VIRGIL, Publius Virgilius Maro, famous Roman poet, born near Mantua, in Northern Italy, Oct. 15, 70; died in Brundusium, Sept. 22, in the year 19 B. C. He was the son of a small landowner, who tilled a farm on the banks of the Mincion, in the district of Andes. The scenery with which he came in contact in early life inspired him in many of his poetical productions. His father recognized his natural ability and devotion to study and gave him the advantages of a careful education. It is possible that his diligence in study was enhanced by the fact that he was not a Roman citizen by birth, thus checking any aspirations he might have formed to become eminent as a soldier, orator, or statesman. He first studied at Cremona and Milan, but in 55 became a student of Greek and philosophy under Syron in Naples.
It appears that Virgil returned to his father's farm with the view of devoting his life to poetry and agriculture, but, as Mantua had sympathized with the opponents of Antony and Octavius, the lands were confiscated after the Battle of Philippi in 42 b. c. However, he succeeded in recovering his estate by reason of friendship with Asinius Pollio, the Roman governor, and soon after formed the acquaintance of Octavius. When the latter became the Empeor Augustus, after the Battle of Actium. in 31 b. c., the poet was remembered by the distinguished Roman sovereign.
He resided for some time at Rome, where he formed a firm friendship with Varro, Maecenas, and Horace, but spent most of his life in retirement, after 37 B. c., on his estate near Naples, where most of his famous writings were completed. The larger part of his great work, the "Aeneid," was written before 19 b. c., but in that year he went to Athens with the view of revising the poem in some particulars, and while there Augustus returned from the East.
The latter persuaded him to sail in his company to Italy, but the strain of exposure at sea caused his delicate constitution to fail and he died at Brundusium, shortly after reaching Italy. His body was placed in a tomb at Naples, which was long visited with sacred reverence by many Romans.
The fame of Virgil rests on three celebrated works, entitled the "Eclogues." the "Georgics," and the "Aeneid," though the last mentioned is considered the most remarkable. The "Eclogues," comprising ten poems, were written about 40 B. C. Though devoted largely to poems of a pastoral character, they include many allusions to the current political events. The "Georgics," a work properly regarded the most highly finished of Virgil's poetry, are addressed to Maecenas and probably were written at his suggestion. They treat of agriculture as connected with the life and times of the author. Four volumes make up the "Georgics," in which is given a poetic description of the culture of the vine and other fruits, the rearing and care of domestic animals, and the care of bees. They include a fine presentation of the climatic conditions of Italy and the changes of weather, and include a description of the appearance of the firmament in northern Italy.
The "Aeneid" is in twelve books, the first six being modeled after the "Odyssey," and the last six after the "Iliad." Virgil makes Aeneas the subject of this remarkable work. He is represented as fleeing from Troy, after that city had fallen under the attacks of the Greeks, and after many adventures he lands in Latium, where he becomes the husband of Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus, and, after subduing his enemies, he lays the foundation of the Roman nation. Though a work of refinement of expression and elegant construction, it is inferior to the Homeric poems. It was not wholly completed to his liking at the time of his death, and he preferred to destroy rather than leave it in an incomplete condition, but Augustus prevailed upon him to intrust the revision of the work to his friends, Varro and Tuacca. These writers edited it with great care, and it is possible that a number of interpolations were made. The Romans regarded him with religious veneration, and he impresses modern readers as one who lived in a much higher sphere than his contemporaries.