In Servius' commentary, there are two elusive statements concerning the ending of the Georgics. Both of these statements seem to imply that Vergil changed the ending of the Georgics and that the Orpheus epyllion as it now stands was a later edition to the poem. The question of whether or not Servius is correct in this assertion is a central question in Vergilian studies. By focusing on the reception of Orpheus prior to Vergil, the Roman Orpheus of Vergil's time, and Vergil's own use of the Orpheus figure, a potential answer emerges to the Servian question. In order to answer this question, the primary inquiry of this paper seeks to find from where Vergil received his Orpheus story. A comprehensive analysis of references to Orpheus in ancient literature leads to the conclusion that before the first-century B.C.E. the primary narrative of Orpheus is not one of failure. Rather, Orpheus appears to successfully retrieve his wife from the underworld. Orpheus does not appear as an important figure in Roman literature until the second half of the first-century when nearly at the same time as Vergil is writing the Georgics Orpheus' popularity explodes in Roman art and literature. Yet, Vergil does not seem to be the source of Orpheus' popularity in Rome, nor does Vergil seem to be inventing a new narrative in which Orpheus fails. The missing source for Vergil's Orpheus figure appears to belong to the first-century. Orpheus appears as a central figure in the Georgics, the Eclogues, the poems of Propertius, and the Culex. Each of these works is rife with references to the poetry of Cornelius Gallus. Given Gallus' prominence in first-century Roman poetry, his close association with Orpheus, the Servian claims of a laudes Galli in the fourth Georgic, and the rise of Orpheus' popularity in the second half of the first-century, Gallus seems a likely source for Vergil's Orpheus.



College and Department

Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters



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Vergil, Eclogues, Georgics, Orpheus, Servius, Cornelius Gallus



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