Doing laundry and Reading Virgil
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Candace Nippolt
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        On a recent Saturday, waiting for a load of laundry to finish drying, I picked up a new translation of Virgil’s Georgics and plunged in. Written around 30 BC, he describes the natural world ruled by the gods. He is intensely interested in the weather, farming, animal husbandry and people’s relation to these things. Not surprising, since Virgil was the son of a farmer.
       The language of this translation is so sparkling, so immediate—for want of a better description—that I had to keep reminding myself that the Georgics was written over 2,000 years ago. It only emphasized some of what is gone from our lives and what we are always trying to recreate—a lost Eden.
       With all our labor saving devices we still have to do the laundry, plow a field, make a meal. And these days we try (sometimes) to do it without poisoning the water, the soil, the air or abusing the makers of our shirts and shorts.
       Virgil wrote all this at the suggestion of his patron and it took him seven years to complete. This is the writer who cranked out the Aeneid, that wonderful fantasy of the founding of Rome in l0 short years. Talk about writer’s block! This particular translation is bilingual—Latin on one page, English on the facing one. I’ve been puzzling out the Latin here and there—would that I had paid more attention in Latin I and II in school.
       Virgil also offers a myth of the Fall of Man with Jupiter as God, but unlike in Christian reasoning, thinks life is just how things are and will always be. Life is expressed with a capital L in each line—birds, bees, plants, streams, oxen, people, all come to life and are celebrated equally. The book is not man centered. In other words, everything is interrelated, a concept some still struggle to accept.
       He encapsulates how after this Fall, instead of being handed a living by the gods, man had to learn to do things for himself. It is one of the best expressions ever of how humans try to cope with life as it is, day in, day out. Everything in the world is fragile, he says, and must be protected and helped along. Homes and orchards are destroyed by man or nature and must be created all over again.
       And so I sat in my chair, put the book down and tried to listen above the dryer, above the traffic, above the lawn mower, for bird song—for some intimation of the natural world. I glanced out the window at the weather and was glad I didn’t have to take my clothes down to a stream and beat them against rocks. Is it possible to live in a reflection of 30BC? Have we screwed things up so badly that the Georgics is no longer relevant at all or is there a chance—as he tells us—that when things are destroyed you must not despair but create them all over again. Again and again.