« PreviousContinue »
omens which at his birth predicted the future greatness of the wonderful infant, that we are induced to doubt the whole. This much seems certain, that his mother's name was Maia, and that his parents, though obscure, were possessed of some property, and were neither unable nor unwilling to impart to their son a liberal education. This, according to the traditions regarding him, preserved by Donatus,' was carried on at Cremona, Mediolanum (Milan), and afterwards at Neapolis (Naples). It has been conjectured that Virgil received instructions from Catius, an Insubrian professor of the Epicurean philosophy. But this rests on no other foundation than what we learn from Cicero-that Catius was alive about this time, and that Mediolanum, in which it is possible that Virgil then lived, was an Insubrian town. We have better authority for believing that at Naples he studied Greek under Parthenius, a native of Nicaea, in Bithynia, one of whose prose works has come down to us, and who, as a writer of poetry, was a great favourite of the noble Romans of his time. It seems certain that he enjoyed at Rome, to which he removed from Naples, the instructions of Syron, an Epicurean philosopher, much commended by Cicero.
If we may credit Donatus, Virgil assumed the toga virilis at Cremona, on his birthday, when he had completed his fifteenth year; in the consulship again of Pompey and Crassus, B. c. 55. During the interval between his birth and this event, Pompey and Caesar had both consolidated their power. The former had conducted to a successful termination the Piratic and Mithridatic wars; and the latter had exhibited in Gaul his extraordinary skill as a general, prompt, brave, and politic. During this time also Catiline and Clodius had, the one succumbed to, and the other triumphed over, the eloquence of Cicero. It was in this year likewise that Caesar first invaded Britain-toto divisos orbe Britannos.
We are compelled to conjecture the incidents of our author's life after he had finished his early studies at Rome. It is probable that his health (which we learn incidentally from Horace, as well as directly from his biographer, to have been infirm, in consequence of a feeble stomach and an asthmatic tendency) prevented him from aiming at distinction by the usual means by which obscure men of talent then rose to
1A biography of Virgil, bearing this name, is generally prefixed to the larger editions. We know nothing of the author. It is conjectured that he was a grammarian of the fifth century, who collected the floating traditions on the subject; and that his account was interpolated by subsequent and ignorant writers.- Virgil is said to have borrowed from him; and one line, Georg. i. 437, is particularly men tioned. Macrob. v. 17; A. Gellius, ix. 9, xiii. 26.- Ecl. i. 67.
eminence at Rome-the pursuits of the Forum, and the arts of eloquence. Nor does his temperament seem to have fitted him to struggle with the difficulties of that troubled time. We need not wonder, then, to find him engaged in rural pursuits in the neighbourhood of his birthplace, on the banks of the Mincius.
To this period is assigned the greater portion of certain poems which are by some attributed to Virgil, but which are not generally given along with his more notable works in an edition such as this. The principal of these are Culex, Ciris, Moretum, Copa, and Catalecta. The Culex narrates an adventure connected with the death of a gnat: the Ciris tells the love of Scylla, daughter of Nisus, king of Megara, for Minos, her treachery to her father, and her change into the bird bearing the name Ciris: the Moretum (said to be an imitation of a Greek poem on the same snbject by his teacher Parthenius) is named from a kind of salad, the concoction of which, along with other rustic in-door opera. tions, preparatory for going to out-door work, is the subject of the poem. These are written in hexameter verse. The Copa (cau po), in elegiac verse, seems intended to illustrate the art with which those who kept places of public entertainment allured bypassers to partake of their cheer: the Catalecta is a collection of short poems of various merits as well as metres. Of these the Culex, Ciris, and a portion of the Catalecta, have no great impress of Virgil's manner. The rest are not unworthy specimens of his
Public events, meanwhile, were hastening to a crisis. The civil war between Pompey and Caesar, with the events which followed, are too well known, and have too little direct bearing upon the fortunes of our author, to require more than mention here. But it is absolutely necessary to notice more at length the subsequent turn taken by public affairs, as they exercised a powerful influence on his history.
Julius Caesar was assassinated on the 15th March B. C. 44, when Virgil was twenty-five, and when Octavius, the grandson of the dictator's sister, adopted by him that very year, was nineteen years of age. Antony, who was consul for the year, and had inflamed the passions of the populace so strongly against the conspirators that they were immediately obliged to flee from Rome, was brought from personal views into hostile collision with Octavianus, who at first naturally looked to him for assist
16 Virgil is a remarkable instance of a man mistaking his vocation. His real calling was lyric poetry, for his small lyric poems-for instance that on the villa of Syron, and the one commencing Si mihi susceptum fuerit decurrere munus'-show that he would have been a poet like Catullus if he had not been led away by his desire to write a great Latin poem.'-Niebuhr's History of Rome, vol. v. p. 158.
ance as the avenger of his adopted father. And thus we find Octavianus for a time on the side of the constitutional party, lauded by Cicero, and trusted, in appearance at least, by the senate. In B. c. 43 he was sent by the senate, along with Hirtius and Pansa the consuls, to relieve D. Brutus, whom Antony was besieging in Mutina. In this they succeeded, and Antony fled into Gaul; but both the consuls were killed. The senate, however, from some mistrust of Octavianus, instead of conferring the command upon him, directed D. Brutus to head the armies against Antony, who was again becoming formidable through the aid of Lepidus, then commanding in Transalpine Gaul. Octavianus, on his return to Rome, was at first coldly received by the senate; but the soldiers revered the memory of Caesar, and their influence procured for him the consulship, and the outlawry of the conspirators, of course including D. Brutus, who was betrayed by his officers and slain-Antony and his followers being freed from a sentence of outlawry passed against him. It was in this year, B. c. 43, that the Second Triumvirate, which was to continue for five years, was formed by Antony, Lepidus, and Octavianus, who shared among themselves the government of the world. But it was necessary to put down their enemies at home, and meet the troops under Brutus and Cassius, who were then engaged in Macedonia and in the East. The former was done by a fearful proscription, most mercilessly carried into effect against the personal enemies of each member of the Triumvirate. To accomplish the latter, Antony and Octavianus crossed over into Greece, and thence proceeded to Macedonia, where, in the two battles of Philippi, Cassius and Brutus were defeated, and slew themselves, B. C. 42. Antony, unhappily for himself, proceeded to Asia, while Octavianus returned to Italy. One of the objects of the latter in doing this was to secure the support of the soldiers, by bestowing on them land, on which they might settle, and which had been promised them at the very commencement of the troubles consequent on the death of Caesar, as the reward of their services. This is sometimes done in the case of veteran soldiers by our own government, but always in a new country, where no hardship is inflicted on any one; and it is supposed that thus there is secured both a race of sturdy cultivators and of brave adherents to the parent country. In the case of the Roman soldiers, it was inevi table that the grossest injustice should be perpetrated, and the greatest misery occasioned, for the scheme was to deprive of their estates the actual possessors, and bestow them on the soldiers. The miserable inhabitants, despoiled of their lands and homes, crowded to Rome, seeking redress and assistance. The evil had spread more widely than was at first intended; for it had been found that the lands originally set apart for the purpose were not suffi
cient, and hence an indiscriminate spoliation took place, reaching to all ranks and all parties. It became evident that the struggle was now between a licentious army and the whole inhabitants of Italy. In the meantime L. Antonius, brother of the triumvir, and then consul, along with Fulvia, the triumvir's wife, to secure to Antony some of the popularity with the soldiers likely to accrue from the division of the lands, persuaded Octavianus to leave to the officers of Antony the duty of assigning to his troops the lands which fell to their share. Those despoiled by the latter filed in turn to Octavianus, who at first was not unwilling to court the popular favour by protecting them. But he found that, after all, the army was his great support; and he finally entered into their cause without restraint, while L. Antonius, in turn, threw himself on the people.
Thus there were two parties arrayed against each other in open war, the subject being the division of the lands-L. Antonius at the head of the people, and Octavianus at that of the army. The siege of Perusia, in Etruria, at the Trasimene Lake, where L. Antonius was shut up by Octavianus, ended unfortunately for the latter, B. c. 40, and the army finally triumphed.
We must now look at the bearing which these events have on the history of Virgil. When the division of the Roman world among the triumvirs took place, the Gauls constituted one of the provinces assigned to Antony. The charge of Gallia Transpadana, that portion of Cisalpine Gaul which lay between the Po and the Alps, and in which Cremona and Mantua were situated, was given to Asinius Pollio, who was six years older than Virgil, and had been a faithful adherent of Julius Caesar. He was not only a brave soldier, but a celebrated orator; and in addition to his historical labours, had devoted himself to poetry. A friend and patron of poets, and a literary man, it is fair to infer that he fostered the growing genius of the young Virgil, who came under his special notice, as living in his province, engaged in agriculture and the service of the Muses. It was his office to divide among the soldiers the portion of the lands which lay in the country over which he presided. If the ordinary account be correct, Pollio must have found himself unable, by his own authority, to reserve the lands of the poet, highly though he esteemed him. Virgil had already written some of the Eclogues,' by which he gave early promise of his future fame; and in a friendly spirit Pollio counselled him to seek the protection of Octavianus. We have no information how the poet obtained access to Octavianus; but his prayer was granted, and his lands in the meantime se cured to him-a service which he celebrates in the first Eclogue.
Probably the second, third, and perhaps the fifth.
But his success at Perusia having placed all Italy in the hands of Octavianus, Pollio was superseded in his command, and the task of assigning the lands committed to Cornelius Gallus, also distinguished as a poet and orator, and Varus, both of whom had been fellow-pupils of Virgil under Syron. Even their favour did not protect our poet from the violence of the soldiery. The lands about Cremona, which had, from favouring the conspirators, rendered itself obnoxious to the veterans of Caesar, did not suffice, and Mantua, though not in the same position, was, from its proximity, exposed to the same fate. Besides, Antonius Musa, who was associated with Varus and Gallus, had private reasons for pressing hard upon the Mantuans. In the consequent seizure of their lands, the protection before given to the poet, and which he endeavoured to secure by celebrating Varus in his sixth Eclogue, did not now avail him. He was obliged to flee before the sword of an angry soldier, and took shelter, it is said, with his master Syron, where he wrote the ninth Eclogue, B. c. 40.
In the meantime Antony, who had behaved himself disgracefully in Asia and Egypt, was summoned by his wife, while on his march in an expedition against the Parthians, to support his declining cause in Italy. He met her in Greece, where she died; but he sailed to Italy, where he found Octavianus at Brundusium ready to oppose him. On the other hand, Antony had been joined by a strong reinforcement, as Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, who commanded the constitutional fleet, was induced by Pollio to come over to his side. In these circumstances neither party was averse to peace, which was conducted under the mediation of Maecenas on the side of Octavianus, Pollio on that of Antony, and Cocceius, a common friend of both-an event which is commemorated in the fourth Eclogue. It was at this time that Antony married Octavia, the sister of Octavianus. Virgil now found easy access to Octavianus, and either formed or confirmed his friendship with Maecenas. His lands were, in consequence, restored to him; and if we may credit Servius, his influence was strong enough to obtain a partial redress for the Mantuans.1
1 We have thought it right, in such a work as this, to follow the account of the various steps by which the poet was ultimately secured in his property, as given in substantially the same manner by all the modern writers who have carefully consulted Donatus, Servius, and the other grammarians, among the most elaborate of whom are La Rue, Heyne, Jahn, and Forbiger. But we think it would not be difficult to show, from the position of Pollio, and the situation of Gaul in reference to Octavianus, that the application of Virgil to Octavianus is aced too early. Without entering into the reasons by which this nclusion is arrived at, we shall briefly state the conclusion itself. Virgil, as well as the other Mantuans, enjoyed his lands in peace while Gaul was under the administration of Pollio.