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Virgil had now spent three years in the composition of pastoral poetry, and in constant residence on his farm, except during the two journeys to Rome which he was compelled to undertake for its preservation. The situation of his residence, however, being low and humid, and the climate chill at certain seasons of the year, his delicate constitution, and a pulmonary complaint with which he was affected, induced him, about the year A.U.C. 714 or 715, when he had reached the age of thirty, to seek a warmer sky. To this change, it may be conjectured, he was further instigated by his increasing celebrity, and the extension of his poetic fame. On quitting his paternal fields, therefore, he first proceeded to the capital. Here his private fortune was considerably augmented by the liberality of Macenas; and such was the favour he possessed with his patron, that we find him, soon after his arrival at Rome, introducing Horace to the notice of this minister. It is said, moreover, that he never asked anything of Augustus that was refused; and Donatus, his biographer, even affirms, though, it must be confessed, without the least probability, that Augustus consulted him with regard to his resignation of the government, as a sort of umpire between Mæcenas and Agrippa.
It was probably during this period of favour with the emperor and his minister, that Virgil contributed the verses in celebration of the deity who presided over the gardens of Mæcenas; and wrote, though without acknowledging it, that well-known distich in honour of Augustus :
"Nocte pluit totá; redeunt spectacula mane ;
The story goes on to relate, that Bathyllus, a contemptible poet of the day, claimed these verses as his own, and was liberally rewarded. Vexed at the imposture, Virgil again wrote the verses in question near the palace, and under them,
"Hos ego versiculos feci, tulit alter honores ;"
with the beginning of another line in these words,
"Sic vos non vobis,"
four times repeated. Augustus wished the lines to be finished;
Bathyllus seemed unable; and Virgil at last, by completing the
stanza in the following order,
"Sie vos non vobis nidificatis aves;
proved himself to be the author of the distich, and the poetical usurper became the sport and ridicule of Rome.
During his residence at Rome, Virgil inhabited a house on the Esquiline Hill, which was furnished with an excellent library, and was pleasantly situated near the gardens of Mæcenas. The supposed site, and even ruins of this mansion, were long shown to modern travellers. Yet, however enviable was Virgil's present lot, the bustle and luxury of an immense capital were little suited to his taste, to his early habits, or to the delicacy of his constitution; while the observance and attention he met with were strongly repugnant to the retiring modesty of his disposition. Such was the popularity which he derived from his general character and talents, that on one occasion, when some of his verses were recited in the theatre, the whole audience rose to salute Virgil, who was present, with the same respect which they would have paid to the emperor: and so great was the annoyance which he felt on being gazed at and followed in the streets of Rome, that he sought shelter, it is said, in the nearest shops or alleys from public observation. At the period when Virgil enjoyed so much honour and popularity in the capital, Naples was a favourite retreat of illustrious and literary men. Thither he retired about A.U.C. 717, when in the thirtythird year of his age; and he continued, during the remainder of his life, to dwell chiefly in that city, or at a delightful villa which he possessed in the Campania Felix, in the neighbourhood of Nola, ten miles east of Naples. About the time when he first went to reside at Naples, he commenced his "Georgics" by order of Mæcenas, and continued, for the seven following years, closely occupied with the composition of that inimitable poem.
The genius of Virgil, being attended with some degree of diffidence, seems to have gained, by slow steps, the measure of confidence which at length emboldened him to attempt Epic
poetry. He had begun his experience in verse with humble efforts in the pastoral line; though even there we behold his ardent muse frequently bursting the barriers, by which she ought naturally to have been restrained. He next undertook the bolder and wider topic of Husbandry; and it was not till he had finished this subject with unrivalled success that he presumed to write the "Eneid." This poem, which occupied him till his death, was commenced in A.U.C. 724, the same year in which he had completed his "Georgics." After he had been engaged for some time in its composition, the greatest curiosity and interest concerning it began to be felt at Rome. A work, it was generally believed, was in progress, which would eclipse the fame of the Iliad. Augustus himself at length became desirous of reading the poem, so far as it had been carried; and, in the year 729, while absent from Rome on a military expedition against the Cantabrians, he wrote to the author from the extremity of his empire, entreating him to be allowed a perusal of it. Macrobius has preserved one of Virgil's answers to Augustus :—“ I have of late received from you frequent letters. With regard to my Æneas, if, by Hercules, it were worth your listening to, I would willingly send it. But so vast is the undertaking, that I almost appear to myself to have commenced such a work from some defect in judgment or understanding; especially since, as you know, other and far higher studies are required for such a performance."-(Sat. i. 24.) Prevailed on, at length, by these importunities, Virgil, about a year after the return of Augustus, recited to him the sixth book, in presence of his sister Octavia, who had recently lost her only son Marcellus, the darling of Rome, and the adopted child of the emperor. The poet probably, in the prospect of this recitation, had inserted the affecting passage in which he alludes to the premature death of the beloved youth :
O nate ingentem luctum ne quære tuorum," &e.
And he did not lose his reward.
See note on in. vi. 861.
Having brought the "Æneid" to a conclusion, but not the perfection which he wished to bestow upon it, Virgil, contrary to the advice and wish of his friends, resolved to travel into Greece, that he might correct and polish this great production
at leisure, in that land of poetic imagination. It was on undertaking this voyage that Horace addressed to him the affectionate ode beginning,
"Sic te Diva potens Cypri," &c. (i. 3.)
Virgil proceeded directly to Athens, where he commenced the revisal of his epic poem, and added the magnificent introduction to the third book of the "Georgics." He had been thus engaged for some months at Athens, when Augustus arrived at that city, on his return to Italy, from a progress through his eastern dominions. When he embarked for Greece, it had been the intention of Virgil to have spent three years in that country in the correction of his poem; after which he proposed to pass his days in his native country of Mantua, and devote the rest of his life to the study of philosophy, or to the composition of some great historical poem. The arrival of Augustus, however, induced him to shorten his stay, and to embrace the opportunity of returning to Italy in the retinue of the emperor. But the hand of death was already upon him. From his youth he had been of a delicate constitution; and, as age advanced, he was afflicted with frequent headaches, asthma, and spitting of blood. Even the climate of Naples could not preserve him from frequent attacks of these maladies, and their worst symptoms had increased during his residence in Greece. The vessel in which he embarked with the emperor touched at Megara, where he was seized with great debility and languor. When he again went on board, his distemper was so increased by the motion and agitation of the vessel, that he expired a few days after he had landed at Brundisium, on the south-eastern coast of Italy. His death happened A.U.C. 734, when he was in the 51st year of his age.
Virgil, as he felt his end approaching, had ordered his friends Varius and Plotius Tucca, who were then with him, to burn the "Eneid" as an imperfect poem ; but Augustus interposed to save a work, which he no doubt saw would at once confer immortality on the poet, and on the prince who patronized him. It was accordingly intrusted to Varius and Tucca, with power to revise and retrench, but with a charge that they should make no additions; a command which they so strictly observed as not
to complete even the hemistichs which had been left imperfect. They are said, however, to have struck out twenty-two verses from the second book, where Æneas, perceiving Helen amid the smoking ruins of Troy, intends to slay her, till his design is prevented by his goddess mother. These lines, accordingly, were wanting in many of the ancient manuscripts, but they have been subsequently restored to their place. See the note on En. ii. 567. There was also a report long current, that Varius had made a change which still subsists, in the arrangement of two of the books, by transposing the order of the second and third, the latter having stood first in the original manuscript. According to some accounts, the four lines,
"Ille ego, qui quondam," &c.
which are still prefixed to the "Eneid" in many editions, were expunged by Varius and Tucca; but, according to others, they never were written by Virgil, and are no better than an interpolation of the middle ages.
Virgil bequeathed the greater part of his wealth, which was considerable, to a brother. The remainder was divided among his patron Mæcenas, and his friends Varius and Tucca. Before his death, he had also commanded that his bones should be carried to Naples, where he had lived so long and so happily. This order was fulfilled, under charge of Augustus himself. According to the most ancient tradition and the most commonly received opinion, the tomb of Virgil lies about two miles to the north of Naples, on the slope of the hill of Pausilippo, and over the entrance to the grotto or subterraneous passage which has been cut through its ridge, on the road leading from Naples to Puteoli. Cluverius and Addison, indeed, have placed the tomb on the other side of Naples, near the foot of Mount Vesuvius; but the other opinion is based upon the common tradition of the country, and accords with the belief of Petrarch, Sannazarius, and Bembo. It may still be cherished, therefore, by the traveller who climbs the hill of Pausilippo, and he may still think that he hails the shade of Virgil on the spot where his ashes repose. Notwithstanding, however, the veneration which the Romans entertained for the works of Virgil, his sepulchre was neglected before the time of Martial, who