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This review is taken from PN Review 165, Volume 32 Number 1, September - October 2005.

TICKLING THE CORN The Georgics of Virgil, translated by Peter Fallon (Gallery Press) E13.90 pb, E20.00 hb

No Latin scholar, and some thirty years from having last read The Georgics, I sought the re-freshening of two old stand-by translations before embarking on this review: C. Day Lewis's hexameters and Smith Palmer Bovie's blank verse (I can't quite see how H.R. Fairclough's Loeb version could be said to matter, with its archaising idioms: ''tis of your bounties I sing. And thou, O Neptune [etc.].' A product of 1916, it's virtually unreadable.)

And there they were, all swimming back up - albeit slowly - into consciousness: the famous bits that may be all that casual readers ever remember. Dig a hole in the earth, then re-fill it to determine how loose or compact the soil is. Toss clumps of dirt from hand to hand; if they stick, the earth is rich. Rotate your crops. Or then again, don't rotate them. Plough twice. (But just exactly when? Although familiar with the homely, earthy details of agriculture, Virgil almost undoubtedly meant The Georgics to be read in his own literary circles - not by sturdy, free-hold farmers, who would have had access to any number of prose manuals more useful than this polished, sophisticated poem.) Be sure to provide bees with some stepping stones midstream, so they can dry their wings in the sun on long flights. Bee colony wiped out? Try the Bugonian method for spontaneous regeneration (don't ask; it involves a box, a bull, ...


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