Virgil’s Troilus and Metapoetry

Andrew McClellan (Davidson College)

This paper explores the metapoetic potential of Troilus’ death depicted on Dido’s temple at Aeneid 1.474-8. The passage contains a nod to the act of writing in Troilus’ ‘scribbling’ in the dust with his spearpoint-turned-stylus. The scene ‘militarizes’ Virgil’s description in Georgics 3 of breaking bullocks for the plow; they ‘sign’ their hoofprints on the dust’s surface. The Troilus scene is invested with ‘georgic’ plowing imagery, itself a metaphor for literary composition (writing and plowing are linked in Latin poetics). The horror lies in Virgil’s transformation of a farmer training bullocks to drag the plow into the youthful Troilus who loses control, becoming a plow cutting agrarian furrows. The metaphorical equivalency of writing and charioteering is also relevant: Troilus loses control of his chariot and his literary composition. There’s authorial self-criticism in Virgil’s ‘restaging’ of georgic imagery: the epic poet surpasses the Troilian ‘tyro’ drawing ephemeral lines in the dust.