, the paper aims to shed new light on Virgil’s conception of the nature and function of poetry. In the process, it reasserts the significance of philosophical intertexts within Virgil, while contributing to the broader ongoing debate about the relationship between form and function, message and medium in the Georgics.
This event is part of the Work in Progress Seminar Series.