« PreviousContinue »
After the battle of Philippi, 42 B.C., Virgil's farm was taken from him in the great confiscation made to provide land for the disbanded soldiers of the Triumvirs. He went to Rome again, where he was introduced to the circle of Maecenas, the great patron of literature, and became intimate with Augustus. This association not only saved him from want, but made him rich. He received an estate in Campania, a villa at Naples, and a house in Rome on the Esquiline, a fashionable quarter of the city.
When Virgil was thirty-two, he published the Eclogues, a collection of short pastoral poenis, closely modelled on the Idylls of Theocritus, though with Greek names and Sicilian scenery there are inconsistently mingled contemporary incidents and the features of the part of Italy in which Virgil lived. These poems are far inferior to those that followed, and they were criticized as well as praised at the time of their publication, and have been criticized ever since, but they established Virgil's position as a great poet.
The next seven years were devoted to the Georgics, a poem which contains four books having for their subjects tillage, the cultivation of trees, especially of vines, the animals of the farm, and bees. It was written, as it is said, at the suggestion of Augustus and Maecenas to revive the love of husbandry, which was dying out. Virgil's early experience specially fitted him for the task, and he took extraordinary pains in elaborating and polishing his work. How slowly and patiently he did this may be judged from the fact that, without any business or public duties to divert his attention, he produced less than a line a day on the average.
The remainder of Virgil's life was devoted to the composition of the Aeneid. When the matchless power and beauty of the Georgics had been fully recognized, it was felt not only by the literary society of Rome, but no doubt also by Virgil himself, that he could not refuse the more ambitious task of writing a great epic poem. Such a work, according to the taste of the time, must follow the model of Homer, but it was not enough that it should be a record of heroic wars and adventures ; the subject must be connected with Rome, and if it was necessary also to attach it to the person of Augustus, this was not due merely to flattery of a great man or to private gratitude; the Emperor, who had brought peace to Italy so long distracted by civil war, was regarded as the divine embodiment of the 'Fortune of the City'. Virgil, however, could not choose as the material of his poem anything out of the more recent and authentic Roman history. Another poet, Silius Italicus, was to illustrate a century later the absurdity of introducing into the war with Hannibal the Homeric background of contending gods and goddesses. Even the story of Romulus, suitable enough in many respects, was too exclusively Italian for a Homeric setting. The adventures of Aeneas, on the other hand, carried Virgil and his readers at once into the Homeric world, ended with the foundation of Lavinium, the mother city of Rome, and by deriving the descent of the Julian family from lulus, son of Aeneas, brought Augustus himself into the story and gave him an ancestry that was divine.
Virgil fell ill when he was travelling in Greece, and after landing at Brundisium died on the 21st of September, 19 B. C., being a few weeks under fifty-one years of age.
His body was taken to Naples and buried outside the city. He had already written the Acncid, but he had intended to give three years to its revision. So conscious was he of its incompleteness that he left written directions to his friends, Varius and Tucca, to burn it, but Augustus interfered and ordered the poem to be published.
THE FALL OF TROY AND THE WANDERINGS OF
The siege of Troy had lasted ten years and the Greeks had almost despaired of taking the city, when they gained by stratagem what they had failed to gain by force. They built a huge wooden horse and filled it with men, and having done. this they sailed away on the pretence of returning baffled to their homes; but they went only as far as the island of Tenedos, and there concealed themselves, waiting till the horse should be taken into Troy and their men inside should be able to open the gates. To bring this about, a Greek named Sinon allowed himself to fall into the hands of the Trojans and persuaded them that the horse was an offering to the goddess Pallas in expiation of the sacrilege committed by Ulysses and Diomedes, when they carried away her image
from the citadel of Troy; that the Greeks had gone home to renew the auspices which this impiety had cancelled; and that if they took the horse into the city, they would strike a fatal blow at their enemies. Thus deluded, the Trojans dragged it within the walls, the Greeks inside it opened the gates to their comrades who had returned in the night, and Troy was in the hands of its enemies.
While all this was going on, Aeneas was asleep in the house of his father Anchises. Hector, whom Achilles had slain, appeared to him as he slept, telling him that nothing now could save Troy, and that his duty was to carry away safely the gods of the State and the holy fire of Vesta, and to found a new city for them somewhere beyond the seas.
Roused from sleep by the noise of fighting, he went out into the night and took part in some desultory combats; at last, as it seemed useless to prolong the struggle, he left the city, carrying his father and leading his son lulus; his wife, Creusa, followed them, but was lost on the way. Thus he reached the shelter of the hills and, joined by a large number of fugitives, he passed the winter there till the early summer allowed them to sail away and seek their new home.
The search was long and arduous, for it lasted seven years. Aeneas first landed on the neighbouring shore of Thrace and began to build a town there, but when he was pulling up some shoots of cornel and myrtle, he was horrified to see blood dropping from their roots, and was warned by a voice from the ground that Polyelarus, son of Priam, was there buried, whom Polymestor, king of the country around, had murdered for the sake of his gold. Therefore by the advice of his father and chief men he sailed to Delos and asked counsel from Apollo. The god did not name the country to which he should go, but ordered him and his followers to seek the old home of their race. Anchises declared that this was Crete, and thither they made their way and a second time began to build a town, when a plague fell upon them and
a compelled them to depart. Anchises would have them return to Delos and consult Apollo again, but in the night the Penates, the gods of Troy, appeared to Aeneas, bearing a message from Apollo that the new home was to be in Italy, whence Dardanus had come. Therefore, sailing westward, after much delay they came to Epirus and found that the Trojan Helenus, now married to Andromache, once Hector's wife, was king in the country. Helenus was a prophet, and he warned Aeneas that he was not to settle, as he supposed, on the east of Italy, but on the far western shore, which he must reach by a long voyage. When he and his people came to Sicily, they landed in the country of the Cyclopes, the one-eyed giants, and saw among them Polyphemus, whom Ulysses and his companions had blinded. Hurriedly leaving this dangerous shore, they sailed to Drepanum on the north-west of Sicily, where Anchises died, and after his burial they started with high hope, believing that now at last the end of their wandering was in sight. But Juno, ever the implacable foe of Troy, knew that the Romans