Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Brundisium (brewn-dee-see-uhm). Busy Roman port city on the Adriatic Sea (now Brundisi, Italy). Brundisium is shown first from the sea. On a sunny September evening, the sky is mother-of-pearl over the steel-blue waves of the Adriatic, and the flat hills of the Calabrian coast come gradually nearer on the left. A convoy of seven imperial vessels is carrying Augustus Caesar and Virgil from Athens to Brundisium, where Virgil dies eighteen hours later. As slaves carry him on a litter from the harbor to the citadel, he identifies parts of the city by their distinctive smells: the stench of fish-market stalls, the sweet smell of fermentation from the fruit market, the dusty dryness of grain-sacks, and the shavings and sawdust from carpentry shops. Virgil’s entourage then takes an unexpected turn and goes through an alley, where young and old people live in abject poverty: Misery Street. There is a nauseating stench of excrement, and Virgil finds himself the butt of obscene and nasty jeering. It is unclear how much of Misery Street is real and how much a figment of Virgil’s fever. The young boy leading the litter is visible only to Virgil.


Citadel. Building in Brundisium in whose southwest wing Virgil occupies a guestroom with a window overlooking the city and the distant hills. The room has a mosaic floor, a flowing fountain, and a candelabrum decorated with laurel. There is an armchair, a commode, and a bed surrounded by mosquito netting. Alone and awake during his last night alive, Virgil struggles to the window. Below him are the black tile roofs and lighted streets of the city. Above him the constellations Archer and Scorpion shine in the southern sky. A watchman passes regularly. The city then reveals its sordid side to the silent witness. Three drunken citizens argue and...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Dowden, Stephen D., ed. Hermann Broch: Literature, Philosophy, Politics (The Yale Broch Symposium 1986). Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1988. Includes articles by Luciano Zagari (“‘Poetry is Anticipation’: Broch and Virgil”) and Vasily Rudich (“Mythical and Mystical in The Death of Vergil: A Response to Luciano Zagari”), which deal directly with The Death of Virgil, as well as other essays from the 1986 Yale Broch Symposium, which offer insights into the entire corpus of Broch’s work.

Lützeler, Paul Michael. Hermann Broch: A Biography. Translated by Janice Furness. London: Quartet Books, 1987. A thorough and interesting study, which helps to illuminate the circumstances surrounding the creation of The Death of Virgil.

Untermeyer, Jean Starr. “Midwife to a Masterpiece.” In Private Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965. The personal account of the translator of The Death of Virgil, who worked closely with Broch on the translation during his time at Princeton.

Wiegand, Hermann J. “Broch’s Death of Vergil: Program Notes.” PMLA 62 (1947): 525-554. Offers a solid discussion of the novel. Includes a letter from Broch to Wiegand which is historically interesting, though later scholarship shows that Broch’s memory of events leading to the writing of the novel is not always completely reliable.

Ziolkowski, Theodore. Virgil and the Moderns. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. Particularly valuable for its discussion of Broch’s use of Virgil in relation to other twentieth century writers.