New Approaches to Marginality in Latin Literature
"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.