Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Bull on the Mat

Vergil is one of my favorite Roman poets. I have the pleasure of reading his epic The Aeneid with some very talented and insightful high school seniors. Today, as I was preparing for this class, I read the following passage. It describes the seasoned warrior, Turnus, attacking a young noob to the battlefield, Pallas.
desiluit Turnus biiugis, pedes apparat ire
comminus; utque leo, specula cum vidit ab alta
stare procul campis meditantem in proelia taurum
advolat, haud alia est Turni venientis imago.

“Turnus leapt from his chariot and prepared to go on foot at close quarters, just like a lion flies forth when it sees from a high vantage point a bull standing far off in the fields, thinking about battles; not at all different is the image of Turnus coming.”
                                                            Vergil, Aeneid X. 453–456

 Yep. That’s me on the mat. Not the lion. The bull. While I think about what my next move should be, while I run through options in my head, while I start to move one way then switch another, while I try to recall how I’m supposed to defend a position, the lion I am sparring with flies forth and attacks. The lion does not have to think. The lion has done this so many times, it’s natural. The bull, well, I think you know what happens to him.

Although death was certain for Pallas, when he faced his “lion” he said, “I will either be praised for the rich spoils I’ll take, or I’ll be praised because of my distinguished death” (aut spoliis ego iam raptis laudabor opimis/ aut leto insigni, X. 449–50). I can only hope to face my lions as bravely as Pallas faced Turnus, even though my chance of winning is almost non-existent. I am grateful to all of you who have helped me have the courage to enter the battle in the first place.

So, let's hear it for us bulls. Maybe somedayif we survive long enough to think things through thoroughly—maybe someday we'll get to ROAR!


  1. Excellent. More poetry, please! :)

    I always thought it was Virgil (or at least that's what it says on the cover of the edition I have). Is Vergil an accepted variation?

  2. His name is actually Publius Vergilius Maro, so Vergil would be his correct anglicized name. Various reasons are given for it coming down into English as V-I-rgil as well. One of the most common reasons given is that in the Middle Ages his text was considered prophetic (and maybe still is!). The Latin word for "wand" is "virga," and hence the changed spelling might refer to this mystical power!

  3. Interesting! I studied The Aeneid in one of my first year English Lit undergraduate modules back in the day, entitled 'The Epic Tradition.' Judging from what you said above, I can imagine that people like me referring to him as Virgil is just the sort of thing that would annoy classicists. ;p

  4. Thank you Slidey for asking about the spelling, I was curious about that myself...glad to learn Shark!

    18 months in and I'm still very much the bull, though I get flashes of lion-ness with absolute newbies.


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