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Virgil's poetical activity had already begun. In 42 B.C. he published the first of the Bucolics. The Georgics appeared in 29 B.C. He then began work on the Aeneid, and for the next ten years devoted himself to the completion of this poem. In the year 19 B.C. he had gone to Greece with the intention of spending three years there and in Asia Minor in adding the finishing touches to his work, after which he planned to devote the remaining years of his life to the study of philosophy. In Athens he met Augustus, who was on the point of returning to Rome and invited Virgil to accompany him. The poet was ill when he set sail, and grew worse during the voyage to Italy. Shortly after landing at Brundisium he died, Sept. 21, 19 B.C., only a few weeks before the completion of his fiftyfirst year. His remains were brought to Naples, a spot of which he had been particularly fond during his life. His grave bore this inscription:
Mantua me genuit; Calabri rapuere; tenet nunc
Virgil's first published work was the Bucolics. Part of these appeared in 42 B.C.; the others in the course of the next three years. As the name implies (Greek Bovkodiká, pastoral), the Bucolics are pastoral poems or idyls. In their composition Virgil largely imitated Theocritus, the Sicilian pastoral poet, who flourished about 275 B.c. The collection as a whole was entitled Bucolica, but the separate poems were designated Eclogae, 'selections.' The subject matter of these poems is mostly drawn from shepherd life. One eclogue represents two herdsmen engaged in a contest of impromptu poetic skill. A judge is chosen, and each
1 'Mantua was my birthplace; in Calabria I died; Naples holds my ashes; I sang of pastures, fields, and heroes.'
deposits a stake to go to the winner as prize, the one a calf, the other a cup of carved beech wood. The contestants alternate with couplets, aiming each to outdo the other in their praises of their mistresses and themselves, as well as in their raillery of each other. Both display such skill that the umpire is unable to decide which one deserves the prize, and so is obliged to declare the contest a draw. The other Bucolics present similar pictures. In some the allegorical feature is prominent, for example in the first Eclogue, in which Virgil alludes to the assistance rendered by Pollio and Octavian in securing him in the possession of his father's estate. The fourth Eclogue is especially noteworthy. This is dedicated to Asinius Pollio, Virgil's friend and patron, and consists of a glorious prophecy of the return to earth of the Golden Age. The new era is to be inaugurated by the birth of a child whose rule shall extend over the whole world. All nature is to bow before him, and under his beneficent sway fertility is everywhere to reign; the wild beasts shall become tame, serpents and other poisonous creatures shall be harmless, peace and plenty shall abound, and war shall be no more.
The Bucolics exhibit a literary type nowhere else exemplified in classical Latin literature. They breathe the breath of spring, the perfume of flowers; they suggest the charm of nature trees, brooks, hills, lakes, sun, air, stars, -in her manifold phases. They touch upon the abounding joys of country life. This gives them a unique charm and assures their permanent appeal to the student of literature.
Virgil's second published work was the Georgics (Greek yewpyɩká, husbandry). This is a poetical treatise on farming, published in 29 B.C. It was begun at the instance of Maecenas, who at the time was acting as the representative of Octavian and was endeavoring to carry out his purposes. One of the chief functions of the new régime which Augustus sought to inaugurate was the encouragement of hus
bandry. The nation had become alienated from the pursuits of country life by the long continuance of civil war. Moreover, with the end of these wars, a large number of veteran soldiers had received allotments of land as a reward for their services. These soldiers, accustomed as they were to the wild life of the camp and the field, were not likely to find pleasure in the labors and dull quiet of a country life. Nor was the prevailing taste dominant among other classes of Roman society favorable to the popularity of farming. The general current set strong toward the city, which was becoming overcrowded. It was to revive the fondness for agriculture that Virgil, at Maecenas's request, undertook the task of describing in verse the pursuits of the farmer. In the execution of this plan his object was not so much to prepare an exhaustive manual on farming as to touch on certain salient points of country life and, by making these attractive, to increase the esteem in which agriculture was held. Greek models, especially Hesiod's Works and Days ("Eрya Kai Huépai), had no slight influence on the details of his work. The first book gives directions for preparing the ground to receive the seed, for determining the kinds of soil adapted to various crops, also for improving land that is bad. A farmer's calendar is included, regulating the times for the different operations of the year; suggestions are also given for employment on rainy days and holidays, for evenings and the long nights of winter. Since storms often threaten to destroy the product of the farmer's industry, signs are given by which the coming of fair or foul weather may be determined. The second book, on treeculture, is devoted chiefly to the vine, with some mention of the olive and forest trees. The third book treats of the care of horses, sheep, and goats. The topic of the fourth book is bee-culture; but the bulk of this book consists of the episode of Orpheus's descent to Hades in quest of Eurydice.
In its technical execution the whole poem is as nearly
perfect as any work of Latin literature. The versification in particular was the most finished yet seen. Virgil had worked seven years on the poem, giving it his careful thought and study day by day. After gathering his materials for a portion of the poem it was his custom to dictate a certain small number of lines each morning and then to spend the remainder of the day in revising and polishing them. The result was a poem which has always been deservedly admired as one of the very choicest products of the Roman muse. Not a few modern critics have even gone so far as to rank the Georgics above the Aeneid.
The remain19 B.C., were Roman literaNaevius and
The Georgics appeared in the year 29 B.C. ing years of Virgil's life, until his death in devoted to the composition of the Aeneid. ture had hitherto lacked a true epic poem. Ennius had written poems in epic style and metre, but the Annals of Ennius and the Bellum Punicum of Naevius were essentially historical or narrative poems, not epics. They lacked a central heroic figure. The Aeneid is different. It groups its events about a central hero, and is a genuine epic, like the Iliad or the Odyssey.
The poem was begun at the request of Augustus, who himself suggested the theme, the settlement of Aeneas in Italy. The same subject had already been treated by Naevius in the Bellum Punicum and by Ennius in his Annals, but only incidentally. However, the tradition was already old and well established that Italy was settled by Trojans under Aeneas's leadership, and the Roman families took great pride in tracing their ancestry back to Trojan heroes. The Julian gens in particular prided itself on its direct descent from Aeneas himself; for it was from Ascanius, or Iulus, Aeneas's son, that the name Julius was held to be derived.
The general purpose of both Virgil and Augustus in the Aeneid was to stir national sentiment by kindling pride in
the past achievements of the race. The emperor, therefore, took the liveliest interest in the composition of the poem and followed its progress with the keenest attention. Even when engaged in waging war in Spain against the warlike Cantabrians, we find him writing from camp to the poet, urging that the first draft of the work be sent him for examination.
In general plan the Aeneid resembles the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, the first half of the poem (Books I-VI) being modelled on the Odyssey, the last half (Books VII-XII) on the Iliad. Thus in the first six books we have the wanderings of Aeneas and his arrival at the court of Dido, just as in the Odyssey Ulysses comes to the court of Alcinous and the Phaeacians. Aeneas also, like Ulysses, descends to the lower world; while the account of the adventure with the Cyclops Polyphemus, though much abbreviated, is clearly modelled on the Homeric account given in the Odyssey. In the last six books of the Aeneid we have the fabrication of the shield of Aeneas, corresponding to that of Achilles's shield in the Iliad; we have the mustering of the Italian hosts, modelled on Homer's catalogue of the ships; we have almost endless accounts of deeds of personal prowess; while the final struggle for the hand of Lavinia is determined by single combat between Aeneas and Turnus, just as the contest for the possession of Helen was settled by the combat between Hector and Achilles. Not merely in these large essential features does Virgil follow Homer, but also in the employment of many of the same similes, epithets, and turns of expression. Yet to conclude from all this that Virgil's Aeneid is simply a work of lame imitation would be grossly unjust. In spite of his dependence upon Homeric incident and language, his Aeneid has gone far beyond Homer in the character and purpose of his poem. Homer
1 Other Greek sources were utilized by the poet. He was also indebted to Naevius, Ennius, and other Latin poets.