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THE LIFE OF VIRGIL.
P. VIRGILIUS (or VERGILIUS) MARO, was born on the 15th of October, B. C. 70, in the first consulship of Cn. Pompeius Magnus, and M. Licinius Crassus, at Andes, a small village near Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul. The tradition, though an old one, which identifies Andes with the modern village of Pietola, may be accepted as a tradition, without being accepted as a truth. The poet Horace, afterwards one of his friends, was born B. C. 65; and Octavianus Caesar, afterwards the Emperor Augustus, and his patron, in B. C. 63, in the consulship of M. Tullius Cicero. Virgil's father probably had a small estate which he cultivated: his mother's name was Maia. The son was educated at Cremona and Mediolanum (Milan), and he took the toga virilis at Cremona on the day on which he commenced his sixteenth year, in B. C. 55, which was the second consulship of Cn. Pompeius Magnus and M. Licinius Crassus. It is said that Virgil subsequently studied at Neapolis (Naples), under Parthenius, a native of Bithynia, from whom he learned Greek; and the minute industry of the grammarians has pointed out the following line (Georg. I. 437) as borrowed from his master:
Glauco et Panopeae et Inoo Melicertae.
He was also instructed by Syron, an Epicurean, and probably at Rome. Virgil's writings prove that he received a learned education, and traces of Epicurean opinions are apparent in them. His health was always feeble, and there is no evidence of his attempting to rise by those means by which a Roman gained distinction, oratory and the practice of arms. Indeed, at the time when he was born, Cisalpine Gaul was not included within the term "Italy," and it was not till B. C. 89 that a Lex Pompeia gave even the Jus Latii to the inhabitants of Gallia Transpadana, and the privilege of obtaining the Roman civitas by filling a magistratus in their own cities. The Roman civitas was not given to the Transpadani till B. C. 49. Virgil, therefore, was not a Roman citizen by birth, and he was above twenty years of age before the civitas was extended to Gallia Transpadana.
It is merely a conjecture, though it is probable, that Virgilius retired to his paternal farm, and here he may have written some of the small pieces which are attributed to him, the Culex, Ciris, Moretum, and others. The defeat of Brutus and Cassius by M. Antonius and Octavianus Caesar at Philippi, B. C. 42, gave the supreme power to the two victorious generals, and when Octavianus returned to Italy, he began to assign to his soldiers lands which had been promised them for their services. But the soldiers could only be provided with land by turning out many of the occupiers, and the neighborhood of Cremona and Mantua was one of the districts in which the soldiers were planted, and from which the former possessors were dislodged. There is little evidence as to the circumstances under which Virgil was deprived of his property. It is said that it was seized by a veteran named Claudius or Clodius; and that Asinius Pollio, who was then governor of Gallia Transpadana, advised Virgil to apply to Octavianus at Rome for the restitution of his land, and that Octavianus granted his request. It is supposed that Virgil wrote the Eclogue which stands first in our editions, to commemorate his gratitude to Octavianus Caesar. Whether the poet was subsequently disturbed in his possession and again restored, and whether he was not firmly secured in his patrimonial farm till after the peace of Brundusium, B. C. 40, between Octavianus Caesar and M. Antonius, is a matter which no extant authority is sufficient to determine.
Virgil became acquainted with Maecenas before Horace was, and Horace (Sat. I. 5, and 6. 55, etc.) was introduced to Maecenas by Virgil. This introduction was probably in the year B. C. 38; but, since the name of Maecenas is not mentioned in the Eclogues of Virgil, we may perhaps conclude that it was not until after they were written that the poet was on those intimate terms with Maecenas which ripened into friendship. Horace, in one of his Satires (Sat. I. 5), in which he describes the journey from Rome to Brundusium, mentions Virgil as one of the party, and in language which shows that they were then in the closest intimacy. The time to which this journey relates is somewhat uncertain, but the best authorities agree in fixing it in the year B. C. 37. (See Hor. Sat. I. 5. Introd.)
The most finished work of Virgil, his Georgica, an agricultural poem, was undertaken at the suggestion of Maecenas, and it was probably not commenced earlier than B. C. 37. "The tradition that Maecenas himself suggested the composition of Georgies may be accepted, not in the literal sense which has generally been attached to it, as a means of reviving the art of husbandry and the cultivation of the devastated soil of Italy; but rather to recommend the principles of the ancient Romans, their love of home, of labor, of piety, and order; to magnify their domestic happiness and greatness; to make
men proud of their country, on better grounds than the mere glory of its arms and the extent of its conquests. It would be absurd to suppose that Virgil's verses induced any Roman to put his hand to the plough, or to take from his bailiff the management of his own estates; but they served undoubtedly to revive some of the simple tastes and sentiments of the olden time, and to perpetuate, amidst the vices and corruptions of the empire, a pure stream of sober and innocent enjoyments. . . . . To comprehend the moral grandeur of the Georgies, in point of style the most perfect piece of Roman literature, we must regard it as the glorification of Labor. . . . . On the labors of the husbandman, hard and coarse as they seem to the unpurged vision, Virgil throws all the colors of the radiant heaven of the imagination. Labor improbus, incessant, importunate labor, conquers all things; subdues the soil, baffles the inclemency of the seasons, defeats the machinations of Nature, that cruel stepmother, and wins the favor and patronage of the gods."
The concluding lines of the Georgica were written at Naples (Georg. IV. 559), but we can hardly infer that the whole poem was written there, though this is the literal meaning of the words,
Haec super arvorum cultu pecorumque canebam.
We may however conclude that it was completed after the battle of
The epic poem of Virgil, the Aeneid, was probably long contemplated by the poet. Like Milton, he appears from a very early period to have had a strong desire of composing an epic poem, and, like him also, to have been long undecided on his subject. He is said to have begun a metrical chronicle of the Alban Kings, but afterwards to have given it up because of the harshness of the names. After the completion of the Georgics, or perhaps somewhat earlier, he laid down the plan of a regular epic on the wanderings of Aeneas, and the Roman destinies; to form a sort of continuation of the Iliad to Roman times, and to combine the features of that poem and the Odyssey. The idea was sufficiently noble, and the poem, long before its publication or even conclusion, had obtained the very highest reputation. While Virgil was at work upon it Propertius wrote with generous admiration (Eleg. II. 34, 65):
Cedite, Romani scriptores! cedite, Graii!
Augustus, while absent on his Cantabrian campaign, wrote repeatedly to Virgil for extracts from his poem in progress; but the poet declined, on the ground that his work was unworthy the perusal of the prince. The correspondence is recorded by Macrobius (Saturnalia, I.), but its genuineness is very questionable. We may infer
* Merivale, Hist. of the Romans under the Empire, Vol. IV. p. 440.
from the passage of Propertius just quoted, and from the allusion in the same elegy to the recent death of Gallus, that Virgil was engaged on his work in B. C. 24. Propertius appears, from other allusions in his elegies, to have been acquainted with the poem of Virgil in its progress; and he may have heard parts of it read. In B. C. 23 died Marcellus, the son of Octavia, Caesar's sister, by her first husband ; and as Virgil lost no opportunity of gratifying his patron, he introduced into the sixth book of the Aeneid (v. 883) the well-known allusion to the virtues of this youth, who was cut off by a premature death:
Heu miserande puer ! si qua fata aspera rumpas,
Octavia is said to have been present when the poet was reciting this allusion to her son, and to have fainted from her emotions. She rewarded the poet munificently for his excusable flattery. As Marcel lus did not die till B. C. 23, these lines were of course written after his death, but Virgil may have sketched his whole poem, and even finished in a way many parts in the later books before he elaborated the whole of his sixth book. The completion of the great work occupied the few remaining years of his life; but it never received the finishing touches, and it is said that in his last illness he wished to burn it. But his friends would not allow the poem to be sacrificed to a morbid sensibility. "Augustus placed it in the hands of Varius and Tucca for the necessary correction, but strictly charged them to make no additions, nor even to complete the few unfinished lines at which the hand of the master had paused or faltered. Great, undoubtedly, is the debt we owe him for this delicate consideration. The Roman epic abounds in moral and poetical defects; nevertheless it remains the most complete picture of the national mind at its highest elevation, the most precious document of national history, if the history of an age is revealed in its ideas, no less than in its events and incidents. This is the consideration which, with many of us, must raise the interest of the Aeneid above that of any other poem of antiquity, and justify the saying of I know not what Virgilian enthusiast, that if Homer really made Virgil, undoubtedly it was his greatest work."
When Augustus was returning from Samos, where he had spent the winter of B. C. 20, he met Virgil at Athens. The poet, it is said, had intended to make a tour of Greece, but he accompanied the emperor to Megara, and thence to Italy. His health, which had been long declining, was now completely broken, and he died soon after his arrival at Brundusium, on the 22d of September, B. C. 19, not having quite completed his fifty-first year. His remains were transferred to Naples, which had been his favorite residence, and placed on the * Merivale, op. cit. Vol. IV. p. 448.
road (Via Puteolana) from Naples to Puteoli (Pozzuoli), between the first and second milestones from Naples. The monument now called the tomb of Virgil is not on the road which passes through the tunnel of Posilippo; but if the Via Puteolana ascended the hill of Posilippo, as it may have done, the situation of the monument would agree very well with the description of Donatus.
The following inscription is said to have been placed on the tomb:
From internal evidence it is improbable that it was written by the poet, though Donatus says that it was.
Virgil named as heredes in his testament his half-brother, Valerius Proculus, to whom he left one half of his estate, and also Augustus, Maecenas, L. Varius, and Plotius Tucca. The poet had been enriched by the liberality of his patrons, and he left behind him a considerable property, and a house on the Esquiline Hill near the gardens of Maecenas. He used his wealth liberally, and his library, which was doubtless a good one, was easy of access. He used to send his parents money every year. His father, who became blind, did not die before his son had attained a mature age. Two brothers of Virgil also died before him. Poetry was not the only study of Virgil: he applied himself to medicine and to agriculture, as the Georgica show; and also to what Donatus calls Mathematica, perhaps a jumble of astrology and astronomy. His stature was tall, his complexion dark, and his appearance that of a rustic. He was modest and retiring, and his character is free from reproach, if we except one scandalous passage in Donatus, which may not tell the truth.
In his fortunes and his friends Virgil was a happy man. Munificent patronage gave him ample means of enjoyment and of leisure, and he had the friendship of all the most accomplished men of the day, among whom Horace entertained a strong affection for him. He was an amiable good-tempered man, free from the mean passions of envy and jealousy; and in all but health he was prosperous. His fame, which was established in his lifetime, was cherished after his death as an inheritance in which every Roman had a share. No writer probably ever exercised so wide an influence either in time or space. His works became school-books even before the death of Augustus, and have continued such ever since; they were even translated into Greek; they were commented on by a host of grammarians; they were the subject of innumerable epigrams; they were formed into centos; they were used for the purposes of divination. They have taken their place among the imperishable offspring of genius, and, while literature lasts, will continue to exercise a powerful influence on the poetical taste of successive generations.