Plate XLIV - Poet reading

It is impossible to see the Poet reading to two personages who at first sight appear to be male and female, without remembering the circumstance of Virgil reciting that part of his poem to the emperor and Octavia, which first produced tears, and at the words «Tu Marcellus eris» threw her into a swoon, from which she recovered to present a sum equal to 2000 of our pounds sterling to the poet whose verse had dope so much towards immortalizing the memory of her son.

On a closer examination, however, it must be acknowledged that an emperor, in the time of Virgil, would not probably have appeared so little covered, nor would the Poet, whose skin is of a deep red hue, have been in the same predicament, in the presence of the empress.

Moreover, the nearer sedent figure is so decidedly of an androgynous nature, while the middle-aged female has all the marks of ordinary humanity, that Augustus and Octavia can scarcely be the persons represented.

The dark colour of the Poet seems to have induced many persons to imagine that he must be a slave ; but, admitting this, we are still in the dark as to the subject of the picture.

The locality resembles a modern theatre, with three persons in the pit, and four others in the boxes, one of whom, on the right, has that sort of blue glory which seems, in the paintings of Pompeii, to be the attribute of divinity, or, at least, of heroic personages.

The female, it is true, seems agitated, and is pointing as if to command the repetition of some passage. The history certainly mentions that after the words «O nate» Octavia burst into tears ; and there is perhaps nothing but the dress, or rather the absence of it, that should prevent us from considering Virgil as the hero of the piece, or, at least, that the story may have been similar.

If the house really belonged to a poet, it might have been some triumph of his own which was here portrayed ; yet a god with the blue glory and bow and a Muse would scarcely have descended in the times of Imperial Rome, their visits to this earth having long been suspended. An elderly figure on the left, and another, with a crutch, seem personages of this world ; and perhaps, when the picture becomes more known, some one will hit upon the explanation.

Above the picture is the cock with the caduceus, and other ornaments from the same house. The border with harpies is perhaps the only ancient authority for the form of those beings yet found.

The ornament below the picture is from one of the older excavations.

The strong resemblance between some of the figures in this painting to those in the celebrated picture from Herculaneum, taken from the Iphigenia in Tauris of Euripides, ought to be remarked. There is, perhaps, sufiicient reason for thinking they refer to the same subject.