The Bees in Virgil's Georgics IV

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Louch1970
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The Bees in Virgil's Georgics IV

Post by Louch1970 » Fri Sep 22, 2017 8:47 am

Hi Everyone

This is my very first foray into the world of Latin here, please excuse my nerves.

I am doing Honours in Latin and my tutor and I (just me - no one else is enrolled this term) are reading Books 3 and 4 of Virgil's Georgics. I have to write a 3000 word paper on a topic of my choosing and I am not particularly good at writing literature essays. After wading through Book 3, I feel as lost and confused as I did in my last year at highschool when we read Eliot's Profrock. I remember then, as I do now, thinking WTF???

After beginning Book IV of Virgil, I read Jasper Griffin's 1979 article which piqued my interest in the Bees and how they represent human society and Rome itself. The easy answer appears to be that while they in many ways are presented with human qualities, Virgil never lets the reader forget that he is in fact writing of insects despite their bravery, communal mind and human-like dwellings. After all, when they go to battle, the beekeeper need just scatter a handful of dirt to end the 'war'.

Is there anyone who is interested in adding their thoughts, ideas or suggestions??? I would appreciate any help. It is very hard being a solitary student and my tutor is overworked as it is so has little time to spend discussing these problems with me.

If you've gotten this far, thanks for reading!

Cheers

mwh
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Re: The Bees in Virgil's Georgics IV

Post by mwh » Fri Sep 22, 2017 9:32 pm

Welcome to Textkit! No need to be nervous here.

I think V's bees would make an excellent topic for your essay—if and only if you’ve read some way into bk.4—and you could readily enlarge on the point you make. Do the bees represent human society, and if so how (and if not, why are they given such prominence?), and how does Vergil accomplish the correspondence? Does he keep the world of bees separate from the human world, as in straightforward allegory (is the beekeeper God?), or does he fully anthropomorphize them, endowing them with human motives and feelings? … Is their labour worthwhile? Is ours?

You might take a look at what Richard Thomas has to say on bk.4 in vol.1 (sic) of his Georgics commentary. Be aware that he pushes the “pessimistic” viewpoint associated with Harvard but he should give you ideas to bounce around. More mundanely, if you're really at a loss (but it doesn't sound as if you are), you could compare/contrast animal allegories that you're familiar with, Aesop's fables with their talking animals and simple lessons, etc. etc. Rabbits have been popular in England (Beatrix Potter, Watership Down, ...). What do bees have that rabbits don't?

Or of course you could articulate your WTF??? in 3000 words. Feeling lost and confused is par for the course, and better than being over-confident. But dare to eat that peach! and relish it.

Once you’ve written and submitted your essay, you could post something about it here and maybe spark some discussion.

Cheers!

Hylander
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Re: The Bees in Virgil's Georgics IV

Post by Hylander » Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:14 am

Something you might think about: Georgics IV ends with a myth of remorse and atonement, and the miraculous regeneration of the apian community. How does that tie in with the rest of Book IV and the Georgics as a whole?

Louch1970
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Re: The Bees in Virgil's Georgics IV

Post by Louch1970 » Sun Oct 08, 2017 2:28 pm

Thank you both for your thoughtful replies!! I am still working on my ideas. What really amazes me is having read a lot of modern critical articles on the poem, is how there can be such opposing "pessimistic" and "optimistic" readings. Surely there is room for both? Isn't Vergil highlighting the duality/reality of life by showing that life can be both unbelievably hard and beautiful for the farmer? Cannot the bees be both a version of society that functions at some levels (efficiency, hard work) but fails in others (slavish obedience to their king, destruction of the hive if the king fails)?? I don't see how one can argue that Vergil meant one or the other but both readings can be present simultaneously. What I don't understand then is what this means in terms of an essay analysis? Is the price that a society pays for art, poetry etc as shown by Orpheus in Book VI dependent on its suffering?

Arrgh - I don't really like poetry :(

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