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

Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit: Some Vergilian Quotes on His Birthday

Publius Vergilius Maro was born on this day in 70 BCE. He is probably best known for the challenging and unforgettable Aeneid, but his Eclogues and Georgics are eminently quotable. Oh, and a man who writes his own epitaph deserves some respect:

Here are a handful of  our favorite lines.

Aeneid, 1.203

Perhaps one day it will be a joy to remember also these things”

forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit

Eclogues, 3.60

“Beginnings are from Jove, oh Muses! Everything is full of Jove”

ab Jove principium, Musae; Jovis omnia plena

Aeneid, 6.266

“Let me have the right to speak what I have heard”

sit mihi fas audita loqui

Georgics, 1.505-7

“Right and wrong are turned upside down: so many wars throughout the world, so many faces of wickedness, the plow is given no proper respect”

fas versum atque nefas: tot bella per orbem,
tam multae scelerum facies, non ullus aratro
dignus honos

Aeneid, 7.312

“If I cannot bend the gods, I will move Acheron”.

flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.

Eclogues, 4.18-20

“And for you, little boy, the uncultivated earth will scatter its first small gifts, wandering ivy and cyclamens everywhere, beans mixed with laughing acanthus”

at tibi prima puer nullo munuscula cultu / errantis hederas passim cum baccare tellus / mixtaque ridenti colocasia fundet acantho.

Aeneid, 12.677

“Whither Zeus and cruel Fortune summon, let us go.”

quo deus et quo dura vocat Fortuna sequamur.