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Death of Virgil [Paperback]

Hermann Broch
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 15 1995 Vintage International
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.

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Review

"Broch is the greatest novelist European literature has produced since Joyce, and...The Death of Virgil represents the only genuine technical advance that fiction has made since Ulysses." -- George Steiner

"Hermann Broch belongs in that tradition of great twentieth-century novelists who have transformed, almost beyond recognition, one of the classic art forms of the nineteenth century."

-- Hannah Arendt

From the Back Cover

"Broch is the greatest novelist European literature has produced since Joyce, and...The Death of Virgil represents the only genuine technical advance that fiction has made since Ulysses." -- George Steiner

"Hermann Broch belongs in that tradition of great twentieth-century novelists who have transformed, almost beyond recognition, one of the classic art forms of the nineteenth century."

-- Hannah Arendt


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5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular.....breathtaking March 12 2000
Format:Paperback
Hermann Broch began writing this book under extraordinary circumstances as a prisoner in a German concentration camp in World War II. What emerged from that horrifying experience is one of the preeminent literary works of the 20th century.
The book is about Virgil's infamous deathbed request that his magnum opus, The "Aeneid," be burned because it was imperfect. Most of the book is told in a dazzling but recondite stream-of-consciousness mode, but the best section is Virgil's deathbed discussion with Caesar Augustus.
Broch invokes 20th century ideals such as the "authenticity" of art as a mirror to the natural world. We also encounter the dilemma of works of art that are incomplete & not polished completely. Aristotle said that in a perfect art work, every word contributes to the organic whole. Arbitrarily remove or add one word, says Aristotle, and the whole work comes crumbling down. Virgil uses this motif as his justification for wishing his beloved poem burned. Juxtaposed with this paradigm are the pleadings of Augustus that it is Virgil's duty as a Roman citizen to let his poem be read by all the world. After all, the literary excursion was to be Rome's national epic. The scene is, unmistakably, magnificent.
A considerable amount of background reading is required before attempting to take on this work. At a bare minimum, read the entire canon of Virgil, especially the "Aeneid." A workable familiarity of Roman history up until and including Augustus is necessary and a biography of Virgil (I would recommend Peter Levi's) would also be helpful. I am a fairly well-read guy, but some of the allusions went over my head.
The stream-of-consciousness style is interesting, but can make the book rather dense. Many of the sentences go on for pages and pages. The book attempts to capture the free-thought attributes of the machinery of Virgil's mind. An engrossing work of prose.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Virgil's dark night of the soul Sept. 17 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
"Burn the Aeneid" Virgil instructs his friends from his deathbed. Broch, as Dante did before him, uses Virgil as a spiritual guide in this exploration of the metaphysical and moral imagination. Here, the dying poet, reflects feverishly, consciously transcending his decaying form into the infinite universe-- and despairs of hope, as his sheltering idealism is confronted with the reality of human existence, the limits and futility of his understanding. Virgil's trust in a civilized humane society, one that, at its source, springs from the individual's seeking of beauty, freedom and wisdom, disintegrates, into one represented by the predations of the mob of the streets of Rome, as does his confidence in the Aeneid, his opus. A dialogue on the fate of the Aeneid ensues between Virgil and Augustus, forming a complex debate on art and government. Virgil defends the purity of the perceived world as metaphor, free of the allusions of art; Augustus proposes the nobility of art as symbol for government. A delicate lattice of oppositions and constructive contradictions braces the book. This is, though, ultimately, a story of the human journey, a struggle with darkness and doubt, reconciliation, and a rise to salvation. The remarkable final section has the celestial translucence of 'Paradiso'. The Death of Virgil is among a handful of true literary masterpieces this century whose reach, that of the entire compass of human impulse, consciousness and conscience, has equalled its grasp. It is a work of intellectual and spiritual adventure. Broch orchestrates an inquiry and fugue, sombre and passionate, into life, encompassed in a sensuous poetic oration-- and Virgil continues to cast his spell on the divine and the aesthetic order, employed by masters to illuminate our deepest perplexities and aspirations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A defience to conventions Jan. 1 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This novel is a vast sea. To be able,at least, to promanade along its shore is still a pleasure, no matter how weary you are in attempting a voyage across it. The sea, that is the novel, is full of turbulant linguistic storms, which may intimidate you at the first reading, but would yeild to your intense wish to grasp what these storms mean, in a second or third reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A revelation. Jan. 15 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Every few years one might come across a book that is so extraordinary that you feel that you have been changed by reading it. This is such a book. The topic is an ambitious one: a meditation on what it means to be human, but Broch brings such a wealth of ideas into his work that at times are full of intense significance and meaning.
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