Soft hands, hard power: sponging off the empire of leisure (Virgil, Georgics 4)

Tom Geue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article seeks to jumpstart the politico-historicist scholarship on Virgil's Georgics in the direction of Marxist criticism. I argue that the Georgics should be understood less as a battle site for intra-elite power struggles or civil strife, more as an ideological stomping ground to work out, and dig in, the particular relationships of slavery and imperialism disfiguring the Roman world in 29 b.c.e. After a brief analysis of the dynamics of labor in Books 1–3, I train on a close reading of Book 4, which sees the bees (et al.) as crucial to the new dominant logic of compelling others (whether slaves or provincial subjects) to produce and give up the fruits of their labour — all for the leisured enjoyment of the upper crust.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-140
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Roman Studies
Early online date15 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • Virgil
  • Georgics
  • Labor
  • Marxist criticism
  • Slavery
  • Imperialism
  • Historicism
  • Bees
  • Egypt
  • Addressee


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