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LIFE OF VIRGIL
PUBLIUS VERGILIUS MARO was born October 15, 70 B.C., at Andes, a district near Mantua. He was "of rustic parentage, and brought up in the bush and forest,' ," but his father gave him a careful education, first at Cremona, then at Milan, and lastly at Rome. In the capital he studied especially under Epidius the rhetorician, and Siro, a distinguished Epicurean.
To his student-days belong the short poems known as Catalepton (Karà λeñtóv, i.e. "small"), some of which are probably genuine. To the same period would belong the rest of the minor poems-the Culex, Ciris, Copa, Dirae, and Moretum--though it is very doubtful whether any of these are authentic.
Virgil's second period begins with 43 B.C., when, after Caesar's assassination, we find the poet again in Mantua. In that year the second triumvirate was formed, and in the year following Brutus and Cassius were defeated at Philippi. In the subsequent allotment of lands to the victorious veterans Cremona and Mantua suffered severely. The poet was dispossessed of his farm and, attempting resistance, barely escaped with his life. However, he found a friend in C. Asinius Pollio, governor of
1 Macrobius, Saturnalia, V. II. 1.
LIFE OF VIRGIL
Cisalpine Gaul, and in Pollio's successor (41 B.C.), L. Alfenus Varus. Through Pollio he was introduced to Octavius, and either recovered his farm or received in compensation an estate in Campania.
The poems in which Virgil records his experience at this time are the ten Eclogues, or Bucolics, which were published in their present order in 37 B.C. The two that are mainly concerned with the poet's expulsion from his farm are the first and ninth, but at least three, viz. the second, third, and fifth (with probably the seventh as well), preceded the first in point of time and, like it, were written in the poet's native district. The sixth and ninth were composed at Siro's villa; the remainder, viz. the fourth, eighth, and tenth, were written in Rome. The first doubtless won its place in the series because of the tribute it pays to Octavius, who before 37 B.C. had become sole ruler in Italy.
Seven years were devoted to the Georgics, the four books of which were published in 29 B.C., two years after the battle of Actium. The work was undertaken at the request of Maecenas, to whom it is dedicated. Though a didactic poem, being a treatise on agriculture, the Georgics are perhaps the most carefully finished production of Roman literature.
The rest of Virgil's life was devoted to the Aeneid, the greatest of Roman epics. Before it was ready for publication Virgil set out in 19 B.C. for Greece and Asia, where he intended to spend the next three years in revising his work. At Athens, however, meeting Augustus on his homeward journey from the East, he was induced to return with the Emperor to Italy. A fever, contracted at Megara, grew worse during the voyage, and ended in his death at Brundisium, a few days after landing, in the
fifty-first year of his age, September 22, 19 B.C. was buried at Naples, and on his tomb was inscribed the epitaph:
MANTUA ME GENUIT, CALABRI RAPUERE, TENET NUNC PARTHENOPE; CECINI PASCUA, RURA, DUCES.
Conscious of many imperfections in the Aeneid, Virgil had begged Varius (who along with Tucca was Virgil's literary executor), in the event of his death, to burn the epic. It was published, however, by order of Augustus, who directed the executors to edit it, removing all superfluities, but making no additions. Examples of passages removed are furnished by the prooemium of four lines at the beginning of the Aeneid, and by the Helen episode in the second book (ll. 567-588). In both cases
Virgil's dissatisfaction with the passages may have been known to his literary friends.