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D. The Burning of the Aeneid

D. The Burning of the Aeneid

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the aspect of my own fate can now be reckoned among those metamorphosed

figures. For that aspect has on a sudden become quite di√erent from what it

was before—a cause of tears now, though once a joy.

b. Tristia 1.7.15–26, 35–40

Haec ego discedens, sicut bene multa meorum,

ipse mea posui maestus in igne manu.

Utque cremasse suum fertur sub stipite natum

Thestias et melior matre fuisse soror.

Sic ego non meritos mecum peritura libellos

imposui rapidis viscera nostra rogis:

vel quod eram Musas, ut crimina nostra, perosus,

vel quod adhuc crescens et rude carmen erat.

Quae quoniam non sunt penitus sublata, sed extant—

pluribus exemplis scripta fuisse reor—

nunc precor ut vivant et non ignava legentem

otia delectent admoneantque mei.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

‘‘Orba parente suo quicumque volumina tangis,

his saltem vestra detur in urbe locus.

Quoque magis faveas, haec non sunt edita ab ipso,

sed quasi de domini funere rapta sui.

Quicquid in his igitur vitii rude carmen habebit,

emendaturus, si licuisset, eram.’’






[15] These verses [the Metamorphoses] upon my departure, like so much that

was mine, in sorrow I placed with my own hand in the fire. Just as Thestius’s

daughter [Althaea] burned her own son, they say, in burning the branch, and

proved a better sister than mother, so I placed the innocent books consigned

with me to death, [20] my very vitals, upon the devouring pyre, because I had

come to hate the Muses as my accusers or because the poem itself was as yet

half grown and rough. These verses were not utterly destroyed; they still

exist—several copies were made, I think—[25] and now I pray that they may

live, that thus my industrious leisure may bring pleasure to the reader and

remind him of me. . . . [35] ‘‘All you who touch these rolls [of the Metamorphoses] bereft of their father, to them at least let a place be granted in your

city [Rome]. And your indulgence will be all the greater because these were

not published by their master, but were rescued from what might be called his

funeral. And so whatever defect this rough poem may have [40] I would have

corrected, had it been permitted me.’’



c. Tristia 2.63–64, 555–56

Inspice maius opus, quod adhuc sine fine tenetur,

in non credendos corpora versa modos

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dictaque sunt nobis, quamvis manus ultima coeptis

defuit, in facies corpora versa novas.

Examine[, Augustus,] the greater work [Metamorphoses], which is still kept

unfinished, the book of figures transformed in ways unbelievable. . . . I sang

also, though my attempt lacked the final touch, of bodies changed into

new forms.

d. Tristia 3.14.19–24

Sunt quoque mutatae, ter quinque volumina, formae,

carmina de domini funere rapta sui.

illud opus potuit, si non prius ipse perissem,

certius a summa nomen habere manu:

nunc incorrectum populi pervenit in ora,

in populi quicquam si tamen ore mei est.

There are also thrice five books on changing forms, verses snatched from the

funeral of their master. That work, had I not perished beforehand, might have

gained a more secure name from my finishing hand: but now unrevised it has

come upon men’s lips—if anything of mine is on their lips.

2. Pliny the Elder, Historia naturalis 7.114

See above, I.C.8. (Text and translation: Pliny the Elder, Natural History, vol. 2,

ed. and trans. H. Rackham, LCL 352 [1942])

Divus Augustus carmina Vergilii cremari contra testamenti eius verecundiam vetuit, maiusque ita vati testimonium contigit quam si ipse sua probavisset.

The divine Augustus overrode the modesty of Virgil’s will and forbade the

burning of his poems, and thus the bard achieved a stronger testimony than if

he had commended his own works himself. (modified by MP)

3. Gaius Sulpicius Apollinaris

(first half of second century)

Sulpicius was a scholar and teacher among whose students were Aulus Gellius

and the emperor Pertinax. The metrical summaries of Terence’s plays that are

extant under Sulpicius’s name are agreed to be his work. The circumstances

surrounding the poems on the preservation and on the contents of the Aeneid



that have been ascribed to him are more embroiled. We have two versions of a

three-distich poem on the burning of the epic that is probably his.

a. Aelius Donatus, VSD 38

See above, II.A.1, and below, IV.D.2.

Donatus ascribes the three distichs to one Sulpicius of Carthage, who is

probably identical with Sulpicius Apollinaris. The same ascription recurs in

Donatus auctus (see above, II.A.37) as well as in the vitae by Domenico di

Bandino (see above, II.A.35) and Sicco Polenton II (see above, II.A.38). In

the Vita Probi (see above, II.A.7) the poem is ascribed to Servius Varus, which

is likely to be a mistake for Marius, or Maurus, Servius (see below, IV.B).

(Discussion: L. Holford-Strevens, Aulus Gellius: An Antonine Scholar and His

Achievement, 2nd ed. [Oxford, 2003], 83–84) (Text: VVA 35) (JZ)

Iusserat haec rapidis aboleri carmina flammis

Vergilius, Phrygium quae cecinere ducem.

Tucca vetat Variusque; simul tu, maxime Caesar,

non sinis et Latiae consulis historiae.

Infelix gemino cecidit prope Pergamon igni,

et paene est alio Troia cremata rogo [see below, II.D.3.b].

Virgil had given instructions that it was to be destroyed by consuming fire, the

poem that sang of the Phrygian prince. Tucca and likewise Varius refuse; you,

greatest Caesar, do not allow the destruction; you look out for the narrative

about Latium. Luckless Pergamum nearly fell in a second fire, and Troy was

almost consumed on another pyre. (DWO and JZ)

The first two distichs are also quoted at the conclusion of the Vita Probi (see

above, II.A.7 [VVA 200]).

b. Anthologia Latina

For further details see D. R. Stuart, ‘‘The Source and the Extent of Petrarch’s

Knowledge of the Life of Vergil,’’ Classical Philology 12 (1917), 365–404, and

(on II.D.3.a–b as well as incipit ‘‘Diruta quae flammis olim Maro Pergama

dixit’’) W. Schetter, ‘‘Drei Epigramme über die Rettung der Aeneis,’’ in idem,

Kaiserzeit und Spätantike: Kleine Schriften 1957–1992, ed. O. Zwierlein, Sonderband zur Zeitschrift Hermes und den Hermes-Einzelschriften (Stuttgart,

1994), 466–74. (Text: AL 1.2, 121, no. 653)

Carmina Vergilius Phrygium prodentia Martem

Secum fatali iusserat igne mori.

Tucca negat, Varius prohibet, superaddite Caesar

Nomen in Aenea non sinis esse nefas.



O quam paene iterum geminasti funere funus,

Troia, bis interitus causa futura tui.

Virgil had ordered that his songs recording the war at Troy succumb along

with himself to the fires of fate. Tucca says no; Varius forbids; you, Caesar, in

addition do not allow a crime to be committed against the name of Aeneas. O,

Troy, how nearly you again doubled death with death, to be twice the impetus

for your own destruction. (MP)

4. Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae 17.10.5–7

See above, I.C.27, especially I.C.27.j (for 17.10.2–4).

The philosopher Favorinus is speaking. (Text and translation: Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, ed. and trans. J. C. Rolfe, vol. 3, LCL 212 [1927])

‘‘Nam quae reliquit perfecta expolitaque quibusque inposuit census atque

dilectus sui supremam manum, omni poeticae venustatis laude florent; sed

quae procrastinata sunt ab eo, ut post recenserentur, et absolvi, quoniam

mors praeverterat, nequiverunt, nequaquam poetarum elegantissimi nomine atque iudicio digna sunt. Itaque cum morbo obpressus adventare mortem viderat, petivit oravitque a suis amicissimis inpense, ut Aeneida, quam

nondum satis elimavisset, adolerent.’’

‘‘For the parts that he left perfected and polished, to which his judgment and

approval had applied the final hand, enjoy the highest praise for poetical

beauty; but those parts [of the Aeneid ] that he postponed, with the intention

of revising them later, but was unable to finish because he was overtaken by

death, are in no way worthy of the fame and taste of the most elegant of poets.

It was for that reason, when he was laid low by disease and saw that death was

near, that he begged and earnestly besought his friends to burn the Aeneid,

which he had not yet su≈ciently revised.’’

5. Aelius Donatus, VSD 39–40

See above, II.A.1, and below, IV.D.2. (Text: VVA 36–37)

Egerat cum Vario, priusquam Italia decederet, ut si quid sibi accidisset,

Aeneida combureret; [a]t is ita facturum se pernegarat. Igitur in extrema

valetudine assidue scrinia desideravit, crematurus ipse; verum nemine offerente, nihil quidem nominatim de ea cavit. Ceterum eidem Vario ac simul

Tuccae scripta sua sub ea conditione legavit, ne quid ederent, quod non a se

editum esset.

Before leaving Italy, Virgil had arranged with Varius to burn the Aeneid if

anything befell him; but [Varius] had insisted that he would not do so. For

this reason, when his health was failing, [Virgil] demanded his scroll cases



earnestly, intending to burn them himself; but no one brought them, and he

gave no precise stipulations in this matter. For the rest, he bequeathed his

writings to the aforementioned Varius and Tucca, on the condition that they

publish nothing that he himself had not revised. (DWO and JZ)

6. Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.24.6

See below, IV.C.

Evangelus is speaking to Symmachus. (Text: J. Willis, ed., 2nd ed. [Leipzig,


‘‘Immo pueri cum essemus, Symmache, sine iudicio mirabamur, inspicere

autem vitia nec per magistros nec per aetatem licebat. Quae tamen non

pudenter quisquam negabit, cum ipse confessus sit. Qui enim moriens

poema suum legavit igni, quid nisi famae suae vulnera posteritati subtrahenda curavit?’’

‘‘On the other hand, Symmachus[, said Evangelus], when we were boys we

had an uncritical admiration for Virgil, because our masters, as well as the

inexperience of our youth, did not allow us to investigate his faults. That he

had faults no one will honestly deny, for he himself admitted as much. As he

was dying he bequeathed his poem [the Aeneid] to the flames; and why should

he have done this unless he was anxious to keep from posterity whatever might

be injurious to his reputation?’’ (Macrobius, The Saturnalia, trans. P. V. Davies

[New York, 1969], modified by MP)


1. Pliny the Elder, Historia naturalis 13.83

See above, I.C.8.

By attesting to the prevalence of autographs of Virgil nearly a century after

his death, Pliny o√ers tangible proof of his popularity. (Text and translation:

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, vol. 4, ed. and trans. H. Rackham, LCL 370


Ita sint longinqua monimenta: Tiberi Gaique Gracchorum manus apud

Pomponium Secundum vatem civemque vidi annos fere post ducentos; iam

vero Ciceronis ac Divi Augusti Vergilique saepenumero videmus.

This process [of making paper] may enable records to last a long time; at the

house of the poet and most distinguished citizen Pomponius Secundus, I have

seen documents in the hand of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus written nearly

two hundred years ago; while as for autographs of Cicero, of the divine Augustus, and of Virgil, we see them repeatedly. (modified by MP)



2. Quintilian, Institutio oratoria 1.7.20

See above, I.C.19. (Text and translation: Quintilian, The Orator’s Education,

ed. and trans. D. A. Russell, vol. 1, LCL 124 [2001])

Quo modo et ipsum et Vergilium quoque scripsisse manus eorum docent.

That [Cicero] himself and Virgil both used this spelling is shown by their


3. Aulus Gellius

See above, I.C.27. (Text and translation, items a and b: Aulus Gellius, Attic

Nights, ed. and trans. J. C. Rolfe, vol. 1, LCL 195 [1927])

a. Noctes Atticae 1.21.1–2

Versus istos ex Georgicis Vergilii plerique omnes sic legunt

At sapor indicium faciet manifestus et ora

tristia temptantum sensu torquebit amaro [2.246–47].

Hyginus autem, non hercle ignobilis grammaticus, in Commentariis quae in

Vergilium fecit, confirmat et perseverat, non hoc a Vergilio relictum, sed

quod ipse invenerit in libro qui fuerit ex domo atque ex familia Vergilii:

. . . et ora

Tristia temptantum sensus torquebit amaror . . . [Georgics 2.246–47]

Nearly everyone reads these lines from the Georgics of Virgil in this way:

At sapor indicium faciet manifestus et ora

tristia temptantum sensu torquebit amaro.

[But the taste will tell its tale full plainly, and with its bitter

flavor will distort the testers’ soured mouths.]

Hyginus, however, on my word no obscure grammarian, in the Commentaries

that he wrote on Virgil, declares and insists that it was not this that Virgil left,

but what he himself found in a copy that had come from the home and family

of the poet:

et ora tristia temptantum sensus torquebit amaror . . .

[But the bitterness of the sensation will distort the testers’ soured mouths.]

b. Noctes Atticae 2.3.5

Sed quoniam ‘‘aheni’’ quoque exemplo usi sumus, venit nobis in memoriam

Fidum Optatum, multi nominis Romae grammaticum, ostendisse mihi librum Aeneidos secundum mirandae vetustatis, emptum in Sigillariis viginti

aureis, quem ipsius Vergili fuisse credebatur.

But apropos of the inclusion of ahenum among my examples [of authors’

insertion of the aspirate h], I recall that Fidus Optatus, a grammarian of



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