The Wretched of the Earth

“The night of the massacre, I was awakened by my family. My parents and five siblings were there. I was told we had to leave and that was it.”

–Viola Fletcher, 107 years old, survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

“It is hard when you leave without knowing where you’re going, without understanding what will happen to you or if you’ll ever see your parents, grandmother, or friends again.”

–Yevhenia, Ukrainian refugee in Poland.

Virgil, Eclogue I. 1-18.


Tityrus, while you lie under a broad sheltering beech
Rehearsing a pastoral song on the slender oaten reed,
We’re leaving the sweep and sweet fields of our homeland.
We’re fleeing our home, while you, Tityrus, at ease in the shade
Teach the woods to say and say again, “lovely Amaryllis.”


O Meliboeus, a god gave us this peace.
And since he will always be a god to me,
Soft lambs from our fold will often stain his altar.
He lets my cattle roam, as you see, and he lets me
make music to my liking on the rustic flute.


No judgment, but I marvel, since turmoil abounds In the land.
Look how in my distress I drive the goats with dispatch.
But even then, Tityrus, I can barely budge this one.
Here in the hazel thicket, a short while ago, she birthed twins.
And, dear me, she left the hope of the flock on the bare stones.
If only my mind had been right…The oaks struck from heaven
I often think of: they foretold this catastrophe.
But all that aside, Tityrus, tell us, who is your god?

“Turmoil abounds in the land” (usque adeo turbatur agris turbamur): Servius, the ancient commentator on Virgil, offered this gloss on the phrase:

“There is no distinguishing of guilt or deserts . . . The choice of ‘turmoil abounds’ is truly wise because it is impersonal; it applies to all people in general . . . Whereas, if you read “we are in turmoil” it would seem applicable only to a few.”

usque adeo turbatur agris turbamur sine ulla discretione culpae vel meriti . . . sane vera lectio est ‘turbatur’, ut sit inpersonale, quod ad omnes pertinet generaliter . . . si enim ‘turbamur’ legeris, videtur ad paucos referri.

Ecloga I.


Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui Musam meditaris avena:
nos patriae fines et dulcia linquimus arva;
nos patriam fugimus: tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.


O Meliboee, deus nobis haec otia fecit.
namque erit ille mihi semper deus, illius aram
saepe tener nostris ab ovilibus imbuet agnus.
Ille meas errare boves, ut cernis, et ipsum
ludere quae vellem calamo permisit agresti.


Non equidem invideo; miror magis: undique totis
usque adeo turbatur agris. en, ipse capellas
protinus aeger ago; hanc etiam vix, Tityre, duco.
hic inter densas corylos modo namque gemellos,
spem gregis, a!, silice in nuda conixa reliquit.
saepe malum hoc nobis, si mens non laeva fuisset,
de caelo tactas memini praedicere quercus.
Sed tamen, iste deus qui sit, da, Tityre, nobis.

Venezuelans fleeing their country.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at