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P. Virgi'lius

or VERGI'LIUS MARO, was born on the 15th of October, B. C. 70 in the first consulship of Cn. Pompeius Magnus and M. Licinius Crassus, at Andes, a small village near Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul. The tradition, though an old one, which identifies Andes with the modern village of Pietola, may be accepted as a tradition, without being accepted as a truth. The poet Horace, afterwards one of his friends, was born B. C. 65; and Octavianus Caesar, afterwards the emperor Augustus, and his patron, in B. C. 63, in the consulship of M. Tullius Cicero. Virgil's father probably had a small estate which he cultivated : his mother's name was Maia. The son was educated at Cremona and Mediolanum (Milan), and he took the toga virilis at Cremona on the day on which he commenced his sixteenth year in B. C. 55, which was the second consulship of Cn. Pompeius Magnus and M. Licinius Crassus. On the same day, according to Donatus, the poet Lucretius died, in his forty-first year. It is said that Virgil subsequently studied at Neapolis (Naples) under Parthenius, a native of Bithynia, from whom he learned Greek (Macr. 5.17); and the minute industry of the grammarians has pointed out the following line (Georg. 1.437) as borrowed from his master :

Glauco et Panopeae et Inoo Melicertae.

(Compare Gellius 13.26; and PARTHENIUS).

He was also instructed by Syron an Epicurean, and probably at Rome. Virgil's writings prove that he received a learned education, and traces of Epicurean opinions are apparent in them. The health of Virgilius was always feeble, and there is no evidence of his attempting to rise by those means by which a Roman gained distinction, oratory and the practice of arms. Indeed at the time when he was born, Cisalpine Gaul was not included within the term " Italy," and it was not till B. C. 89 that a Lex Pompeia gave even the Jus Latii to the inhabitants of Gallia Transpadana, and the privilege of obtaining the Roman civitas by filling a magistratus in their own cities. The Roman civitas was not given to the Transpadani till B. C. 49. Virgil therefore was not a Roman citizen by birth, and he was above twenty years of age before the civitas was extended to Gallia Transpadana.

It is merely a conjecture, though it is probable that Virgilius retired to his paternal farm, and here he may have written some of the small pieces, which are attributed to him. the Culex, Ciris, Moretum, and others. The defeat of Brutus and Cassius by M. Antonius and Octavianus Caesar at Philippi B. C. 42, gave the supreme power to the two victorious generals, and when Octavianus returned to Italy, he began to assign to his soldiers lands which had been promised them for their services (D. C. 48.5, &c.). But the soldiers could only be provided with land by turning out many of the occupiers, and the neighbourhood of Cremona and Mantua was one of the districts in which the soldiers were planted, and front which the former possessors were dislodged. (Appian, App. BC 5.12, &c.) There is little evidence as to the circumstances under which Virgil was deprived of his property. It is said that it was seized by a veteran named Claudius or Clodius, and that Asinius Pollio, who was then governor of Gallia Transpadana, advised Virgil to apply to Octavianus at Rome for the restitution of his land, and that Octavianus granted his request. It is supposed that Virgilius wrote the Eclogue which stands first in our editions, to commemorate his gratitude to Octavianus Caesar. Whether the poet was subsequently disturbed in his possession and again restored, and whether he was not firmly secured in his patrimonial farm till after the peace of Brundusium B. C. 40 between Octavianus Caesar and M. Antonius, is a matter which no extant authority is sufficient to determine.

Virgil became acquainted with Maecenas before Horace was, and Horace (Sat. 1.5, and 6. 55, &c.) was introduced to Maecenas by Virgil. Whether this introduction was in the year B. C. 41 or a little later is uncertain; but we may perhaps conclude from the name of Maecenas not being mentioned in the Eclogues of Virgil, that he himself was not on those intimate terms with Maecenas which ripened into friendship, until after they were written. Horace, in one of his Satires (Sat. 1.5), in which he describes the journey from Rome to Brundusium, mentions Virgil as one of the party, and in language which shows that they were then in the closest intimacy. The time to which this journey relates is a matter of some difficulty, but there are perhaps only two times to which it can be referred, either the events recorded in Appian (App. BC 5.64), which preceded the peace of Brundusium B. C. 40, or to the events recorded by Appian (App. BC 5.78), which belong to the year B. C. 38. But it is not easy to decide to which of these two years, B. C. 40 or B. C. 38, the journey of Horace refers. It can hardly refer to the events mentioned in Appian (App. BC 5.93, &c.) which belong to the year B. C. 37, though even this opinion has been maintained. [HORATIUS FLACCUS.]

The most finished work of Virgil, his Georgica, an agricultural poem, was undertaken at the suggestion of Maecenas (Georg. 3.41), and it was probably not commenced earlier than B. C. 37. The supposition that it was written to revive the languishing condition of agriculture in Italy after the civil war, and to point out the best method, may take its place with other exploded notions. The idea of reviving the industry of a country by an elaborate poem, which few farmers would read and still fewer would understand, requires no refutation. Agriculture is not quickened by a book, still less by a poem. It requires security of property, light taxation, and freedom of commerce. Maecenas may have wished Virgil to try his strength on something better than his Eclogues; and though the subject does not appear inviting, the poet has contrived to give it such embellishment that his fame rests in a great degree on this work. The concluding lines of the Georgica were written at Naples (Georg. 4.559), but we can hardly infer that the whole poem was written there, though this is the literal meaning of the words,

Haec super arvorum cult pecorumque canebam.

We may however conclude that it was completed after the battle of Actium B. C. 31, while Caesar was in the East. (Compare Georg. 4.560, and 2.171, and the remarks of the critics.) His Eclogues had all been completed, and probably before the Georgica were begun (Georg. 4.565).

The epic poem of Virgil, the Aeneid, was probably long contemplated by the poet. While Augustus was in Spain B. C. 27, he wrote to Virgil to express his wish to have some monument of his poetical talent; perhaps he desired that the poet should dedicate his labours to his glory as he had done to that of Maecenas. A short reply of Virgil is preserved (Macr. 1.24), in which he says, " with respect to my Aeneas, if it were in a fit shape for your reading, I would gladly send the poem; but the thing is only just begun; and indeed it seems something like folly to have undertaken so great a work, especially when, as you know, I am applying to it other studies, and those of much greater importance." The inference that may be derived from a passage of Propertius (Eleg. 2.34, 5.61), in which he speaks of the Iliad as begun and in progress, and from the recent death of Gallus, also mentioned in the same elegy, is that Virgil was engaged on his work in B. C. 24 (Clinton, Fast. B. C. 24). An allusion to the victory of Actium in the same elegy, compared with the passage in Virgil (Aeneid, 8.675 and 704) seems to show that Propertius was acquainted with the poem of Virgil in its progress; and he may have heard parts of it read. III B. C. 23 died Marcellus, the son of Octavia, Caesar's sister, by her first husband; and as Virgil lost no opportunity of gratifying his patron, he introduced into his sixth book of the Aeneid (5.883) the well-known allusion to the virtues of this youth, who was cut off by a premature death.

Heu miserande puer, si qua fata aspera rumpas,
Tu Marcellus eris.

Octavia is said to have been present when the poet was reciting this allusion to her son and to have fainted from her emotions. She rewarded the poet munificently for his excusable flattery. As Marcellus did not die till B. C. 23, these lines were of course written after his death, but that does not prove that the whole of the sixth book was written so late. Indeed the attempts which modern critics make to settle many points in ancient literary history, are not always mauaged with due regard to the nature of the evidence. This passage in the sixth book was certainly written after the death of Marcellus, but Virgil may have sketched his whole poem and even finished in a way many parts in the later books before he elaborated the whole of his sixth book. A passage in the seventh book (5.606),

Auroramque sequi Parthosque reposcere signa,
appears to allude to Augustus receiving back the standards taken by the Parthians from M. Licinius Crassus B. C. 53. This event belongs to B. C. 20 (D. C. 54.8); and if the passage of Virgil refers to it, the poet must have been working at his seventh book in B. C. 20.

When Augustus was returning from Samos, where he had spent the winter of B. C. 20, he met Virgil at Athens. The poet it is said had intended to make a tour of Greece, but he accompanied the emperor to Megara and thence to Italy. His health, which had been long declining, was now completely broken, and he died soon after his arrival at Brundusium on the 22d of September B. C. 19, not having quite completed his fifty-first year. His remains were transferred to Naples, which had been his favourite residence, and placed on the road (Via Puteolana) from Naples to Puteoli (Pozzuoli) between the first and second milestone from Naples. The monument, now called the tomb of Virgil, is not on the road which passes through the tunnel of Posilipo; but if the Via Puteolana ascended the hill of Posilipo, as it may have done, the situation of the monument would agree very well with the description of Donatus.

The inscription said to have been placed on the tomb,

Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc
Parthenope. Cecini pascua, rura, duces.
we cannot suppose to have been written by the poet, though Donatus says that it was.

Virgil named, as heredes in his testament, his half-brother Valerius Proculus, to whom he left one half of his property, and also Augustus, Maecenas, L. Varius and Plotius Tucca. It is said that in his last illness he wished to burn the Aeneid, to which he had not given the finishing touches, but his friends would not allow him. Whatever he may have wished to be done with the Aeneid, it was preserved and published by his friends Varius and Tucca. It seems from different extant testimonies that he did express a wish that the unfinished poem should be destroyed.

The poet had been enriched by the liberality of his patrons, and he left behind him a considerable property and a house on the Esquiline Hill near the gardens of Maecenas. He used his wealth liberally, and his library, which was doubtless a good one, was easy of access. He used to send his parents money every year. His father, who became blind, did not die before his son had attained a mature age. Two brothers of Virgil also died before him. Poetry was not the only study of Virgil; he applied to medicine and to agriculture, as the Georgica show, and also to what Donatus calls Mathematica, perhaps a jumble of astrology and astronomy. His stature was tall, his complexion dark, and his appearance that of a rustic. He was modest and retiring, and his character is free from reproach, if we except one scandalous passage in Donatus, which may not tell the truth.

In his fortunes and his friends Virgil was a happy man. Munificent patronage gave him ample means of enjoyment and of leisure, and he had the friendship of all the most accomplished men of the day, among whom Horace entertained a strong affection for him. He was an amiable good-tempered man, free from the mean passions of envy and jealousy; and in all but health he was prosperous. His fame, which was established in his life time, was cherished after his death, as an inheritance in which every Roman had a share; and his works became school-books even before the death of Augustus, and continued such for centuries after. The learned poems of Virgil soon gave employment to commentators and critics. Aulus Gellius has numerous remarks on Virgil, and Macrobius, in his Saturnalia, has filled four books (iii--vi.) with His critical remarks on Virgil's poems. One of the most valuable commentaries of Virgil, in which a great amount of curious and instructive matter has been preserved, is that of Servius [SERVIUS]. Virgil is one of the most difficult of the Latin authors, not so much for the form of the expression, though that is sometimes ambiguous enough, but front the great variety of knowledge that is required to attain his meaning in all its fulness. To understand the Aeneid fully requires great labour and every aid that call be called in from the old commentators to those of the present day.

Virgil was the great poet of the middle ages too. To him Dante paid the homage of his superior genius, and owned him for his master and his model. Among the vulgar he had the reputation of a conjurer, a necromancer a worker of miracles ; it is the fate of a great name to be embalmed in fable.


The ten short poems called Bucolica were the earliest works of Virgil, and probably all written between B. C. 41 and B. C. 37. These Bucolica are not Bucolica in the same sense as the poems of Theocritus, which have the same title. They have all a Bucolic form and colouring, but some of them have nothing snore. They are also called Eelogae or Selections, but this same may not have originated with the poet. Their merit consists in their versification, which was smoother and more polished than the hexameters which the Romans had yet seen, and in many natural and simple touches. But as an attempt to transfer the Syracusan muse into Italy, they are certainly a failure, and we read the pastorals of Theocritus and of Virgil with a very different decree of pleasure. The fourth Eclogue, entitled Pollio, which may have been written in B. C. 40 after the peace of Brundusium, has nothing of the pastoral character about it, as the poet himself admits in the first lines,
Sicelides Musae paulo majora canamus,
Non omnes arbusta juvant humilesque myricae,
Si canimus sylvas, silvae sunt console dignae.

Virgil was aware that he was not following his professed model, and that the poem was Bucolic only in name. It is allegorical, mystical, half historical and prophetical, aenigmatical, anything in fact but Bucolic. Pope's Messiah, a kind of imitation of Virgil, is also not an Eclogue. The first Eclogue is Bucolic in form and in treatment, with an historical basis. The second Eclogue, the Alexis, which the critics suppose to have been written before the first, is an amatory poem, with a Bucolic colouring, which indeed is the characteristic of all Virgil's Eclogues, whatever they may be in substance. The third, the fifth, the seventh, and the ninth are more clearly modelled on the form of the poems of his Sicilian prototype : and the eighth, the Pharmaceutria, is a direct imitation of the original Greek. The tenth, entitled Gallus, perhaps written the last of all, is a love poem, which, if written in elegiac verse, would be more appropriately called an elegy than a Bucolic. All the Eclogues of Virgil abound in allusions to the circumstances and persons of the time; but these allusions are often obscure. Though the Eclogues contain many pleasing lines, they present very great difficulties arising both from the construction of the poems, and the language. Those who find them easy are not persons who are much alive to the perception of difficulties ; and those who bestow upon them very liberal praise, have the merit at least of being easily satisfied. Virgil borrowed many lines from Theocritus; but the adaptation of a few lines does not give to his poems the genuine rustic cast of some of the best pieces of Theocritus. We do not feel that the Eclogues of Virgil represent rural life or rural manners in Italy; and such a representation, even if Virgil could have given it, is incompatible with the leading idea that pervades some of the Eclogues. Julius Caesar Scaliger preferred Virgil's Eclogues to those of Theocritus, a curious instance of perverted judgment.


The " Georgica" or " Agricultual Poem " in four books is a didactic poem, which Virgil dedicated to his patron Maecenas. He treats of the cultivation of the soil in the first book, of fruit trees in the second, of horses and other cattle in the third, and of bees in the fourth. In this poem Virgil shows a great improvement both in his taste and in his versification. If he began this poem before he had finished the Eclogues, he went on working at it and correcting it after he had laid his Eclogues aside. It has been attempted to show that the first book was written before B. C. 35, but there is no conclusive evidence on this point. It has been stated when it was finished. Neither in the Georgics nor elsewhere has Virgil the merit of striking originality; his chief merit consists in the skilful handling of borrowed materials. His subject, which was by no means promising, he treated in a manner both instructive and pleasing ; for he has given many useful remarks on agriculture and diversified the dryness of didactic poetry by numerous allusions and apt embellishments, and some occasional digressions without wandering too far from his main matter. In the first book (5.1, &c.) he enumerates the subjects of his poem, among which is the treatment of bees; yet the management of bees seems but meagre material for one fourth of the whole poem, and the author accordingly had to complete the fourth book with matter somewhat extraneous -- the long story of Aristaeus. The Georgica is the most finished specimen of the Latin hexameter which we have ; and the rude vigor of Lucretius, and the antiquated rudeness of Ennius are here replaced by a versification, which in its kind cannot be surpassed. The Georgica are also the most original poem of Virgil, for he found little in the Works and Days of Hesiod that could furnish him with hints for the treatment of his subject, and we are not aware that there was any work which he could exactly follow as a whole. For numerous single lines he was indebted to his extensive reading of the Greek poets.


The Aeneid, or adventures of Aeneas after the fall of Troy, is an epic poem on the model of the Homeric poems. It was founded upon an old Roman tradition that Aeneas and his Trojans settled in Italy, and were the founders of the Roman name. In the first books we have the story of Aeneas being driven by a storm on the coast of Africa, and being hospitably received by Dido queen of Carthage, to whom he relates in the episode of the second and third books the fall of Troy and his wanderings. In the fourth book the poet has elaborated the story of the attachment of Dido and Aeneas, the departure of Aeneas in obedience to the will of the gods and the suicide of the Carthaginian queen. The fifth book contains the visit to Sicily, and the sixth the landing of Aeneas at Cumae in Italy, and his descent to the infernal regions, where he sees his father Anchises, and has a prophetic vision of the glorious destinies of his race and of the future heroes of Rome. In the first six books the adventures of Ulysses in the Odyssey are the model, and these books contain more variety of incident and situation than those which follow. The critics have discovered an anachronism in the visit of Aeneas to Carthage, which is supposed not to have been founded until two centuries after the fall of Troy, but this is a matter which we may leave without discussion, or admit without allowing it to be a poetical defect. The last six books, the history of the struggles of Aeneas in Italy, are founded on the model of the battles of the Iliad. Latinus, the king of the Latini, offers the Trojan hero his daughter Lavinia in marriage, who had been betrothed to Turnus, the warlike king of the Rutuli. The contest is ended by the death of Turnus, who falls by the hand of Aeneas. The fortunes of Aeneas and his final settlement in Italy are the subject of the Aeneid, but the glories of Rome and of the Julian house, to which Augustus belonged, are indirectly the poet's theme. In the first book the foundation of Alba Longa is promised by Jupiter to Venus (Aeneid, 1.254), and the transfer of empire from Alba to Rome; from the line of Aeneas will descend the " Trojan Caesar," whose empire will only be limited by the ocean, and whose glory by the heavens. The future rivalry between Rome and Carthage, and the ultimate triumphs of Rome are predicted. The poem abounds in allusions to the history of Rome ; and the aim of the poet to confirm and embellish the popular tradition of the Trojan origin of the Roman state, and the descent of the Julii from Venus, is apparent all through the poem. It is objected to the Aeneid that it has not the unity of construction either of the Iliad or of the Odyssey, and that it is deficient in that antique simplicity which characterises these two poems. Aeneas, the hero, is an insipid kind of personage, and a much superior interest is excited by the savage Mezentius, and also by Turnus, the unfortunate rival of Aeneas. Virgil imitated other poets besides Homer, and he has occasionally borrowed from them, especially from Apollonius of Rhodes. If Virgil's subject was difficult to invest with interest, that is his apology; but it cannot be denied that many parts of his poem are successfully elaborated, and that particular scenes and incidents are treated with true poetic spirit. The historical colouring which pervades it, and the great amount of antiquarian learning which he has scattered through it, make the Aeneid a study for the historian of Rome. Virgil's good sense and taste are always conspicuous, and make up for the defect of originality. As a whole, the Aeneid leaves no strong impression, which arises from the fact that it is not really a national poem, like the Iliad or the Odyssey, the monument of an age of which we have no other literary monument; it is a learned poem, the production of an age in which it does not appear as an embodiment of the national feeling, but as a monument of the talent and industry of an individual. The Aeneid contains many obscure passages, which a long series of commentators have laboured to elucidate. Virgil has the merit of being the best of the Roman epic poets, superior both to Ennius who preceded him, and on whom he levied contributions, and to Lucan, Silius Italicus, and Valerius Flaccus, who belong to a later age. The passion for rhetorical display, which characterises all the literature of Rome, is much less offensive in Virgil than in those who followed him in the line of epic poetry.

The larger editions of Virgil contain some short poems, which are attributed to him, and may have been among his earlier works.


The Culex or Gnat is a kind of Bucolic poem in 413 hexameters, often very obscure; the Ciris, or the mythus of Scylla the daughter of Nisus, king of Megara, in 541 hexameters, has been attributed to Cornelius Gallus and others, but Scaliger maintains that it is by Virgil.


The Moretum, in 123 verses, the name of a compound mess, is a poem in hexameters, on the daily labour of a cultivator, but it contains only the description of the labours of the first part of the day, which consist in preparing the Moretum : the female servant of the rustic Simulus is a negress; none was ever better described,
Afra genus, tota patriam testante figura,
Torta comam, labroque tumens et fusca colorem,
Pectore lata, jacens mammis, compressior alvo,
Cruribus exilis, spatiosa prodiga planta.


The Copa, in elegiac verse, is an invitation by a female tavern keeper or servant attached to a Caupona, to passengers to come in and enjoy themselves.


There are also fourteen short pieces in various metres, classed under the general name of Catalecta. That addressed " Ad Venerem," shows that the writer, whoever he was, had a talent for elegiac poetry.


The first edition of Virgil, a small folio, was printed at Rome about A. D. 1469 by Sweynheym and Pannartz, and dedicated to Pope Paul II. This rare edition was reprinted in 1471, but it is of no great value. The Virgil printed by Aldus at Venice in 1501, 8vo, is also very scarce. At the close of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries there were many prints of Virgil, with the commentary of Servius and others. The edition of J. L. de la Cerda, which is valued for the commentary, appeared at Madrid in 3 vols. folio, 1608-1617. The valuable edition of Nic. Heinsius was published at Amsterdam in 1676. The well printed edition of P. Masvicius, Leeuwarden, 1727, 2 vols. 4to, contains the complete commentaries of Servius, Philargyrius, and Pierius, with the " Index Erythraei," the Life of Virgil by Tib. Claudius Donatus, an " Index absolutissimus in Mauri Servii Honorati Commentarios in Virgilium," and an " Index Auctorum in Servii Commentariis citatorum." All these matters make the edition of Masvicius very useful. P. Burmann's edition appeared at Amsterdam, 1746, 4 vols. 4to. C. G. Heyne bestowed great labour on his edition of Virgil, 1767-1775, Leipzig, 4 vols. 8vo, with a copious index : it was reprinted with improvements in 1788. In the fourth edition of Heyne's Virgil, by G. P. E. Wagner, Leipzig, 1830, 4 vols. 8vo, the text has been corrected after the best MSS., the punctuation improved, and the orthography altered or amended. The text of this edition is also published separately in a single volume with the title " Publii Vergilii Maronis Carmina ad pristinam Orthographiam quoad ejus fieri potuit revocata, edidit P. Wagner, Leipzig, 1831, 8vo." It also contains the " Orthographia Vergiliana," or remarks on the orthography of many words in Virgil, arranged in alphabetical order.

Textual Transmission

The works of Virgil have been more fortunate than those of most of the writers of antiquity, for there are many very old MSS. of his poems. That which is called the Medicean, may probably have been written before the downfal of the Roman empire. An exact fac-simile of it was published by Foggini at Florence, 1741, 4to. The Codex Vaticanus, which is also of great antiquity, was published by Bottari, Rome, 1741, folio; but it is said not to be so accurate a copy as the fac-simile of Foggini. Wagner in his Praefatio has briefly discussed the relative ages of these two MSS. ; but there seem to be no grounds for deciding the question. They are both undoubtedly very old.

Editions of individual works

The editions of the several parts of Virgil and the school editions are very numerous. The " Hand-buch der Classischen Bibliographie" of Schweigger, ii. pp. 1145-1258, contains a long list. The edition of A. Forbiger, 3 vols. 8vo, Leipzig, 1836, and a second edition, 1845-1846, contains a sufficiently copious commentary for ordinary use, which is composed of selections from the commentators and his own notes.


The Bucolica were translated into German verse by J. H. Voss with useful notes; and a second edition by A. Voss, appeared at Altona, 1830. J. H. Voss's poetical translation of the Georgies is highly esteemed. His complete translation of Virgil appeared at Brunswick in 3 vols. 8vo, 1799. Martyn, professor of Botany at Cambridge, published a prose version of the Georgica, London, 1741, and of the Georgica, 1749, with many valuable notes. The commentary of Martyn on the Georgica is perhaps the best that has appeared for the elucidation of the matter of the poem. Gawin Douglas, bishop of Dunkeld, translated the Aeneid into Scottish verse, London, 1553. Ogilby's verse translation was published at London, 1649 and 1650; and Dryden's was published by Tonson, London, 1697. The blank verse translation of Dr. J. Trapp is very poor. The Aeneid translated by C. Pitt, and the Bucolica and Georgica by Joseph Warton, were published by Dodsley, London, 1783, 4 vols. 8vo. Sotheby's poetic version of the Georgica contains the original text and the versions of De Lille, Soave, Guzman, and Voss.


The chief authority for the Life of Virgil is the Life by Donatus, which, though not a critical performance, is undoubtedly founded on good materials. It is printed in Wagner's edition of Virgil with notes. The editions, translations, commentaries, and essays on Virgil form an enormous mass of literature, in which the poet is rather buried than embalmed.


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