Virgil beneath Jove's mighty oak

The ``Georgics'' of Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) have been called perhaps the most carefully finished production of Roman literature. This poetic treatise on rural life (29 BC) offers a contrast with Virgil's epic ``Aeneid'' of subsequent years. It is the ``Georgics'' that provide the haunting phrase ``ultima Thule'' (farthest Thule), which has survived through centuries as an image of remoteness. The following passage, in the H. Rushton Fairclough translation, comes later in the work. When, at the Zephyrs' call, joyous Summer sends both sheep and goats to the glades and pastures, let us haste to the cool fields, as the morning-star begins to rise, while the day is young, while the grass is hoar, and the dew on the tender blade most sweet to the cattle. Then, when heaven's fourth hour has brought thirst to all, and the plaintive cicadas rend the thickets with song, I will bid the flocks at the side of wells or deep pools drink of the water that runs in oaken channels. But in midday he at let them seek out a shady dell, where haply Jove's mighty oak with its ancient trunk stretches out giant branches, or where the grove, black with many holms, lies brooding with hallowed shade. Then give them once more the trickling stream, and once more feed them till sunset, when the cool evening-star allays the air, and the moon, now dropping dew, gives strength to the glades, when the shores ring with the halcyon, and the copses with the finch.

Why follow up for you in song the shepherds of Libya, their pastures, and the settlements where they dwell in scattered huts? Often, day and night, and a whole month through, the flocks feed and roam into the desert stretches, with no shelters; so vast a plain lies outstretched. The African herdsman takes with him his all -- his house and home, his arms, his Spartan dog and Cretan quiver -- even as the valiant Roman, when arrayed in his country's arms, he hastes on his march under a cruel load, and, ere

the foe awaits him, halts his column and pitches his camp.

Far otherwise is it where dwell the tribes of Scythia by the waters of Maeotis, where the turbid Danube tosses his yellow sands, and where Rhodope bends back, stretching up to the central pole. There they keep the herds penned up in stalls, and no blade is seen upon the plain, or leaf upon the tree; but far and wide earth lies shapeless under mounds of snow and piles of ice, rising seven cubits high.

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