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It has become fashionable to declare that Vergil is less of an Augustan patriot-poet than generations have believed. Clearly, there is a dark side to the Italian pastoral landscape of the Eclogues, a sense that the struggle against nature is essentially a holding action in the Georgics, and a feeling that Aeneas is capable of acting less than nobly in the Aeneid. None of this, however, detracts from Vergil as an urbane, sophisticated poet, very much a man of his own times and a poet capable of far greater intricacy of thought and poetic figure than even the Greek masters who inspired him. Indeed, Vergil’s greatest gift is his ability to echo Homer, Hesiod, and Theocritus (and, among the Roman poets, Quintus Ennius and Titus Lucretius Carus) without in any sense imitating them. Vergil’s skill in doing so through settings in which his own Augustan Rome serves as counterpoint is a measure of his greatness.

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