Vergil (Publius Vergilius Maro) was born near Mantua in Northern Italy in what was then Cisalpine Gaul on October 15, 70 b.c.e. His father’s name is of Etruscan origin, a fact of some modest significance, perhaps, in one’s understanding of the Italian wars depicted in the Aeneid. His boyhood was spent in relatively simple surroundings, but when he reached fifteen (putting on the toga virilis on the day that his greatest Latin predecessor, Lucretius, is said to have died), he went to Milan and then Rome to study rhetoric (a journey passed in reverse direction by St. Augustine four centuries later). His public career was limited and unsuccessful, however, for philosophy and science were his true interests. He joined the cultural circle of the Epicurean philosopher, Siro, near Naples (it is important to note that the Aeneid in large measure supports the Stoic, not the Epicurean, view of life). The influence of other prominent Romans not only made amends for the confiscation of his family’s land following the Battle of Philippi (43 b.c.e.) but also introduced the poet, already in the midst of the composition of the Eclogues, to Octavian, the heir of Caesar, eventually to be called Caesar Augustus. Following the advice of Maecenas, the eponymous archetype of enlightened patronage, Vergil began the Georgics, a work which took seven years to complete, chiefly because of the care with which he composed, producing some lines in the morning and reducing them to a small number of perfected verses by the end of the day. Having celebrated first pastoral and then agricultural life, Vergil turned with the active encouragement of Octavian to the active life of the hero. The Aeneid slowly developed (with books 2, 4, and 6 the first to be completed) but it was never finished as Vergil hoped; he died with the request that the partly imperfect epic should be burned, but his executors and Augustus himself overrode his last wish and a central text of the Western imagination was thus preserved.
Publius Vergilius Maro was born on October 15, 70 b.c.e., in Andes, an Italian town located near present-day Mantua. He was not born to Roman citizenship, but the franchise was later granted to his native province. His early education took place at Cremona and at Mediolanum, now called Milan. Like most promising young men of his era, Vergil eventually made his way to Rome, where he studied philosophy, rhetoric, medicine, and mathematics; he also completed preparation for the legal profession, although he spoke only once as an advocate. At this time, he also made the acquaintance of the poets who remained from Catullus’s circle and absorbed from them the Alexandrian ideals of poetry. In 41 b.c.e., the farm belonging to Vergil’s family was confiscated and given to the soldiers of Mark Anthony. According to tradition, this personal catastrophe, referred to in eclogues 1 and 9, was remedied by Octavian himself (after 23 b.c.e., the Emperor Augustus) in response to a personal appeal by Vergil, but many scholars believe the loss of the farm was permanent; the references in the Eclogues are subject to interpretation. It was during this period, from about 43 to 37 b.c.e., that Vergil wrote the ten Eclogues, working first in Northern Italy and later in Rome. The success of the Eclogues resulted in an introduction to Maecenas, Octavian’s literary adviser, and this personal connection assured financial support for Vergil’s literary activities...
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As is the case with many ancient writers who achieved wide popularity in their lifetimes, much of the vast amount of biographical material written about Publius Vergilius Maro during or immediately after his lifetime is unreliable. From the outset of his career, the Roman poet whom readers popularly identify as Vergil (VUR-juhl) was the poet most associated with the patriotism of the Pax Romana (the worldwide Roman Peace) of the emperor Augustus. Furthermore, Vergil’s poems went almost immediately into the school curriculum; they became the means by which generations of children learned literary Latin, and the Italy that these works portray became an idealized rendering of the Roman Empire under Augustus. Their creator quickly assumed the stature of patriot-poet, and his poems acquired mystical interpretations tied to Rome’s destiny.
Vergil was born on October 15, 70 b.c.e., in Andes, a countrified region near the town of Mantua, in Cisalpine Gaul (now Italy). His background appears fixed in the respectable but not particularly wealthy middle class. That is clear from the solid education that he received at Cremona and Rome. Particularly useful in establishing his family’s relatively modest circumstances is the fact that Vergil’s education lacked the philosophical component of study at Athens. By contrast, Vergil’s poet-contemporary Horace (65-8 b.c.e.) had enjoyed this advantage. It is also certain that the region of Vergil’s birth underwent a dramatic shift in its political allegiance during the first century b.c.e. Though part of Cisalpine Gaul was Romanized, it was not until 49 b.c.e. that the residents of Mantua received the rights of Roman citizenship. Thus, it was not until he had reached the age of twenty-one that Vergil could properly consider himself a fully enfranchised Roman.
Previously, instability and violence had filled Italy. Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline), the insurrectionist exposed in Cicero’s Catilinarian orations, died fighting against Roman legions; Vergil would have been seven years old at the time. The civil war between Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey), riots in Rome, Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March (44 b.c.e.), and the civil war between Caesar’s heir Octavian (who assumed the title “Augustus” in 27 b.c.e.) and Marcus Antonius meant that war filled twenty-nine of Vergil’s fifty-one years. All of these factors plus Augustus’s professed...
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