Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Unpublished Legends of Virgil

Charles Godfrey Leland - The Unpublished Legends of Virgil (1899)

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One of the most peculiar cultural developments was the idea that arose in the Middle Ages of Virgil as a magician.  Not just somebody with an occasional vision and a trick or two but full-blown magic spells, talking metal heads, living after death - that type of magician.  J.W. Spargo's 1934 dissertation-turned-book Virgil the Necromancer is most often referenced but seems to be a tad wayward in its conclusions so the real sources remain Domenico Comparetti's Vergil in the Middle Ages (1872, English 1895) and J.S. Tunison's Master Virgil: The Author of the Aeneid as He Seemed in the Middle Ages (1888).  Jan M. Ziolkowski and Michael C.J. Putnam's The Virgilian Tradition: The First Fifteen Hundred Years is a more extensive compilation of material.  (There was an American stage performer named Virgil the Magician in the 1940s.  Apparently one of his illusions was a vanishing lion.)

The Unpublished Legends of Virgil seems to have been intended as mostly a supplement to Comparetti since it collects an additional fifty or so tales that "contain much more that is occult, strange and heathen, than can be found in the other tales".  Exactly my kind of book though I wonder about the ones he didn't include because they were "shocking" (his quotes), especially since what is already collected is pretty earthy shall we say.