Virgil (70 B.C–19 B.C), regarded as the greatest Roman poet, is known for
his epic, The Aeneid (written about 29 B.C.E), which had taken its literary
model from Homer‘s epic poems Iliad and Odyssey. He was born on
October 15, 70 B.C.E., in a small village near Mantua in Northern Italy.
Publius Vergilius Maro, or Virgil, has influenced Western literature for two
millennia, but little is known about the man himself. His father was a
prosperous landowner, described variously as a “potter” and a “courier,”
who could afford thorough education for the future poet. Virgil attended
school at Cremona and Milan, and then went to Rome, where he studied
mathematics, medicine and rhetoric, and 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. After the battle of Philippi in 42
B.C. Virgil’s property was confiscated for veterans. According to some
sources it 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 had also a house at Rome. Between 42 and 37
B.C.E. Virgil composed pastoral poems known as Ecologues (‘rustic
poems’ and ‘selections’), spent years on the Georgics (literally, ‘pertaining
to agriculture’), a didactic work on farming, a townsman’s view of the
country. Augustus Caesar pressed Virgil to write of the glory of Rome
under his sway. Thus the remaining time of his life, from 30 to 19 B.C.,
Virgil devoted to the composition of The Aeneid, the national epic of
Rome, to glorify the Empire. By request Virgil accompanied the Emperor
to Megara and then to Italy, but the journey turned out to be fatal and the
poet died in 19 B.C of a fever in contracted on his visit to Greece. It is said
that the poet had instructed his executor Varius to destroy The Aeneid, but
Augustus ordered Varius to ignore this request, and the poem was published
to great acclaim.
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