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INTRODUCTION

I. HISTORICAL

Virgil's life falls during prolonged Civil Wars. Relation of his countrymen North of the Po to Julius Caesar and to Augustus. Gain of the entire Roman world from the Empire. Virgil's personal debt to Augustus.

Most of Virgil's life fell amid the confusion and distress of civil strife. He was born on the 15th of October, 70 B.C., ‘at Andes, a hamlet near Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul. This means that he was not a Roman, but one of those Italians who had suffered under the injustice and oppression of the Senate, which styled itself 'the Republic' but was in reality an Oligarchy of very extreme type. The Italians had paid taxes and fought in Rome's armies; they were in every way equal to Roman citizens but Rome had persistently refused them the rights of citizenship until, 20 years before the birth of Virgil, they had extorted them, in part at least, through the Social War. Even after this Rome schemed to make the new privileges of no effect. The weakness of the Senate's rule had been shown in a long series of Civil Wars. From 145-80 B.C. those had raged over Italy like a tempest, deadly and terrific, passing away but only to return again until the death of Sulla in 78 B.C. In two years of the Social War alone, from 90 to 89, 300,000 men were said to have been slain. Again and again Italy had known times like that in French history which is called 'La Terreur.' Cicero says, "The horror of those times is so burned into our country that it seems as if not merely men but even brute creatures could not endure the thought of their returning1." In the provinces oppression and misrule had become intolerable. For one Verres brought to justice by Cicero's splendid patriotism 1 Catiline Orations, II, c. 9.

and talent countless governors returned to Rome with fortunes wrung from their wretched subjects. In Italy itself the vast number of slaves was a cause both of anxiety and of national degradation. In 73 the Slave War and in 63 the Conspiracy of Catiline showed in alarming forms the general discontent and the undermined foundations of the State. The country was ripe for revolution but leaders such as Catiline who professed to aim at redressing injustice could only have substituted a still grosser tyranny. In 49 Caesar crossed the Rubicon and civil war began afresh.

But the rise of Julius Caesar had brought new hope to the world. In him men saw a leader of real genius, a man absolutely fearless, deeply sensitive to the incompetence of the Government and the gross injustice done to the poorer citizens and to the Provincials. After many attempts to win reform from the Senate, he recognised that the task was hopeless. As he said, "The Republic is nothing-a mere name without substance or form." For this he was determined to substitute a Government that was real. As Consul he had carried over the heads of the Senate those 'Julian Laws' which were welcomed by all honest men as checking the gross abuses and meeting the needs of the time. He was specially interested in securing justice for the Provincials. In 49 B.C., when Virgil was in his 21st year, the Transpadani too received the full rights of citizenship which Caesar had long striven to secure for them. Northern Italians like Virgil must have watched his glorious career at home and abroad with gratitude and love as well as admiration. To them he was both hero and liberator. Hirtius, who continues Caesar's record of the Gallic War, tells us that Caesar, then Governor of Cisalpine Gaul, visited his province early in 50 B.C. and was received in the district north of the Po-Virgil's own country-" with incredible marks of honour and affection. Nothing that could be devised for the decoration of the roads, the gates and all places which he was going to pass through, was left undone. The whole populace along with

their children went forth to meet him1." We can well understand the horror expressed by Virgil and felt by all his countrymen at Caesar's murder and also the gratitude which was transferred to his adopted heir.

Octavian (soon to be known as Augustus) strove so far as in him lay to carry out Caesar's aims, possibly with more success in the field of home politics than Julius himself could have done, since he did not attempt more than average men were likely to tolerate. A great part of his adopted father's prestige fell on himself. Under him Italy was to enjoy peace and prosperity long unknown to it. To the general gratitude for the many benefits of his rule there was added in Virgil's case a deep personal debt. In the Civil War Cremona had sympathised with the Senatorial party. After the battle of Philippi in B.C. 42, Octavian and Antony, who had to reward their victorious soldiers with land, confiscated for the purpose the country about Cremona and the neighbouring Mantua including Virgil's farm. The poet's life was endangered at the hands of the soldier who took possession of his land. He then journeyed to Rome and was reinstated in his property by Augustus at the intercession of his friends Pollio, Gallus and Varius, the former two being soldiers and men of action as well as writers. The event is recorded under slight disguise in the first Eclogue, in the form of a dialogue between Tityrus the poet and his fellow-shepherd Meliboeus. The latter is one of many who have been evicted and left to seek a home in some foreign land. “It is a God," says Tityrus, “who has created for me the peace you see: for a God he will ever be to me. He it is who has made my kine free to wander at large and myself to play at my pleasure on my shepherd's pipe." Thus threatened with poverty which would rob him of the leisure to study and write, Virgil never forgot that he owed to Octavian the restoration of his broken career.

A French scholar writes, "The Georgics had the great honour of being the first greeting, the first homage, the 1 De Bello Gallico, VIII, 51.

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