Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The imperial fleet returns from Greece to Brundisium, bearing with it Emperor Augustus and his poet, Virgil, who is dying. Augustus sought Virgil and brought him back from the peace and calm in Athens to the shouting Roman throngs—to the mob with its frightening latent capacity for brutality, its fickle adoration of its leaders. These are, however, the Romans whom Virgil glorified; the nobles he saw on ship greedily eating and gaming are their leaders. Dapper, sham-majestic Augustus is their emperor.
Fever-ridden, the poet hears a boy’s song as the ship enters the harbor. Later, as he is carried from the ship, a beautiful boy appears from nowhere to lead his litter away from the tumult surrounding the emperor, through narrow streets crowded with garbage ripening into decay and full of the miseries of the flesh where women jeer at him for being rich and weak. The women’s insults make him aware of his own sham-divinity and of the futility of his life. Dying, he at last sees clearly the hypocrisy of his life, like the shining, hollow emperor whom he serves.
At the palace, he is taken to his chambers. The boy, Lysanias, remains with him as night falls. In the depths of a violent seizure, Virgil recognizes his own lack of love. Conscious of his dying body and the infested night, he knows that, like the Augustus-worshiping masses, he followed the wrong gods; that in his devotion to poetry he from the beginning gave up the service of life for...
(The entire section is 1191 words.)
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