Georgics, c. 37-29
Aeneid, c. 29-19
Publius Vergilius Maro, known as Vergil (VUR-juhl), author of one of the most familiar epics in all literature, was born in the village of Andes, in what is today northern Italy, on October 15, 70
Although he was a shy, rustic, and slow-spoken youth, his personal charm and the literary ability evident in his early poems won Vergil the friendship of some of the most cultivated and powerful men in Rome, among them Octavian, Maecenas, Pollio, Horace, and Cornelius Gallus. His popularity was such that in 41
With the encouragement of his friend Asinius Pollio, Vergil continued work on the Eclogues, which were begun around 43 (some scholars say 45) and finally completed about 37
After the publication of the Eclogues, Vergil took up residence at a country estate near Naples, where he spent most of the rest of his life. It was there that he wrote the Georgics, a didactic poem in four books on the subject of husbandry. Written at the request of Maecenas, who wished to revive an interest in the old Roman virtues of industry and a fondness for rustic life, the poems are considered to be the most technically polished and elaborate of all Vergil’s work. Unlike the rather dry, strictly didactic Works and Days (c. 700
Vergil was forty-one years old before he embarked on his lifelong ambition, the composition of a Homeric epic which would commemorate the glory of Rome and his friend the Emperor Augustus and would win back the Roman people, unsettled and corrupted by long civil strife, to their primitive religion and ancient virtues. Ancient legend has Vergil working on the Aeneid for eleven years, but seven seems more accurately to fit the evidence. While traveling in Greece, Vergil fell ill to a fever and returned homeward as far as Brundisium before dying on September 21, 19
Vergil chose as his topic the voyage of the Trojan hero Aeneas to Italy after the fall of Troy, because Aeneas was the only character in the Homeric tale whom poets had connected with the legendary founding of Rome. Although Vergil borrowed heavily not only from Homer but also from Apollonius, Greek tragedy, and the Latin epic poet Ennius, the total conception and expression were all his own. The skillful handling of the hexameters, the imagery, and the characterizations of the central figures were all original, as was the interweaving of numerous old tales and legends into one comprehensive whole. In the character of Queen Dido, particularly, one finds a “modern” treatment of romantic love and its effects on the human character largely foreign to Greek classical literature. The Aeneid is a literary rather than a “true” epic in that it is the result of conscious artistic effort rather than of natural, gradual evolution. However, there is nothing artificial in Vergil’s deeply rooted patriotic sentiment nor in his unquestioning belief in the divine origin and destiny of the Roman state. His Aeneid remains today one of the most stirring productions of a great civilization.