The Ancient Library

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On this page: Vergil (continued)



and bashfulness of manner from looking forward to any success as a pleader or in the service of the State, he returned home, and in the quiet of the country devoted himself to the study of the Greek poets. His meeting with the refined and poetically gifted Asinlus Pollio, who in 43 took com­mand of Transpadane Gaul as lieutenant of Antony, appears to have given him his first impetus to poetic composition. His earliest publication, his ten Eclogues, which were written in the years 43-37, were afterwards collected under the title of BticOKca (" Pastoral Poems "). These are imitations of the idyls of Theocritus ; they are, however, less natural, the pictures of country and shepherd life being interspersed throughout with references to contem­porary events, to his own fortunes, and to important persons such as Octavianus, Pollio, and Cornelius Gallus, to whom the poet wished either to commend himself or to show his gratitude by his complimentary allusions. He had on several occasions been compelled by the force of circum­stances to appeal to the protection and help of influential men. For instance, at the distribution of land to the veterans in 41 b.c. his own estate was appropriated, and it •was only the advocacy of Pollio and of Cor­nelius Gallus which enabled him to recover it. In the following year, when Pollio was obliged to give place to Alfenus Varus, his property was again threatened ; but by the influence of Maecenas, to whom Pollio had recommended him, amends were made him by the presentation of another estate. His fame as a poet was established by the Eclogues. Henceforward, by the liberality of noble friends, especially Octavianus and Maecenas, whom he won not merely by his art, but, like all with whom he came into contact, by his modesty and good nature, he was enabled to devote himself to his studies without fear of interruption. He lived in turns in Rome (where he possessed a house), or on his estate at Nola, or in Naples, where he mainly resided, owing to his weak health.

Here, iu 30 b.c. he completed the didactic poem in four books begun seven years previous^7, entitled the Gcorgics (Geor-glcd, on agriculture), which he dedi­cated to Maecenas. In this, the first Latin poem of this kind, we have a masterpiece | of Latin poetry. The author treats of Roman husbandry under its four chief branches, tillage (book i), horticulture (ii), the breeding of cattle (iij), the keeping

of bees (iv); and handles a prosaic theme with thorough knowledge and consummate art, together with a loving enthusiasm and a fine sympathy for nature. [The work was founded mainly on the poems of Hesiod and Aratus, but also gives evidence of fami­liarity with writers on agriculture, as well as of independent agricultural knowledge.]

Immediately after finishing the Georgics he began the epic poem of the jEneid, which he had already promised to Octavia­nus. Its appearance was looked forward to by all educated Rome with extraordinary anticipation. After eleven years of unre­mitting labour (for to him composition in general was a laborious task) he was ready with a rough draft of the whole, and deter­mined on a journey to Greece and Asia, intending to spend three years there in polishing his work and afterwards to devote himself entirely to philosophy. At Athens he met Octavianus (who had received in b.c. 27 the title of Augustus). The latter induced him to return home with him r Vergil consented, but fell ill, apparently from a sunstroke, at Megara. On the sea voyage his condition grew worse, and soon after landing he died at Brundlslum, 21st September, 19 B.C. His remains were buried at Naples.

It was the poet's original intention that, in the event of his dying before his work was completed, the twelve books of the sEneid should be consigned to the flames. In the end, however, he bequeathed it to his friends and companions in art Varlus Rufus and Plotius Tucca, on condition that the}' should not publish any part of it. But, by the command of Augustus, they gave it to the world, after submitting the work to a careful revision, and only re­moving what was superfluous, while refrain­ing from all additions of their own.

In spite of its incomplete form, the work was enthusiastically welcomed on its first appearance, which had excited the highest anticipations, as a national epic of equal worth with the poems of Homer. This approval was due to its national purpose, the poetic glorification of the origin of the Roman people in the adventures of jEneas, the founder of the Romans through his descendant Romulus, and in particular the ancestor of the imperial house of the Julii through his son Ascanius, or lulus. In view of its purpose, little notice was taken of the weak points in the poem, which can only in part be excused by the fact that it lacks the author's finishing touches. We

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