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The Death of Virgil

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  1,147 ratings  ·  127 reviews
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 emb ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published January 15th 1995 by Vintage (first published 1945)
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Mark Hebwood Oh dear :-)... It sounds as if this word was especially made up for the occasion. You know how inventive German can be in the construction of composit…moreOh dear :-)... It sounds as if this word was especially made up for the occasion. You know how inventive German can be in the construction of composite words that do not really exist but most people would understand. A native speaker might sense more than know what the word means, it is itself a form of poetry, it carries meaning like perfume carries a scent. I just googled this and it appears that the expression is used in the context of Vergil's last hour, who, in death, is denied to see infinity and whose gaze is blocked by a crystal barrier of Himmelsverborgenheiten. So it means "celestial stuff that is hidden" but I acknowledge that does not sound very poetic. "A crystal ceiling obscuring the heavens" perhaps?(less)

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Vit Babenco
Dec 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“Then are they happy, when by length of time The scurf is worn away of each committed crime; No speck is left of their habitual stains, But the pure ether of the soul remains.” VirgilThe Aeneid Book VI: The Underworld
The Death of Virgil consists of four books and four books are four elements: water, fire, earth and air… And air turns into ether – an element of nonbeing.
The novel is written in a very convoluted modernistic manner.
He had been a peasant from birth, a man who loved the peace of e
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was immediately captivated by the first section (Water - The Arrival) of The Death of Virgil, with its masterful, lyrical prose: even in translation it flows naturally, the writing cascading like a poem (bravo, by the way, to the translator of this novel - I cannot image a more difficult work to reshape into another language). What follows does not deliver to the promise of this opening: Fire - The Descent abandons the external world, turning inwards to the tortured mind of the declining Virgi ...more
So, I finished. What I want to know is, where is my prize? This is definitely a book that needs to come with a merit certificate at the finish line. A purportedly stream of consciousness serving as Virgil’s swan song in Brundisium, it is a tax on consciousness and a stream of strum. Which apparently reads as a poem in German, and a labour of, well, labour in English.

As is my wont, I approached with no background ammo: let the text speak, hear, hear. Right at the beginning I floundered: an adulat
David Lentz
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This novel reads more like an epic poem than a novel, which is only right as the novel deals with the demise of the Aeneid's brilliant author. A sensitive and patient reader will be generously rewarded by the sheer poetry of the rich and meaningful language written by a first-rate, unheralded genius in Hermann Broch. One sees many shades of Aeneas in this tale about Virgil's trip to visit Caesar to present him the Aeneid. There is much in this tale about the challenges of writers to capture the ...more
Apr 28, 2011 added it
Guy Davenport says this book "may be the final elegy closing the long duration of a European literature from Homer to Joyce." Gotta get on this one asap.
E. G.
--The Death of Virgil

Translator's Note
David M
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
'The old is dying, the new cannot be born' - Gramsci

Burn the Aeneid.

As a friend and I were just discussing, Broch's masterpiece seems especially poignant and relevant today. World historically speaking, probably a good time to get right with one's creator.

As another friend told me, Reading is mostly vanity. Choose the good.

A lot of people claim this book is boring or extremely difficult. While I don't mean to dispute other people's incorrigible mental states, I must submit my own testimony. For
“The philosophical content (of The Death of Virgil) itself resembles a Spinozistic Cosmos- and Logos-speculation in which all things we know to be separate and particular appear as the ever changing aspects of an eternal One, so that the manifold is understood as the merely temporary individualization of the all-comprehensive whole.” - Hannah Arendt

“The Death of Virgil, one of the major works of our age, attempts to vitalize language with the contrapuntal logic and dynamic simultaneities of mu
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favoritism, germania
I lack both the linguistic capacity and mental clarity to even attempt a review, so I stand in slack-jawed awe instead.

Coulda used some cartoons, though.
Hermann Broch was fifty-one years old in 1937 when he began to write The Death of Virgil. In doing this he was adhering to certain principles that he had outlined in an essay, "Joyce and the Present Age", written in the previous year. In this essay he argued that "the work of art, the "universal work of art" becomes the mirror of the Zeitgeist"; that being the totality of the historic reality of the present age. This totality is reflected in great works of art like Faust and the late works of Be ...more
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
Virgil dreams, hallucinates, regrets, fears, and dies. Oh, and Broch writes prose to make you say your Sweet Marys and drool all over the pages.
Bryn Hammond
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: imagined-fiction
So why is Virgil upset with his art?

...and this was the very reason why he had never succeeded in depicting real human beings, people who ate and drank, who loved and could be loved, and this was why he was so little able to depict those who went limping and cursing through the streets, unable to picture them in their bestiality and their great need of help, least able to show forth the miracle of humanity with which such bestiality is graced; people meant nothing to him, he considered them as
This is a multiple work of art review because once again a serendipitous simultaneous reading developed my thoughts about this book.

Yesterday I was reading Eugen Ruge’s Cabo de Gata during the intermission of the Met Opera’s HD theater broadcast of Kaija Saariaho’s stunning L/Amour de Loin when I came across the folowing quote, right at the center of Ruge's book. Our emotionally wounded narrator has just realized that a convalescing woman he sees hobble down the village promenade each morning in
Dec 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011, best-books-ever
This novel had a huge impact on me, as a vision of our conscious transformation from a cause-and-effect view of the world into a perception of the eternal, divine truths which must have no beginning or end. Whether you believe or not, you must undergo this trial whereby you know there are things you cannot know.

Broch chronicles the last 24 hours of the Virgil's life, when the poet decides he must burn the Aeneid, until Augustus himself convinces him not to. Virgil's destructive decision stems fr
Oct 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
There are passages in The Death of Virgil that are just breathtaking. At times the novel can be quite bewildering, at others it can be nearly dreadful, but the strong passages really make the confusion and the temporary frustration worth the while.

Broch, in fact, is at his best when putting the hallucinatory confusion and chaos he has sown around the reader to direct use. In one scene, Virgil sits in his room discussing the fate of his unfinished masterpiece with two of his friends. While talkin
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“..fled every single hope for the boundless new life which was to have began, the hope for a life free alike of art and poetry....fled the hope for the miracle of knowledge and the healing through knowledge. Why had he renounced it? Willingly? No! It had been a command of the irrefutable life-forces, those irrefutable forces of fate which never vanished completely, which though they might dive at times into the subterranean, the invisible, the inaudible, were nonetheless omnipresent as the inscr ...more
So I was working through the last few stragglers in the bibliographies of Musil, Mann et al. and unexpectedly ran across the best novel written since 1923 . . . ?!?!. Death of Virgil is one of those cases where I was underlining so many passages that I gave up and put the pen down.

Just as Ulysses is the greatest novel in the English language and À la recherche is the greatest novel in the French language, this is the clear winner, imo, for German. Like Joyce and Proust, Broch occasionally steps
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was amazing!! I can't pretend to understand most of the stream of consciousness. The basic straight-forward story is short and quickly told: the last 18 hours in Virgil's life as he is dying. He wants to burn the Aeneid, is talked out of it by Augustus, and he dictates his last will to his friends. Wow, some of the phantasmagoric descriptions, both straight-forward and surreal, and word-pictures are absolutely startling and haunting!! Someday I'll reread the book again. A big help was ...more
Oct 14, 2012 rated it did not like it
I can take a hard bite, when it comes to difficult literature, but this one just went too far for me. The last days of Virgil as a theme is really interesting, and Broch gives a very lively account of the life at and around the court of emperor August. But his way of writing, with endless sentences full of "moodish"-nouns that go in every direction (usually two opposites), is making reading the book a real ordeal. I know there are people who can enjoy this style, as I can see on these pages of G ...more
Jan 06, 2012 rated it liked it

i went into this book with high hopes. Epic theme, interesting exiled author (Viennese Jew fled to the States and wrote this after the trauma of fascism), lyricism, density, blurbs from heavyweights like Hannah Arendt and George Steiner.

Hell, I even decided to read The Aeneid before delving into this one just because it's ridiculous that I hadn't and I wanted to get the backstory. Loved it, by the way, so that was time well spent.

And I'm definitely a fan of the Modernist several-pages-to-a-sent
J.M. Hushour
Feb 17, 2013 rated it liked it
It's been a while since I've read a novel that I've actually contemplated not finishing. With "Virgil" this was a nightly occurrence. I only continued reading it because it's considered by no lesser figures than the likes of George Steiner and Thomas Mann as one of the pinnacles of European literature. Well...there are passages of exquisite beauty and the overarching idea is interesting (art as linked to perception which is linked to love and thus utter enlightenment) but Broch brings the notion ...more
Staggering achievement. I feel unworthy even to think about reviewing this, so I won't.
Aug 05, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
The death of Virgil is a book that really didn't work for me, and I've spent some time trying to figure out why. It wasn't because of the obvious things - bad writing, one-dimensional characters, uninteresting plot - or because of a pet peeve, but I had to force myself to finish it.

For me, books are made out of four building blocks: Characters, Plot, Setting and Language. It varies from book to book how they are used and how important they are, and all readers have different opinions about whic
Brent Hayward
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
The poet is dying. He has been transferred by ship, with his last manuscript in a crate, to the Caesar's palace, where he lies feverishly abed for 18 hours before finally passing away. During this time, he pontificates creation and art, has several epiphanies, hallucinates a lot, enters debates, frees his slaves, and manages once to stumble briefly to the window to watch three drunk people pass by. What in theory should be boring af turns out to be profoundly moving. The trip of Virgil's last ho ...more
The Literary Chick
Jan 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
Absolutely brilliantly written but it does go on. At a certain point, I was ready to start looking around for the nearest heavy urn to do Virgil in myself just to end it, but the book truly is a masterpiece
Jacob Hurley
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This has most of what I like about modernist german literature (the informed but still somewhat mystical reflections on art, poetic stream of consciousness, the slow-meditative pace) and highlights the best parts of the Aeneid. One of the best
The beginning of "Der Tod des Vergil" is graced with a few quotations including the famous "fato profugus," and while Broch began the book in Europe, he finished it in exile in the US, part of a distinguished circle of emigre writers who helped and supported, and fought with, each other. Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein were close friends. Exile is the subtext.

I was inspired to read this novel after reading Yourcenar's "Memoirs of Hadrian." It interested me how European intellectuals struggled wi
Tomas Riklius
Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
It was certainly not a casual read and I have to admit I had to take quite a long brake before continuing reading. It is rather compelling and yet demanding reflection of life and death, of the world and an individual.

The most riveting chapter for me was the third dedicated to fire and concerned with the passion and the manuscript of Aeneid: “consider, that already substantial portions of the work are generally known, that the Roman people are aware of the existence of the poem, a poem that glo
Jackson Cyril
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thought Mann wrote long sentences...until I read Broch. But is it possible to read a high modernist work in translation? (Imagine reading Joyce's "Ulysses" in another language! ) The story here is unremarkable-- the old Roman poet dies and Augustus won't let him burn his unfinished "Aenead". But the language! The thoughts! Damn my German for not being good.
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very intense. If you enjoy Modernist novels like Ulysses, then this book is for you. It is poetry in the form of a novel.
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Loosed in Transla...: Hermann Broch 7 55 Nov 04, 2013 01:27PM  

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Broch was born in Vienna to a prosperous Jewish family and worked for some time in his family's factory in Teesdorf, though he maintained his literary interests privately. He attended a technical college for textile manufacture and a spinning and weaving college. Later, in 1927, he sold the textile factory and decided to study mathematics, philosophy and psychology at the University of Vienna.


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