Publius Vergilius Maro  
(70 B.C.Ė19 B.C.)

Encyclopædia Orbis Latini


In English: Virgil or Vergil.
Note that the spelling Virgilius is not found earlier than the 5th cent. A.D.

The greatest Roman poet, renowned for his epic poem Aeneid.

Vergil was born of peasant stock at Andes, near the city of Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul. Vergilís father assured his son to beeducated in Cremona. Thereafter Vergil continued his studies in Milan, Naples, and Rome. The poetís boyhood experience of life in the countryside was an important part of his formation. It is believed that after his studies in Rome Vergil have lived with his father for about 10 years, engaged in farm work, study, and writing poetry. In 41 B.C. the farm was confiscated to provide land for veteran soldiers.

Then Vergil moved to Rome, where he became a part of the literary circle patronized by Maecenas and Augustus. In 37 B.C. he completed there a collection of 10 pastoral poems, Eclogues or Bucolics, in which he idealized rural life in the manner of his Greek predecessor Theocritus. In the Georgics, completed in 30 B.C.,Vergil turned to rural poetry of a contrasting kind, realistic and didactic. Like Hesiod before him he seeked to interpret the charm of real life and work in the countryside. His perfect poetic expression gives him the first place among pastoral poets.

For the rest of his life Vergil worked on the Aeneid, which was to become the Roman national epic and unquestionably one of the greatest long poems in world literature. Vergil made Aeneas the paragon of the most revered Roman virtuesódevotion to family, loyalty to the state, and piety. In 12 books, Vergil tells how Aeneas escaped from Troy to Carthage, where he became Didoís lover and related his adventures to her. At Jupiterís command, he left Carthage, went to Sicily, visited his fatherís shade in Hades, and landed in Italy. There he established the beginnings of the Roman state and waged successful war against the natives. The verse, in dactylic hexameters, is remarkably regular, though Vergilís death left the epic incomplete and some of the lines unfinished. The sonority of the words and the nobility of purpose make the Aeneid a masterpiece.

Vergil is the dominant figure in all Latin literature. His influence continued unabated through the Middle Ages, and many poets since Dante have acknowledged their great debt to him. Minor poems ascribed to Vergil are of doubtful authorship. For translations of the Aeneid see Allen Mandelbaum (1981) and Robert Fitzgerald (1983, 1985).
 
 

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