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Marco Formisano

In comparison with other technical and scientific disciplines, agriculture enjoyed a higher social and cultural status because of both its inherent utility for society and economy and its moral exemplarity, associated in Rome with the traditional respected “ways of the ancestors” (mos maiorum). The extant works of Cato, Varro, Columella, Gargilius Martialis, and Palladius testify to the long life of agricultural discourse throughout the history of Latin literature and beyond. While it is helpful to read these texts as belonging to a tradition, each of them has its own individual form, aims, and creative ambition.Recent studies on ancient technical and scientific texts have demonstrated that this particular strand of Greek and Roman textuality—taking as its subject matter not only arable cultivation but also livestock, arboriculture, market gardens, luxuryfoods, slave management, and villa construction—deserves much more attention than it was given in the past, when works on various fields of practical knowledge were generally dismissed both as literary texts and as historical sources: on the one hand, they seemed to show no connection with the literary prose of other genres; on the other, quite paradoxically, historians of science and technology lamented that these texts were too literary and thus of limited utility for historical reconstructions. Today, however, there is a general scholarly agreement that these texts are not to be considered as mere “manuals,” since they do indeed have a strong relationship with other literary genres, both prose and poetry, and since they create a specific textual language, one which is much more “literary” than one might at first glance expect if one focuses only on the technical knowledge contained in those books. It is as if we were to read and interpret .


Terentius Varro Atacinus, Publius, a poet born in the Atax (Aude) valley in Gallia Narbonensis or at *Narbo itself in 82 bce. Nothing is known of his life except that he learned Greek at the age of thirty-five (Jerome, Chronicle ). The first of his poems was no doubt his Bellum Sequanicum , an historical epic on Caesar's campaign of 58 bce. After he made the acquaintance of Greek literature, he translated *Apollonius (1) Rhodius under the title Argonautae , wrote amatory verse addressed to a “Leucadia” (Prop. 2.34.85; Ov. Tr. 2.439), a name chosen, like “Lesbia,” to recall *Sappho (if this was in elegiacs it was his only work not in hexameters), and composed two didactic works, Chorographia (which seems to show knowledge of Alexander of Ephesus) and Ephemeris (the title is an emendation), a poem on weather forecasting in which he used *Aratus (1) (his version influenced Virgil's treatment of the same topic in G.