Servius Rails Against Idle Nonsense

Servius tries to explain to empty-headed readers why Vergil’s Aeneid begins with the word ‘arma.’ (Commentary 1.1)

“Many people reason in various ways about why Vergil began his poem with ‘arms,’ but it is clear that their heads are full of idle nonsense, since it is obvious that he began his poem in another spot, as has been made clear in the biographical sketch already presented*. By ‘arms’ he means ‘war,’ and this is the literary device known as metonymy. For, he has substituted for war the arms which we use in war, just as the toga which we use in peace may substitute for the peace itself, as in that saying of Cicero, ‘Let arms yield to the toga,’ that is, let war give way to peace.”

*In his life of Vergil, Servius explains that the opening lines of the Aeneid were originally

‘I am he, who once measured out my song on the slender reed,
and emerging from the forests I compelled the neighboring fields
to obey the farmer, however grasping he might be –
all a pleasing work for farmers, but now I sing the awful
arms of Mars, and the man….”

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

ARMA multi varie disserunt cur ab armis Vergilius coeperit, omnes tamen inania sentire manifestum est, cum eum constet aliunde sumpsisse principium, sicut in praemissa eius vita monstratum est. per ‘arma’ autem bellum significat, et est tropus metonymia. nam arma quibus in bello utimur pro bello posuit, sicut toga qua in pace utimur pro pace ponitur, ut Cicero cedant arma togae, id est bellum paci.

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