The Art of Poetry and the Muses (AP Vergil Week)

Servius, Commentary on the Aeneid
“Poets divide their songs into three parts: they propose, they invoke, and they narrate. Quite often, though, they just do two things, and mix the proposition with the invocation, as Homer did in both of his works. Indeed, this is better. But Lucan inverted this order by first proposing, then narrating, and afterward invoking, as in ‘nor if I the poet accept you in my heart.’ It is to be noted that a divine will is not invoked in all poems, except when we are looking for something beyond human power. So, Horace, in his de Arte Poetica ‘let the gods not play a part unless a problem requiring a champion presents itself.’ Vergil is right to employ the invocation of the Muse, because he was not able to know about Juno’s anger by himself. Similarly, in the ninth book, who would have believed that Turnus had escaped from the camp if Vergil had not added, ‘Juno supplied him spirit and strength.’ Here there is no addition of ‘sing of wrath, goddess,’ but instead ‘Muse, relate to me the causes,’ meaning ‘Be present so that you can recall them to me.’ Many people said that there were nine Muses, and many claim that there were seven. Numa Pompilius had made a small brazen house for them, which, after it was struck by lightning and placed in the temple of Honor and Virtue, Fulvius Nobilior moved to the temple of Hercules, for which reason it was called the ‘Temple of Hercules and the Muses.’ Some people say that the Muses were virgins; they say that pigs were sacrificed to them, because they bear so many offspring. Some, however, assign children to them, as for example Orpheus, Linus, and the Sirens. Some say that they were eight in number, as it seemed to Athens, others say that there are four of them, some claim that they are Boeotian, others Athenian, and still others Sicilian. Epicharmus Siculus does not call them Muses, but ‘the ones living in harmony.’ (homonoousas).”

sane in tres partes dividunt poetae carmen suum: proponunt invocant narrant. plerumque tamen duas res faciunt et ipsam propositionem miscent invocationi, quod in utroque opere Homerus fecit; namque hoc melius est. Lucanus tamen ipsum ordinem invertit; primo enim proposuit, inde narravit, postea invocavit, ut est “nec si te pectore vates accipio” (1.63). sane observandum est, ut non in omnibus carminibus numen aliquod invocetur, nisi cum aliquid ultra humanam possibilitatem requirimus. hinc in arte poetica Horatius “nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus inciderit” . bene ergo invocat Vergilius, non enim poterat per se iram numinis nosse. item in nono libro nisi adderet “Iuno vires animumque ministrat” , quis crederet Turnum evasisse de castris? †et hic musa non addidit μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ. sed ‘musa mihi causas memora’ pro adesto, ut memores. sane musas multi novem, multi septem dixerunt. his Numa aediculam aeneam brevem fecerat, quam postea de caelo tactam et in aede Honoris et Virtutis conlocatam Fulvius Nobilior in aedem Herculis transtulit, unde aedes Herculis et Musarum appellatur. has alii virgines perhibent; nam ideo et porcam eis sacrificari aiunt, quod multum pariat. alii eis etiam filios dant, Orpheum Linum sirenas. alii has octo, ut Athenis visuntur, alii quattuor dicunt, alias Boeotias, alias Atthidas, alias Siculas. has musas Siculus Epicharmus non musas, sed ὁμονοούσας dicit.

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