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This line is preceded in some MSS. by the following verses, “Ille ego, qui quondam gracili modulatus avena
Carmen et egressus silvis vicina coegi
Ut quamvis avido parerent arva colono,
Gratum opus agricolis: at nunc horrentia Martis.

They are not found in Med., Rom., Gud., or the Verona fragments (Pal. and the fragments of Vat. and St. Gall seem to fail here), and the only MS. in Ribbeck's list which contains them (the Berne MS. No. 172) has them written in the margin by a later hand. They appear to have existed in the time of Servius and of the Pseudo-Donatus, who say that Nisus the grammarian had heard a story of their having been expunged by Tueca and Varius; on which Heyne remarks, “Si res ita se habet, acutior sane Varius Vergilio fuit.” The external evidence of such a story it is impossible to estimate, but its existence suspiciously indicates that the lines were felt to require apology. Those who speak of them as an introduction to the poem, forget that if genuine they are an integral part of the first sentence; and that it is, to say the least, remarkable that the exordium should be so constructed as to be at once interwoven with the context, and yet capable of removal without detriment to the construction, just at the point which forms a much better commencement. The words ‘arma virumque’ are quoted by Martial, 8. 56., 19. 14., 185. 2, and Auson. Epig. 137. 1, evidently as a real commencement of the Aeneid; while Ovid, Trist. 2. 533, and Persius, 1. 96, quote ‘arma virumque,’ or ‘arma virum,’ as important and independent words, which they cease to be the moment ‘arma’ is viewed in connexion with the words supposed to precede it. Virg. himself, 9. 777, has (of the poet Clytins) “Semper equos atque arma virum pugnasque canebat.” Comp. also Ov. 1 Amor. 15. 25, Prop. 3. 26. 63, which point the same way. Macrob. Sat. 5. 2. quotes ‘Troiae qui primus ab oris’ as part of the first verse of the Aeneid. On the other hand Priscian 910 P cites ‘Ille ego qui quondam gracili modulatus avena’ as Virg.'s. Henry's view that ‘arma Martis’ is happily contrasted with ‘arma agricolae’ (comp. G. 1. 160) seems to be favoured by the structure of the sentence, and may very possibly have been present to the mind of the author of these lines; but it clearly was not present to the minds of those who quoted ‘arma’ by itself as war. Tastes may differ as to the rival commencements, on which see Henry in loco, and on 2. 247; but it may be suggested that Virg. would scarcely in his first sentence have divided the attention of the reader between himself and his hero by saying, in effect, that the poet who wrote the Eclogues and the Georgics, sings the hero who founded Rome. Wagn. and Forb., however, as well as Henry, consider the lines as genuine; and they have been imitated by Spenser in the opening of the Faery Queene, and Milton in the opening of Paradise Regained.

Arma virumque: this is an imitation of the opening of the Odyssey, ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε κ.τ.λ. It may also be taken from the first line of the Cyclic poem of the Epigoni, preserved by the Schol. on Aristoph. Peace 1270, Νῦν αὖθ᾽ ὑπλοτερων ἀνδρῶν ἀρχώμεθα, Μοῦσαι. It is followed by all the other Roman writers of epic poetry, Lucan, Flaccus, Statius, and, above all, Silius, the most faithful copier of Virg., with a unanimity which strongly supports the view taken in the preceding note. The words are not a hendiadys, but give first the character of the subject and then the subject itself. ‘Arma’ may have been intended to suggest, though it does not express, a contrast between this and Virg.'s previous poems.—In commencing with ‘cano’ he has followed his own example in the Georgics, rather than that of Homer, who at once invokes the Muse; and the Latin Epic writers have followed Virg. The earlier commentators have found a difficulty in reconciling ‘primus’ with Antenor's previous migration (below, vv. 242 foll.), and suggest that Aeneas had first reached Italy proper, though Antenor had previously reached Venetia. On the other hand, Heyne and Wagn. make ‘primus’ equivalent to ‘olim,’ thus weakening a word which from its position and its occurrence in the first line of the poem must be emphatic. The more obvious sense is that Aeneas is so called without reference to Antenor, as the founder of the great Trojan empire in Italy.

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hide References (3 total)
  • Commentary references from this page (3):
    • Aristophanes, Peace, 1270
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.160
    • Ovid, Amores, 1.15
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