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Death of Virgil Paperback – January 15, 1995

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (January 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679755489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679755487
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"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

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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The subject here is the nature of Art.
Guillermo Maynez
Broch presents the rich, dense, intellectual sensibilities of Virgil with a style that will challenge and immensely satisfy readers of gorgeous literary novels.
What emerged from that horrifying experience is one of the preeminent literary works of the 20th century.
D. Roberts

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

113 of 119 people found the following review helpful By D. Roberts VINE VOICE on 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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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Matthew M. Yau on September 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil revolves about the poet's wish to burn his masterpiece, The Aeneid, and creates out of his signified keen senses and heightened perceptions a rich vision, with full actuality, the religious, philosophical and political impulses of the time. The novel should be read as an epic poem in four parts (water, fire, earth, air) that parallel to four movements of a symphony in which the manner of the theme and variations of each successive part serves as some kind of commentary and reiteration on the parts that have preceded it.
The book is arduous in reading, strenuous in contemplating the richly lyrical prose. Woven and sifted throughout are reflections and perceptions of Virgil's febrile yet lucid thoughts in such rocking rhythms that illuminate, to the full actuality, the macabre sensation of the drifting journey on which the poet is being carried by the bark of death. Death's signet was graved upon his brow. The epic closely accounts for the last 24 hours of Virgil's life as soon as the near-death poet returns to Rome from Athens. The uninterrupted flow of lyrical speculation begins at the port of Brundisium where the bark docks, lingers in the mental suspension between life and death, between the "no longer alive" and "not yet dead", and ends with the journey to death, to nothingness, to a dimension of non-recollection and stillness.
Truth seems to be the recurring theme. The notion of truth is being illuminated and brought to full elaboration through the repeating insistence of reflections on life, death, memory, knowledge, perception, and philosophy. As the poet approached death, he admits with bitterness and cold sobriety that he has pursued a worthless, wretched literary life.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 17, 1999
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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