Der Tod des Vergil Roman

by Hermann Broch

Paperback, 1987

Status

Available

Call number

GM 2678 T633

Collection

Publication

Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp

Description

It is the reign of the Emperor Augustus, and Publius Vergilius Maro, the poet of the Aeneid and Caesar's enchanter, has been summoned to the palace, where he will shortly die. Out of the last hours of Virgil's life and the final stirrings of his consciousness, the Austrian writer Hermann Broch fashioned one of the great works of twentieth-century modernism, a book that embraces an entire world and renders it with an immediacy that is at once sensual and profound. Begun while Broch was imprisoned in a German concentration camp, The Death of Virgil is part historical novel and part prose poem -- and always an intensely musical and immensely evocative meditation on the relation between life and death, the ancient and the modern.

User reviews

LibraryThing member mattviews
Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil revolves about the poet's wish to burn his masterpiece, The Aeneid, and creates out of his signified keen senses and heightened perceptions a rich vision, with full actuality, the religious, philosophical and political impulses of the time. The novel should be
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read as an epic poem in four parts (water, fire, earth, air) that parallel to four movements of a symphony in which the manner of the theme and variations of each successive part serves as some kind of commentary and reiteration on the parts that have preceded it.
The book is arduous in reading, strenuous in contemplating the richly lyrical prose. Woven and sifted throughout are reflections and perceptions of Virgil's febrile yet lucid thoughts in such rocking rhythms that illuminate, to the full actuality, the macabre sensation of the drifting journey on which the poet is being carried by the bark of death. Death's signet was graved upon his brow. The epic closely accounts for the last 24 hours of Virgil's life as soon as the near-death poet returns to Rome from Athens. The uninterrupted flow of lyrical speculation begins at the port of Brundisium where the bark docks, lingers in the mental suspension between life and death, between the "no longer alive" and "not yet dead", and ends with the journey to death, to nothingness, to a dimension of non-recollection and stillness.

Truth seems to be the recurring theme. The notion of truth is being illuminated and brought to full elaboration through the repeating insistence of reflections on life, death, memory, knowledge, perception, and philosophy. As the poet approached death, he admits with bitterness and cold sobriety that he has pursued a worthless, wretched literary life. The Aeneid, which is acclaimed by Caesar and to whom it is dedicated, has been a mere indulgence of beauty, self-sufficiently limited to the embellishment of concepts long since conceived, formed, and known, without any novel contribution in it. The truth of artistic inadequacies, lack of perceptions, thirst for superficialities, and egotism yields the decision to mock his works. Despite Caesar's effort to cajole Virgil, the poet comments that he lacks the perception, to which he never takes the first step, and yet nobody has ever attained the knowledge of truth of such perception.

The stream of consciousness technique renders the poet's final hours to the full actuality. In fact, Virgil regards death as the most significant event of his life (perception and knowledge of truth?) and is full of anxiety lest he miss it. His sense of time seems to be warped and each passing second has grown to some immense, throbbing, empty space which is not to be linked. The body and its human qualities are denuded and are stripped to the naked soul with the most naked guilt. For Virgil, death is part of life and the understanding of death enlightens meaning of life. Strong than death and the shackle of time is fate, in which the final secret of time lay hidden. It is for this very secret of time (and death) that the suspense and tension of the book not being thwarted.

The conversations are reproductions of external events and actual dialogues (Aeneid, Georgics, Eclogue, Horace Carmina) and their inclusion into the book's inner monologue (the narrative seems to have proceeded in the third person but soon has discerned that narrative constitutes to an inner monologue made up of Virgil's dreams, reflections, visions, and delusions) gains them an abstract touch. The flow of the book presses on through various tempi according to the degree of Virgil's consciousness. The more headlong the tempo (which usually occurs during Virgil's conversations with his friends, attendants, and Caesar), the shorter the sentence. The slower the tempo becomes, the more complicated the sentence structure (i.e. Part 2 - Fire). Virgil's reflections and musings manifest some interminable, richly lyrical prose that mirrors the dying poet's thoughts and ravings.

The writing also deftly alludes to the religious impulse at the time of Virgil. Talks of the coming of salvation bringer prevail in Virgil's conversations with Caesar, who denies the need of such salvation. In various occasions Virgil forebodes the coming of a savior who will not only live in the perception, but in his being the world will be redeemed to truth, whom will conquer death and bring himself to the sacrifice out of love for men and mankind, transferring himself by his own death into the deed of truth. Virgil's audacious statement signifies the turning point in history, the crisis of the godless era between the no longer antiquity and the net yet of Christianity.

From Broch's own words, nothing is really "reported or perceived" in the book but what "penetrates the invisible web of sensual data, fever visions and speculations." The richness of the writing and its lyrics sharpens the contours of the concrete and brings to full actuality Virgil's musings and memories. It's a strenuous, challenging read that requires undivided concentration.
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LibraryThing member janerawoof
Gorgeous prose -- I could see everything before me, both real and surreal. I didn't understnd the stream of consciousness, but the narrative concerned Virgil's wanting to burn his ms. of Aeneid and Augustus arguing against it. The last part was Virgil crossing the Styx.
LibraryThing member themagiciansgirl
Brilliant, poetic, breathtaking, spendor sunk in splendor!

"...in the intoxication of falling, man was prone to believe himself propelled upward."
--Hermann Broch
LibraryThing member pjpjx
kind of slow, but at times beautiful
LibraryThing member hbergander
The Roman poet, frustrated from abstruseness and corruption of political and social life, decides in the last hours before his death to burn his masterpiece “Aneid”. Broch wrote this novel, undoubtedly being frustrated from personal situation and political circumstances and tired to death like
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his protagonist.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Hermann Broch was fifty-one years old in 1937 when he began to write The Death of Virgil. In doing this he was adhering to certain principles that he had outlined in an essay, "Joyce and the Present Age", written in the previous year. In this essay he argued that "the work of art, the "universal
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work of art" becomes the mirror of the Zeitgeist"; that being the totality of the historic reality of the present age. This totality is reflected in great works of art like Faust and the late works of Beethoven. Reaching his fiftieth year was significant for Broch as a time that would allow him to achieve this sort of significance in his own writing. The work known as The Death of Virgil would be his "great work of art".

With the use of third person narrative that often seems like a "stream of consciousness" Hermann Broch is able to put the reader inside the head of Virgil for much of the book. From the opening pages we meet a poet/artist Virgil who is on the edge of life in several different respects. The edge between water and land is explored as Virgil's ship, one among the parade of ships escorting Augustus back to the port of Brundisium in Roman Italy, sails toward land on the first page of the novel.

"as the sunny yet deathly loneliness of the sea changed with the peaceful stir of friendly human activity where the channel, softly enhanced by the proximity of human life and human living, was populated by all sorts of craft". (p 11)

The sunny sea is seen as also deathly in its loneliness. This signals another edge that will be important throughout the novel as Virgil in his illness hovers between life and death. Further there is the personal and historical background with the tension between Virgil and Augustus mirroring that of Athens and Rome. Even though Virgil dearly loved the life of study and thought in Athens he was torn by his memories of home as he arrived in Brundisium:

"lifted up in the breath of the immutable coolness, borne forward to seas so enigmatic and unknown that it was like a homecoming, for wave upon wave of the great planes through which his keel had already furrowed, wave-planes of memory, wave-planes of seas, they had not become transparent, nothing in them had divulged itself to him, only the enigma remained, and filled with the enigma of the past overflowed its shores and reached into the present, so that in the midst of the resinous torch-smoke, in the midst of the brooding city fumes, , , how they all lay behind him, about him, within him, how entirely they were his own," (p 31)

Throughout the beginning of the novel, a section titled "Water--The Arrival", Virgil is filled with doubts. He is nearing the end of his life with a feeling that "it was time itself that called down scorn upon him, the unalterable flood of time with its manifold voices," and he may not be able to escape his fate. But what was that fate and why was it important to him as creator? This is something that he is unsure of even to the point of asking himself why he was writing this book (The Aeneid which is always by his side).

"Nothing availed the poet, he could right no wrongs; he is heeded only if he extols the world, never if he portrays it as it is. Only falsehood wins renown, not understanding! And could one assume that the Aeneid would be vouchsafed another or better influence?" (p 15)

His own Aeneid as quoted epigraphically by Broch suggests that Virgil is "exiled by fate" just as his creation, Aeneas, was. Is that the fate of all poets? Must they be exiled by their fate to become an artist of this world? Perhaps the final three sections of The Death of Virgil will suggest answers to these and other questions.
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Language

Original publication date

1945

ISBN

351836796X / 9783518367964
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