Virgil’s Rumor and “Fake News”

Publii Virgilii Maronis Opera cum quinque vulgatis commentariis expolitissimisque figuris atque imaginibus nuper per Sebastianum Brant superadditis (Strasbourg: Johannis Grieninger, 1502)

By: Ryan Cooper

 

Aeneid 4.173-188

Extemplo Libyae magnas it Fama per urbes

Fama, malum qua non aliud velocius ullum;

mobilitate viget, viresque adquirit eundo,

parva metu primo, mox sese attollit in auras,

ingrediturque solo, et caput inter nubila condit.

Illam Terra parens, ira inritata deorum,

extremam (ut perhibent) Coeo Enceladoque sororem

progenuit, pedibus celerem et pernicibus alis,

monstrum horrendum, ingens, cui, quot sunt corpore plumae

tot vigiles oculi subter, mirabile dictu,

tot linguae, totidem ora sonant, tot subrigit aures.

Nocte volat caeli medio terraeque per umbram,

stridens, nec dulci declinat lumina somno;

luce sedet custos aut summi culmine tecti,

turribus aut altis, et magnas territat urbes;

tam ficti pravique tenax, quam nuntia veri.

 

Immediately Rumor went through the great cities of Libya.

Rumor, of which no evil moves faster:

It flourishes with quick movement and gains strength as it goes,

With little fear at first, it then rushes into the air

And ponders along the ground, its head above in the clouds.

Mother Earth bore it, having been vexed in anger against the gods,

Last born, as they say, the sister to Coea and Encelades.

She is swift of foot and wing,

She is a horrendous monster, huge, covered in feathers.

And, it is incredible to say, with just as many eyes,

As many tongues, as many mouths sound out, so many ears arise.

By night she flies unseen through the shadow between heaven and

Earth, and does not close her eyes in sweet slumber;

By light, she sits as guardian either atop the

Highest roof or on the towers, and she constantly scares great cities.

She is tenacious in falsehood and misinformation, and yet can be the messenger of truth.

 

Few would dispute that misinformation and the media are in a spotlight of attention right now, and I’ve often thought about Virgil’s depiction of Fama in Book IV of Aeneid, and just how closely related his image is to that of the rumors and misinformation of the current world. The parallel between rumor at night and the gaps in media reporting are astounding; I’m constantly struck by both the vivid depiction as well Virgil’s incredible flow. The passage “monstrum horrendum ingens” is in itself a huge, horrendous monster when you attempt to say it out loud and elide. I’ve tried to both stay true to the vivid picture Virgil portrays while also highlighting the rapid development and proportions of his monster.

 

Ryan Cooper is a Senior at the University of Utah’s College of Humanities. He is double-majoring in Classics and Philosophy with minors in Classical Civilization and Psychology. 

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