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The Pervigilium Veneris--of unknown authorship, but clearly belonging
to the late literature of the Roman Empire--has survived in two MSS.,
both preserved at Paris in the Bibliothèque Nationale.
Of these two MSS. the better written may be assigned (at earliest) to
the close of the seventh century; the other (again at earliest) to the
close of the ninth. Both are corrupt; the work of two illiterate
copyists who--strange to say--were both smatterers enough to betray
their little knowledge by converting Pervigilium into Per Virgilium
(scilicet, "by Virgil"): thus helping us to follow the process of
thought by which the Middle Ages turned Virgil into a wizard. Here and
there the texts become quite silly, separately or in consent; and just
where they agree in the most surprising way--i.e. in the arrangement
of the lines--the conjectural emendator is invited to do his worst by a
note at the head of the older Codex, "Sunt vero versus xxii"--"There are
rightly twenty-two lines."
This has started much ingenious guess-work. But no really convincing
rearrangement has been achieved as yet; and I have been content to take
the text pretty well as it stands, with a few corrections upon which
most scholars agree. With a poem of "paratactic structure" the best of
us may easily go astray by transposing lines, or blocks of lines, to
correspond with our sequence of thought; and I shall be content if,
following the only texts to which appeal can be made, my translation
be generally intelligible.
It runs pretty closely, line for line, with the original; because one
may love and emulate classical terseness even while despairing to rival
it. But it does not attempt to be literal; for even were it worth doing,
I doubt if it be possible for anyone in our day to hit precisely the
note intended by an author or heard by a reader in the eighth century.
Men change subtly as nations succeed to nations, religions to religions,
philosophies to philosophies; and it is a property of immortal poetry to
shift its appeal. It does not live by continuing to mean the some thing.
It grows as we grow. We smile, for instance, when some interlocutor in a
dialogue of Plato takes a line from the Iliad and applies it seriously
au pied de la lettre. We can hardly conceive what the great line
conveyed to him; but it may mean something equally serious to us, though
in a different way.
 Facsimiles of the two Codices can be studied in a careful edition of
the Pervigilum by Mr Cecil Clementi, published by Mr B.H. Blackwell of
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