Rumour Reaches Iarbas, by Virgil – born this day in 70BC

"Rumour" (Fama), woodcut, edition of "Aeneid" by Virgil, Hans Grueninger, Strassbourg, 1502, allegory, Publius
“Rumour” (Fama), woodcut, edition of “Aeneid” by Virgil, Hans Grueninger, Strassbourg, 1502, allegory, Publius

Virgil, the greatest poet of the Roman Age, was born on this day in 70 BC. His Aeneid, refashioning the much older Homeric epic tradition of The Illiad and The Odyssey, imagines the defeated and fleeing Trojans, now led by wandering Aeneas, to be the founders of the the City of Rome. In other words ,Virgil believes, as did most Romans of his day, that desperate refugees fleeing war founded civilisation (as they saw it).

The vivid, intense, and continuously evocative Aeneid is remarkable for many reasons, not least the presence of so many ornate and memorable extended metaphors and personifications a.ka flights-of-fancy  – here is one that still rings true, and perhaps truer than ever before in our age of instantaneous disinformation – the speedy, hideous monster of RUMOUR.

The Aeneid BkIV: 173-197 

Rumour raced at once through Libya’s great cities,

Rumour, compared with whom no other is as swift.

She flourishes by speed, and gains strength as she goes:

first limited by fear, she soon reaches into the sky,

walks on the ground, and hides her head in the clouds.

Earth, incited to anger against the gods, so they say,

bore her last, a monster, vast and terrible, fleet-winged

and swift-footed, sister to Coeus and Enceladus,

who for every feather on her body has as many

watchful eyes below (marvellous to tell), as many

tongues speaking, as many listening ears.

She flies, screeching, by night through the shadows

between earth and sky, never closing her eyelids

in sweet sleep: by day she sits on guard on tall roof-tops

or high towers, and scares great cities, as tenacious

of lies and evil, as she is messenger of truth.

Now in delight she filled the ears of the nations

with endless gossip, singing fact and fiction alike:

Aeneas has come, born of Trojan blood, a man whom

lovely Dido deigns to unite with: now they’re spending

the whole winter together in indulgence, forgetting

their royalty, trapped by shameless passion.

The vile goddess spread this here and there on men’s lips.

Immediately she slanted her course towards King Iarbas

and inflamed his mind with words and fuelled his anger.

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved

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