Sunday, February 20, 2011


Some Lines from Vergil's Eclogues

James Boswell, Life of Johnson (anno 1763, aetat. 54):
He dwelt upon Buchanan's elegant verses to Mary Queen of Scots, Nympha Caledoniae, &c., and spoke with enthusiasm of the beauty of Latin verse. 'All the modern languages (said he) cannot furnish so melodious a line as
'Formosam resonare doces Amarillida silvas'.'
The line is Vergil's, from the first Eclogue, line 5, which Johnson in a schoolboy exercise translated as "And the wood rings with Amarillis' name" (more literally "you teach the woods to echo 'beautiful Amaryllis'").

Thomas Babington Macaulay, letter to Thomas Flower Ellis (Ootacamund, July 1, 1834):
The last six books which Virgil had not fully corrected pleased me better than the first six. I like him best on Italian ground. I like his localities; his national enthusiasm; his frequent allusions to his country, its history, its antiquities, and its greatness. In this respect he often reminded me of Sir Walter Scott, with whom, in the general character of his mind, he had very little affinity. The "Georgics" pleased me better; the "Eclogues" best—the second and tenth above all. But I think that the finest lines in the Latin language are those five which begin:
Sepibus in nostris parvam te roscida mala—
I can not tell you how they struck me. I was amused to find that Voltaire pronounces that passage to be the finest in Virgil.
The five lines are 37-41 of Vergil's eighth Eclogue (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
Within our garden close I saw thee—I was guide for both—a little child, along with my mother, plucking dewy apples. My eleventh year finished, the next had just greeted me; from the ground I could now reach the frail boughs. As I saw, how I was lost! How a fatal frenzy swept me away!

saepibus in nostris parvam te roscida mala
(dux ego vester eram) vidi cum matre legentem.
alter ab undecimo tum me iam acceperat annus,
iam fragilis poteram a terra contingere ramos.
ut vidi, ut perii, ut me malus abstulit error!
Cf. Voltaire, article on Epic (Epopée) in his Dictionnaire Philosophique (tr. John Gorton, my comment in square brackets):
I think at least that we shall there [in the story of Dido in the Aeneid] recognise the author of those admirable verses which we meet with in his eclogues:—
Ut vidi, ut perii, ut me malus abstulit error!
I saw, I perish'd, yet indulged my pain. Dryden.
Je crois du moins y retrouver l'auteur de ces vers admirables qu'on rencontre dans ses églogues.
Vt vidi, ut perii, ut me malus abstulit error.
After a quick search I can't find any other passage in Voltaire that better matches Macaulay's reference. Voltaire mentions the same line in his essay on Style in the Dictionnaire Philosophique.

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