Virgil : The Georgics Book I
Agriculture And Weather
A.S.Kline „ 2002 All Rights Reserved
Iíll begin to sing of what keeps the wheat fields happy,
under what stars to plough the earth, and fasten vines to elms,
what care the oxen need, what tending cattle require,
Maecenas, and how much skillís required for the thrifty bees.
O you brightest lights of the universe
that lead the passing year through the skies,
Bacchus and kindly Ceres, since by your gifts
fat wheat ears replaced Chaonian acorns,
and mixed Achelousís water with newly-discovered wine,
and you, Fauns, the farmerís local gods,
(come dance, together, Fauns and Dryad girls!)
your gifts I sing. And you, O Neptune, for whom
earth at the blow of your mighty trident first produced
whinnying horses: and you Aristaeus, planter of the groves,
for whom three hundred snowy cattle graze Ceaís rich thickets:
you, O Tegean Pan, if you care for your own Maenalus,
leaving your native Lycaean woods and glades, guardian
of the flocks, favour us: and Minerva bringer of the olive:
and you Triptolemus, boy who revealed the curving plough,
and Silvanus carrying a tender cypress by the roots:
and all you gods and goddesses, whose care guards our fields,
you who nurture the fresh fruits of the unsown earth,
and you who send plentiful showers down for the crops:
and you too, Caesar, who, in time, will live among a company
of the gods, which oneís unknown, whether you choose
to watch over cities and lands, and the vast world
accepts you as bringer of fruits, and lord of the seasons,
crowning your brows with your mother Venusís myrtle,
or whether you come as god of the vast sea, and sailors
worship your powers, while furthest Thule serves you,
and Tethys with all her waves wins you as son-in-law,
or whether you add yourself to the slow months as a Sign,
where a space opens between Virgo and the grasping claws,
(Even now fiery Scorpio draws in his pincers for you,
and leaves you more than your fair share of heaven):
whatever youíll be (since Tartarus has no hope of you as ruler,
and may such fatal desire for power never touch you,
though Greece might marvel at the Elysian fields,
and Proserpine, re-won, might not care to follow her mother),
grant me a fair course, and agree to my bold beginning,
pitying the country folk, with me, who are ignorant of the way:
prepare to start your duties, and even now, hear our prayer.
In the early Spring, when icy waters flow from snowy hills,
and the crumbling soil loosens in a westerly breeze,
then Iíd first have my oxen groaning over the driven plough,
and the blade gleaming, polished by the furrow.
The field thatís twice felt sun, and twice felt frost,
answers to the eager farmerís prayer:
from it boundless harvest bursts the barns.
But before our iron ploughshare slices the untried levels,
letís first know the winds, and the varying mood of the sky,
and note our native fields, and the qualities of the place,
and what each region grows and what it rejects.
Here, wheat, there, vines, flourish more happily:
trees elsewhere, and grasses, shoot up unasked for.
See how Tmolus sends us saffron fragrance,
India, ivory, the gentle Sabeans, their incense,
while the naked Chalybes send iron, Pontus rank
beaver-oil, Epirus the glories of her mares from Elis.
Nature has necessarily imposed these rules, eternal laws,
on certain places, since ancient times, when Deucalion
hurled stones out into the empty world,
from which a tough race of men was born.
Come: and let your strong oxen turn the earthís rich soil,
right away, in the first months of the year,
and let the clods lie for dusty summer to bake them in full sun:
but if the earth has not been fertile itís enough to lift it
in shallow furrows, beneath Arcturus: in the first case
so that the weeds donít harm the rich crops, in the other,
so what little moisture there is doesnít leave the barren sand.
Likewise alternate years let your cut fields lie fallow,
and the idle ground harden with neglect:
or sow yellow corn, under another star, where you
first harvested beans rich in their quivering pods,
or a crop of slender vetch, and the fragile stalks
and rattling stems of bitter lupin. For example
a harvest of flax exhausts the ground, oats exhaust it,
and poppies exhaust it, filled with Lethean sleep:
but by rotation, the labour prospers: donít be ashamed
to saturate the arid soil with rich dung,
and scatter charred ashes over the weary fields.
So with changes of crop the land can rest,
and then the untilled earth is not ungrateful.
Itís often been beneficial to fire the stubble fields,
and burn the dry stalks in the crackling flames,
whether the earth gains hidden strength and rich food
from it, or every poison is baked out of it by the fire,
and useless moistures sweated from it,
or the heat frees more cracks and hidden pores,
by which strength reaches the fresh shoots, or whether
it hardens the soil more and narrows the open veins,
so the fine rain, or the fiercer power of the blazing sun,
or the north windís penetrating cold canít harm it.
He who breaks the dull clods with a hoe, and drags a harrow
of willow over them, does the fields great good, and
golden Ceres does not view him idly from high Olympus.
And he too who reverses his plough and cuts across the ridges
that he first raised, when he furrowed the levels,
who constantly works the ground, and orders the fields.
Farmers, pray for moist summers and mild winters:
the crops are glad, the fields are glad of winter dryness:
Then Mysia boasts no finer cultivation,
and even Gargarus marvels at its own harvests.
Need I mention him who, having sown the seed,
follows closely, and flattens the heaps of barren sand,
then diverts the stream and its accompanying brooks to his crops,
and see, when the scorched land burns, the grasses withering,
he draws water, in channels, from the brow of the hill.
Or him who grazes his luxuriant crop in the tender shoot,
as soon as the new cornís level with the furrow,
lest the stalks bend down with over-heavy ears.
Or him who soaks out a marshís gathered water with thirsty sand,
especially in changeable seasons when rivers overflow
and cover everything far and wide with a coat of mud,
so the hollow ditches exude steamy vapours?
Though men and oxen, labouring skilfully, have
turned the land, the wretched geese still cause harm,
and the Strymonian cranes, and the bitter fibred chicory,
and the shade of trees. The great Father himself willed it,
that the ways of farming should not be easy, and first
stirred the fields with skill, rousing menís minds to care,
not letting his regions drowse in heavy lethargy.
Before Jupiterís time no farmers worked the land:
it was wrong to even mark the fields or divide them
with boundaries: men foraged in common, and the earth
herself gave everything more freely, unasked.
He added the deadly venom to shadowy snakes,
made the wolves predators, and stirred the seas,
shook honey from the trees, concealed fire,
and curbed the wine that ran everywhere in streams,
so that thoughtful practice might develop various skills,
little by little, and search out shoots of grain in the furrows,
and strike hidden fire from veins of flint.
Then, rivers knew the hollowed alder-boat:
then, sailors told and named the constellations,
the Pleiades, the Hyades, and Lycaonís gleaming Bears:
then men learned to snare game in nets, deceive
with birdlime, and surround great glades with dogs:
Now one strikes into a broad river, seeking the depths,
while another drags his dripping net through the sea:
then came rigid iron and the melodious saw-blade
(since the first men split the fissile wood with wedges),
then came the various arts. Hard labour conquered all,
and povertyís oppression in harsh times.
Ceres first taught men to plough the earth with iron,
when the oaks and strawberry-trees of the sacred grove
failed, and Dodona denied them food.
Soon the crops began to suffer and the stalks
were badly blighted, and useless thistles flourish in the fields:
the harvest is lost and a savage growth springs up,
goose-grass and star-thistles, and, amongst the bright corn,
wretched darnel and barren oats proliferate.
So that unless you continually attack weeds with your hoe,
and scare the birds with noise, and cut back the shade
from the dark soil with your knife, and call up rain
with prayers, alas, youíll view othersí vast hayricks in vain,
and stave off hunger in the woods, shaking the oak-branches.
I must tell of the sturdy countrymanís weapons,
without which the crops could not be sown or grown:
first the ploughshare, and the curved ploughís heavy frame,
the slow lumbering wagons of Demeter, the Eleusinian mother,
threshing sledges, drags, and cruelly weighted hoes:
and the ordinary wicker-ware of Celeus, besides,
hurdles of arbutus wood, and Iacchusís sacred winnowing fans.
Youíll store away all these, youíve remembered to provide long before,
if the noble glory of the divine countryside is to remain yours.
At the start an elm, in the woods, bent by brute force, is trained
to become a plough-beam, taking the form of the curving stock.
A pole eight feet in length is fitted to the stock,
two earth-boards, and a double-backed share-beam.
A light lime-tree is felled beforehand for the yoke, and a tall beech
for the plough handle, to turn the frame below, from behind,
and smoke from the hearth seasons the hanging wood.
I can repeat many ancient maxims to you,
unless you reject them, and dislike learning lesser things.
Especially that the threshing floor should be levelled
with a heavy roller: brushed by hand: and firmed with tenacious clay,
lest weeds spring up there, or it splits, crumbling to dust,
and various blights mock you: often the little mouse
sets up house under the soil, and builds its granaries,
or moles with sightless eyes dig out chambers,
and toads may be found in cavities, and all the many pests
of the earth, and weevils infest vast heaps of grain,
and ants fearful of a destitute old-age.
Consider also, when the almond in the woods covers herself
deeply in blossom, and dips her fragrant branches:
if the young nuts are plentiful, a like wheat-harvest will follow,
and a great threshing will come with great heat:
but if the cloudís heavy in the fullness of growth,
your threshing-floor will thrash stalks rich in chaff.
For my part Iíve seen many a sower treat his seeds,
soaking them first in nitrate, and black lees of olive-oil,
so the deceptive husks might bear larger grains
which will quickly boil soft, however low the fire.
Iíve seen choice seed, proven with much labour,
degenerate, still, if the largest were not picked out
each year, by human hand. So all things are fated
to slide towards the worst, and revert by slipping back:
just as if one who can hardly drive his boat with oars
against the stream, should slacken his arms,
and the channel sweep it away downstream.
The star of Arcturus, and the days of the Kids, and bright Draco
the Serpent, are as much ours as theirs, who sailing homewards
over stormy seas, dare Pontus, and the jaws of oyster-rich Abydos.
When Libra makes the hours of daytime and sleep equal,
and divides the world between light and shadow,
then work your oxen, men, sow barley in your fields
right to the edge of formidable winterís rains:
then itís time too to sow your crops of flax, in the soil,
and Ceresís poppy, and readily bend to the plough,
while the dry ground will let you, and the clouds are high.
Sow beans in Spring: then the crumbling furrows receive you,
clover, and millet, you come to our annual attention,
when snow-white Taurus with golden horns opens
the year, and Sirius sets, overcome by opposing stars.
But if you work the ground for harvests of wheat
and hardy spelt, and you aim at grain alone,
first let the Pleiades, Atlasís daughters, set for you in the dawn,
and let the Cretan stars of the burning Crown, Corona Borealis,
vanish, before you commit the seeds required to the furrows,
or rush to entrust a yearís hopes to the unwilling soil.
Many have started to do so, before Maiaís setting,
but the hoped-for crop has deluded them, the husks empty.
Yet itís true that if you sow vetch, or the humble kidney bean,
and donít ignore cultivation of Egyptís lentils,
BoŲtes setting will send no malign signals:
begin, and carry on sowing into the thick of the frosts.
For this purpose the golden sun commands his ecliptic,
split into fixed segments, through twelve heavenly constellations.
Five zones comprise the Earth: of which one
is always bright with the glittering sun, and always burned by his flames:
round this at the skyís ends, two stretch to left and right,
layered with ice and darkened by storms:
between these and the central zone, two more have been given
to weak humanity, by the grace of the gods, and a track passes
between them, on which the oblique procession of Signs can revolve.
Just as the world rises steeply north, towards Scythia
and the Riphaean cliffs, it sinks down to Libya in the south.
One pole is always high above us: while the other,
under our feet, sees black Styx and the infernal Shades.
Here mighty Draco glides in winding coils,
around and between the two Bears, like a river,
the Bears that fear to dip beneath the ocean.
There, they say, either the dead of night keeps silence,
and the shadows of nightís mask grow ever thicker:
or Dawn, leaving us, brings back their day,
and when the rising sun, with panting horses, first breathes on us,
there burning Vesper lights his evening fire.
From all this we can foretell the seasons, through unsettled skies:
from this, the days for harvesting, and time for sowing,
and when itís right to set oars to the treacherous sea,
when to launch the armed fleet, or fell
the mature pine-tree in the forest.
We donít observe the Signs in vain, as they rise and set,
nor the year divided into its four varied seasons.
Whenever freezing rain keeps the farmer indoors,
he can ready much that would soon have to be hurried,
in clearer weather: the farmer forges a hard blade
for the blunted ploughshare, carves out troughs from tree-trunks,
or brands his cattle, or labels his ricksí measures.
Others sharpen stakes and two-pronged forks,
or make tethers for the pliant vines, from Amerian willow.
Now weave the graceful basket of reddish twigs,
now parch grain by the fire, now grind it on the stone.
Even on sacred days you can carry out certain tasks,
by divine and human law: no religious rule forbids
diverting streams, protecting crops with a hedge,
setting snares for birds, firing brambles,
or dipping the bleating flock in the health-giving water.
Often the farmer loads his slow muleís flanks
with flasks of olive-oil, or humble fruit, and returns
from town with a metalled millstone, or a mass of dark pitch.
The Moon herself has set certain days as auspicious
for certain kinds of work. Avoid the fifth: itís then pale Orcus
and the Furies were born: then in impious labour Earth
gave birth to Coeus, Iapetus, and savage Typhoeus,
and the brothers who banded together to raze the Heavens.
Three times, indeed, they tried to pile Ossa on Pelion,
and roll wooded Olympus on top of Ossa: three times
Jupiter split the mountain pile apart with his lightning bolt.
The seventeenth is good for planting vines,
and taming yoked oxen, and adding threads to the loom.
The ninth is better for runaways, harmful for the thief.
Many things too go better in the cool night,
or when, at first light, Dawn wets the Earth with dew.
Slender stalks are best cut at night, and dry meadows,
at night thereís no lack of lingering moisture.
One stays awake by the late blaze of a winter fire,
and sharpens torches with a keen knife, while his wife
solaces herself with singing over her endless labour,
running the noisy shuttle through the warp,
or boiling down the sweet juice of grape must, on the fire,
while skimming the cauldronís boiling liquid with a leaf.
But Ceresís golden crop is reaped in midday heat,
and in midday heat the threshing floor thrashes the dry ears.
Plough half-naked: half-naked, sow: winterís the farmerís quiet time.
In the cold season countrymen mainly enjoy their lot
and treat themselves, delighting in feasts, together.
Genial winter entices them, and soothes their cares,
just as when loaded ships touch harbour,
and happy sailors crown the sterns with garlands.
But then is the time to gather acorns, and berries
from the bay-tree, and trim the olives, and blood-red myrtles,
to set snares for cranes, and nets for stags,
and chase the long-eared hares, to strike the deer
whirling a Balearic sling by its thongs of hemp,
when snow lies deep, and rivers thrust up ice.
What should I tell of autumnís storms, and stars,
and what men must watch for when the daylight shortens,
and summer becomes more changeable, or when spring
pours down showers, when spiked crops bristle in the fields,
and wheat swells with sap on its green stem?
Often, when the farmer brought the reapers to his golden fields,
and cut the barley with its brittle stalks, Iíve seen
all the winds conflict in battle, ripping up the heavy crop
from its deepest roots, on every side, and hurling it
into the air: then the storm would sweep away
the light stalks and the flying stubble in its dark whirlwind.
Often a vast column of water towers in the sky,
and clouds from the heights gather into a vile tempest
of dark rain: high heaven falls, and washes away
the joyful crops and the oxenís labour, with its great deluge:
the ditches fill, and the channelled rivers swell and roar,
and the heaving ocean boils in the narrow straits.
Jupiter himself, at storm-clouded midnight, wields
his lightning bolts with glittering hand: at whose shock
the vast earth trembles: the creatures run, and humbling terror
subdues menís hearts everywhere: with blazing shafts of light
he rushes over Athos, Rhodope and the Ceraunian peaks.
The Southerlies redouble, and the rain intensifies,
now the woods moan with the mighty blast, now the shores.
Fearing this, note the signs and seasons of the heavens,
to what region Saturnís cold planet retreats,
and into what celestial orbit Mercuryís fire wanders.
Above all worship the gods, and offer great Ceres
her yearly rites, with sacrifice on the grass, delighted,
at winterís final end, now it is clear springtime.
Then lambs grow fattest, and wine is mellow,
sleep is sweet, and the shadows are dense on the hills.
Let all the country folk worship Ceres: bathe
the honeycomb for her, in milk and vintage wine,
let the auspicious victim go three times round the new crop,
while your whole choir of companions follow, rejoicing,
and call Ceres loudly to their homes: and let no one
put his sickle to the ripe corn, until he has wreathed
his brow with a garland of oak leaves,
danced artless dances and sung her songs.
And so that we might learn the sure signs of these things,
heat, and rain, and cold-bearing winds,
Jupiter himself commanded what the monthly moon
should warn of, what would signal the easing of the winds,
at what frequent sight the farmer should stable his cattle.
Immediately the winds rise, either the straits of the sea
begin to heave and swell, and a low noise is heard
from the high mountains: or the shore rings
with a distant sound, and a murmuring rises in the glades.
Then the waves donít spare the curved ships, the swift
sea-birds fly back from mid-ocean, and send their cries to shore,
coots of the seaboard settle on dry land, and the grey heron
leaves its familiar marsh, and flies high above the clouds.
Often when the wind is threatening youíll see stars slide
headlong from the sky, showing white in the dark of night,
with a long trail of flame behind them:
often light chaff, and fallen leaves fly up,
and feathers dance together skimming the water.
But when lightning flashes from the wild North sector,
and when the house of the East and West winds thunders,
the whole countryside is afloat, with overflowing ditches,
every sailor furls dripping sails at sea. Rain never takes men
unawares: either the cranes, airborne, fly before it, as it reaches
the valleyís depths, or a heifer looks up at the sky
and sniffs the air with nostrils spread,
or the swallows twitter circling the pools,
and the frogs in the mud croak their ancient lament.
And often the ant, beating out a narrow track,
brings eggs from an innermost nest, and a huge rainbow
drinks, and a great troop of rooks leaving the fields
beat their wings together densely, in ranks.
Then there are the many sea birds, and those
that search in Caysterís sweet pools among the Asian meadows:
you see them emulating each other splashing water madly
over their backs, dipping their heads in the waves, paddling
into the stream, and enjoying their bath with wild enthusiasm.
Then the cruel ravenís deep cry calls up the rain,
and, alone with himself, he walks the dry sands.
Even girls, spinning, at their nocturnal task, have not failed
to note the coming storm, seeing the oil sputter
in the fiery lamp, and a clot of soot gather on the wick.
No less, after rain, do we predict sunlight and clear skies,
and recognise fair weather by certain signs:
since the starsí sharp edges are not obscured
and the Moon rises, not dimmed by her brotherís rays,
and thin fleecy clouds no longer drift across the sky:
The halcyons, Thetisís delight, stop spreading their wings
on the sand, to catch the warm sun, and the muddy pigs
forget to toss loose bales of hay around with their snouts.
But the mists seek out the valleys more, and settle
on the plains, and the owl, watching the sunset
from some high hill, gives out its twilight calls in vain.
Nisus, the sea-eagleís seen high in the clear sky,
and Scylla, the rock-dove, suffers for the purple lock:
wherever she flies, cutting the thin air with her wings,
see, her fierce enemy Nisus, follows her through the breeze
with a loud whirring: when Nisus climbs in the sky,
she flies quickly, cutting the thin air with her wings.
Now the rooks repeat their clear calls, three or four times,
with narrowed throats, and often caw to themselves
in their high nests among the leaves, delighting
in some unusual pleasantry: theyíre glad, the rain over,
to see their sweet nests and their little chicks again:
not that I think they have divine wisdom
or greater knowledge of the workings of Fate:
but when the weather changes, and the rain from fickle skies,
and Jupiter, among the wet South winds, makes what was now
rarefied, dense, and makes dense what was rarefied,
ideas in their minds alter, and their hearts feel differently,
differently to when the wind was chasing the clouds.
So that chorus of birds in the fields, the delight
of the cattle, the triumphant cries of the rooks.
If you pay close attention to the rapid suns and moon,
following in order, tomorrowís hour wonít fail you,
youíll not be caught out by a cloudless night.
As soon as the moon waxes, as her light renews,
if she encloses a dark mist in dim horns,
heavy rains are brewing for farmers and for sailors:
but if a virgin blush spreads over her face, the wind will rise,
golden Phoebe always blushes in the wind.
And if on the fourth day (and this is the clearest sign)
she travels a clear sky with undimmed horns,
then that day, and all the days after it, to the end
of the month, will be free of wind and rain,
and sailors safe in harbour will worship
Glaucus, Panopea, and Melicerta, Inoís son.
The Sun too provides signals, rising, and when setting
into the waves: certain signals follow the sun,
those he brings at dawn, and as the stars rise.
When, hidden in cloud, heís discoloured the early morning
with blotches, and is veiled at the centre of his disc,
expect the showers: since the south wind, inauspicious
for trees, crops and herds, is sweeping up from the deep.
Or when scattered rays break through dense cloud
at dawn, or Aurora rises pale as she leaves
Tithonusís saffron bed, ah, then the vine-leaf
will protect the ripe grapes badly: the bristling hail
dances so fiercely, rattling on the roofs.
And it will do you more good still to remember, this,
when heís crossed the sky and is setting: often
we see varied colours wandering over his face:
dark-blue announces rain, fiery colours an Easterly,
but if the hues begin to mix with glowing fire,
then youíll see everything rage with wind and storm.
Donít let anyone advise me to travel the sea that night,
or haul in my cable from the land.
But if when the sun brings and ends the day
his disc is bright, your fear of storms is groundless,
and youíll see the woods swaying in a clear North wind.
So, the sun will give you signs of what late evening brings,
and from where a fair-weather wind blows the clouds,
or what the rain-filled southerly intends. Who dares to say
the sun tricks us? He often warns us that hidden troubles
threaten, that treachery and secret wars are breeding.
He pitied Rome when Caesar was killed,
and hid his shining face in gloomy darkness,
and an impious age feared eternal night.
At that time earth, and the level sea,
troublesome dogs, and fateful birds, gave omens.
How often Etna inundated the Cyclopesís fields,
streams of lava pouring from her shattered furnace,
hurling gouts of flame and molten rock!
In Germany they heard the clash of weapons,
across the sky, the Alps shook with strange quakes.
A great shout was heard, openly, in the silent groves,
and pale ghosts in strange forms were seen in the dark of night,
and, ah horror, creatures spoke like men.
Rivers stopped, earth split, and sad, the ivories wept
in the temples, and the bronze sweated.
Eridanus, king of the rivers, washed away forests
in the whirl of his maddened vortex, and swept
cattle and stables over the plains. Nor at that time
was there any lack of ominous marks in the dark entrails,
blood flowing in the wells, and mighty cities
echoing at night with the howls of wolves.
Never did greater lightning flash from a clear sky,
never did fatal comets shine more often.
So Philippi again saw Roman armies clash
amongst themselves, with equal weapons:
And the gods thought it not unfitting that Emathia and the broad plain
of Haemus, should twice be enriched with our blood.
And a time will come, when in those lands,
the farmer labouring at the earth with curved plough,
will come upon spears eaten by scabrous rust,
or strike an empty helmet with his heavy hoe,
and wonder at giant bones in the opened grave.
Gods of my country, Heroes, Romulus, Mother Vesta,
who guards the Tuscan Tiber, and Romeís Palatine,
donít stop this young [
a world turned upside down! Our bloodís atoned,
long enough, for Laomedonís perjuries at Troy:
heavenís realms have denied you to us long enough,
Caesar, and they complain of your need for earthly triumphs.
Here right and wrong are reversed: so many wars
in the world, so many faces of evil: the plough
not worthy of any honour, our lands neglected, robbed of farmers,
and the curved pruning-hooks beaten into solid blades.
Here Germany, there Euphrates wages war:
neighbouring cities take up arms, breaking the laws
that bound them: impious Mars rages
through the world:
add to their speed each lap, and the charioteer tugging vainly at the bridles,
is dragged on by the horses, the chariot not responding to the reins
End Of Book I