Teachers Trample Upon His Work with Unwashed Feet

Macrobius, Saturnalia I.XXIV 10-15

“Symmachus then said, ‘If you are of the opinion that Vergil knew nothing but poetics, then it is clear that you would begrudge him the title of orator: but listen to what he himself proclaims about the vast learning of his own work. The letter of Vergil himself, in which he makes a plea to Augustus, begins thus: I have received frequent letters from you. Below that, he adds, ­Indeed, I would gladly send you something about my Aeneid, if I had anything worthy of your ears. Yet such a great work has been begun, that I seem to myself to have been almost out of my senses when I undertook it, especially since (as you well know) I must communicate into it many other, more serious types of learning. These words of Vergil are not contradicted by the poem’s tremendous supply of learning, which almost all teachers pass over with unwashed feet, as though a grammarian were allowed to know nothing but the explanations of words. Therefore, those learned swells have fixed the limits of learning, as though they were sacred boundaries, and if anyone should venture beyond them, he should be censured as though he had looked into the temple of a goddess from which men are banned entirely. But we, who are endowed with a fuller understanding, should not allow the inner sanctum of this sacred poem to be left hidden from human sight – we should investigate the hallways of arcane knowledge and offer up the hidden, inner sancta of thought to be celebrated by the cultivation of the learned.’”

10 Si in hac opinione es, inquit Symmachus, ut Maro tibi nihil nisi poeticum sensisse aestimetur, licet hoc quoque eidem nomen invideris: audi, quid de operis sui multiplici doctrina ipse pronuntiet. Ipsius enim Maronis epistola, qua conpellat Augustum, ita incipit: 11 Ego vero frequentes a te litteras accipio, et infra: De Aenea quidem meo, si mehercle iam dignum auribus haberem tuis, libenter mitterem: sed tanta inchoata res est, ut paene vitio mentis tantum opus ingressus mihi videar, cum praesertim, ut scis, alia quoque studia ad id opus multoque potiora inpertiar. 12 Nec his Virgilii verbis copia rerum dissonat, quam plerique omnes litteratores pedibus inlotis praetereunt, tamquam nihil ultra verborum explanationem liceat nosse grammatico. Ita sibi belli isti homines certos scientiae fines et velut quaedam pomeria et effata posuerunt, ultra quae si quis egredi audeat, introspexisse in aedem deae a qua mares absterrentur existimandus sit. 13 Sed nos, quos crassa Minerva dedecet, non patiamur abstrusa esse adyta sacri poematis, sed archanorum sensuum investigato aditu doctorum cultu celebranda praebeamus reclusa penetralia.

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