written probably during the reign
, and for a long time attributed to Vergil
. After a lengthy programmatic introduction
, in which the author tries to assume the persona
of Vergil by heavy-handed references to Augustus
and the possibility of more serious future work
, the author dives right into the story:
A lonely goatherd, while tending his flock, decides to take a siesta by a spring under the shade. While drifting off to sleep, he is seen by a snake, who begins to creep up on him. Disaster is averted when a small eponymous gnat stings him on the eyeball. The goatherd swats the gnat, killing it, and thereby notices the snake in time to beat it to death with a club.
Later, the ghost of the gnat haunts him in a dream, chastising him for his ingratitude. He then goes to the underworld to atone, and after many zany adventures involving annoyingly complex Alexandrian allusions, returns, and erects to his fallen saviour a monument, upon which he inscribes:
Oh little Gnat, this goatherd erects a deserved
reward in death for your services in life.