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Vergilius Maro, Publius

The most famous of the Roman poets, born on the 15th of October, B.C. 70, at Andes (Pietola), a small village near Mantua, in Cisalpine Gaul. There is no doubt that Vergilius is the more correct spelling, since inscriptions of the time of the Republic and the Early Empire where the name occurs give Vergilius, and never Virgilius. The same is true of the older MSS., as the Medicean; while the Greek authors write Βεργίλιος and Οὐεργίλιος. In the Middle Ages (from about the ninth century) the form Virgilius came into use by a fanciful derivation from virga “a rod,” “a wand,” Vergil being regarded as a great necromancer, as explained later in the present article. Even in the fifteenth century, however, Politian proved this form to be erroneous, and almost the only scholars to defend it in recent times are F. Schultz in his Orthogr. Quaestiones (Paderborn, 1855), and Oberdick in Studien z. lat. Orthographie (Münster, 1879). (See Hübner in Jahn's Jahrbücher, lxii. 360, and Ritschl, Opuscula, ii. 779.) The earliest known instance of the spelling Virgilius is in the fifth century A.D. (C. I. L. vi. 1710).

Vergil's father probably had a small estate which he cultivated, and he is said to have eked out his means by keeping bees. His mother's name was Magia Polla. He was educated at Cremona and Mediolanum (Milan), and assumed the toga virilis at Cremona on the day on which he began his sixteenth year, in 55. It is said that he subsequently studied at Neapolis (Naples) under Parthenius, a native of Bithynia, from whom he learned Greek. He was further instructed by Siron, an Epicurean, whose lectures were attended also by Alfenus Varus at Rome, where he also studied rhetoric under Epidius at the same time as did Octavianus. Vergil's writings prove that he received a learned education, and traces of Epicurean opinions are apparent in them (e. g. Georg. ii. 490). The health of Vergil was always feeble, and there is no evidence of his attempting to rise by those means through which many Romans gained distinction—oratory and arms.

After completing his education, Vergil appears to have retired to his paternal property. After the battle of Philippi (B.C. 42) Octavian assigned to his soldiers lands in various parts of Italy. Octavius Musa, who was charged with this allotment in the Cremona district, extended the limits so as to include Mantua (cf. Ecl. ix. 28), and the farm belonging to Vergil's father was assigned to a centurion, whose name is given as Arrius. Asinius Pollio, the legatus of Transpadane Gaul, and Cornelius Gallus interested themselves in Vergil, who was probably already known to them as a poet, and advised him to apply to Octavian at Rome. Vergil did so, his father's farm was restored, and the First Eclogue expresses gratitude to Octavian. But there was a second spoliation when, after the war of Perusia, Alfenus Varus became legatus in Pollio's place. A primipilaris named Milienus Toro got possession of the farm, and Vergil himself was nearly killed by the vio

Vergil Reading to Maecenas. (Painting by Jalabert.)

lence of a certain Clodius. Vergil and his father took refuge in a country-house belonging to Siro (Catal. 10), and thence removed to Rome, where he wrote the Eclogues (Eclogae, Bucolica). Here Maecenas also became interested in Vergil, who was compensated by Augustus. He did not, indeed, recover his paternal estate, but land was given him elsewhere—possibly the estate which he had near Nola in Campania (Gell. vi. 20). His friendship with Maecenas was soon so firmly established that he was able to gain the same patronage for Horace ( Sat. i. 6, 54). Horace, in one of his Satires ( Sat. i. 5), in which he describes the journey from Rome to Brundusium, mentions Vergil as one of the party, and in language which shows that they were then in the closest intimacy. The most finished work of Vergil, his Georgica, an agricultural poem, was undertaken at the suggestion of Maecenas ( Georg. iii. 41); the concluding lines were written at Naples ( Georg. iv. 559); and the poem was completed after the battle of Actium, B.C. 31, while Octavian was in the East. Some of his pastoral poetry seems to have been written in the country about Tarentum (Prop.iii. 24, 67). His Eclogues had all been completed probably before the Georgica were begun.

The epic poem of Vergil, the Aeneid, was probably long contemplated by the poet. While Augustus was in Spain (B.C. 27), he wrote to Vergil to express his wish for some great monument of his poetical talent. Vergil appears to have begun the Aeneid about this time. In 23 died Marcellus, the son of Octavia (Caesar's sister) by her first husband; and Vergil introduced into his sixth book of the Aeneid (883) the well-known allusion to the promise of this youth, who was cut off by a premature death. 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.

When Augustus was returning from Samos, where he had spent the winter of 20, he met Vergil at Athens. The poet, it is said, had intended to make a tour in Greece, but he accompanied the emperor to Megara and thence to Italy. His health, which had long been 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 on the road from Naples to Puteoli (Pozzuoli) a monument is still shown, supposed to be the tomb of the poet. 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 him. Vergil named as heredes in his testament his halfbrother Valerius Proculus, to whom he left onehalf 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 that his friends would not allow him. What ever he may have wished to be done with the Aeneid, it was preserved and published by his friends Varius and Tucca. 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 it is said that he supported his father, who had become blind, but did not die before his son had attained a mature age.

In his fortunes and his friends Vergil 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 especially 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 lifetime, 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. They were even consulted for chance oracles (sortes Vergilianae) under the Roman Empire (Capit. Albin. 5; Lamprid. Alex. Sev. 4; Spartian. Hadr. 2). (See Sortes.) The poems being full of learned and antiquarian allusions, soon gave employment to commentators and critics. Aulus Gellius has numerous remarks on Vergil; and Macrobius, in his Saturnalia, has filled four books (iii.-vi.) with his critical remarks on the poems. One of the most valuable commentaries on Vergil, in which a great amount of curious and instructive matter has been preserved, is that of Servius Maurus Honoratus. See Servius.

The chief authority for the life of Vergil, apart from casual notices in his own poems or in those of contemporary poets, is the biography prefixed to the commentary written by Aelius Donatus in the fourth century A.D. This life was derived by Donatus from the biography composed by Suetonius in his De Viris Illustribus. (See Donatus.) Suetonius is said to have derived this information from accounts by Varius, and by Melissus, who was a freedman of Maecenas (Gell. xvii. 10). Another life of Vergil was compiled from the commentary of Valerius Probus; a third, found in Jerome, is also derived from Suetonius; a fourth, of unknown authorship, is prefixed to the commentary of Servius on the Aeneid; and a fifth, also of unknown date, is found in the Bernese MS. of Vergil. The grammarian Phocas, in the fifth century, made a version in hexameters of Donatus's Life of Vergil. (See Nettleship's essay prefixed to Conington's edition of Vergil.) No authentic portrait of Vergil has been preserved.

The ten short poems called Bucolica were the earliest extant works of Vergil, and probably all written between 41 and 39. These Bucolica are not Bucolica in the same sense as the poems of Theocritus, which have the same title. They have all a pastoral form and colouring, but some of them have nothing more. They are also called Eclogae (“selections”), but there is no reason to suppose that this name originated with the poet. Their merit consists in their versification (which was smoother and more polished than any hexameters which the Romans had yet seen), and in their many natural and simple touches. But as an attempt to transfer the Syracusan style into Italy, they bear the stamp of imitation, and, however graceful and melodious, cannot be ranked with the more genuine pastorals of Theocritus. The Fourth Eclogue, entitled Pollio, which may have been written in 40, after the peace of Brundusium, has nothing of the pastoral character about it. It is half allegorical, half historical and prophetical—anything, in fact, but bucolic. The First Eclogue is bucolic in form and in treatment, with an historical basis. The Second Eclogue, the Alexis, is an amatory poem, with a bucolic colouring. 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 (“Incantation”), 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.

The Georgica, or “Agricultural Poem,” in four books, written b. c. 37-30, is a didactic poem, which Vergil 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 cattle in the third, and of bees in the fourth. This is generally regarded as his masterpiece, and it is unquestionably the most finished and perfect of his works, showing wonderful skill in treating the more prosaic subjects of practical daily life and embellishing them with magnificent bursts of poetry, yet so as still to present a complete and harmonious work. Its versification is the perfection of the Latin hexameter. Yet, great as are these merits, the Aeneid is the greater poem of the two. In grandeur, in poetical matter, and, to most readers, in interest, it is superior, and yields only to the Georgics in artistic completeness. The Georgics are, no doubt, based on the works of Hesiod and Aratus, but are so treated as to be rightly regarded as an original poem. In the first book 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 completed the fourth book with matter somewhat extraneous—the long story of Aristaeus.

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 State. In the first book 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 own wanderings. In the fourth book the poet has elaborated the story of the love-affair 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 Odysseus in the Odyssey are the model, and these books contain more variety of incident and situation than those which follow. The last six books, the history of the struggles of Aeneas in Italy, are modelled after the battle-scenes of the Iliad. Latinus, the king of the Latini, offers the Trojan hero in marriage his daughter Lavinia, 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 it is the national epic of the Roman people, and its real object is to set forth the glories of Rome, and, less directly, of the Julian house, to which Augustus belonged, and to foster in the Romans a patriotic feeling, and, still more, a religious sentiment for the gods and heroes of their ancestors. In the first book, the foundation of Alba Longa is promised by Iupiter to Venus (Aeneid, i. 254), and the transfer of empire from Alba to Rome; from the line of Aeneas will descend the “Trojan Caesar,” whose empire will be limited only by the ocean, and his glory by the heavens. The future rivalry between Rome and Carthage and the ultimate triumph 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 Iulii from Venus, is apparent throughout. More interest is excited by Turnus than by Aeneas. It is true that it might be said of the Iliad that the character of Hector wins more admiration than that of Achilles; but the cases are not parallel, since Aeneas is in himself a weak and priggish person, and one unsuited to be the hero of an epic.

Vergil imitated other poets besides Homer, and he has occasionally borrowed from them, especially from Apollonius of Rhodes. 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. In fact, Vergil's free use of all that his predecessors had written has been often misinterpreted both in ancient and in modern times so as to be made the basis of a charge of wholesale plagiarism. One Perellius Faustus even published a book on these alleged literary thefts (furta), while Octavius Aribius made an elaborate collection of the resemblances (ὁμοιότητες) between lines and expressions found in Vergil and those previously existing in the Greek. In fact these obtrectatores were so vehement and so numerous among his own countrymen that their assertions have found an echo in modern times. An English scholar has, however, well expressed the proper view of this phase of Vergilian criticism in the following sentences:

“A most interesting feature in the Aeneid is its incorporation of all that was best in preceding poetry. All Roman poets had imitated, but Vergil carried imitation to an extent hitherto unknown. Not only Greek but Latin writers are laid under contribution in every page. Some idea of his indebtedness to Homer may be formed from Conington's commentary. Sophocles and the other tragedians, Apollonius Rhodius and the Alexandrians are continually imitated, and almost always improved upon. And still more is this the case with his adaptations from Naevius, Ennius, Lucretius, Hostius, Furius, etc., whose works he had thoroughly mastered, and had stored in his memory their most striking rhythms or expressions. Massive lines from Ennius, which as a rule he has spared to touch, leaving them in all their rugged grandeur planted in the garden of his verse to point back like giant trees to the time when that garden was a forest, bear witness at once to his reverence for the old bard and to his own wondrous art. It is not merely for literary effect that the old poets are transferred into his pages. A nobler motive swayed him. The Aeneid was meant to be, above all things, a National Poem, carrying on the lines of thought, the style of speech, which national progress had chosen; it was not meant to eclipse so much as to do honour to the early literature. Thus those bards who like Naevius and Ennius had done good service to Rome by singing, however rudely, her history, find their imagines ranged in the gallery of the Aeneid. There they meet with the flamens and pontiffs unknown and unnamed, who drew up the ritual formularies, with the antiquarians and pious scholars who had sought to find a meaning in the immemorial names, whether of places or customs or persons; with the magistrates, moralists, and philosophers who had striven to ennoble or enlighten Roman virtue; with the Greek singers and sages, for they too had helped to rear the towering fabric of Roman greatness. All these meet together in the Aeneid as if in solemn conclave, to review their joint work, to acknowledge its final completion, and predict its impending fall. This is beyond question the explanation of the wholesale appropriation of others' thought and language, which otherwise would be sheer plagiarism. With that tenacious sense of national continuity which had given the Senate a policy for centuries, Vergil regards Roman literature as a gradually expanded whole; coming at the close of its first epoch, he sums up its results and enters into its labours. So far from hesitating whether to imitate, he rather hesitated whom not to include, if only by a single reference, in his mosaic of all that had entered into the history of Rome. His archaism is but another side of the same thing. Whether it takes the form of archaeological discussion, of antiquarian allusion, of a mode of narration which recalls the ancient source, or of obsolete expressions, forms of inflection, or poetical ornament, we feel that it is a sign of the poet's reverence for what was at once national and old. The structure of his verse, while full of music, often reminds us of the earlier writers. It certainly has more affinity with that of Lucretius than with that of Lucan. A learned Roman reading the Aeneid would feel his mind stirred by a thousand patriotic associations. The quaint old laws, the maxims and religious formulae he had learned in childhood would mingle with the richest poetry of Greece and Rome in a stream flowing evenly, and, as it would seem, from a single spring; and he who by his art had effected this wondrous union would seem to him the prophet as well as the poet of the era.”

The larger editions of Vergil contain some short poems, which are attributed to him. The Culex(“Gnat”) is a kind of bucolic poem in 413 hexameters, often very obscure. Vergil is known to have written a poem with this title (Vit.; Vit. Lucan.; Stat. Silv. ii. 7, 73); but it is on the whole probable that the poem which we have is by an imitator of Vergil. The Ciris, or the myth of Scylla, the daughter of Nisus, king of Megara, in 541 hexameters, borrows Vergil's forms, but was probably written by an imitator of Catullus, belonging to the literary circle of Messala. The Moretum (“Hotchpotch”) in 123 verses, the name of a dish of various ingredients, 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 consists in preparing the moretum. It is suggested, with probability, that this may be a translation or adaptation by Vergil of a Greek poem of Parthenius. The Copa (“Barmaid”), in 19 elegiac couplets, is an invitation by a barmaid or servant at

Portion of the Schedae Vaticanae with Aen. vi. 45-48. (Written about the fourth century a. d.)

tached to a caupona to passers-by to come in and enjoy themselves. There is no good reason against accepting this as Vergil's work. There are also fourteen short pieces in various metres, classed under the general name of Catalepton (sometimes written as Catalecta). The name is derived from a title (κατὰ λεπτόν) which Aratus gave to a set of short poems (Strabo, p. 486). They were written in the period of Vergil, and it is probable that many are by Vergil—some the work of his earlier years.

In the Middle Ages, Vergil was a great favourite, but was much misunderstood as regards his history and personality. Partly because of a vague remembrance by the people of the episode of the Descent into Hell which forms the subject of the Sixth Book of the Aeneid, and partly because his Fourth Eclogue was believed to be a heathen prophecy of the birth of Christ, Vergil came at last to be regarded as a great magician. His mother's name, Magia Polla (magia, “magic,” polla as from polleo, “mighty”), appeared to confirm this notion, and his own name as finally derived from virga, “a wand,” helped along the myth. In the strange mirage-like blending of fact and fancy that characterizes the legends of the mediævals, Vergil was finally described as a benevolent enchanter living at Rome under King Servius, or Darius, or Octavianus, the son of a king from “Campania in the Ardennes” and the daughter of a Roman Senator under the emperor Remus, who killed his uncle Romulus. Vergil was said to have studied at the University of Toledo, but to have spent most of his time at Rome and Naples. the latter city, in fact, he was said to have founded and to have buoyed it up in the sea on eggs. See Tunison, Vergil in the Middle Age (Cincinnati, 1889); Milberg, Mirabilia Vergiliana (Meissen, 1867), and especially Comparetti, Vergil in the Middle Ages, Eng. trans. (New York, 1896). The influence of Vergil on Dante is well known.

Manuscripts.—More than 150 manuscripts of Vergil, of all degrees of value, have been discovered and classified, among them some of a very early date. The most valuable are the Codex Vaticanus (no. 3867), of the fourth or fifth century; the Codex Palatinus (Vatican), of the same age; and the Codex Mediceus or Laurentianus (Florence), which contains corrections made in the fifth century. Important fragments of manuscripts also exist, among them the Schedae Vaticanae, a set of sheets with illustrations, the Schedae Rescriptae Sangallenses (palimpsest), and the Schedae Rescriptae Veronenses (palimpsest). Another good source is the Codex Gudianus (Wolfenbüttel) of the ninth century. Three Codices in Berne of the ninth or tenth century also deserve mention. On the MSS. see Ribbeck's Prolegomena to his Vergil (1866); the fac-similes published by Wattenbach, Zangemeister, and Chatelain; and the paper by Nolhac, Les Peintures des MSS. de Virgile Mélanges de l'École Française à Rome, 1884).

Bibliography.—The editio princeps of Vergil appeared at Rome about 1469. Early editions of the complete works are those of La Cerda (Madrid, 1608-17); D. Heinsius (Leyden, 1636; rev. by N. Heinsius, 1664, 1676); Delphin ed. (Paris, 1675); Burmann (Amsterdam, 1746). Later are those of Heyne, 4 vols. (Leipzig, 1767-75; third ed. in 6 vols. with glossary by Schlegel, 1798-1800); the same revised by Wagner with the minor poems (Leipzig, 1830-41) in 5 vols.; Forbiger, 4th ed. (Leipzig, 1872-75); Dübner (Paris, 1858); Ribbeck, with critical prolegomena, 5 vols. (Leipzig, 1859-68); Benoist, 3 vols. (2d ed. Paris, 1876); with English notes by Conington and Nettleship, 3 vols. (4th ed. London, 1881-83). More elementary are the editions by Wagner (3d ed. Leipzig, 1861); Ladewig and Schaffer (10th ed. Berlin, 1886); Kennedy (2d ed. London, 1879); Kappes, 4th ed. Leipzig, 1887); Papillon, 2 vols. (London, 1882); and Sidgwick (Cambridge, 1890). Good prose translations are those of Conington (3d ed. London, 1882); and Lonsdale and Lee (12th ed. London, 1890). Verse translations into English are those of Dryden, and of Bowen (incomplete). A good verse translation of the Aeneid is that of William Morris; of the Eclogues that of Calverley (1866) and Palmer (1883); of the Georgics that of Rhodes.

A good annotated edition of the Bucolics (Eclogues) and Georgics are those of Keightley (London, 1848); of the Aeneid by Papillon and Haigh (Oxford, 1890); of the Copa by Ilgen (Halle, 1820); of the Ciris by Unger (Halle, 1885); of the Moretum by Bährens in the Poet. Latini Minores (1886).

On Vergil's life and literary qualities see Nettleship's Ancient Lives of Vergil (London, 1879); Ste.-Beuve, Étude sur Virgile (Paris, 1870); Sellar, Roman Poets of the Augustan Age (1877); a paper by Myers in his Classical Essays; and the admirable chapters on Vergil in Tyrrell's Latin Poetry (Boston, 1895); and Mackail's Latin Literature (New York, 1895). See also the numerous monographs cited in the Teuffel-Schwabe-Warr Hist. of Roman Lit., vol. i. pp. 425-450. On Vergil in the Middle Ages, see above.

hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 6.45
    • Vergil, Eclogues, 9
    • Vergil, Georgics, 2.490
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.41
    • Vergil, Georgics, 4.559
    • Horace, Satires, 1.5
    • Horace, Satires, 1.6
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 17.10
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 6.20
    • Statius, Silvae, 2.7
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