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LIFE OF VIRGIL
PUBLICS VIRGILIUS Maro was born at the village of Aniles, a low ariles distant from Mantua, about 70 B.C. His father was of low birth, having been, according to some authorities, a potter, or brickmaker, and, according to others, the hireling of a travelling mer. chant, named Maius, or Magus. He so ingratiated himself, how ever, with his master, that he received his daughter Maia in mar riage, and was intrusted with the charge of a farm, which his father-in-law had acquired in the vicinity of Mantua. Our poet was the offspring of these humble parents. The studies of Virgil com. menced at Cremona, where he remained till he assumed the toga virilis. At the age of sixteen he removed to Mediolanum, and, shortly after, to Neapolis, where he laid the foundation of that mul. tifarious learning which shines so conspicuously in the Æneid. During his residence in this city he perused the most celebrated Greek writers; and here he also studied the Epicurean system of philosophy, under Syro, a celebrated teacher of that sect. But inedicine and mathematics were the sciences to which he was chiefly addicted ; and to this early tincture of geometrical knowledge may, perhaps, in some degree, be ascribed his ideas of luminous or. der, and masterly arrangement, and that regularity of thought, as well as exactness of expression, by which all his writings were distinguished.
It does not seem certain, or even probable, that Virgil went at all to Rome from Naples. It rather appears that he returned to his native country, and to the charge of his paternal farm. While re. siding here, and turning his attention in part to poetic composition, he attracted the notice of Pollio, who had been appointed by Anto. ny to the command of the district in which the farm of Virgil lay. Pollio, observing his poetic talents, and pleased with his amiable manners, became his patron and protector; and as long as this chief continued in command of the Mantuan district, Virgil was re. lieved from all exaction, and protected in the peaceable possession of his property. This tranquillity, however, was destined to be rudely disturbed. Previously to the battle of Philippi, the triumvirs had promised to their soldiers the lands belonging to some of the richest towns of the empire. Augustus returned to Italy in A.U.C 712, after his victory at Philippi, and found it necessary, in order to satisfy these claims, to commence a division of lands in Italy, on a more extensive scale even than he had intended. Cremona, unfor. tunately, having espoused the cause of Brutus, became peculiarly obnoxious to the victorious party, and its territory was accordingly divided among the veteran soldiers of the triumvir. This territory, however, not proving sufficient, the deficiency was supplied from the neighbouring district of Mantua, in which the farm of Virgil lay The poet, no longer protected by Pollio (whose power, it would seem, had been diminished in consequence of his too close ad.io rence to Antony), was dispossessed of his little property under cir. cumstances of peculiar violence. His personal safety was even endangered ; and he was compelled, on one occasion, to escape the fury of the centurion Arrius by swimming over the Mincius.
At this juncture, Virgil had the good fortune to obtain the favour of Alphenus Varys, with whom he had studied philosophy at Na ples, under Syro the Epicurean, and who now either succeeded Pollio in the command of the district, or was appointed by Augus. lus to superintend in that quarter the division of the lands. Under his protection Virgil twice repaired to Rome, where he was received not only by Mæcenas, but by Augustus himself, from whom he procured the restoration of the patriinony of which he had been depri. ved. This happened in the commencement of the year 714 A.U.C.; and during the course of that season, in gratitude for the favours he had received, he composed his eclogue entitled “ Tityrus."
" The remaining eclogues, with the exception, perhaps, of the tenth, called
Gallus,” were produced in the course of this and the following year.
Virgil had now spent three years in the composition of pastoral poetry, and in constant residence on his farm, except during the two journeys to Rome which he was compelled to undertake for its preservation. The situation of his residence, however, being low and humid, and the climate chill at certain seasons of the year, his delicate constitution, and the pulmonary complaint with which he was affected, induced him, about the year 714 or 715 A.U.C., when he bad reached the age of thirty, to seek a warmer sky. To this change, it may be conjectured, he was farther instigated by his increasing celebrity, and the extension of his poetic fame. On quitting his pa. ternal fields, therefore, he first proceeded to the capital. Here bis private fortune was considerably augmented by the liberality of Mæcenas; and such was the favour he possessed with his patron, that we find him, soon aster his arrival ai Rome, introducing Horace to the notice of this minister. It is said, moreover, that he never ask. ed anything of Augustus that was refused; and Donatus, his biog. rapher, even affirms, though, it must be confessed, without the least probability, that Augustus consulted him with regard to his resignation of the government, as a sort of umpire between Mæcenas and Agrippa.
It was probably during this period of favour with the emperor and his minister that Virgil contributed the verses in celebration of the deity who presided over the gardens of Macenas; and wrote, though without acknowledging it, that well-known distich in honour of Augustus :
“ Nocle pluit totâ; redeunt spectacula mane;
Divisum imperium cum Jove Cæsar habet.” The story goes on to relate, that Bathyllus, a contemptible poet of Te day, claimed these verses as his own, and was liberally rewaru. ed. Vexed at the imposture, Virgil again wrote the verses in ques tion near the palace, and under them,
“ Hos ego versiculos feci, tulit alter honores ;" with the beginning of another line in these words
“ Sic vos non vobis," lour timeu repeated. Augustus wished the lines to be finished Balhyllus seemed unable, and Virgil at last, by completing the wanza in the following order,
" Sic dos non robis nidificatis aves
Sic tos non vobis ocllera fertis odes;
Sic vos non vobis ferlis aratra boves," proved himself to be the author of the distich, and the poetical usurper became the sport and ridicule of Rome. During his resi: dence at Rome, Virgil inhabited a house on the Esquiline Hill, which was furnished with an excellent library, and was pleasantly situated gear the gardens of Mæcenas. The supposed site, and even ruins of this mansion, were long shown to modern travellers. Yet, however enviable was Virgil's present lot, the bustle and luxury of an immense capital were little suited to his taste, to his early habits, or to the delicacy of his constitution while the observance and at: tention he met with were strongly repugnant to the retiring modesty of his disposition. Such was the popularity which he derived from his general character and talents, that on one occasion, when some of his verses were recited in the theatre, the whole audience rose to salute Virgil, who was present, with the same respect which they would have paid to the emperor. And so great was the annoyance which he felt on being gazed at and followed in the streets of Rome, that he sought shelter, it is said, in the nearest shops or alleys from public observation. At the period when Virgil enjoyed so much honour and popularity in the capital, Naples was a fa. vourite retreat of illustrious and literary men. Thither he retired about A.U.C. 717, when in the thirty-third year of his age; and he continued, during the remainder of his life, to dwell chiefly in that city, or at a delightful villa which he possessed in the Campania Felix, in the neighbourhood of Nola, ten miles east of Naples. About the time when he first went to reside at Naples, he comGenced his Georgics by order of Mæcenas, and continued, for the seven following years, closely occupied with the composition of that inimitable poem.
The genius of Virgil, being attended -vith some degree of diffidence, seenis to have gained, by slow steps, the measure of confi. dence which at length imboldened him to attempt epic poetry. He had begun his experience in verse with humble efforts in the pasto. ral line; though even there we behold his ardent Muse frequently hursting the barriers by which she ought naturally to have been ro. strained. He next undertook the bolder and wider topic of hus. bandry; and it was not till he had finished this subject with unri. valled success that he presumed to write the Æneid. This poern, which occupied him till his death, was commenced in A.U.C.724, the same year in which he had completed his Georgics. After he had been engaged for some time in its composition, the greatest curiosity and interest concerning it began to be felt at Rome. A work, it was generally believed, was in progress, which would eclipse the fame of the Iliad. Augustus himself at length became desirous of reading the poein so far as it had been carried ; and, in the year 729, while ansent from Rome on a military expedition against the Cantabrians
he wrote to the author from the extremity of nis empire, entreating him to be allowed a perusal of it. Macrobius has preserved one of Virgil's answers to Augustus : “I have of late received from you frequent letters. With regard to my Æneas, if, by Hercules, it were worth your listening to, I would willingly send it. But so vast is the undertaking, that I almost appear to myself to have com menced such a work from some defect in judgment or understand. ing; especially since, as you know, other and far higher studies are required for such a performance.”—(Sat., i., 24.) Prevailed on, at iength, by these importunities, Virgil, about a year after the return of Augustus, recited to him the sixth book, in presence of his sister Octavia, who had recently lost her only son Marcellus, the darling of Rome, and the adopted child of Augustus. The poet, probably, in the prospect of this recitation, had inserted the affecting pas. sage in which he alludes to the premature death of the beloved youth:
“O nale, ingeniem luc/um ne quære tuorum," &c. But he had skilfully suppressed the name of Marcellus till he cama to the line,
" Tu Marcellus eris-manibus date lilia plenis." It may well be believed that the widowed mother of Marcellus swooned away at the pathos of these verses, which no one, even at this day, can read unmoved. Virgil is said to have received from the afflicted parent 10,000 sesterces (dena sestertia) for each verso of this celebrated passage. Having brought the Æneid to a conclu. sion, but not the perfection which he wished to bestow upon it, Vir. gil, contrary to the advice and wish of his friends, resolved to trave: into Greece, that he might correct and polish this great production at leisure in that land of poetic imagination. It was on undertaking this voyage that Horace addressed to him the affectionate ode be ginning,
“ Sic te Dira potens Cypri,” &c. (i., 3). Virgil proceeded directly to Athens, where he commenced the revi. sal of his epic poem, and added the magnificent introduction to the third book of the Georgics. He had been thus engaged for some months at Athens, when Augustus arrived at that city, on his return to Italy, from a progress through his eastern doininions. When be einbarked for Greece, it had been the intention of Virgil to have spent three years in that country in the correction of his poem; af. ter which he proposed to pass his days in his native country of Mantua, and devote the rest of his life to the study of philosophy, or to the composition of some great historical poem. The arrival of Augustus, however, induced him to shorten his stay, and to embrace the opportunity of returning to Italy in the retinue of the emperor But the hand of death was already upon him. From his youth he had been of a delicate constitution ; and, as age advanced, he was afflicted with frequent headaches, asthma, and spitting of blood. Even the climate Naples could not preserve him from frequeni attacks of these maladies, and their worst symptoms had increased during his residence in Greece. The vessel in which he embarked with the emperor touched at Megara, where he was seized wilk
great debility and languor. When he again went on board, his dis. temper was so increased by the motion and agitation of the vessel, that he expired a few days after he had landed at Brundisium, on The southeastern coast of Italy. His death happened A.U.C. 734, when he was in the 51st year of his age. When he felt its near ap. proach, he ordered his friends Varius and Plotius Tucca, who were then with him, to burn the Æneid as an imperfect poem. Augus. tus, however, interposed to save a work which he no doubt saw would at once confer immortality on the poet and on the prince who patronised him. It was accordingly intrusted to Varius and Tucca, with a power to revise and retrench, but with a charge that they should make no additions; a command which they so strictly observed as not to complete even the hemistichs which had been left inperfect. They are said, however, to have struck out twenty-two verses from the second book, where Æneas, perceiving Helen amid the smoking ruins of Troy, intends to slay her, till his design is prevented by his goddess mother. These lines, accordingly, were wanting in many of the ancient manuscripts, but they have been subsequently restored to their place. There was also a report long current, that Varius had made a change, which still subsists, in the arrangement of two of the books, by transposing the order of the second and third, the latter having stood first in the original manuscript. According to some accounts, the four lines “ Ille ego quondam,” &c., which are still prefixed to the Æneid in many editions, were expunged by Varius and Tucca ; but, according to others, they never were written by Virgil, and are no better than an interpolation of the middle ages. Virgil bequeathed the greater part of his wealth. which was considerable, to a brother. The remainder was divided among his patron Mæcenas, and his friends Varius and Tucca. Before his death, he had also commanded that his bones should be carried to Naples, where he had lived so long and so happily. This order was fulfilled, under charge of Augustus himself. According to the most ancient tradition and the inost commonly-received opinion, the tomb of Virgil lies about two miles to the north of Naples, on the slope of the hill of Pausilippo, and over the entrance to the grotto or subterraneous passage which has been cut through its ridge, on the road leading from Naples to Puteoli. Cluverius and Addison, indeed, have placed the tomb on the other side of Naples, near the foot of Mount Vesuvius ; but the other opinion is based upon the common tradition of the country, and accords with the belief of Petrarch, Sannazarius, and Bembo: it may still be cherished, therefore, by the traveller who climbs the hill of Pausilippo, and lie may still think that he hails the shade of Virgil on the spot where his ashes repose. Notwithstanding, however, the veneration which the Romans entertained for the works of Virgil, his sepulchre was neglected before the time of Martial, who declares that Silius Itali cus first restored its long-forgotien honours. What is at present called the tomb, is in the form of a small, square, flat-roofed building, placed on a sort of platform, near the brow of a precipice un one side, and on the other sheltered by a superincumbent rock. Half a century ago, when More travelled in Italy, an ancient laurel (a shoot, perhaps, of the same which Petrarch had planted) overhung the simple edifice.-(More's Travels, Letter 115.) Within the low raulted cell was once placed the urn suppose ! to contain the ashes