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This review is taken from PN Review 55, Volume 13 Number 5, May - June 1987.

EUROPE'S CLASSIC Jasper Griffin, Virgil (OUP)

Virgil is undoubtedly a 'Past Master' and a place was inevitably waiting for him in the OUP series, in which Jesus has already been explained by Humphrey Carpenter and Shakespeare by Germaine Greer. Jasper Griffin on the Roman poet is impeccable casting. The editorial objective for the series is 'concise, lucid and authoritative introductions to the thought of the leading intellectual figures of the past whose ideas still influence the way we think today.' Poets do have thoughts, but the exposition of them, outside the poems themselves, is always bound to come to more or less grief. Griffin understands these difficulties, and has very neatly pointed to places, in turn in the Eclogues, the Georgics and the Aeneid, in which thought can be said to be embedded. It is all that can be done. If other times have found other thoughts, no matter, for the poem itself is different from any ideas alleged to be extracted from it.

A special difficulty with Virgil is that is impossible to look at him without looking at what went before and what came after him. So far as space allows, Griffin indicates relevant works of Greek literature, and events of Roman history, but with so central a figure the outside reference is endless. Virgil absorbed so much of the Mediterranean world of and before his time, and his work was so widely absorbed throughout Europe for so many centuries, that to talk of 'his' ideas as if they formed a ...

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