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tude found utterance in the beautiful hymn called the fourth Eclogue, in which he hails the auspicious times just dawning on the world, and initiated by the consulship of his friend and patron Pollio in B. c. 40. The sixth Eclogue was composed in the following year, B. c. 39, in fulfillment of a promise made to Varus.* The eighth was written in the autumn of the same year in honor of Pollio, who had gained a brilliant victory over the Parthini, a people of Dalmatia. The two remaining Eclogues, the seventh and tenth, were probably composed in the two following years.
Though the material of the Bucolics is taken largely from Theocritus, and to some extent from other Greek poets, yet Vergil has given to most of them something of a national character by associating this foreign material with circumstances and personages pertaining to his own time and country. In the first and ninth Eclogues, for example, he describes with deep feeling, in the dialogues of the shepherds, the social miseries attending the wars of the triumvirate, and in the fourth he dwells with delight on the anticipated return of peace and blessedness under the reign of Octavian. In the first, again, he finds, or rather makes for himself, the opportunity of expressing his grateful love and admiration of the youthful emperor, while in the fifth he commemorates, under the name of Daphnis, the greatness and the untimely death of the deified Caesar. Finally, in the sixth and tenth, in the midst of myths and fancies derived from his Grecian masters, he has immortalized the name of his friend Cornelius Gallus.
The scenery of the Eclogues, as well as the manners and customs of the husbandmen who make up their personnel, are quite as much Sicilian as Italian. It is unfortunate, too, that Vergil has given these poems a still more foreign air by the use of Greek instead of Italian names. But this was the taste of the times. He labors, also, under another disadvantage, as compared with Theocritus, in the want of a Latin dialect suitable for shepherds and herdsmen, or, at least, in not employing one. While the Sicilian Greek pastoral generally uses a form of speech approximating closely to the nature of its rustic characters, the language of Ver gil's shepherds is too much like that of cultivated society.
* Ribbeck assigns the sixth Eclogue to the year B. c. 41.
But though liable to such criticisms, the Eclogues are among the most graceful and beautiful of all idyllic poems, and they possess a charm which fascinates the reader more and more with every perusal.
The Eclogues established the reputation of the poet, and gained him at once ardent friends and admirers among the most powerful and the most cultivated of the Romans. Among these, besides his early and fast friend Pollio, were Octavian, Maecenas, Varius, Horace, and Propertius. These and all other educated Romans of the day regarded Vergil as already superior in many respects to any poet who had yet appeared. It was most of all in the exquisite finish and harmony of his hexameters that he excelled all who had preceded him. The hexameter verse had been first introduced into the Latin language, at the close of the second Punic war, by the soldier and poet Ennius. But though distinguished by originality, strength, and vigor, the poetry of Ennius was harsh and rugged to a degree which rendered it to the more cultivated tastes of later generations almost intolerable. Nor by the poets who succeeded Ennius had any such improvement been made in the composition of Latin verse as to admit of any comparison between them and their Grecian models. It was reserved for two great poets of Rome, two congenial spirits, filled with the most lively admiration of each other, laboring side by side, both striving earnestly for the same object-it was reserved for Vergil and Horace to elevate the national poetry to a character worthy of Rome, to develop all the resources of their noble language, and to make it flow both in heroic and lyric verse with all the grace and dignity that had hitherto been characteristic of the Greek alone.
After the publication of the Eclogues, Vergil appears to have passed the remainder of his life chiefly at Naples. His feeble health was probably the occasion of this.
It was here that he composed the Georgics, a didactic poem in four books, in which he endeavors to recall the Italians to their primitive but long-neglected pursuit of agriculture. In point of versification this the most finished of the works of our poet, and, indeed, as Addison remarks, it may be regarded as in this
respect the most perfect of all poems. In the first book he treats of the management of fields, in the second of trees, in the third of horses and cattle, and in the fourth of bees. He has gathered into this poem all the experience of the ancient Italians on these subjects, and he has contrived to make them attractive by associating them with wonderful beauty of diction and imagery, and with charming variety of illustration.
Having devoted seven years, from B. c. 37 to the writing of this work, and conscious that his poetic labors must be ended by an early death, he now entered upon the long-cherished plan of composing an Epic in the Homeric style, which should at once commemorate the glory of Rome and of Augustus, and win back the Romans, if possible, to the religious virtues of their progenitors. He chose for his theme the fortunes of Aeneas, the fabled founder of the Julian family; and, hence, called his epic the Aeneid, which he divided into twelve books. He had already been employed eleven years upon this great work, and had not yet put to it the finishing hand, when he was overtaken by his last sickness. Having made a voyage to Greece, with the intention of visiting Attica and Asia, on arriving at Athens he met Augustus, who happened to be at that time returning from Asia Minor to Italy. Vergil was easily persuaded by his friend and patron to return with him immediately to Rome, which, however, he was not destined again to see. His malady had continually increased during the voyage, and a few days after landing at Brundisium he expired. His death occurred in B. c. 19. His remains were conveyed from Brundisium to Naples, and buried on the hill of Posilippo, in the tomb still preserved and revered as the "tomb of Vergil."
It is said that Vergil, a short time before his death, desired to burn up his Aeneid, in consequence of the imperfect state in which it would necessarily be left. But being dissuaded from this purpose by his friends Tucca and Varius, he directed them in his will to strike out all the verses that were incomplete, but to add nothing. It does not appear, however, that anything was erased by them, unless we admit the account of some of the grammarians who alleged that Tucca and Varius rejected the four
verses, Ille ego, etc., commonly placed at the beginning, and the passage 567-588 in the second book.
Thus the Aeneid, like some of the grandest sculptures of Michael Angelo, was left unfinished, and with some parts, perhaps, in the rough. But I am not sure that our interest is not even enhanced in the works of both of these great Italian masters by the very fact that these unfinished parts show us the hand, as it were, still holding the chisel, and in the act of creation.
There is another fault, too. Vergil was an imitator. He gloried in imitation. He borrowed without stint from Homer, from Apollonius, from the Greek tragedies, and, in short, he laid under contribution all the earlier poets both of Greece and of Rome. Nothing beautiful in them, nothing fitted to his purpose escaped his search. But he so appropriated to himself, and assimilated to his own modes of thought their ideas, images, and forms of expression, that they come before us in the Aeneid in all the freshness and individuality of new creations. The Aeneid stands nearly in the same relation to all preëxisting literature as does the "Paradise Lost." The authors of these two epics are the greatest of all plagiarists; but the borrowed thought in both of them assumes so much of their individuality that their plagiarism becomes a beauty and a virtue. They are plagiarists of the older poets in the same sense that the painter is a plagiarist of
But while the Aeneid, through the premature death of the poet, has been left to us somewhat incomplete, and while it claims no great degree of originality, but is largely the offspring, not of Vergil alone, but of the genius of all antiquity, it always has been, and always will be, justly regarded as the best and noblest of all the poetic creations of the Roman mind, and as one of the choicest productions of all literature. There are fashions in criticism as well as in other things; not, indeed, so changeful and transitory as those of dress, but fashions nevertheless; and of late years some scholars, even eminent scholars, have fallen into the habit or affectation of speaking with some contempt of "the court poets of the Augustan age." This fashion will have its day; but it can not set aside the verdict of so many generations past. Vergil and
Horace are in no danger. The Aeneid is too grand, too beautiful, too pure, to be despised, neglected, or lost.
It is replete with all the qualities which are essential to a great work of art. It is great in conception and invention. It is wonderfully diversified in scenes, incidents, and characters, while it never departs from the vital principle of unity. It is adorned with the finest diction and imagery of which language is capable. In discoursing of great achievements and great events, it never comes short of the grandeur which befits the epic style; in passages of grief and suffering it takes hold of our sympathies with all the power of the most affecting tragedy. What a sublime epic of itself is the account of the sack of Troy! what a tragedy of passion and fate is presented in the story of Dido! Indeed, the student will find in the Aeneid many dramatic scenes, many vivid pictures of life and manners, many lively narratives of adventure, any one of which would be of itself a poem, and would secure to its author an enviable fame.
Of the preeminent worth of Vergil's poems, and of their importance as literary studies, the most striking proof is presented in the fact that so many of the classics of modern poetry, in all cultivated languages, have manifestly been produced under the moulding and refining influence of this great master of the art. Dante, who felt all the power of "the Mantuan," ascribes to him whatever excellence he has himself attained in beauty of style; and, in the generous avowal of his indebtedness, he utters one of the noblest eulogies ever bestowed by any poet upon a brother poet :
"Oh degli altri poeti onore e lume,
Vagliami 'l lungo studio, e'l grande amore,
Lo bello stile, che m'ha fatto onore." *
Dell' Inferno, Canto I, 82.