Marcus Terentius Varro
At the same time that I was pondering designing four dinner plates for the Birds and Insects project, I was also reading Virgil's Georgics as research for a book dealing with the observation of bees. The Georgics is divided into four chapters. It became clear that the two projects could be combined.
Reading the Georgics was a wonderful adventure. It included forming a very small reading group with another avid reader/artist, Ruth Bardenstein, and searching for a translation which suited us. After many attempts we settled on the recent, remarkable translation by the poet David Ferry.
Each of the four books is devoted to a different aspect of agriculture and explores its glories and its terrors. In the first book Virgil looks at seeds and planting, weather and celestial indicators, - how beautiful as well as how fickle the world is. Everything worked so hard to attain can be ruined in a minute. In the second book he speaks of trees and vines with emphasis on grapes and wine. The third book is the most alarming with its love of livestock and animals in general, followed by the horrors of plagues that kill them and ruin the lives of the people who depend on them. The final book deals with the lives of bees and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, overlapping with the story of Aristaeus
and the eventual discovery of bugonia, an ancient belief in the creation of bees in rotting animal flesh.
In each book the dark side includes a snake.
Using other reference material that clarified actual species of birds and plants, I selected images that were specific to the books. The project was not an attempt to illustrate the Georgics; rather it was used as inspiration for the images. On each plate there is a snake which in three cases is headless and looks like a ribbon so it would be less frightening to the diner.