Virgil Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005

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Virgil (70–19 B.C.) QUOTATION: … I saw these terrible things, and took great part in them.

O accursed hunger of gold, to what dost thou not compel human hearts!

Each of us suffers his own fate in the after-life.

The gates of Hell are open night and day; Smooth the descent, and easy is the way: But, to return, and view the cheerful skies; In this, the task and mighty labour lies.

Perhaps one day this too will be pleasant to remember.

There’s a snake lurking in the grass.

Look with favor on a bold enterprise.

Time is flying, never to return.

From many, one. [E pluribus unus.]

Trust not the horse, O Trojans. Be it what it may, I fear the Grecians even when they offer gifts.

Furthermost Thule. [Ultima Thule.] ATTRIBUTION: Virgil [Publius Vergilius Maro] (70–19 B.C.), Roman poet. Georgics, bk. 1, l. 30 (29 B.C.), trans. by Kate Hughes (1995). Used to denote a far-off land or an unattainable goal: Thule was thought to be six days’ travel north of England—possibly Iceland.

Can heavenly minds yield to such rage? Source: Aeneid, I, 11

The gates of hell are open, night and day; Smooth the descent, and easy the way. Source: Aeneid

The cursed hunger for gold. -Auri sacra fames

The leader of the deed was a woman. -Dux femina facti

They can because they think they can.

Don't trust the horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even bearing gifts. -Equo ne credite, Teucri. Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes Source: Aeneid, II.48

Arcadians both -Arcades ambo

Learn all from one thing. -Ab uno disce omnes

God speed to your youthful valor, boy! So shall you scale the stars! Source: Aeneid, IX, 641

God will even grant an end to these [troubles]. -Dabit deus his quoque finem Source: Aeneid

Then endure for a while, and live for a happier day! Source: Aeneid, I, 11

You, Roman, remember to rule peoples with your power. -Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento Source: Aeneid, VI.851

Now every field is clothed with grass, and every tree with leaves; Now the woods put forth their blossoms, and the year assumes it's gay attire.

Then Heaven, the Father Almighty, comes down in fruitful showers into the lap of his joyous spouse, and his might, with her mighty frame commingling, nurtures all growths. Source: Georgics

The Fates oppose. -Fata obstant Source: Aeneid

The Fates will find a way. -Fata viam invenient Source: Aeneid

Whatever may happen, every kind of fortune is to be overcome by bearing it.

Fortune smiles upon our first effort. -Aspirat primo Fortuna labori

Sicilian Muses, let us sing of slightly grander things. -Sicelides Musae, paulo maiora canamus Source: Eclogues, IV.1

A snake lies hidden in the grass. -Latet anguis in herba Source: Eclogues, III.94

All these souls, after they have passed away a thousand years, are summoned by the divine ones in great array, to the lethean river. . . . In this way they become forgetful of the former earthlife, and re-visit the vaulted realms of the world, willing to return again into living bodies.

So great a task it was to found the Roman race. -Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem Source: Aeneid, I.33

His sickness increases from the remedies applied to cure it.

She nourishes the poison in her veins and is consumed by a secret fire.

The world cares very little about what a man or woman knows; it is what a man or woman is able to do that counts.

They attack the one man with their hate and their shower of weapons. But he is like some rock which stretches into the vast sea and which, exposed to the fury of the winds and beaten against by the waves, endures all the violence.

To have died once is enough.


Publius Vergilius Maro (October 15, 70 BC – September 21, 19 BC), later called Virgilius, and known in English as Virgil or Vergil, was an ancient Roman poet, the author of the Eclogues, the Georgics and the Aeneid, the last being an epic poem of twelve books that became the Roman Empire's national epic. A fictional depiction of Virgil was Dante's guide through Hell and Purgatory in Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy.

Life Virgil was born in the village of Andes, near Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul (Gaul south of the Alps; present-day northern Italy). Virgil was of Celtic and non-Roman Italian ancestry.

Early works Virgil received his first education at 5 years old. He later went to Rome to study rhetoric, medicine, and astronomy, which he soon abandoned for philosophy. In this period, while Virgil was in the school of Siro the Epicurean, he began to write poetry. A group of small but great poems attributed to the youthful Virgil survive, but are largely considered spurious. One, the Catalepton, consists of fourteen short poems, some of which may be Virgil's, and another, a short narrative poem titled the Culex (the mosquito), was attributed to Virgil as early as the 1st century AD. These dubious poems are sometimes referred to as the Appendix Vergiliana.

In 42 BC, after the defeat of Julius Caesar's assassins, Brutus and Cassius, the demobilized soldiers of the victors settled on expropriated land and Virgil's estate near Mantua was confiscated. Virgil explores the various emotions surrounding these appropriations and other aspects of rural life in the Eclogues, his earliest poetry first published in the mid-30's BC. A number of the eclogues, notably the second, but also the third, the fifth, the seventh and the tenth, touch on the topic of love between males, often of a pederastic nature. Ancient writers assumed that the character of Corydon in the second eclogue, lover of Alexis, represented Virgil himself, and Alexis represented Alexander, a slave given to Virgil by Pollio. The theme of pederastic love was later also taken up in his epic poem in the story of Nisus and Euryalus. Modern scholars largely reject the effort to seek to identify him with characters in his poetry and thus to garner further biographical details from his own life.

Virgil soon became part of the circle of Maecenas, Octavian's capable agent d'affaires who sought to counter sympathy for Mark Antony among the leading families by rallying Roman literary figures to Octavian's side. He gained many connections with other leading literary figures of the time, including Horace and Varius Rufus (who later helped finish the Aeneid). After the Eclogues were completed, Virgil spent the years 37 BC–29 BC on the Georgics ("On Farming"), which was written in honor of Maecenas, and is the source of the expression tempus fugit ("time flies"). However, Octavian, who had defeated Antony at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and upon whom the title "Augustus" had been bestowed four years later by the Roman Senate, was already pressing Virgil to write an epic to praise his regime.

Composition of the Aeneid and death A mosaic of Virgil, in a Tunisian villa probably from the 1st century AD.Virgil responded with the Aeneid, the writing of which took up the last ten years of his life. The first six books of the epic tell how the Trojan hero Aeneas escapes from the sacking of Troy and makes his way to Italy. On the voyage, a storm drives him to the coast of Carthage, where the queen, Dido, welcomes him, and under the influence of the gods falls deeply in love with him. Jupiter recalls Aeneas to his duty, however, and he slips away from Carthage, leaving Dido to commit suicide, cursing Aeneas as revenge. On reaching Cumae, in Italy, Aeneas consults the Cumaean Sibyl, who conducts him through the Underworld and reveals his destiny to him. Aeneas is reborn as the creator of Imperial Rome.

The six books (of "first writing") are modeled on Homer's Odyssey, but the last six are the Roman answer to the Iliad. Aeneas is betrothed to Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus, but Lavinia had already been promised to Turnus, the king of the Rutulians, who is roused to war by the Fury Allecto. The Aeneid ends with a single combat between Aeneas and Turnus, whom Aeneas defeats and kills, spurning his plea for mercy.

Virgil traveled with Augustus to Greece. En route, Virgil caught a fever, from which he died in Brundisium harbor, leaving the Aeneid unfinished. Augustus ordered Virgil's literary executors, Lucius Varius Rufus and Plotius Tucca, to disregard Virgil's own wish that the poem be burned, instead ordering it published with as few editorial changes as possible. As a result, the text of the Aeneid that exists may contain faults which Virgil was planning to correct before publication. However, the only obvious imperfections are a few lines of verse that are metrically unfinished (i.e., not a complete line of dactylic hexameter). Other alleged "imperfections" are subject to scholarly debate.

Incomplete or not, the Aeneid was immediately recognized as a masterpiece. It proclaimed the imperial mission of the Roman Empire, but at the same time could pity Rome's victims and feel their grief. Dido and Turnus, who are both casualties of Rome's destiny, are more attractive figures than Aeneas, whose single-minded devotion to his goal may seem almost repellent to the modern reader. However, at the time Aeneas was considered to exemplify virtue and pietas (roughly translated as piety, though the word is far more complex and has a sense of being duty-bound and respectful of divine will, family and homeland). Nevertheless, Aeneas struggles between doing what he wants to do as a man, and doing what he must as a virtuous hero. In the view of some modern critics, Aeneas' inner turmoil and shortcomings make him a more realistic character than the heroes of Homeric poetry, such as Odysseus.

Later views of Virgil Even as the Roman empire collapsed, literate men acknowledged that the Christianized Virgil was a master poet, even when they ceased to read him. Gregory of Tours read Virgil and some other Latin poets, though he cautions us that "We ought not to relate their lying fables, lest we fall under sentence of eternal death." Surviving medieval collections of manuscripts containing Virgil's works include the Vergilius Augusteus, the Vergilius Vaticanus and the Vergilius Romanus.

Dante made Virgil his guide to Hell and Purgatory in The Divine Comedy. Dante also mentions Virgil in De vulgari eloquentia, along with Ovid, Lucan and Statius as one of the four regulati poetae (ii, vi, 7).

Virgil is still considered one of the greatest of the Latin poets, and the Aeneid is a fixture of most classical studies programs.

Mysticism and hidden meanings A 5th century portrait of Virgil from the Vergilius Romanus.In the Middle Ages, Virgil was considered a herald of Christianity for his Eclogue 4 verses (PP Ecl.4) concerning the birth of a boy, which were read as a prophecy of Jesus' nativity. The poem may actually refer to the pregnancy of Octavian's wife Scribonia, who in fact gave birth to a girl.

Also during the Middle Ages, as Virgil was developed into a kind of magus, manuscripts of the Aeneid were used for divinatory bibliomancy, the Sortes Virgilianae, in which a line would be selected at random and interpreted in the context of a current situation (Compare the ancient Chinese I Ching). The Old Testament was sometimes used for similar arcane purposes. Even in the Welsh myth of Taliesin, the goddess Cerridwen is reading from the "Book of Pheryllt"—that is, Virgil.

In some legends, such as Virgilius the Sorcerer, the powers attributed to Virgil were far more extensive.

Virgil's tomb The tomb known as "Virgil's tomb" is found at the entrance of an ancient Roman tunnel (also known as "grotta vecchia") in the Parco di Virgilio in Piedigrotta, a district two miles from old Naples, near the Mergellina harbor, on the road heading north along the coast to Pozzuoli. The site called Parco Virgiliano is some distance further north along the coast. While Virgil was already the object of literary admiration and veneration before his death, in the following centuries his name became associated with miraculous powers, his tomb the destination of pilgriimages and pagan veneration. The poet himself was said to have created the cave with the fierce power of his intense gaze.

It is said that the Chiesa della Santa Maria di Piedigrotta was erected by Church authorities to neutralize this pagan adoration and "Christianize" the site. The tomb, however, is a tourist attraction, and still sports a tripod burner originally dedicated to Apollo, bearing witness to the Pagan beliefs held by Virgil.

Virgil's name in English In the Middle Ages "Vergilius" was frequently spelled "Virgilius." There are two explanations commonly given for the alteration in the spelling of Virgil's name. One explanation is based on a false etymology associated with the word virgo (maiden in Latin) due to Virgil's excessively "maiden"-like (parthenias or pa?????a? in Greek) modesty. Alternatively, some argue that "Vergilius" was altered to "Virgilius" by analogy with the Latin virga (wand) due to the magical or prophetic powers attributed to Virgil in the Middle Ages. In an attempt to reconcile his pagan background with the high regard in which medieval scholars held him, it was posited that some of his works metaphorically foretold the coming of Christ, hence making him a prophet of sorts. This view is defended by some scholars today, namely Richard F. Thomas of Harvard.

In Norman schools (following the French practice), the habit was to anglicize Latin names by dropping their Latin endings, hence "Virgil."

In the 19th century, some German-trained classicists in the United States suggested modification to "Vergil," as it is closer to his original name, and is also the traditional German spelling. Modern usage permits both, though the Oxford Style Manual recommends Vergilius to avoid confusion with the 8th-century Irish grammarian Virgilius Maro Grammaticus.

The greatest Roman poet, called by Tennyson "wielder of the stateliest measure ever moulded by the lips of man." Virgil is known for his epic, the AENEID (written about 29 B.C.E., unfinished), which had taken as its literary model Homer's epic poems Iliad and Odyssey. The tale depicts Aeneas's search for a new homeland and his war to found a city. This archetypical character was given much later form in those Western heroes familiar from the books of Owen Wister and Louis L'Amour.

"It is easy to go down into Hell; night and day, the gates of dark Death stand wide; but to climb back again, to retrace one's steps to the upper air - there's the rub, the task." (from Aeneid) Virgil was born on October 15, 70 B.C.E., in Northern Italy in a small village near Mantua - probably but not certainly the modern Pietole. Virgil was no Roman but a Gaul - the village was situated in what was then called Gallia Cisalpina - Gaul this side of the Alps. Publius Vergilius Maro, or Virgil, grew up to be hailed as the greatest Roman poet. And although his work has influenced Western literature for two millennia, little is known about the man himself. His father was a prosperous landowner, described variously as a "potter" and a "courier", who could afford a thorough education for the future poet. This Virgil received. He attended school at Cremona and Mediolanum (Milan), then went to Rome, where he studied mathematics, medicine and rhetoric, and finally completed his studies in Naples. He entered literary circles as an "Alexandrian," the name given to a group of poets who sought inspiration in the sophisticated work of third-century Greek poets, also known as Alexandrians. In 49 BC Virgil became a Roman citizen. Lucretius influenced his way of thinking, but his early poems were written in the tradition of Theocritus.

After the battle of Philippi in 42 B.C.E., Virgil’s property in Cisalpine Gaul, or else his father's, was confiscated for veterans. "I leave my father's fields and my sweet ploughlands, / an exile from my native soil," wrote Virgil later in ECLOGUES. According to some sources the property was afterwards restored at the command of Octavian (later styled Augustus). In the following years Virgil spent most of his time in Campania and Sicily, but he also had a house in Rome. During the reign of emperor Augustus, Virgil became a member of his court circle and was advanced by a minister, Maecenas, patron of the arts and close friend to the poet Horace. Maecenas was twice left in virtual control of Rome when the emperor was away. He gave Virgil a house near Naples.

Between 42 and 37 B.C.E. Virgil composed pastoral poems known as BUCOLIC or Eclogues ('rustic poems' and 'selections'), spent years on the GEORGICS (literally, 'pertaining to agriculture'), a didactic work on agriculture, and the cultivation of the olive and vine, the rearing of livestock, and beekeeping. The work took as its model Works and Days by the Greek writer Hesiod, who had composed it around 700 BC. Eclogues was a huge success, and in its famous 'Messianic Eclogue' he prophesied the new Golden Age. "The great cycle of the ages is renewed. Now Justice returns, returns the Golden Age; a new generation now descends from on high." (this was interpreted in the Middle Ages as a prophecy of the birth of Christ. Dante cites the lines in The Divine Comedy). In the poem, according to some interpretations, the shepherd lad who dies is probably Julius Caesar. Of the two contrasting characters, Tityrus and Meliboeus, the former was long considered Virgil in disguise.

In 31 B.C.E. Octavian won the Battle of Actium against his former ally Mark Anthony, who had a liaison with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, and by 29 the way to power was open to him. In 27 BC he was given the title of Augustus ('venerable'). He pressed his poet to write of the glory of Rome under his rule. "I found Rome brick and I left it marble," he said according to Suetonius. Thus the rest of his life, from 30 to 19 B.C., Virgil devoted to The Aeneid, the national epic of Rome, and the glory of the Empire. Although ambitious, Virgil was never really happy about the task. Moreover, he was a perfectionist, who knew the importance of his work, and did not want to hurry with his lines. A contemporary poet, Propertius, acknowledged this - perhaps ironically - with the lines: "Make way, Greek and Roman writers! Something greater than the Iliad is being born."



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