In the year 29 BC the great Roman poet Virgil published these lines: Blessed is he who has succeeded in learning the laws of nature’s working, has cast beneath his feet all fear and fate’s implacable decree, and the howl of insatiable Death. But happy too is he who knows the rural gods…

They’re from his poem the Georgics, a detailed account of farming life in the Italy of the time. ‘Georgics’ means ‘agricultural things’, and it’s often been read as a farming manual. But it was written at a moment when the Roman world was emerging from a period of civil war, and questions of land ownership and management were heavily contested. It’s also a philosophical reflection on humanity’s relationship with the natural world, the ravages of time, and the politics of Virgil’s day.

It’s exerted a profound influence on European writing about agriculture and rural life, and has much to offer environmental thinking today.


Katharine Earnshaw Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter;

Neville Morley Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter


Diana Spencer Professor of Classics at the University of Birmingham

Producer: Luke Mulhall