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P. VERGILIUS MARO was born Oct. 15, B.C. 70, at Andes, a small village near Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul, five years before Horace and seven before C. Octavius, who later, under the names of Octavian and Augustus, was destined to become his great patron. His father was a yeoman, and cultivated a small farm of his own. The boy was educated at Cremona and Mediolanum (Milan), and is said to have subsequently studied at Neapolis (Naples) under Parthenius of Bithynia, from whom he learnt Greek, and at Rome under Siron, an Epicurean philosopher, and Epidius, a rhetorician. His works afford ample evidence of his wide reading, and he certainly merits the epithet of doctus to which all the poets of his age aspired; 2 a noble passage in the Georgics (2. 475-492) expresses his deep admiration for scientific and philosophic study, while throughout the Aeneid, and especially in the speeches of the fourth and eleventh Books, there are marked traces of
1 The spelling Virgilius is wrong; but as an English word it seems pedantic to alter Virgil,' established as it is by a long literary tradition.
2 Ellis, Cat. 35. 16 n.
that rhetorical training which has left such a profound impress on the literature of the succeeding century.
On completing his education he seems to have returned home, and some of the minor poems ascribed to him-Ciris, Copa, Culex, Dirae, Moretum-may be in reality youthful attempts of his composed during this period. Our first certain knowledge, however, of his poetic career begins in B.c. 42, when, after the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, the Roman world passed into the hands of the triumvirs Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus. They had promised their victorious veterans the lands of eighteen cities in Italy, among which was Cremona, and subsequently it became necessary to include the neighbouring district of Mantua. Virgil's father was threatened with the loss of his farm, but the youthful poet had secured the favour of C. Asinius Pollio, governor of Cisalpine Gaul, and of L. Alfenus Varus, his successor (B.c. 41), whose assistance he invokes in the sixth Eclogue. Pollio, himself a scholar and poet,3 accepted the dedication of his earliest Eclogues, and secured for him an introduction to Octavian at Rome,5 as a result of which he obtained the restoration of the farm. His gratitude to the youthful triumvir finds expression in the Eclogue which he prefixed to the others, and which now stands at their head.
1 Ecl. 9.
28 Mantua vae miserae nimium vicina Cremonae.
2 The date of this is usually given as 41 B.C., but a year or two later (say B.C. 39) seems more probable: see Class. Rev. vi. p. 450.
3 Hor. Od. 2. I.
4 Ecl. 8. 11 a te principium.
5 Schol. Dan. on Ecl. 9. 10 carmina quibus sibi Pollionem intercessorem apud Augustum conciliaverat.
From this time Virgil lived at Rome or Naples enjoying the bounty and friendship of the Emperor and forming part of the select circle of distinguished men, which his minister Maecenas-the great literary patron of the day-gathered round him in his mansion. on the Esquiline. It was at the request of Maecenas1 that he composed the four Books of the Georgics, written between 37 B.C. and 30 в.C., and dedicated to him.2 We know little of his life, but it was he who introduced Horace to Maecenas, and in Horace's writings we catch an occasional glimpse of him, notably in the description of the famous journey to Brundisium' (38 B.C.), when he joined the party of Maecenas at Sinuessa, and, along with Plotius and Varius, is classed by his brother-poet in a memorable phrase among the fairest souls and dearest friends on earth,' 4 while on another occasion Horace makes his starting for a tour in Greece the occasion for an Ode, in which he prays that the ship which bears so dear a trust may restore it safe to the shores of Italy, 'and preserve the half of my life.' 5
In the opening lines of the third Georgic Virgil had already announced his intention of attempting a loftier theme and producing a great national epic, of which Augustus should be the central figure,6 and the Emperor 1 Georg. 3. 40 Dryadum silvas saltusque sequamur | intactos, tua, Maecenas, haud mollia iussa. 2 Georg. I. 2. 6. 54 optimus olim | Vergilius, post hunc Varius dixere
3 Hor. Sat. I.
4 Sat. 1. 5. 41 animae, quales neque candidiores | terra tulit neque
quis me sit devinctior alter.
5 Od. 1. 3.
8 et serves animae dimidium meae. Those who choose
can suppose that there were two Virgils thus dear to Horace.
Georg. 3. 16 in medio mihi Caesar erit.
himself is said to have written to him from Spain (B.C. 27) encouraging him to publish the poem, which he was known to have in hand, and which Propertius a year or two later heralds as 'something greater than the Iliad.' While he was engaged on its composition in B.C. 23, Marcellus, the nephew and destined heir of Augustus, died, and Virgil introduced into the sixth Book the famous passage (860-887) in which he is described, and of which the story is told that when the poet recited it in the presence of Octavia, the bereaved mother fainted away.2 In B.c. 20 he visited Greece and met Augustus, who was returning from Samos, at Athens, whence he accompanied him homewards, but his health, which had been long weak, broke down, and he died at Brundisium Sept. 22, B.C. 19.
He was buried at Naples on the road which leads to Puteoli. The inscription said to have been inscribed on his tomb refers to the places of his birth, death, and burial, and to the subjects of his three great works :
Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc
Virgil was largely read in his own day, and his works, like those of Horace, at once became a standard text-book in schools, and were commented on by numerous critics and grammarians, of whom Aulus Gellius in the second century and Macrobius and
1 Prop. 3. 26. 65 Cedite Romani scriptores, cedite Grai, Nescio quid maius nascitur Iliade.
2 Donatus, § 47 Octavia, cum recitationi interesset, ad illos de filio suo versus, Tu Marcellus eris, defecisse fertur atque aegre refocillata dena sestertia pro singulo versu Vergilio dari iussit.
Sat, 7. 226.
Servius in the fourth are the most important. early Christians in the belief, still unquestioned in the days of Pope,1 that the fourth Eclogue contained a prophecy of Christ, looked upon him almost with reverence, and it is not merely as the greatest of Italian singers, but also as something of a saint, that Dante claims him as his master and guide in the Inferno. In popular esteem he was long regarded as a wizard (possibly owing to his description of the Sibyl and the under world in the sixth Aeneid), and it was customary to consult his works as oracles by opening them at random and accepting the first lines which were chanced upon as prophetic. The emperor Alexander Severus thus consulted the Sortes Vergilianae, and opened at the words Aen. 6. 852 tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento, while Charles I. in the Bodleian Library at Oxford came upon the famous lines Aen. 4. 615-620:
at bello audacis populi vexatus et armis,
In considering Virgil's writings, it must be borne in mind that, with the exception of satire, Roman poetry is entirely modelled on Greek. Terence copies Menander, Lucretius Empedocles, Horace Alcacus and Sappho, Propertius Callimachus, and so on. Virgil in his Eclogues professedly imitates Theocritus, in his
1 See his 'Messiah, a sacred Eclogue in imitation of Virgil's Pollio.' Jerome was wiser- Maronem sine Christo dicere christianum, quia scripserit: Iam redit et virgo... Puerilia sunt haec, et circulaterum ludo similia' (Letter to Paulinus prefixed to the Vulgate).