Photo: Claude Lorrain (1604-1682), Pastoral Landscape. Credit: Yale University Art Gallery.
The Wealth of the Countryside
By Sara Chopra
Virgil, Georgics 2.458-542
Oh, farmers, all too lucky – if they could only know their own fortune! –
For whom Earth herself, queen of righteousness,
Pours out a simple living from the soil – so far from the clash of the sword!
If no lavish manor with high-and-mighty gates
Spits out a flood of guests from all of its bedrooms at dawn;
If they don’t spend their days gaping at ornate doorposts inlaid with luxurious tortoiseshell,
Or clothing tinged with gold, or Corinthian bronze;
If their pure-white wool remains unstained by Assyrian poison,
And their olive oil is safe from the reek of fragrance,
They know peace and quiet; a life free from deceit,
Rich with many blessings: they know the freedom of the wide-open countryside –
Caves, and natural lakes, and cool valleys,
The bellowing of the cattle, and sweet slumber beneath the branches –
They know woodlands, wild beasts’ dens
Where a tireless youth, no stranger to hardship, lies in wait;
They know devotion to the gods, reverence for their elders; amongst these men alone
Justice, bidding the earth farewell, left her final footprints.
But as for me – first, let the Muses, sweet above all others,
Whose rites I bear, driven on by a mighty love,
Take me in, showing me heaven’s starry paths:
The many settings of the sun and toils of the moon,
Where earthquakes begin, what makes the seas swell to great heights,
Breaking each barrier, before sinking back down into themselves
Why the winter sun rushes so quickly to wet itself in the ocean’s waves,
Or what gives the sluggish nights pause.
But if the cold blood that holds my heart
Keeps me from stepping foot into these realms of nature,
Then let me find happiness in the countryside, in the streams that flow in its valleys;
Let me love rivers and groves, known to no one.
Oh, for you, fields – for you, Spercheus’ waves – for you, Taygetus’ peaks, where Bacchants rave!
Oh, stand me up in Haemus’ icy hollows –
Let me find cover beneath the shadows of his great branches!
Happy is he who knows the reason for everything,
Having thrown all fear and unyielding fate
And the din of greedy Acheron beneath his feet.
And happy, too, is he who knows the rustic gods:
Pan and old Silvanus and the nymphs, all sisters.
No power over the people, no royal purple can sway him,
Nor the feud that sets brothers at odds,
The Dacian returning from the scheming Danube,
The greatness of Rome’s riches, nor kingdoms on the cusp of ruin;
He neither envies the haves, nor pities the have-nots.
Whichever fruits his branches offer, whatever harvest his fields have borne,
Of their own free will, he gathers it all, and he knows no iron laws,
no forum swarmed by insanity, no public records.
Others crash through unknown waters with oars
Or rush upon the sword; they enter palaces and cross the thresholds of kings –
One man, bringing ruin, seeks out a city and its luckless homes
To drink from a gem-laden goblet and sleep beneath Tyrian purple;
Another piles up his riches, brooding over buried gold.
This one’s struck speechless before the rostra; that one gapes, carried away by applause –
The cheers of the everyman and the elite, spilling from each seat.
These men find joy in drenching themselves in the blood of their brothers
As they trade their beloved hearths for exile,
Pursuing a new homeland beneath an unknown sun.
The farmer takes his plough to the earth –
It’s his year’s work, nourishing his homeland, feeding his young grandsons,
Fueling his herds of cattle and worthy young bulls.
He knows no rest, and the season weighs down his branches with fruit,
Or there’s a new calf in the stables, or Ceres’ stalky sheaves
Overload the furrows with their harvest, straining the walls of the granary.
Winter arrives: in the olive-mill, the Sicyonian berry is crushed;
The pigs caper home, rotund with acorns; the grove gives way to fruit;
Autumn puts forth its cornucopia, and, overlooking the land,
Tender grapes bake on sun-bathed rocks.
All the while, his sweet children hold fast to his kisses;
His household, unblemished, guards its purity; his cows drop their milky udders
And amidst the fair grasses, fat kids wrestle,
Butting against one another, horn to horn.
He himself enjoys a holiday, sprawled across the field;
Around the fire, his friends wreathe the wine-bowl,
While he pours out an offering and calls to you, Bacchus,
And on an elm tree, he sets up a contest of the spear for the cowherds,
Or watches them bare their hardened bodies for the rustic wrestling-ground.
They say the Sabines of long ago once led a life like this one,
As did Remus and his brother – from there, of course, Etruria grew into its greatness,
And Rome became the most beautiful of all,
Surrounding her seven hills with a single wall.
Before even the reign of Dictaean Jupiter,
Before a godless people feasted on slaughtered bulls,
Golden Saturn led this life here on earth –
Before men came to know the war-trumpet’s wail,
Before they learned the ring of the sword against the anvil.
But we’ve more than made our way across this great expanse –
It’s time to unfetter our horses’ sweaty necks.
In this final passage of Book 2 of his Georgics, Virgil presents his reader with an ode to the farmer, extolling the virtues of country living. However, as much as these closing lines celebrate the joys of an agrarian lifestyle, they equally express the poet’s distaste for the corruption that has taken hold of his city, Rome. Throughout the passage, Virgil draws comparison between rural and urban without subtlety—he picks plain wool over exotic “poison” dyes, shade-giving branches over power-packed fasces, and the purity of a simple life over the bustle and chaos of an urban existence. As they bring the reader to the halfway point of the poem, these lines put forth their own version of the “city mouse, country mouse” fable, pushing aside the lost senses and loose morals of the socially diseased city in favor of a different type of fortune—the wealth of the countryside.
Sara Chopra (College ’22) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Classical Studies (Languages and Literature), Ancient History, and Consumer Psychology.
Original Latin Text
O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint,
agricolas! quibus ipsa procul discordibus armis
fundit humo facilem uictum iustissima tellus. 460
si non ingentem foribus domus alta superbis
mane salutantum totis uomit aedibus undam,
nec uarios inhiant pulchra testudine postis
inlusasque auro uestis Ephyreiaque aera,
alba neque Assyrio fucatur lana ueneno, 465
nec casia liquidi corrumpitur usus oliui;
at secura quies et nescia fallere uita,
diues opum uariarum, at latis otia fundis,
speluncae uiuique lacus, at frigida tempe
mugitusque boum mollesque sub arbore somni 470
non absunt; illic saltus ac lustra ferarum
et patiens operum exiguoque adsueta iuuentus,
sacra deum sanctique patres; extrema per illos
Iustitia excedens terris uestigia fecit.
Me uero primum dulces ante omnia Musae, 475
quarum sacra fero ingenti percussus amore,
accipiant caelique uias et sidera monstrent,
defectus solis uarios lunaeque labores;
unde tremor terris, qua ui maria alta tumescant
obicibus ruptis rursusque in se ipsa residant, 480
quid tantum Oceano properent se tingere soles
hiberni, uel quae tardis mora noctibus obstet.
sin has ne possim naturae accedere partis
frigidus obstiterit circum praecordia sanguis,
rura mihi et rigui placeant in uallibus amnes, 485
flumina amem siluasque inglorius. o ubi campi
Spercheosque et uirginibus bacchata Lacaenis
Taygeta! o qui me gelidis conuallibus Haemi
sistat, et ingenti ramorum protegat umbra!
felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas 490
atque metus omnis et inexorabile fatum
subiecit pedibus strepitumque Acherontis auari:
fortunatus et ille deos qui nouit agrestis
Panaque Siluanumque senem Nymphasque sorores.
illum non populi fasces, non purpura regum 495
flexit et infidos agitans discordia fratres,
aut coniurato descendens Dacus ab Histro,
non res Romanae perituraque regna; neque ille
aut doluit miserans inopem aut inuidit habenti.
quos rami fructus, quos ipsa uolentia rura 500
sponte tulere sua, carpsit, nec ferrea iura
insanumque forum aut populi tabularia uidit.
sollicitant alii remis freta caeca, ruuntque
in ferrum, penetrant aulas et limina regum;
hic petit excidiis urbem miserosque penatis, 505
ut gemma bibat et Sarrano dormiat ostro;
condit opes alius defossoque incubat auro;
hic stupet attonitus rostris, hunc plausus hiantem
per cuneos geminatus enim plebisque patrumque
corripuit; gaudent perfusi sanguine fratrum, 510
exsilioque domos et dulcia limina mutant
atque alio patriam quaerunt sub sole iacentem.
agricola incuruo terram dimouit aratro:
hic anni labor, hinc patriam paruosque nepotes
sustinet, hinc armenta boum meritosque iuuencos. 515
nec requies, quin aut pomis exuberet annus
aut fetu pecorum aut Cerealis mergite culmi,
prouentuque oneret sulcos atque horrea uincat.
uenit hiems: teritur Sicyonia baca trapetis,
glande sues laeti redeunt, dant arbuta siluae; 520
et uarios ponit fetus autumnus, et alte
mitis in apricis coquitur uindemia saxis.
interea dulces pendent circum oscula nati,
casta pudicitiam seruat domus, ubera uaccae
lactea demittunt, pinguesque in gramine laeto 525
inter se aduersis luctantur cornibus haedi.
ipse dies agitat festos fususque per herbam,
ignis ubi in medio et socii cratera coronant,
te libans, Lenaee, uocat pecorisque magistris
uelocis iaculi certamina ponit in ulmo, 530
corporaque agresti nudant praedura palaestra.
hanc olim ueteres uitam coluere Sabini,
hanc Remus et frater; sic fortis Etruria creuit
scilicet et rerum facta est pulcherrima Roma,
septemque una sibi muro circumdedit arces. 535
ante etiam sceptrum Dictaei regis et ante
impia quam caesis gens est epulata iuuencis,
aureus hanc uitam in terris Saturnus agebat;
necdum etiam audierant inflari classica, necdum
impositos duris crepitare incudibus ensis. 540
Sed nos immensum spatiis confecimus aequor,
et iam tempus equum fumantia soluere colla.