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.
About the Author
Hermann Broch (1886–1951) was born in Vienna, Austria, where he trained as an engineer and studied philosophy and mathematics. He gradually increased his involvement in the intellectual life of Vienna, becoming acquainted with Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sigmund Freud, and Robert Musil, among others. The Sleepwalkers was his first major work. In 1938, he was imprisoned as a subversive by the Nazis, but was freed and fled to the United States. In the years before his death, he was researching mass psychology at Yale University. The Death of Virgil originally appeared in 1945; his last major novel, The Guiltless, was published in 1950.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This novel reads more like an epic poem than a novel, which is only right as the novel deals with the demise of the Aeneid's brilliant author. A sensitive and patient reader will be generously rewarded by the sheer poetry of the rich and meaningful language written by a first-rate, unheralded genius in Hermann Broch. One sees many shades of Aeneas in this tale about Virgil's trip to visit Caesar to present him the Aeneid. There is much in this tale about the challenges of writers to capture the true essence of life and the torment by Virgil about his inability to truly capture it in the Aeneid. Virgil is so tormented by the inadequacies he finds in his masterpiece that he threatens to burn the Aeneid but is forbidden by Augustus to do so. If it were not for Nora Barnacle, wife of James Joyce, much of that work of genius would have been lost to a fire from which in a bit of quick witted work she managed to retrieve it. Broch presents the rich, dense, intellectual sensibilities of Virgil with a style that will challenge and immensely satisfy readers of gorgeous literary novels. The innovative, prose style of Broch reminded me of Proust with some of the longest and most beautiful sentences that I have ever read. As beautifully as this book is written, the translation by Jean Starr Untermeyer utterly blew me away -- this is a highly nuanced and complex novel about poetic sensibilities which dive deep into the abyss and float high into the "second immensity" of the "cupola of the stars". Untermeyer provides full poetic justice in her translation to richly bring to life in English a truly memorable work and one of life's greatest literary treasures. Broch's novel ranks near the very top of the world's most masterfully articulated, literary novels and is truly worthy of the high critical acclaim it has received on this site by extremely bright readers. Seize the day: this novel is truly one of a kind --like the Aeneid, which so deeply inspired Broch, this novel is one for the ages.
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 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