Virgil and the Goats
FOR many years I have been looking for someone who would sympathize with me properly about goats. I first became aware of them in a pleasant garden in Surrey, where the afternoon was entirely blighted by tea made with goats' milk. Some years later I spent a few months with kind friends in the north of England who kept a little herd and dispensed their milk to weak or ailing babies in the neighbourhood. Babies have extra- ordinary powers of resistance, and I am bound to say they, all throve on it.
- It is difficult to put into words the venomous loathing with which these animals inspired me. On Sundays when the gardener was away it was my duty to help my hostess to chase and catch the diabolical creatures. They had the swiftness of an antelope, a polo pony's gift of turning in their own length, and even though encumbered with six feet of trailing chain they could outdistance and outwit three grown-ups and the between-maid. When you had at last got one into a corner and trodden on its chain, preparatory to hauling it in hand over hand, it Would either jerk away with the strength of an elephant and nearly upset you, or, changing its tactics, rush sud- denly forward and hit you with its hard forehead, or its horns, as the sex might be.
To drag an unwilling goat across a field is more a job for a steam winch than a human being ; and when we had pushed and shoved them into their stable, they trod on our feet with their hard black hooves, which are so small and shiny that you can't possibly retaliate by treading back. If you hit them, their sides were so hard and unre- Silient that your arm was jarred and shattered to the shoulder. If one or two escaped they would lightly run up on to the roof of a shed an -thence bound on to a high garden wall, from which it eas impossible to dislodge them until they had eaten al' tzie flowers and rock-plants that grew in its crevi_r‘. rwh erd othen they had kids, the cook, who was a Yorkshire trti nan, used to make from their first rich milk a local dish, a kind of devil's brew of a blanc-mange, called " beestings " : and I can only say of it that beestings was its name and beestings its nature.
There are so few people who have had this experience that 'I have not had much sympathy, but now I have found Someone who understands.
A gentleman Called P. Virgilius Maro, who had himself lived in the country, has written a poem which has never been properly understood till now—I allude to the first Eclogue. It is disguised as a pastoral poem, but its real purpose is very evident to anyone who shares Virgil's hatred of goats, and its proper name should be Virgilius in Capella& Tityrus was sitting comfortably under a tree piping . away, when Meliboeus approached, haggard and worn out with goat-driving. He was rather a depressed and spineless person—a kind of Belgian refugee—and this flock of goats was too much for him. He must have had a horrible journey with them from his devas- tated area, and why he brought them I can't think, for he was evidently more of a poet than a goat-driver. He knew this : " En ipse capellas protinus aeger ago."—" These goats make so miserable that I really can't drive them any further "—was his explanation to Tityrus. And his next words, " hane etiam viz, Tityre, duco," are even more poignant. How often, when struggling with Billy the he-goat, did I wildly exclaim, " Hunc (for the huncs are even stronger than the hancs) " etiam viz duco."
But there was no need for him to fall into such deep depression about the she-goat who, having laid her twins, the hope of the flock (ah ! ), on the stony road, pushed them into a thick coppice and there deserted them. No harm ever comes to any goat, man, woman, or child : the devil looks after his own.
Virgil fully realized the appalling misfortune of having to drive she-goats, for he explains that the gods, through the medium of (a) a blasted oak, and (b) a crow sitting on a hollow tree on the left (and though this line is marked as of doubtful authenticity I see no reason to doubt that it came from the fullness of his heart), took pains to warn Meliboeus of what he was in for.
Tityrus, who never really listened to anything Meliboeus said, then explained that he had always thought that his little town was to Rome as a puppy is to a dog, or a kid to its mother. This unlucky reference reminded Meliboeus too much of his recent trials, and sooner than think of goats he asked Tityrus to tell him why he went to Rome. From this point I think they both spoke at once, only Virgil couldn't explain that in poetry, but it is clear that neither listened to the other. " Ante leves ergo . . . ," says Tityrus rather sharply ; " as I was saying before you interrupted me . . . " Tityrus' stories of Augustus were too well known in the neighbourhood, and it was fine fun for him to find a fresh audience.
Finally Meliboeus seems to have decided to emigrate rather than drive goats about any longer.
Ito meae fella quondam pecus ite capellae. Non ego vos posthac. . . .
dumoea pendere procul de rupe videbo ; . . . non me pascente, capellao, florentem cytisum et sauces carpetis &mares.
" Go away, goats," said he ; " you used to get on per- fectly well without me. Thank heaven I shan't ever see you climbing on the garden wall again, or eating the flowers and seedlings."
It was a disappointment to Tityrus, who had hoped to tell a great many more stories about Augustus. " Hie tamen hunt mecum poteras requiescere noctem "—" You might at least have stopped the night here," he said, re- proachfully. But Meliboeus knew better ; Tityrus had offered him beestings for supper—pressi copia lactis- and probably he would have had to milk the goats.