(70 - 19 a.C.)


Virgil was a great poet and artist
of word and rhythm.


from Aeneid

Namque sub ingenti lustrat dum singula templo
Reginam opperiens, dum quæ fortuna sit urbi
Artificumque manus inter se operumque laborem
Miratur, videt iliacas ex ordine pugnas
Bellaque iam fama totum volgata per orbem.
Atridas Priamumque et sævom ambobus Achillem.
Constitit et lacrimans: Quis iam locus, inquit, Achate,
Quæ regio in terris nostri non plena laboris?
En Priamus! Sunt hic etiam sua præmia laudi,
Sunt lacrimæ rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
Solve metus; feret haec aliquam tibi fama salutem.


Sri Aurobindo’s remarks:

«Virgil’s Aeneid, though in a way finished, did not receive those last touches which sometimes make all the difference between perfection and the approach to it, and we feel too, not a failure of art, — for that is a defect which could never be alleged against Virgil, — but a relative thinning of the supporting power and inspiration. Still the consummate artistic intelligence of the poet has been so steadily at work, so complete from the very inception, it has so thought out and harmonised its idea from the beginning, that a fine and firm total effect is still given.»

«I don’t at all agree that Virgil’s verse fills one with the sense of the Unknown Country — he is not in the least a mystic poet, he was too Latin and Roman for that. Majestic sadness, word-magic and vision need not have anything to do with the psychic; the first can come from the higher mind and the noble parts of the vital, the others from almost anywhere. I do not mean to say there was no psychic touch at all anywhere in Virgil. And what is this unknown country? There are plenty of unknown countries (other that the psychic worlds) to which many poets give us some kind of access or sense of their existence behind much more than Virgil.»

«I think what Belloc meant in crediting Virgil with the power to give us a sense of the Unknown Country was that Virgil specialises in a kind of wistful vision of things across great distances in space or time, which renders them dream-like, gives them an air of ideality. He mentions as an instance the passage (perhaps in the sixth book of the Aeneid) where the swimmers sees all Italy from the top of a wave

prospexsi Italiam summa sublimis ad unda.

I dare say —

Sternitur infelix alieno volnere caelumque
aspicit et dulcis moriens reminiscitur Argos
tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore.

belong to the same category. To an ordinary Roman Catholic mind like Belloc’s, which is not conscious of the subtle hierarchy of unseen worlds, whatever is vaguely or remotely appealing — in short, beautifully misty — is mystical, and “revelatory” of the native land of the soul. Add to this that Virgil’s rhythm is exquisitely euphonious, and it is no wonder Belloc should feel as if the very harps of heaven were echoed by the Mantuan. […] The lines quoted from Virgil are exceedingly moving and poetic, but it is pathos of the life planes, not anything more — Virgil would have stared if he had been told that his ripae ulterioris was revelatory of the native land of the soul. These sentimental modern intellectuals are terrible: they will read anything into anything; that is because they have no touch on the Truth, so they make up for it by a gambolling fancy.»


O passi graviora, dabit deus his quoque finem…
…forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit

is only incidentally connected with the storm and wreck of the ships of Aeneas; its appeal is separate and universal and for all time; it is again the human soul that is speaking moved by a greater and deeper inspiration of cosmic feeling with the thought only as a mould into which the feeling is poured and the thinking mind only as a passive instrument.»

«Largior hic campos aether et lumine vestit
Purpureo, solemque suum, sua sidera norunt.

[…] Purple is a light of the Vital. It may have been one of the vital heavens he was thinking of. The ancients saw the vital heavens as the highest and most of the religions also have done the same.»

«If I had to select the line in European poetry which most suggests an almost direct descent from the Overmind consciousness there might come first Virgil’s line about “the touch of tears in mortal things”:

Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.»

«The context of Virgil’s line

Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt

has nothing to do with and cannot detract from its greatness and its overhead character. If we limit its meaning so as to unify it with what goes before, if we want Virgil to say in it only, “Oh yes, even in Carthage, so distant a place, these foreigners too can sympathise and weep over what has happened in Troy and get touched by human misfortune,” then the line will lose all its value and we would only have to admire the strong turn and recherché suggestiveness of its expression. Virgil certainly did not mean it like that; he starts indeed by stressing the generality of the fame of Troy and the interest taken everywhere in her misfortunes but then he asses from the particularity of this idea and suddenly rises from it to a feeling of the universality of mortal sorrow and suffering and of the chord of human sympathy and participation which responds to it from all who share that mortality. He rises indeed much higher than that and goes much deeper: he has felt a brooding cosmic sense of these things, gone into the depth of the soul which answers to them and drawn from it the inspired and inevitable language and rhythm which came down to it from above to give this pathetic perception an immortal body. Lines like these seldom depend upon their context, they rise from it as if a single Himalayan peak from a range of low hills or even from a flat plain. They have to be looked at by themselves, valued for their own sake, felt in their own independent greatness.»