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Pestilence and the Body Politic in Latin Literature$
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Hunter H. Gardner

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198796428

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198796428.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 23 July 2021

Plague, Civil War, and Epochal Evolution in Vergil’s Georgics

Plague, Civil War, and Epochal Evolution in Vergil’s Georgics

(p.113) 4 Plague, Civil War, and Epochal Evolution in Vergil’s Georgics
Pestilence and the Body Politic in Latin Literature

Hunter H. Gardner

Oxford University Press

Vergil’s Noric cattle plague in Georgics 3 develops a more direct correlation between contagious disease and civil discord. In Vergil’s account, the initially conflicting symptoms of the disease (e.g. excessive heat and cold) collapse bodies into liquefied homogeneity, indicating plague’s power to create uniformity among a population and ultimately offer a clean slate upon which to rewrite the body politic. But in that process, the eradication of individual identities—expressed through Vergil’s anthropomorphized cattle—and the open-ended spread of the disease that concludes Book 3 suggest the poet’s ambivalence toward prospects of recovery from contagion as civil war. Through heaps of undistinguishable cadavera and Golden-Age imagery that neutralizes old enmities, as well as through verbal echoes of passages indicting fraternal strife elsewhere in the Georgics, the poet acknowledges the excesses of individual ambition. But he qualifies Lucretian polemic against desire and ambition as markers of personal identity: when pestilence strikes Aristaeus’ beehive in Book 4, its remedy—a violent ritual (the bougonia) that produces homogenous, loyal offspring—fails to offer an adequate model for human existence. The final section of the chapter looks to the failed attempt at settling Crete in the Aeneid as a coda to disease in the Georgics: the episode recalls depictions of epidemic disease in Georgics 3 and 4, clarifying the meaning of Aristaeus’ new hive as a caveat for Aeneas’ attempt to restore the Trojan race.

Keywords:   Lucretius, Vergil, Aeneid, Georgics, Orpheus, Aristaeus, bougonia, bees/apiculture, cattle plague, Noricum

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