Mirabile Reads Virgil

Reading the Virgil with text, dictionary, and grammar.

Old photo of Virgil’s Aeneid, Williams edition, and notes.

Reading Virgil is a joy.

I was happy when I came to Book XII, line 239, and recognized the allusion of the verb serpit to the serpent imagery in Book II.

 …serpitque per agmina murmur.

“…and the murmur snakes (creeps) through the army.”

Y0u spent a week, perhaps it felt like years, studying Book II with Ms. Mirabile, who expounded on the serpent and flame imagery (from Bernard Knox’s famous essay) and possibly xeroxed the essay for you AT HER OWN EXPENSE.  Did you reread The Aeneid later at the beach, as the great Cecil Wooten advised Ms. Mirabile’s generation, who strongly recommended it to you?

Well, I did.  But then I MIGHT be Ms. Mirabile.

Back to the serpent imagery in Aeneid Book II: the Greek Sinon (think “sinuous”) persuades the Romans to bring the wooden horse into Troy; then serpents strangle the priest Laocoon and two sons after he warns the Trojans against Greeks even bearing gifts; and the flames of Troy flicker like serpents.

IMG_2287In Richard Tarrant’s commentary for the new Cambridge edition of Aeneid, Book XII, he details the use of serpit in Latin literature. If you’re a student, you can skip most of the philology and use the notes for translation.

serpere can mean:  creep, crawl; move slowly, creep along; grow imperceptibly, make way stealthily, spread abroad, increase…

In Georgics, III, 468,Virgil warns us to cut the disease  (or “mischief”) with a knife


dira per incautum serpent contagia vulgus.

…before the dire infections snake through the unsuspicious herd (or through the heedless people).

Cicero uses it in Pro Murena, 45:

Serpit hic rumor.

“This rumor (snakes) gets abroad.”

I very much enjoy reading these notes.  Would everybody?  No, but if you don’t have time for the history, the manuscript criticism , and so forth, you don’t have to read all of them.

You have to be a little bit crazy to want to curl up with Virgil and a dictionary, but some of us still do it.

David Bamber as Cicero in "Rome"

David Bamber as Cicero in “Rome”

NEXT UP:   Anybody want to join my Cicero group?  I’d be astonished if you did.  Perhaps I’ll read Pro Murena.

Or you can just watch the miniseries, Rome, if you can’t face Pro Murena. David Bamber plays Cicero.

SPRING BREAK traditionally arrives during spring.  Of course we have only had spring here in the Back of Beyond since global warming.  Some years back, I waited for a train in Chicago on a freezing March day, the river dyed green, and a parade marching through snowy downtown.  That was spring.

This year, that was spring again.  It was cold.

Here is what I did to celebrate the advent of spring.


Ray Stevenson as Titus Pullo and Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus

I watched the miniseries, Rome.  I love Mark Antony (who could not? he’s very funny) and the evil Atria (Octavian’s mother), but of course am especially drawn to the two ordinary soldiers who are off-center yet at the center of quotidian life, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo.

I TURNED THE THERMOSTAT UP.  We’ve all known since Jimmy Carter’s presidency that we should keep the thermostat down and wear a sweater.  But it was so cold last week that I left the heat at 60 at night.
It was just a Spring Break thing, but I certainly felt better.

Let’s get that solar power going so we can all be warm indoors!

4 thoughts on “Mirabile Reads Virgil

  1. I’ve gone back to Trollope and feel the same about his texts. I underline these pellucid insights: “one can never tell what is actuating people.” Put brackets to the side of great passages. Revel in the appropriate satiric and comic and deeply felt emotions..


  2. When you know a book well, it is remarkable to see how the text fits together, how certain words and phrases repeat, and the author reveals himself. You know Trollope like that.

    Thank God for rereading!


  3. This is a very late reply, Ms Mirabile. I have promised myself a proper rereading of the Aeneid this year, the first (I am shamed to say) since studying it intensively at university in the 1980s. I assumed that wonderful commentaries on each book would have been published in the meantime, but when I visited Blackwells bookshop in Oxford last week, horribile dictu, it seemed to be the same old stuff (apart from the Bk XII that you mention, and a huge expensive shrinkwrapped Bk II). Why is this, do you think? Not enough students to make it worth the publishers’ while producing commentaries? Are commentaries going out of date? Is Virgil going out of date? Are there not enough classical scholars sufficiently erudite to say everything that needs saying? Perhaps the existing commentaries are good enough – yet some books are commentary-less, how can that be allowed? Rant over. (Almost over – they are also horrendously expensive – a paperback Austin on Bk I is over £30! And that came out when I was a student.)
    So I am reentering the academic reading world slightly baffled and disillusioned. However, as I keep telling my friends that the Aeneid is the greatest work of European lit, I need to renew my acquaintance with it. Austin it has to be, I suppose …
    I do enjoy your writing. When I have worked out how to subscribe to a blog, I will do so.


    • Kim, it is so much fun to read The Aeneid. Nobody believes me, so I’m glad you do. I hope you find a decent commentary. I was going to suggest Clyde Pharr’s 1-6, which has vocabulary and notes on the page, if you don’t need scholarly notes, this is excellent for reading. But it is also $38 (at Amazon)! The Williams, 1-6 and his 7-12 are older scholarly commentaries and excellent, but also $38 each. Heavens, classics is expensive. Let me know how it all works out. Maybe used copies on the internet?


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