Poublius Vergilius Maron (15 October 70 BC, Andes near Mantua, Cisalpine Gaul – 21 September 19 BC, Brundisium, Italy) was a Roman poet. Born into a poor but well-to-do family, he moved to Mediolanus in his youth and later moved to Italy. Virgil spent most of his eventful life in Naples and its surroundings, occasionally appearing in Rome. He started to write poems in the early fifties B.C. The later famous collection Appendix Vergiliana contains a number of small early works, whose belonging to Virgil is disputed by many scholars. In 39 BC he published the Bucolics, a cycle of shepherd”s poems, which was very successful and made its author the most popular poet of his era. Around that time Virgil and his friend Quintus Horatius Flaccus joined the literary circle formed around Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, which was united in its attitude to Octavian, later named Augustus, as the man who had saved Rome from the horrors of civil war. By 29 B.C. Publius had finished his didactic epic on agriculture, the Georgics, and had begun work on the Aeneid, a poem about the origins of Roman history, conceived as a Latin “answer to Homer.” He did not have time to finish it and wanted to burn the manuscript before his death, but the Aeneid was nevertheless published and became a fundamental national epic for Rome.

For all subsequent eras Virgil became the best poet of Rome. As the author of three great poems, he eclipsed the Greeks Theocritus (writing the Bucolics), Hesiod (creating the Georgics), and Homer (creating the Aeneid). His poems were already included in the school curriculum during the Early Imperial period and his influence was decisive for the development of all Latin poetry. In the Middle Ages and Early Modern times, the Aeneid was one of the few ancient texts that remained in circulation: it was read, revised, and in some cases parodied. Virgil acquired a reputation as a sorcerer and psychopomp (in particular, Dante portrayed him in the Divine Comedy as his guide to the afterlife). The fourth eclogue of the Bucolic gave medieval commentators reason to see Virgil as a harbinger of Christianity who predicted the birth of the Savior. In the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the “Bucolic” was the basis for the development of pastoral literature, while the “Aeneid” had a great influence on the development of the epic tradition in the national literatures of Europe. The plots of Virgil”s works were actively used in painting and in the opera genre.

Origins and Early Years

Publius Virgil Maron was born near the city of Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul. From 220 B.C. this city was one of the centers of Roman colonization of a region in which three peoples – Romans, Gauls, and Etruscans – mingled. Virgil himself wrote about it in the Aeneid: “Mantua, your ancestors came from different tribes: Three peoples live here, four communities in each; Strong by the blood of the Etruscans, their capital Mantua became.” The nomen Vergilius and the cognomen Maron (Maro) are presumably of Etruscan origin – in particular, the cognomen may be related to the word maru, which the Etruscans called a city official with priestly functions. However, this does not necessarily mean that Virgil was Etruscan by blood. The inhabitants of this part of Gaul did not obtain full Roman citizenship until 49 B.C., when Publius was already an adult. With the general scarcity of information, it is unclear whether he himself and his parents were Quirite before that time.

Publius” mother”s name was Magia Polla (alternatively, just Magia or Maya). His father”s name is not mentioned in any of the surviving sources. Virgil the elder was, according to some sources, a potter and, according to others, a day laborer who became the son-in-law of his employer and made his fortune “buying up good woods and raising bees. One autumn day, when Magia-Maia was in labor, the couple set out from Mantua to a nearby village on some business; on the way, Virgil”s wife felt contractions and gave birth to a boy in a roadside ditch near the village of Andes. The newborn did not cry, “and his face was calm and meek,” because of which he was predicted a happy life. The exact location of the Andes is unknown, but in the Middle Ages it was identified with the village of Pietole (until the 11th century the same ditch and even a modest house with an adjoining field were shown there, allegedly belonging to Virgil”s father). The date is absolutely known: it was in October Hades during the first Consulate of Gnaeus Pompeius the Great and Marcus Licinius Crassus, i.e. on October 15, 70 B.C. Later, Virgil the Younger had half-brothers Sylon (he died young) and Flaccus (he lived to be an adult, but died while Publius was still alive). Finally, another brother of Virgil (presumably half-brother) named Valerius Proculus survived him.

Little is known about Publius” childhood years. He was in the vicinity of Mantua, where there was a small estate of Virgil the Elder; apparently, his love of nature, which Virgil nurtured throughout his life, is connected with his memories of this time. Presumably the estate is described in the first eclogue of the Bucolic and in the Curses. The description suggests that it was situated in a river valley, between the marshy bank of the Mincium River and low hills overgrown with pines, oaks and beeches. The Vergilian lands included fields sown with grain, flood meadows, pastures, vineyards and orchards.

From 58 B.C. Publius studied at the grammar school at Cremona. On the day of his 15th birthday, October 15, 55 B.C., he put on an adult toga, which symbolized reaching adulthood. Suetonius notes that the consuls then were the same two nobility at which Virgil was born, and researchers note that adulthood began for Virgil surprisingly early: it was the norm for Romans to don the toga virilis at age 16-17.


From Cremona Publius moved to Mediolanus and from there to Rome. His father tried to give his son the best possible education, and here scholars draw parallels with Horace, another prominent poet of the same era. Perhaps Virgil the elder hoped that his son would make a political career in his native city and join the circle of municipal aristocracy. In Mediolanus, in Rome and later in Naples, Publius studied rhetoric, grammar, and philosophy, with Epicureanism being the closest to him. Much attention Virgil paid to medicine and mathematics, but oratory (one of the key disciplines for a young Roman, intends to engage in politics) is not given to him. It is known that he only once tried to make a speech in court and failed completely: “his speech was too slow, and he even seemed ignorant. Subsequently Publius” problems with eloquence became common knowledge. When a character in Macrobius declared that Virgil”s “oratory” was “very strong”, his words were greeted with laughter.

There is no clear chronology for this period of Virgil”s life. It is not known whether he lived long in Mediolanum and when exactly he continued his education in Rome and Naples (Mikhail Gasparov dates his arrival in Rome to 5453 BC, Mikhail Bondarenko believes that the poet left for Naples in 45 BC). In the capital Virgil studied with the famous rhetorician Marcus Epidius, who charged a high fee for his services, and one of the sources reports that the young Gaius Octavius, who later became the sole ruler of Rome under the names Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus and Augustus, studied with him. However, Octavius was seven years younger than Virgil, and subsequent events do not suggest that the two knew each other until the late 40s B.C. In Naples, Publius studied with the famous Epicurean philosopher Syron, and probably also attended the Philodemus of Gadara at nearby Herculaneum and improved his Greek at the Parthenius of Nicaea. It was at this time that his friendship with the critic Marcus Plotius Tucca and the poet Lucius Varius Rufus began and lasted until Virgil”s death.

During his studies Virgil began to write poetry. According to Suetonius, Publius” first work was “a couplet about a schoolmaster, Ballista, who was stoned because he was known to be an outlaw:

Later, according to the same source, Virgil wrote a cycle of small poems called “Mixture”, a cycle of epigrams, a lyrical lamentation in two parts “Lydia” and “Curses”, small poems “Scope” and “Mosquito” and several other works. All these texts were later called the Appendix Vergiliana (Appendix Vergiliana). There is no scholarly consensus as to whether Publius is really the author of these texts; it is possible that all or some of them were written by lesser-known poets of the period or of later times.

As an aspiring poet Virgil joined the literary circle of neotericists (“innovators”). Representatives of this circle advocated the renewal of the Latin language and style on the model of Alexandrian poetry, imitating first of all Callimachus, Theocritus, Apollonius of Rhodes. In their work they paid much attention to personal feelings of their characters and descriptions of everyday life, created love lyrics and works on “scholarly subjects”. By revolving among them, Virgil acquired literary skill.

Publius did not meet the greatest poet of the era, Titus Lucretius Carus, who died the day Virgil put on his adult toga. Gaius Valerius Catullus may also have died before Publius came to Rome, but he was still able to influence his early work significantly. Among the acquaintances, friends and associates of the aspiring poet were precisely Gaius Licinius Calvus (12 years older than Virgil), Gaius Helvius Cinna (also 10-15 years older), peers Gaius Asinius Pollion, Gaius Cornelius Gallus, Lucius Varius Rufus, and also Publius Valerius Cato, Quintus Cornificius, Marcus Furius Bibaculus, Ticida, Quintilius Var. Apparently, at this stage Virgil had not yet decided what to devote his life to: for example, in the V poem “Mixes” the poet bids farewell first to rhetoric, then to friends, and then to stones, that is, to poetry, saying: “the sails of the boat I have now directed to the blessed harbor, Looking for the great Syrone words of the wise”. He spoke later of his desire to devote his life to philosophy.

About this time period (between 55 and 45 B.C.) Publius” father died, having gone blind before, and his mother apparently married for the second time.

The Road to Glory

In the Roman Empire during Virgil”s youth, dramatic events were taking place. In the late 50s B.C. the crisis of the political system manifested itself in full measure, which in 49 resulted in a civil war between Gaius Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompey the Great. Fierce battles fought across the Mediterranean for four years (49-45 BC). Caesar, who seized sole power, was assassinated in 44 BC, followed by a new civil war between Caesarians and Republicans, proscriptional killings (late 43 BC), and the large-scale Battle of Philippi (autumn 42 BC). Mark Antony and Octavian won this battle (Mark”s brother Lucius Antony began the Perusian War against Octavian, which was fought in Central and Northern Italy, near Virgil”s homeland (41-40 BC). The surviving sources report nothing about Publius” participation in all these events. It is not known on whose side the poet”s sympathies were and whether he had to take part in hostilities. Both parties actively recruited men of his age (Caesar recruited his legions in Cisalpine Gaul and Pompey in Campania at the beginning of the war), but Virgil might not have been taken because of his poor health.

The first reliably dated events in Publius” life after a long interval date back to 41 B.C. Octavian then began to grant land to veterans of the Caesarian army, which he seized from communities and private owners in Italy and Cisalpine Gaul. Virgil”s estate near Mantua was also confiscated in favor of the centurion Arrius, and the poet tried to obtain the return of his property. Sources tell of this in different ways. According to one version, the land was returned to Virgil by his fellow poets Gaius Asinius Pollio (at that time governor of Transpaginated Gaul) and Gaius Cornelius Gaul (member of the agrarian commission) and his countryman Publius Alphenius Var (presumably a legate). According to another version, through the help of Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, Virgil obtained a meeting with Octavian himself, who decided in his favor. Finally, Servius writes that Publius received back his lands “thanks to the patronage of Pollio and Maecenas”. Later, Virgil”s estate was confiscated a second time. The sources give various dramatic details: the estate was divided among 60 veterans; Arrius once almost killed the poet and he escaped by throwing himself into the river; a crowd of veterans led by Milien Toron once broke into Virgil”s house and a soldier named Clodius even drew his sword on him, but Publius escaped and hid in the coal miner”s shop. All this seems to be a fiction from a later era. Whether the poet was able to keep his father”s estate is unclear, but in any case he never returned to his small motherland. From then on, Virgil tied his fate to Central and Southern Italy.

Judging by the episode of the Mantuan estate, by 41 B.C. Publius had already acquired a certain importance as a poet and had thus acquired high patrons. His position in literary circles was strengthened after the publication of the result of three years of work, a collection of eclogues called “Pastoral Poems” or “Bucolics”. (an event scholars date to what is believed to be the 39th year B.C.). “The Bucolics, with Arcadia as the conventional setting, were based on autobiographical material, and Suetonius even claimed that Virgil wrote them in order to “glorify” his benefactors – Alphen Var, Pollio and Gallus (Pollio may have been behind the idea for the collection himself). These names are indeed mentioned in the eclogues. The poet writes:

The entire sixth eclogue is devoted to Virgil. However, some scholars believe that this nobleman hoped for a whole epic poem in his honor and that Virgil had to apologize to him for his false expectations (this is how we can interpret the beginning of the sixth eclogue). In the tenth eclogue Virgil laments the suffering of Gallus because of his unhappy love; in the fourth, he mentions Pollio, promising the coming of a “golden age” in the year of his consulship; finally, in the first eclogue he talks about the “god” who allowed the shepherd Titus to remain in his native land while other shepherds go into exile. Already ancient commentators saw in Titir Virgil himself, and in the “god” Octavian.

From the references (both direct and veiled) to historical figures in the Bucolics, antiquarian scholars have concluded that Virgil was closely connected to Octavian”s entourage as early as the early 30s B.C. Both Pollio, Gaul and Varus were, at that time, all of Octavian”s associates. Publius” relations with them were clearly hierarchical: the poet clearly elevated Varus above himself, considered Gaul his equal, and spoke of Pollio extremely cautiously, trying to maintain good relations with him. “The Bucolics brought great popularity to their author (even singers from the stage are known to have sung them). Horace at that time had just begun his way in literature, and Pollio and Gaul were already moving away from poetry, so Virgil was recognized as the best poet of his era. He was considered as such until his death.

Time to flourish

Presumably in the late 40s and early 39s BC another close associate of Octavian, Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, became a friend and patron of Virgil. A literary circle was formed around this noble, whose members wholeheartedly praised Octavian as a politician who brought peace and prosperity to Rome after the bloody civil wars. Virgil was also part of this circle and brought his friend Quintus Horatius Flaccus with him; he received from Maecenas a villa in Campania and later a house in Rome, on the Esquilino Hill. The rest of his life was still as poor in external events. Publius was known to live mainly in Naples and in his villa in Campania and also in Sicily (he presumably had another villa there), but he appeared rarely in the capital and devoted almost all his time to literature. In 37 B.C. he accompanied Gaius Cilnius on his way to Greece as far as Brundisium, and the only source of information about this trip is one.

At this stage in his life Virgil began to communicate with Octavian, who saw in Publius an outstanding talent that could decorate his reign, and therefore demonstrated his sympathy and tried to influence the poet”s work in his own interests. He acted cautiously, however, through Maecenas. At one point, the latter suggested that Virgil create a didactic poem about agriculture (“You, Maecenas, commanded a difficult thing to do,” the poet later wrote. This theme was very much in demand due to the acuteness of the agrarian question in Italy. In addition, the didactic genre gave the author more creative freedom than the classical poem on a mythological subject, and so Publius agreed. It is not known exactly when he began writing the Georgics, but Suetonius writes about a seven-year work, which apparently ended no later than the summer of 29 BC. Some scholars see in the text of the poem a veiled image of the struggle between Octavian and Mark Antony, which unfolded in 32-30 BC (these are stories of bullfighting. During four days of 29, Virgil read the poem to Octavian, who had then returned to Italy after his victory at Actium. He was very appreciative of the poem, but later ordered the author to cross out the mention of Cornelius Gallus, who had fallen into disgrace and was forced to commit suicide. Virgil complied.

Unlike the Bucolics, the Georgics is a large poem with four books and over two thousand lines. Many scholars consider it the pinnacle of Virgil”s work, and it was a great success with early readers. After the publication of Georgicus, Publius”s fame reached its zenith; Tacitus even writes that once “the Roman people themselves, after hearing Virgil”s poems in the theater, rose as one and paid such homage to Virgil, who happened to be present among the audience, as if it had been Augustus himself.” The latter (Octavian was named Augustus from 27 BC) became the sole ruler of the whole Roman empire after the battle of Actium. Virgil, in the Georgics, refers to him more than once, speaking of his intention to build a temple where the new Caesar would be worshipped as a god. In the third book Publius promises to write a poem glorifying Octavian”s exploits:

Immediately after the Georgics, Virgil indeed began to write a new poem (according to Suetonius, the work lasted eleven years, and thus began in 30 B.C.). He kept the details secret, and contemporaries were long assured that it would be a panegyric epic about Octavian-Augustus. Sextus Propertius, in one of his elegies written in those years, says that Virgil loves “to tell of the shores of Actium, guarded by Thebes, and of Caesar”s brave sailors.” But gradually, through the poet”s friends, the information spread in society that Augustus was only mentioned in the new poem: it was about the distant times before the founding of Rome. The main character was not “Caesar,” but his mythical ancestor and forefather of all Romans, Aeneas, who sailed to Italy from Troy burned by the Achaeans. By choosing this theme, Virgil was able to assess the present from a great temporal distance and for the first time unite within the epic a number of mythological characters significant to Rome. The realities of the recent civil war were also reflected in his poem: in the love story of Aeneas and the Carthaginian queen Didon, the first readers were to see a veiled description of the passion of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

Regardless of the theme of the new poem, the public was sure that another masterpiece was being born. The same Propertius wrote: “Make way, Roman writers, make way, you Greeks; something more than the Iliad is being born here. Some portions of the new work, called the Aeneid, Virgil sometimes read to his friends. Augustus wanted to get the text of the poem as soon as possible, who, for example, fighting with the cantabras in Spain, “wrote letters with requests, and even playful threats, seeking that he, in his own words,” would send at least a first draft, at least some half-penny from the Aeneid. One of his letters to Augustus is quoted by Macrobius:

Truly, I receive from you numerous notes… If, by Hercules, I had now I would willingly send exactly from my Aeneas. Such an unfinished thing, however, that it seems to me as if I had embarked upon such a work almost out of lack of wit…

Later, in 23 B.C., Virgil agreed to introduce Augustus to part of the Aeneid. He read the second, fourth, and sixth books of the poem to the princepses and his family. Antique authors tell us that Augustus” sister Octavia the Younger fainted when the poet was reading the place where her recently deceased son Marcus Claudius Marcellus was mentioned. She later rewarded Virgil generously, giving him ten thousand sesterces for each of the eighteen verses about Marcellus.

Another episode is related to this period of Virgil”s life. The public games, once organized by Augustus, were interrupted by a severe thunderstorm and rain. The bad weather raged all night, but in the morning the skies over Rome were clear, so the games were resumed. Shortly thereafter, a papyrus with a poem appeared on the gate of Augustus” palace:

This couplet was very flattering to Augustus because it compared him to a deity and even placed him above Jupiter. The princeps wanted to find and reward the author, but he did not make himself known for a long time; finally a poet named Batilus announced that he had written the poem and was rewarded for it. In reality, however, the author was Virgil. In order to assert his rights, he secretly affixed a papyrus in the same place with a quatrain in which only the first half of the lines were written. In all four cases it was the words, “So you are not yourselves…” (sic vos non vobis), and the poem looked like this:

No one, including Batilus, was able to solve this riddle, which greatly interested Augustus. Then Virgil published the full text, thus proving his authorship:


By 19 B.C. “The Aeneid was almost finished. Vergil decided to travel to Greece and Asia for three years to “give the Aeneid its final form”; after that he wanted to give up writing and devote the rest of his life to philosophy. The poet had planned such a voyage as early as 23 B.C. (this is known thanks to Horace”s playful ode to Virgil”s ship), but then he abandoned the idea for the time being. Publius reached Athens, but there he met Augustus and decided to return to Rome with him. Because of a sunstroke he received while walking in Megara, Virgil fell ill. On the ship his indisposition worsened, he fell ill in Brundisium, and a few days after his arrival he died. This happened “eleven days before the October calendars, in the consulate of Gaius Centius and Quintus Lucretius,” that is, on September 21, 19 B.C. Publius was buried in Naples, at the second stone on the Puteolan road, and on the tombstone was carved an epitaph written by him:

It is known that even before leaving for Greece, Virgil tried to persuade his companion Lucius Varius Rufus to burn the manuscript of the Aeneid if anything happened to him. According to Pliny the Elder, the poet was guided by modesty; according to one of Macrobius” characters, he was unsure of the high literary merits of what he had written. There is an opinion in historiography that Virgil never intended to publish the Aeneid, considering it his failure. On his deathbed Publius demanded his manuscripts so that he could destroy them himself; having been refused, he bequeathed to Varus and Plotius Tucca “that they publish nothing which he himself had not published.” These two later violated the prohibition by order of Augustus. The poems of Sulpicius Carthaginianus on this subject have been preserved:

Personal Life

The ancient authors say that Virgil was a tall, dark-skinned and large-bodied man who resembled a peasant. He was a reticent and shy man who was reluctant to receive visitors (he rarely even saw his friends), and if he was recognized in the street, he would immediately hide in the first house he saw. Publius did not make friends with women. It was rumored that his mistress was a certain Plotia Giria (the prototype of Amarillida in the Bucolics), but, according to Asconius Pedian, this woman herself said that Lucius Varius Rufus offered Virgil cohabitation with her, but he refused. According to Suetonius, Publius “had a love for boys” – in particular for Cebetus and Alexander, depicted in the Bucolics as Alexides. However, Servius claims that Virgil “did not tolerate carnal love” at all. Because of this, the Neapolitans nicknamed the poet “Parthenius” – “the girl.

There is speculation that Horace described Virgil in one of his satires as a simple and rustic man, but very talented and endowed with good qualities. The poet writes:

Virgil spoke poorly and awkwardly, but he recited his poems beautifully (even professional orators envied him). Apparently, he was melancholy and thought a great deal about death. Publius” health all his life left a lot to be desired: according to Suetonius, “he especially suffered from stomach, throat, headache and often bled himself. Perhaps the poet was ill with tuberculosis. Literary activity brought Publius a rather large fortune of ten million sesterces, as well as a house in Esquilena and a villa in Campania; despite these benefits and great fame, Virgil was bored with the life of a poet and wanted to leave everything for philosophy, but did not have time to do so because of his early death.

Language, Style, Composition

Several accounts of Virgil working on his works are preserved in the sources.

It is said that when he wrote The Georgics, he used to compose and dictate many verses each morning and then reduce them to very few during the day with alterations, wittily saying that he gave birth to his poem like a bear, licking the lines until they took their proper form.

This message of Suetonius is confirmed by Avlus Gellius, specifying: “As the female of an animal gives birth to a child without form or appearance and then, licking the one she gave birth to, gives shape to its body and definition to its features, so what his genius produced at first was rough and imperfect in appearance, but later, after processing and refining, it took shape and appearance”. “Virgil first wrote the Aeneid in prose and then translated it into poetry, acting out of order, composing “when he felt like it.” “So as not to interfere with inspiration, he left other things undone, other things only as if sketched out easily in verse, jokingly saying that he put them instead of supports, to support his work until solid columns will not be erected.

Publius worked slowly, selecting each particular word with the utmost care. Sometimes he read what he had written to his friends and chose to do so in passages that he was not sure were perfect, so that he could hear the opinions of others. Virgil”s freedman, Erot, recalled that during one such reading the poet came up with endings for two lines of the Aeneid and immediately told him to write them into the text. Publius strove in his poems for maximum brevity, simplicity and noble restraint, and he preferred modern speech, only occasionally resorting to archaisms when he considered it absolutely necessary. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa reproached the poet for his excessive use of everyday language, but this was apparently unfair: Virgil”s style is always refined and elevated. In addition, Publius”s poetry is characterized by the symbolic richness of the text and the expressiveness of sound images, the use of new words, unexpected comparisons and metaphors, which in some cases are the exact opposite of the well-known classical models. For example, if in Homer”s Iliad the people”s assembly is compared to the stormy sea, the sea is compared to the people”s assembly in the storm.

Virgil often used alliteration, but tried not to abuse it. For example, he twisted Quintus Ennius” famous line “At tuba terribili sonitu taratantara dixit” (“The trumpet taratantara spoke loudly with an alarming sound”) to “At tuba terribilem sonitum procul aere canoro increpuit” (“The trumpet rattled with a resounding copper, terrifying in fear”). In each case Publius strove to ensure that the sound of the poems matched their content. Thanks to his efforts Latin poetry reached the highest expressiveness.

Virgil was a very scholarly poet, and because of this he was already regarded in antiquity as an outstanding expert on Roman religion and sacred law. “All Virgil is full of learning,” wrote Servius about it. Publius excelled in Greek and Roman poetry, drama, and special literature, and used the works of many authors as sources. He could include whole lines or even larger fragments of other people”s poems and poems in his texts, could rework them almost beyond recognition, and saturate his works with reminiscences and hidden allusions. Virgil did not try to make the textual proximity between his poems and the works of his predecessors completely invisible. His work with the sources looks more like a competition in which the poet placed borrowed material in a new context and made it play with new colors. The sources attribute to Publius the claim that he was “fishing out gold from Ennius” dung”, that is, he was using in his work the most successful and appropriate turns from Quintus Ennius” Annales, written in archaic Latin (for example, these words about Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator – “you here, who by hesitation saved our state”. There are many references to Homer in Virgil”s texts, and to accusations of plagiarism the poet replied, “Why don”t they try to commit such theft themselves? Then they will realize that it is easier to steal a stick from Hercules than a verse from Homer.

Vergil”s poems become rather a set of separate episodes, similar to epigraphs, which have a certain self-sufficiency and at the same time form together a unified whole. The different parts of the poems turn out to be linked by semantic and symbolic parallels, the number of which can be as large as you like. There is also a connection between different poems: the same images and motifs are transferred from one work to another, mutating. For example, the buzzing of bees in the Bucolics is a necessary component of idyllic reality, in the Georgics these insects are depicted as the best part of the animal world, and in the Aeneid they are likened first to the Carthaginians and then to the Romans. Virgil often resorts to autocitations and generally seems to expect readers to perceive his different works as a whole.

Publius cleverly diversifies the main theme of his poems through historical and mythological inserts, landscape sketches, and lyrical digressions. In this way he succeeds in making his works more entertaining.

Appendix Vergiliana

The set of poetic texts known as the Appendix Vergiliana (“Appendix to Virgil”) includes eight works listed in Servius: “Kiris” (“Scopa”), “Aetna”, “Komar”, “Priapeia”, “Catalepton” (“Mixture”), “Epigrams”, “Copa” (“Innkeeper”), “Curse”. Suetonius mentions six of them; individual works are mentioned in other ancient authors. There is no consensus on which of these works belonged to Virgil. In the era of hypercriticism it was thought that Publius wrote only two poems in the Mixture (V and VI); the rest were the work of unknown poets, his contemporaries or those of a later age. Since the middle of the 20th century the picture has become more complicated: there are two extreme points of view (many German scholars, led by Karl Büchner, advocated hypercriticism; most Italians believe that the entire Appendix was indeed written by Virgil) and one compromise, according to which the list of authentic Virgilian works may include more than two items, and everything else may have been written by members of the same literary circle and, therefore, also have value for the poet”s biography.

The short poem The Komar, according to Suetonius, was written by Publius at the age of sixteen (according to some scholars, the latest possible date is mid-44 B.C.). Its hero is a shepherd who falls asleep in the sun without seeing a viper crawling toward him. The mosquito stings the shepherd, who wakes up, kills the mosquito and notices the snake. After killing it too, the man buries his savior and writes a poetic epitaph on the tombstone. Most scholars see the poem as a parody of the style of the rhetorician Epidius, who taught Virgil oratory; Thaddeus Zelinsky has suggested that it is a translation from Greek. The poem may have been dedicated to Gaius OctaviusOctavian: it may be to him that Virgil refers several times as “the holy boy” (“O holy boy, this song is for you…”). There are, however, voices against this hypothesis. Most scholars believe that the poem was written by an unknown poet from the “age of Tiberius-Claudius”.

The poem “Kiris” or “Scopa” is about Scylla, who, out of love for King Minos of Crete, killed her father and then turned into a bird. In some lines there is a clear echo with the Aeneid, and this is an argument in favor of the fact that the poem was written after Virgil”s death. According to one version, Virgil began writing it and finished it later by another poet who remains nameless. The poem “The Curse”, written at a high artistic level, may be connected with Publius” temporary loss of his Mantuan domain: the lyrical hero curses his “torn lands” which he has to leave and recalls his beloved, Lydia, who remained in her homeland. In this case, the author may have been the “neoteric” Publius Valerius Cato. After the first century A.D. the didactic poem “Etna” and the poem “The Innkeeper” may have been written; “Etna” seems to have been attributed to Virgil only because of the colorful description of the volcano in the Aeneid.

“The Compendium is a disordered collection of small poems, most of which may have been written by Virgil in his youth (only one is from the time when the poet wrote the Aeneid). Another work from the Appendix Vergiliana is the poem Breakfast (Moretum). It is an epic of the everyday life of a peasant without any idealization. The lines of Moretum seem to suggest that it was composed after Georgic, and some scholars believe that the two poems are similar in their approach to peasant work, while others believe that it is Virgil who makes fun of Moretum.


Virgil wrote his first great work in a genre new to Roman literature at the time. It is “shepherd”s poems”: the action takes place in an imaginary, idyllic world, in the lap of nature, where simple shepherds talk about their love experiences, compete in singing, and listen to stories about the “golden age”. Publius used as his source the poems of Theocritus, a Greek who lived in the third century B.C., but who only two centuries later became known to the general public. At first he simply translated his predecessor (e.g., more than 40 verses from Theocritus in Eclogue III of the Bucolic), then he began to combine various translated passages and original texts, and finally he proceeded to create his own variations on “pastoral” themes. He took a number of characters from Theocritus (Daphnis, Tityrus, Tirsis, Amaryllis, Coridon, and others) and the main plot collisions, but transferred the action from Sicily and from the island of Cos to Arcadia, which in his depiction appears as a fairyland or even a conventional “landscape of the soul”. Contrary to geography, from there it is possible to walk to Rome, there is a seashore, the river Mincium flows nearby (on this river stands Mantua, the poet”s native country), and the fields are simultaneously plowed and reaped. The Arcadian landscapes in the Bucolics combine the vast gardens and croplands of Gaul with the rocks and mountain groves of Sicily.

Virgil”s shepherds are noticeably more idealized and conventional than those of Theocritus. Publius does not depict their everyday life, refuses to use comic motifs, and combines various dissimilar Theocritan characters into one (for example, the surly rude Comata and Lacon with the good-natured jovial Coridon and Batt), which makes it impossible to draw a clear picture of the characters. The images become more complex, the style becomes less direct and more solemn, which does not, however, harm the overall internal harmony of the text. Virgil organizes the various elements of Feocrito poetics in a new way and makes them serve their own purposes: in his performance the collection of poems is for the first time presented as a complex unity, bound together by semantic and formal parallels.

The eclogues were originally published separately, as they were written, and each had a different name for its protagonist (Titir, Alexis, Palemon, Pollion, Daphnis, Var, Silenus, Coridon, Melibey, Sorceress, Maurice, and Gall). In 39 B.C. Virgil combined them for a complete edition in a new order, making the eclogues written in dialogue form odd and the ones written in narrative form even. The third, fifth, and seventh are song contests; in the first eclogue two shepherds bid farewell, one of whom goes into exile, and the same theme appears in the ninth; the sixth eclogue is united with the tenth by the figure of Gaius Cornelius Gallus, and with the fourth by the author”s expression of thanks to Gaius Asinius Pollion and Publius Alfonius Varus. The second and eighth characters lament their unrequited love, the fourth and sixth deal with the future and the past respectively, while the central fifth eclogue unites the “earthly and the divine”: it tells how the young Daphnis dies and rises to become a god. In the image of Daphnis, commentators on the Bucolic have, since the antiquity, seen Gaius Julius Caesar as a god in 42 B.C. In Virgil”s depiction, Daphnis-Cesar becomes a god for all mankind as he tries to establish peace, while his son Octavian (in the first eclogue) becomes a god for the poet and shepherds because he protects their land from the violence of others. The leitmotif for all the Bucolics is love, but Daphnis overcomes it to give the author a reason to recognize that the highest good is peace (“tranquility”), and this thesis is reinforced by the adjacent, sixth eclogue, in which Pan gives the shepherds many examples of ruinous passion drawn from mythology.

The fourth eclogue (one of the noblest and most profound creations of world literature, according to the anticologist Michael von Albrecht) occupies a special place in the Bucolics. It tells of the imminent fulfillment of ancient prophecies and the beginning of a “golden age” associated with the birth of an unusual child.

This child, according to Virgil, is a son of the gods, but at the same time has earthly parents. He will rule the world, and under his rule the earth will bear fruit by itself, without human effort; lions will not threaten the flocks, and the heroes will once again go to Colchis for the golden fleece and take Troy, after which an era of universal prosperity will begin. The meaning of this poem was already obscure to early readers, and a number of hypotheses emerged as to what kind of child was meant. It has been speculated that it was one of the sons of Gaius Asinius Pollio (the latter is the subject of the fourth eclogue), the expected but never-born son of Octavian by Scribonia, the son of Mark Antony by Octavia the Younger, Octavian himself, or his nephew Marcus Claudius Marcellus. During the Middle Ages it became generally accepted for a time that Virgil predicted the birth of Jesus Christ. Modern scholars believe that it was more of a metaphor: in the form of a child, the poet may have depicted the Golden Age proper, the world of Brundusium, or some deity (Greek or Oriental).

On the whole, the Bucolics were an original work in which the experience of Greek “pastoral” poetry was completely reinterpreted. Combining modernity and fairy-tale Arcadia, elements of Greek and Roman culture, idealized characters and realistic landscapes, idyllic subjects and a general melancholic mood, Virgil was able to create something completely new, demonstrating his mastery of composition and sense of style combined with lightness and soulfulness.


Virgil”s second major work is the didactic poem “Georgics” (“Agricultural Poems”). Publius decided to write an epic about agriculture, having listened to the requests of the Maecenas and having realized the main needs of the era. In the 1930s, Rome was struggling to emerge from a deep social and political crisis, and many (including Octavian and his entourage) saw a return to smallholding with its characteristic way of life – simple, healthy, without excess or promiscuity. By endowing urban plebs and veterans with small tracts of land, Octavian was taking a step in this direction, and literature was producing works that told of the benefits of peasant labor and awakened in readers a love of the land and nature. It was in that era that Marcus Terentius Varron wrote his treatise On Agriculture and Virgil wrote his Georgics. Formally Publius addressed the poem to people who had recently acquired land and now did not know what to do with it; the real addressees were rather wealthy townspeople with good literary taste, to whom the poet wanted to tell about the advantages of the rural way of life.

“The Georgics consist of four books. The first deals with field work and predicting the weather, the second with growing trees and shrubs, the third with raising cattle, and the fourth with beekeeping. Thus, the first half of the poem is about inanimate nature and the second half is about animate nature. Both halves begin with extensive references to the rural gods and Octavian and in turn break up into the darker first book and the lighter second. Book I ends with a description of the terrible omens observed after the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar; Book III ends with an epidemic among the animals and the triumph of death; Book II describes the life of the peasants as “thrice blessed”; and the poem ends with a description of the self-generation of the bee swarm, that is, the triumph of life. For the poet, the change of the agricultural seasons provides visible proof of the unity and cycle of nature, as well as the inevitability of rebirth after death; this is what scholars have seen as the philosophical basis of the poem. Also important to Virgil was the idea of the moral value of labor, which transforms everything around. The peasant in his portrayal is completely merged with nature and leads a quiet, virtuous, happy life.

By taking up the didactic epic, Virgil found himself competing with one of the oldest and most authoritative poets of Greece, Hesiod, the author of the Works and Days. At the same time, the sources of factual data and real examples were the works of later writers – in particular, “Signs of the Weather” Aratus of Sol, Empedocles” On Nature, Eratosthenes” Hermes, Nicandreus of Colophon”s Melissurgica and Georgica (from this writer Publius borrowed the title for his poem), Xenophon”s Domostroi, the works of Aristotle, Theophrastus” History of Plants, Gaius Julius Giginus” On Farming and On Bees, the agricultural treatises of Marcus Portius Cato the Censor, Varron, and Carthaginian Magon. The influence of Titus Lucretius Carus, author of the poem “On the Nature of Things,” is noticeable: scholars have calculated that, on average, there is one Lucretian reminiscence for every twelve lines of the Georgics. In this connection, Avlus Gellius noted that “Virgil followed not only individual words, but also almost whole verses, as well as many phrases of Lucretius. There are also reminiscences from Homer, Callimachus, Theocritus, Apollonius of Rhodes, Parthenius and Quintus Ennius scattered throughout the text of the Georgics.

The significance of the Georgics as a hypothetical practical manual apparently could not be great: their author, though a rural native, gives incorrect information in a number of cases (for example, that a branch of one tree can be grafted onto the trunk of any other tree), and in general his presentation is not very systematic. For example, Virgil devotes twenty times more text to viticulture than to the cultivation of olives, while he does not mention at all poultry farming, pig farming, fish farming and vegetable gardening, which were popular with the Romans. Nevertheless, many ancient authors praised the poem, including in terms of agronomy, and in science there are opinions that the Georgics is the pinnacle of Virgil”s work. The poet managed to create a full-fledged hymn to peasant labor, to express his love for nature; his didactic epic became entertaining and exciting due to the alternation of the story of agricultural work with descriptions of nature and inserts on other topics (heavenly signs, the death of cattle, allusions to historical events, the story of Proteus and Orpheus, etc.), due to the general melancholic mood.


The work of Virgil”s life was the creation of a twelve-book poem on a historical and mythological subject. This work remains unfinished: it has no pronounced finale, 58 lines are incomplete, and Publius intended to edit the entire poem, but did not have time to do so. By order of Augustus, his executors published the Aeneid without any alterations, with two exceptions: they swapped two books (it is unclear which) and removed the very first four lines, after which the poem began with the now famous words “I sing of battle and of a husband…” (“Arma virumque cancé”). (“Arma virumque cano…”).

The main character of the poem is Aeneas, a minor character of Greek mythology, a member of the Trojan royal house who, during the capture of Troy by the Achaeans, managed to escape and later became the leader of his tribesmen who went west. Beginning in the 3rd century BC at the latest, Aeneas was thought to have settled in Latium and it was his descendants who founded Rome. The patricians Julia and Augustus, “the second founder of Rome” according to the official propaganda, derived their lineage from him; many Nobilians considered themselves descendants of Aeneas” companions. All this made this choice of theme for the poem particularly apt. In addition, Virgil was the first to create an artistic narrative of Roman prehistory in classical Latin, linking together the scarce messages of the sources (before him, there were only the Punic War by Gnaeus Nevius and the Annales by Quintus Ennius, where the action began with Aeneas). Rome is not yet present in the Aeneid, but its fate, already foreseen, is gradually revealed in the text, which mentions not only Augustus, but also his heirs; the history of Rome is considered not retrospectively, but from an even deeper past, and this gives scholars grounds to call the Aeneid a “poem about the future”, a poem which corresponded with the greatness of the Roman power in its scope.

At the beginning of the poem, a storm knocks Aeneas” ships off the coast of Libya. After receiving a good reception from Didon, Queen of Carthage, the traveler tells her about the fall of Troy and his long wanderings – how he tried to settle in Crete, how he was expelled and how the pennants ordered him in a dream to sail to Italy to found a new state there. Didon falls in love with her guest. Aeneas reciprocates her affection, but soon Jupiter orders him to continue his journey and the abandoned queen commits suicide. Aeneas approaches the coast of Campania and descends into the underworld. There he meets the shadow of his father, who prophesies a great future for Rome until the age of Augustus. Then Aeneas lands at the mouth of the Tiber and realizes that this is the land he has been looking for. He makes an alliance with the local king Latina and wants to marry the king”s daughter Lavinia, but her former fiancé, Turnus, starts a war, a description of which takes up the entire second half of the poem. In the end, Aeneas kills his enemy in a single combat, and the poem ends there.

The model for Virgil in the Aeneid was Homer. It was by analogy with the Iliad and the Odyssey that the plot of the poem was constructed. The protagonist, like Odysseus, finds himself in a foreign land, where he tells the local king about the fall of Troy and his misadventures; he descends for a time into the afterlife, and on the way to his goal a woman tries to detain him. Virgil depicts night forays into the enemy camp, the truce and its violation, the memorial games, the council of the gods, Vulcan (Hephaestus) making weapons for the hero, includes lists of leaders in the poem, and each of these episodes has a prototype in the Homeric text. The events develop, compared to Homer, in reverse order: first the wanderings, then the war. Accordingly, the first six books of the Aeneid are called the “Roman Odyssey” and the second, the “Roman Iliad.

However, there are fundamental differences. In the Homeric poems, the purpose of all the actions of the heroes is obvious: the Achaeans seek to take Troy, and war is quite normal for them, while Odysseus is trying to return home to his family. Virgil, on the other hand, does not have this clear purpose. Sailing on the Inland Sea, Aeneas and his companions see a possible end to their journey at each new harbor, and as they fight Thorn, they realize that war was not inevitable. They strive to understand their destiny, and this does not turn out immediately. The protagonist, in carrying out his destiny, is forced to renounce his passions, although they are noble: the desire to fight his enemies, his love for his homeland and for women; he wants to stay in Carthage and then in Sicily, but the gods force him to move on. Thus, the first third of the Aeneid is an account of renunciation, and the last third is an account of overcoming obstacles to the goal outlined in the middle.

In addition to the Homeric poems, Virgil”s sources for the Aeneid were the cyclic poems, the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides, the Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes (his Didon has much in common with Medea from this poem), “Quintus Ennius” Annales, Gnaeus Nevius” Punic War, Marcus Portius Cato Censor”s Beginnings, Marcus Terentius Varron”s Human and Divine Antiquities, Titus Livius” History of Rome from the Founding of the City, and the poems of Catullus.

The protagonist of the Aeneid is a literary character of a new type. Aeneas has the features of the old epic hero, but at the same time he has specifically Roman qualities – fides (fidelity to his commitments, in particular to his companions) and especially pietas – piety towards the gods and relatives. Aeneas always follows the commands of the gods; he shoulders his father, the elderly Anchises, from the burning Troy, takes his household gods with him into exile, and takes care of his descendants. The hero of the poem demonstrates nobility, subtlety of feeling and compassion toward the enemy, even during battle. On the other hand, his cruelty toward Turnu and Didon seems unjustified to the modern reader. Aeneas is fully aware of his task – to lay the foundation of a great state – and for the sake of this he renounces his desires, becoming a completely passive instrument in the hands of fate. In this the commentators see the tragic character of Aeneas.

The characters of the second row appear more integral and at the same time more schematic. They are Thurn, originally a positive hero, a model of valor, doomed to death (the caring wife of Aeneas Creusa (Michael von Albrecht calls her “one of the most tender characters of world literature”), Aeneas” faithful companion Achat, Eurial and Nys, who became a model of male friendship, Anchises – a wise old man with the gift of foresight, the valiant and beautiful Ascanius (son of Aeneas), the pious king Latino. The poet is most successful in the tragic image of Didon. The queen, unlike the protagonist, cannot give up her desires for the sake of the future and, convinced of the impossibility of happiness, kills herself. Her story, similar to those of Ariadne and Hippsipila, appears to be a figment of Virgil”s imagination.


The history of Rome occupied an important place in the work of Virgil, who was a great patriot of his country. He identified Rome with the whole of Italy, which since 49 B.C. included the poet”s small motherland. “Saturn”s land, great mother of crops,” the poet calls Italy, speaking of it as the richest country in the world, home to “stout men” – Sabine, Volsci, Ligurians, Mars. Rome in the narrow sense Publius considered a unique city. The gods, who determine the course of history and make men their instruments, chose the settlement on the Tiber for their earthly dwelling and for dominion over the world, although there had long been other strong cities (e.g., Carthage, which enjoyed the favor of Juno). They assigned Aeneas, a resident of Phrygia with Italian roots, the role of one of the founders of the great city, and sent him on his way, regularly supplying him with prophecies of his own destiny and of the great destiny of the community he would create.

All of these prophecies and predictions report events that are the distant future for the Aeneid”s characters and the past for its readers. Together with the author”s digressions and historical references, they occupy such an important place in the poem that in ancient times it was even called “Gesta populi Romani” (the shield forged for Aeneas by Vulcan depicts many events in subsequent times, up to the battle of Actium; in the underworld the main character meets his father, who tells him about the great fate of Rome to come. According to Anchises, if other nations become famous through the arts or sciences, the descendants of Aeneas will rule the entire world.

Political power, however, is not promised as a gift. The gods only help the Romans, who themselves must make great efforts to achieve the goal. Already in the Georgics there are the names of prominent men through whom the power of Rome grew – “Decius all, and Marius, the strong Camillians, and Scipios, pillars of war. Anchises names Tarquinius the Ancient, Lucius Junius Brutus, Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus, the three Publius Decius Muses, Livius Drususus, Scipios, Marcus Portius Cato Censor, Lucius Emilius Paulus of Macedonia, Lucius Mummius Achaeus, the Gracchus brothers. This list is crowned by Augustus, whose reign is depicted as the natural triumphal outcome of all Roman history.

The Romans possess a set of unique qualities which, according to Virgil, enable them to fulfill their destiny and retain the love of the gods. These are piety (pietas), valor (virtus), industriousness, modesty and simplicity of manners. It is true that in time all these qualities were largely lost, and as a result internal strife erupted into civil wars; but a return to the old morals might set things right.

For the poet, history is a purposeful process: the fall of Troy, the voyage of Aeneas and the foundation of Lavinius are the necessary prelude to the emergence of the Roman power, and Rome in turn must unite the universe and give it peace. Accordingly, the notion of predestination, of fate, of fate directing events, becomes important to Virgil. However, not everything is predestined, in his opinion. In Publius”s conception there is room for chance due to people”s ignorance of their destiny as well as the existence of the will of the gods, sometimes in opposition to fate. Juno in the Aeneid tries to counter Fate and prevent the destruction of Carthage by the Romans, but fails; she is defeated by the “fatum Jovis” (Jupiter”s fate), which is stronger because it pursues a good purpose. Virgil rejects the idea of the cyclic nature of time, common in ancient culture. He views history as a linear process; this brings him closer to the Old Testament and later Christian traditions.


“Virgil”s Bucolics and Georgics are among the few surviving literary monuments created during the civil wars of the late 1940s and 1930s B.C. They may have had a propaganda function, even though they were formally devoted to something else entirely. Researchers distinguish two main motives in these texts: rejection of internal strife and exaltation of Caesar and Augustus. Having personally encountered the pernicious manifestations of civil war, Publius protested against violence and confiscations, calling the soldiers of the warring armies ravagers, “barbarians,” and “godless warriors,” who forced peaceful people to leave their homeland and seek a new home for themselves. The root causes of these troubles, according to the poet, were the lack of harmony among citizens.

The poet does not blame the Caesarian “party” for what happened. On the contrary: he was one of the first literati who supported the policy of deification of Caesar and Augustus. In the fifth eclogue of the Bucolic, speaking of Daphnis, who “died a cruel death,” but was then numbered among the gods, Virgil is presumably referring to Caesar. In the ninth eclogue he mentions “Caesar”s luminary”, in whose light the grapes blush and the ears ripen, referring here to the astral cult of Gaius Julius, which began soon after his death. Finally, in the first eclogue Publius refers to Octavian as the god who “brought tranquility” and to whom regular sacrifices are made. It is true that the poet specifies that Octavian, never named here, is a god only for him. Later, in the Georgics, Virgil speaks of Octavian”s cult even more explicitly and perhaps veiledly mentions the struggle between the young Caesar and Mark Antony, clearly siding with the former. Publius proved his loyalty to Octavian by crossing out the reference to Cornelius Gallus in the Georgics. Later he depicted the Actium War as a sacred battle in which the Italian gods fight on Caesar”s side

The idea of writing a panegyric poem about Octavian was abandoned by Virgil; this might have been due in part to his fear of writing something disagreeable to the princeps. However, the ruler of Rome occupies a very important place in the Aeneid. Octavian was probably the author of the idea for the poem (Ovid uses the turn “your Aeneid” in his Elegy of Sorrow when he refers to him). Among the leitmotifs of the poem are the divine origin of the Julii, the high mission of Augustus, originally defined for him and allowing his enemies to be considered sacrilegious.

According to Virgil, Rome has only one way to salvation. A respected citizen, having power, descended from the gods and known for his good temperament, must by his authority and personal example force the Romans to return to the true virtues, achieve the establishment of peace and thus ensure Rome”s eternal prosperity. This would be the end of history and the beginning of a “golden age,” when it would only be necessary to preserve what had been achieved without striving for new achievements. Publius was ready to see such a citizen in Caesar the elder (this nobleman clearly enjoyed the poet”s sympathy), and later he transferred his hopes to his adopted son. Apparently, the poet understood that it must be about the evolution of the republican system towards the autocracy, and was ready to welcome this process. A confirmation of this can be seen in the description of the bee hive in “Georgics”: there reigns harmony and joint work, each bee is ready to sacrifice his life for the sake of the king, and for the poet this is an obvious ideal of state structure. He calls the bees “little Quirites,” thus making a direct parallel to Rome.

Thus Virgil, like his contemporaries Horace and Ovid, welcomed the transition from the Republic to the Principate. There is no consensus among scholars as to the reasons for this. Some scholars attribute this position of Publius to his mercantile interests, the effectiveness of literary patronage in the age of Augustus, and the poet”s fear of the ruler”s disfavor, considering Virgil an insincere flatterer. Others believe it was the poet”s desire for peace: like most of the Italian population, he was willing to welcome any firm authority that would end the civil wars. In the 1930s B.C., that was Octavian”s rule. Virgil managed to enjoy a peaceful life and died before the unpleasant domestic political excesses associated with the transition to the Empire.

Religion and Philosophy

As a young man Virgil studied under the Epicurean Siron and was close to Epicureanism, a philosophical teaching which recognized the highest good as the enjoyment of life, but he soon began to gravitate to the fashionable Stoicism of Rome and to the teachings of Pythagoras. Already in the Georgics scholars see evidence of the poet”s adherence to Stoic pantheism. Later in the Aeneid, Anchises speaks of the world order in a pantheistic spirit:

The gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon became characters in the Aeneid. Just as in Homer, they constantly intervene in events on earth, making decisions at the end of meetings. In Publius, however, they are not too subject to passions and are rather impersonal. Some scholars believe that the poet introduced them into the narrative only to pay tribute to tradition, but that he himself did not believe in them, like the bulk of the educated Romans of that era. Other scholars note that Virgil speaks of the gods more seriously than Homer, without familiarity. The poet may have treated Venus with particular piety, who for him is primarily Venus Gentrix, “Venus the Progenitor,” the ancestor of the Julii. Many ancient commentators have rebuked the poet for the appearance of the gods in the Aeneid, but for the poet it may have been necessary to show the power of fate to rule over men. In addition, the gods in his account become largely personifications of natural phenomena, which is characteristic of Stoicism. For example, Juno represents air, Vulcan represents fire.

In general, the Aeneid reflects the popular religion of the Romans in the first century BC, which is a mixture of Roman and Greek folk beliefs, elements of Eastern religions and certain areas of Greek philosophy. Various scholars link the story of the miraculous child in Book IV of the Bucolic with Egyptian religion (in particular, with the myth of Horus), with Zoroastrianism, and with Old Testament Messianism. The identification of the “fate of Jupiter” with “good fortune” is evidence for some scholars that Virgil was inclined toward monotheism.


In the sources there are references to the criticism of Publius by some of his contemporaries. Suetonius wrote in this connection the famous phrase: “Virgil had no shortage of detractors, and no wonder: even Homer had them. Thus, the poet Julius Montaigne said that many of Publius” poems, when they are not read by the author, remain “empty and flaccid”. A certain Numitorius published the Antibucolics, a collection of parodies of two Virgilian eclogues; Carvilius Pictor wrote a book called The Scourge of Aeneas, and Guerennius published a list of “errors” contained in Publius” poems. The poet was criticized because of his loose handling of mythological subjects and because of his many borrowings, with the very notion of borrowing being interpreted very broadly. For example, the description of Didon”s love for Aeneas reminded the first readers of the story of Medea”s passion in Apollonius of Rhodes, so that Book IV of the Aeneid was considered unoriginal. Quintus Octavius Avitus published a work in eight books, The Likeness, which contained “verses borrowed by Virgil with an indication of their origin”. Publius was especially often reproached for using the text of the Iliad and the Odyssey; the poet defended himself against such accusations, but on his death journey he set out just to “trim everything to the satisfaction of his detractors.”

The criticism, however, was rather an exception to the rule. He was considered the best poet in the history of Rome during his lifetime, and his works were received with great enthusiasm by the public and by connoisseurs alike. Sextus Propertius, who equated Publius with Homer, wrote that his poems were to the liking of every reader. Ovid held Publius in high regard and regretted that he had only seen him and not met him. In the Elegies of Love, Ovid was sure that “Titir, the fruits of the earth and Aeneas, the reader will remember them as long as Rome reigns supreme in the world. In his Heroides he included Didon”s letter to Aeneas, clearly influenced by Virgil, and in his Metamorphoses he clearly competes with Publius.

Virgil was the unquestioned authority for both Lucius Annaeus Seneca, father and son. By the middle of the first century A.D. the literary influence of Publius was so great that Marcus Antonius Lucanus, who attempted to create his own epic tradition in the Farsalia, was largely guided by “anti-Vergilian pathos”: he tried to create something directly opposite to the Aeneid in terms of both form and content. Lucan, however, failed. “Valerius Flaccus” Argonautica, Publius Papinius Statius” Thebania, and Silas Italicus” The Punic Wars (late first century) were written as clear imitations of the Aeneid, and in the third case one can even speak of direct plagiarism (from the perspective of the modern reader). Statius, in the finale of the Fivaida, addresses his own poem with a request: “Do not seek to argue with the divine Aeneid, follow it afar off, and honor its example unfailingly. Virgil”s followers in the bucolic genre were Calpurnius Siculus (1st century) and Marcus Aurelius Olympius Nemesianus (3rd century).

Silius Italicus was an enthusiastic admirer of Virgil. He bought land with the tomb of the classic, visited it like a temple, reverently kept in his house many books, paintings and statues that belonged to Publius, and celebrated his birthday more solemnly than his own. Marcus Valerius Marcial wrote about it in two of his epigrams:

The researchers note that Italic”s behavior must have been considered extravagant, but on the whole an emphatic love of Virgil was a sign of good manners at the time. Sculptures of the poet stood in schools and libraries, and his images appeared on numerous reprints of his poems (Marcian writes of one such portrait: “A small parchment like this holds the bulk of Maron! And his portrait is also on the first page”). Heroes of Virgil”s works were often depicted on vases, jewelry, frescoes, paintings and reliefs. Quotations from the poems appeared on utensils, on signs, on tombs and simply on the walls of homes. Of note is a surviving inscription on the wall of the house of a fullon (clothier) in Pompeii, clearly parodying the beginning of the Aeneid: “Fullons sing and owl, not battles and husbandry.” The text of the Aeneid was used for divination (the emperors Hadrian and Claudius II are known to have done so). The works of Virgil were often recited in the theater or made the basis for dance productions; according to Suetonius, Emperor Nero “in his last days openly swore that if his power held out, at the victorious games he … would prance Virgil”s ”Tournus.”” The poplar planted on the occasion of Publius” birth in the Andes was called “Virgil”s tree” by the locals and was revered as a sacred tree by pregnant women and women in labor.

The works of Publius entered the school curriculum very quickly: the first mentions of them being used to study Latin grammar date from 26 B.C. and are associated with the school of Quintus Caecilius Epirot. In the first century A.D. it was already certainly one of the chief components of the literary canon, supplanting the poems of Nevius and Ennius. Gaius Vellaeus Paterculus calls Publius “the princeps of poets,” Quintilian writes that reading should begin with Homer and Virgil. For Macrobius (5th century) Publius is the “Mantuan Homer.” The Institutions of Gaius (2nd century) records the certainty that there are two “Poets”: the Greek (Homer) and the Latin (Virgil). All Publius” poems had already been translated into Greek by the end of the first century B.C. The Romans read Homer less and less frequently: the Aeneid, with its more elegant style and closer subject matter, gradually replaced both the Iliad and the Odyssey. As a consequence, the educated public more often identified with the Trojans rather than with the Achaeans. The canonical description of the Trojan War for antiquity, and later for all European culture, now included stories of the treachery of Sinon (an Achaean who convinced the people of Troy that his tribesmen had sailed away and left them a wooden horse as a gift) and of the terrible death of Laocoontus, who tried to warn the Trojans. The famous line from the Aeneid is “Fear the Greeks who bring gifts” (Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes).

In late antiquity, literary games became fashionable: poets created cenotones, poems composed entirely of quotations. Particularly often the cenotes were composed of lines from Virgil. The most famous work of this kind is the Wedding Centenary by Decimus Magnus Ausonius (368), in which the half verses found in the Bucolics, the Georgics and the Aeneid form an account of a marriage with an indecent ending (the last chapter is called “Defloration”). The author showed particular skill and wit in finding material for such a theme in the texts of the most bashful of Latin poets. “It is shameful, of course, to degrade the dignity of Virgil”s songs with such a jocular subject,” Ausonius writes in the preface. – But what was to be done? Such was the order.” Gosidius Geta created the tragedy Medea from the lines of the Aeneid.

Since the end of the first century B.C. many biographies of the poet have been written. In total, researchers have counted 39 biographies for the pre-Print era (before 1440) and another 382 works containing biographical information about Virgil (in most cases the authors are unknown). Almost all of these texts go back to a biography of Publius created in the early second century by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus and included in On the Poets. Suetonius, in turn, used a book by friends of Virgil, Lucius Varius Rufus and Marcus Plotius Tucchi, “on his nature and character.” Presumably Suetonius” text was included almost entirely in the Vita Vergilii of Elius Donatus, compiled in the fourth century and preserved to this day. In addition, many ancient authors composed commentaries on Virgil”s poems. These were Quintus Caecilius Epirot, Gaius Asinius Pollio, Gaius Julius Hyginus, Asconius Pedian, Lucius Annas Cornutus, Marcus Valerius Probus, Velius Long, Aemilius Asperus and others. In the fourth century, Aelius Donatus, Pseudo-Probus, and Servius Moor Honoratus wrote their commentaries on the basis of their texts.

In ancient times Virgil was depicted very often. It is known that the emperor Caligula wanted to remove these images from public places, and Alexander the North, who called Publius “Plato the poets”, kept one of them together with his laras. Several busts have survived, apparently depicting the appearance of Virgil. One of them is the only indisputable pictorial source from which we can judge the poet”s appearance; however, the facial features are markedly idealized.

In 1896 a mosaic of the beginning of the third century was found in Susa (ancient Hadrumet). It depicts a sitting middle-aged man with rather rough features, holding in his hands a scroll with a line from Book I of the Aeneid; next to him are the Muses Calliope and Melpomene. Many scholars believe that this man is Virgil. The so-called “Mosaic of Monna”, laid out on the floor of a house in Augusta Trevere (modern-day Trier) and including a portrait of Publius, dates to the middle of the third century.

Middle Ages

After the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages, very few classical literary works remained in the reading public. Greek authors were almost entirely unreadable, and of the Romans only Terence, Ovid, and Virgil were reprinted, distributed, and commented upon. The latter became the most popular of the ancient writers. One of the main reasons for this was the preservation of the old system of education: throughout the Middle Ages Latin continued to be taught from Virgil”s poems, first in grammar schools, then in monasteries. The Blessed Augustine recalls that as a child, studying at grammar schools, he “wept for Didon” and recited recitations on behalf of Juno, “angry and grieved that she could not turn from Italy the king of Teutonicus” (4th century) better than his contemporaries. These recollections later caused him regret. The author of one seventh-century hagiography asks the rhetorical question, “What will the songs of the wicked poets-Homer, Virgil, Menander-give to those who read them?” But despite such statements, Publius continued to be read and commented on. Thus, in the fifth century appeared a commentary by Junius Filargyrius, and later Virgil was studied and quoted in his works by Boetius and Isidore of Seville. “The Aeneid was imitated by the biblical epics Gaius Vettius Aquilinus Juvencus, who wrote a verse arrangement of the Gospels (4th century), and Caelius Sedulius, who wrote the Paschal Song in the 5th century and borrowed whole lines from the classic in places; “The Georgics were imitated by Valafrid Strabo and Vandalbert of Prüm (ninth century); the Bukolics by Endelechius (c. 400) and Modoin of Otene (ninth century).

In the twelfth century the Aeneid became a source of plots for chivalric novels: an anonymous Romance of Aeneas was written in French and, almost immediately after it, the poem Aeneid in German created by Heinrich von Feldecke. What distinguishes these works from the original is the elaborate love line between the protagonist and Lavinia, as well as the anachronistic nature of the character descriptions and the historical background.

The second reason Publius was in demand in the new era was the reinterpretation by Christian thinkers of the fourth eclogue of his Bucolic. In the miraculous child, whose birth would herald the beginning of a “golden age,” they saw Jesus Christ, and in the author of the eclogue a prophet and a righteous man, respectively. Lactantius (early fourth century) was one of the first to understand this passage as a message of the “coming of the Son of God.” Emperor Constantine the Great, in “A Word Written to the Society of Saints,” speaks of Virgil as “the most famous poet of Italy,” who “knew the holy and glorious mystery of the Savior,” but was forced to tell it in vague terms, lest he fall victim to the cruel pagans. Christian commentators have seen in Virgil”s prophecy parallels with the biblical Book of Isaiah, which says, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. He will eat milk and honey until he knows how to reject evil and choose what is good. In several verses of the fourth eclogue (21-25) a textual coincidence with the Book of Isaiah chapter 11 was found: “Then the wolf shall dwell together with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the goat; and the calf and the young lion and the ox shall be together, and the little child shall lead them. And the cow shall graze with the bear, and their cubs shall lie down together, and the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw. And the baby shall play over the burrow of the aspid, and the child shall stretch out his hand upon the serpent”s nest.

As a pre-Christian poet and prophet Virgil is mentioned many times in the writings of the church fathers, especially by Hieronymus of Stridon. Augustine believed that Publius, like Plato and Cicero, could have ascended to heaven with Christ and the prophets of the Old Testament, because he anticipated the coming of the Savior. In the seventh century Fulgentius of Esicia, in his treatise Interpretatio Christiana, set forth his vision of the Aeneid as an allegorical poem recounting Christian doctrine; this work remained significant throughout the Middle Ages. As a forerunner of Christianity, Virgil was depicted in churches along with characters from the Old Testament (for example, in the cathedral of Zamora in Spain in the 12th century and in the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow in the 15th century. It was believed that the apostle Paul on his way to Rome in 60 visited the tomb of the poet and wept bitterly over it because he did not see Virgil alive and did not convert him to Christianity.

In the High Middle Ages there was a transformation of Virgil”s image from poet to sage, magician and necromancer who invented all sorts of miracles. This could be due to Publius” reputation in pagan times as a man “full of learning”, the practice of fortune-telling by his books, and the misunderstanding of his mother”s name (Magia). In addition, Virgil may have been confused with Apuleius, who was indeed accused of witchcraft by his contemporaries. John of Salisbury, in his Polycratica (1159), calls Publius a “Mantuan sorcerer” and writes about his creation of a fly that drove all the other flies out of Naples and thus saved the city from the plague. According to Alexander Neccamus, Virgil also rid Naples of leeches and, in addition, made the city market stop rotting meat. He built an aerial bridge and surrounded his garden with a fence of still air. In Rome Publius built a palace with a copper rider on the roof; this rider turned in the direction from which Rome was threatened by war (in the fourteenth century this subject was transferred to the Acts of the Romans.

Conrad of Querfurth (late twelfth century) believed that Virgil built the walls of Naples by closing in iron gates all the snakes in the neighborhood, and that he kept Vesuvius from erupting for a long time with the help of a copper archer statue. Gervasius of Tilbury (early 13th century) wrote of the copper fly that kept other flies out of Naples, of the wonderful marketplace in which no meat rots, of the snakes the poet hid under the road to Nola, of the “mathematical art” by which Virgil arranged so that a man could not be killed in the shadow of one mountain. Vincent of Beauvais, in his Great Mirror (mid-13th century), recorded a number of such legends and first portrayed Publius as an alchemist and inventor of the “countenance of truth,” a device by which one could ascertain whether a woman was faithful to her husband. Thanks to this writer, notions of Virgil as a magician became common knowledge. At the beginning of the fifteenth century they formed into a single narrative, which was repeatedly republished in France, England, and the Netherlands under the title The Book of Virgil”s Life and Death. In this context Publius was the immediate predecessor of Dr. Faustus.

Another common plot is the relationship between Virgil and his lover (in one source Nero”s daughter). This woman lifted Publius in a basket into her bedroom every night. Once she left her lover hanging outside the window for all to see, but Virgil soon retaliated against her. He put out the lights all over Rome and made “that fire could only be drawn from the intimate places of Nero”s maiden.” The emperor had to, with a heavy heart, order “the modesty of the maiden to be subjected to universal indignity” – to summon the people to extract the fire. “Suspended Virgil” was often depicted by medieval artists, and writers of the Late Middle Ages used the subject for moralistic stories of female perfidy – along with the stories of Samson and Dalila, Hercules and Omphale, Aristotle and Campaspa.

“Dante”s Divine Comedy

Virgil became one of the central characters in Dante Alighieri”s Divine Comedy (early 14th century). Dante rejected the tradition of Virgil the magician: for him Publius was the herald of Christianity, the symbol of ancient wisdom, and the tutor in verse, “the bottomless spring from which the songs of the world flowed. Dante writes, referring to Virgil: “You are my teacher, my beloved example; you alone have given me as a legacy the beautiful syllable that is everywhere exalted. According to the Divine Comedy, after his death Publius went to Limbo, the first circle of hell, reserved for unbaptized infants and virtuous non-Christians. There he is with four other of the greatest poets of antiquity: Homer, Lucanus, Horace and Ovidius. He does not endure the torments of hell, but is in eternal sorrow at the thought of the bliss of paradise that is beyond his reach. At Beatrice”s request, Virgil rushed to the aid of Dante, who was in danger of being attacked by a monstrous she-wolf, and led him through hell to meet his beloved, the description of which is influenced by Book VII of the Aeneid.

The two poets descend together into the depths of the afterlife. The author of the “Comedy” trustingly follows Virgil, as a pupil follows his teacher, and the latter shows concern for his companion: he subdues Cerberus by throwing a lump of earth into his mouth, protects Dante from the Furies and Medusa, carries him in his arms through the cistern for the tax collectors. It is Publius who has a conversation with Ulysses, who may not have understood Dante”s Italian or refused to answer his questions. Then the travelers ascend the mountain of Purgatory, at which point they are joined by Statius, who bows reverently to Virgil. Later it is revealed that the 4th eclogue of the Bucolics prepared Stacius to embrace Christianity. The way to heaven is closed for Virgil, so at the end of the second part of the Divine Comedy, Publius leaves Dante, ceding the role of guide to Stacius.

Dante”s narrative has a symbolic dimension as well. The image of Virgil can be interpreted as an enlightened mind that protects the author from sin (the wolf), from the false accusations of the black Guelphs (demons at the snitch”s ditch), from lies, violence and horror (Medusa and the Furies). Some of the monsters encountered by the travelers could symbolize the anarchy that reigned in Dante”s time in Florence and all of Italy. In the poet”s opinion, only the Roman Empire, of which Virgil was the embodiment, could defeat this negative phenomenon.

Renaissance and Baroque

In the fourteenth century Italy began to revive the memory of ancient culture. Dante”s admirers, Francesco Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio, followed him in considering Virgil the greatest poet. They searched for a long time for Publius” tomb, forgotten in the Middle Ages, and finally identified with it one columbarium on the outskirts of Naples with eleven empty niches for funerary urns. The place became an object of pilgrimage. Boccaccio, according to him, first felt poetic inspiration at Virgil”s tomb; Petrarch planted a laurel tree there. Petrarch dedicated several odes to Virgil, made him a character in the poem “Triumphs” and even wrote him a letter, like many other figures of ancient culture. Both writers used plot motifs of the “Bucolic” in their work.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, interest in ancient literature in general and Virgil”s poems in particular revived throughout Western Europe. These poems remained part of the school curriculum; the first eclogue of the Bucolics was the starting point for the educated public to become acquainted with poetry. In this connection, the German anticologist Ernst Curtzius even called the I Eclogue the key to the entire Western European poetic tradition. “The Aeneid was actively translated into national languages: in 1400 into Gaelic, in the fifteenth century into French and Spanish (at first these were prose translations). In 1500 the first verse translation into French appeared, and in 1552 Joachin du Bellet translated Book IV. “The Aeneid” was translated into English (1513), German (in prose in 1515, in verse in 1610), and Italian (1581). In 1646 the Dutch playwright Joost van den Wondel translated the poem into Lower German, and in 1770 the first translation into Russian appeared.

Virgil influenced many poets and playwrights. His experience played an enormous role in shaping the New Age epic tradition, both national and universally Christian. Ludovico Ariosto learned from Publius to magnify modernity through a heroic past (Luis de Camões presented the whole history of Portugal as a continuation of the exploits of Odysseus and Aeneas (Torquato Tasso combined the style and composition of the Aeneid with medieval plot material (“Jerusalem Liberated,” 1575). John Milton in “Paradise Lost” (1667) created a unified fusion of three traditions – Virgilian, Homeric, and biblical. Later attempts to create a national epic on a classical basis (Voltaire”s Henriade, 1728, and Mikhail Kheraskov”s Rossiada, 1779) are considered rather unsuccessful.

The story of Aeneas and Didon became popular in sixteenth-century drama: the passionate queen of Carthage was contrasted by writers with the pious and reserved Aeneas. Plays on this theme were created by Etienne Jaudel (1555), Christopher Marlo (1583), Nicodemus Frichlin (1581), and Heinrich Knaust (1566). Virgil”s Didon influenced the image of Cleopatra in William Shakespeare (tragedy Antony and Cleopatra, 1600s). In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries many operas on this theme appeared, among which those written by Francesco Cavalli (1641) and Henry Purcell (1689) stand out. Pietro Metastasio in 1724 created the libretto The Abandoned Didon, which has been used by many composers.

“The Aeneid was the source of material for a series of works written in the burlesque genre. These were comic poems in which Virgil”s characters found themselves in unusual settings. The Frenchman Paul Scarron in 1648-1653 wrote Virgil inside out, which became very popular throughout Europe; he was imitated by the Dane Ludwig Holberg (1754), the German Alois Blumauer (1784-1788), the Russian Nikolai Osipov (1791), the Ukrainian Ivan Kotlyarevsky (1798) and many other writers.

The bucolic tradition was prolific. Plots and characters of Virgil”s eclogues were used by Petrarch, Boccaccio, Jacopo Sannazzaro (the novel Arcadia, 1504), Garcilaso de la Vega, Clement Maro, Torquato Tasso (drama Aminta, 1573), Philip Sidney, Miguel de Cervantes (novel Galatea, 1585), Battista Guarini (“pastoral tragicomedy” The Faithful Shepherd, 1601). In the 17th century, the French pastoral novel blossomed on the same material: Honoré d”Urfet (his novel Astrea was a huge success) and Madeleine de Scuderie worked in this genre. “Pastoral” poems were written by John Milton and Alexander Pope, pastorals in prose by Solomon Hessner. At the very end of the eighteenth century he wrote his “Bucoliques” André Chénier.

Angelo Poliziano, Girolamo Fracastoro (Siphilis, or On the Disease of Gaul), Marc Jerome Vida, Giovanni Rucellai, and Luigi Alamanni were all influenced by the Georgics. “Georgics” was admired by Pierre de Ronsard and Michel de Montaigne; John Dryden called the work “the best poem of the best poet.” Influenced by Virgil, James Thomson wrote in 1726-1730 the cycle of poems The Seasons, which formed the basis of Joseph Haydn”s oratorio of the same name.

In the Romance countries and England Virgil was extremely popular during the whole New Age, but in Germany in the 18th century he was supplanted by Homer. Johann Joachim Winckelmann in his History of the Arts of Antiquity (1764) wrote: “The measuredness of Homer and the ancient nobility of Lucretius and Catullus seem to unenlightened minds careless and rude compared to the brilliance of Virgil and the gentle captivation of Ovid. Johann Wolfgang Goethe is known to have spoken of Publius “only in passing and rather condescendingly. Nevertheless Publius was one of the favorite poets of Friedrich Schiller, who translated books II and IV of the Aeneid into German.

For all the popularity of his works, Virgil himself has rarely been the subject of writers” attention. He appears as a minor character in one of Ben Jonson”s plays in which Ovid plays the title role (in Fielding, Publius enters Elysium hand in hand with Joseph Addison.

Virgil was often drawn by the illustrators of his poems. During the Late Middle Ages there was a tradition of Publius being depicted with a laurel wreath on his head and one of his books in his hands, as was the case in the Venetian edition of 1508. On the title page of the sumptuous 1640 Paris edition the poet is crowned with Apollo. Beginning with the Strasbourg edition of the Aeneid in 1502, extensive cycles of illustrations appeared, which invariably opened with a portrait of Virgil seated surrounded by gods and vapors.

Some episodes of Virgil”s biography were also the focus of artists” attention – fictional at first. The poet was drawn hanging in a basket (Luca of Leiden around 1514, authors of Florentine trays for women in labor), taking revenge on his beloved (Albrecht Altdorfer, around 1500), along with other great poets – notably Homer. Sandro Botticelli was the first to make Publius one of the two main characters in his illustrations of the Divine Comedy (1492-1498): in his depiction the two poets constantly walk together through the afterlife. Sometimes Virgil was drawn together with Petrarch. One famous portrait is that of Simone Martini in 1338 for the frontispiece on the Codex Ambrosianus, the manuscript collection of Virgil”s poems, which belonged to Petrarch. It shows the poet, an elderly bearded man wearing a laurel wreath, sitting under a tree with a book, and in front of him standing a warrior, a farmer, and a shepherd, symbolizing his heroes.

If an artist decided to portray the most prominent poets, Virgil was definitely on the list. His portrait, along with that of Homer, hung in the study room of the palace of the Duke Federico da Montefeltro in Urbino (Raphael painted him next to Dante and Homer in his fresco Parnassus (1511)). Publius also appears in many other classical depictions of Parnassus. Alexander Pope, describing in one of his poems (1715) a fictional collection of statues, speaks first of the statue of Virgil.

“The Aeneid gave Renaissance and Baroque painters a number of sought-after subjects. These include Énée”s flight from a burning Troy with his aged father on his shoulders, Énée”s subduing the winds, Énée”s meeting with Venus, Didon”s feast, Énée and Didon”s flight to a cave, Énée”s departure, Didon”s death, mourning games in Sicily, Énée”s descent into the afterlife, and his arrival in Pallantea (the future site of Rome). Many prominent artists painted on these themes, including Raphael, Annibale Carracci, Federico Barocci, Nicolas Poussin and others.

XIX-XXI centuries

With the advent of Romanticism Virgil lost his status as an acknowledged poetic genius. The Romanticists, with their predilection for the natural and spontaneous, saw Publius as a classicist who wrote “artificial” and imitative poems, and therefore preferred Homer to him. Nevertheless Publius was one of the favorite poets for Victor Hugo and Friedrich Hölderlin: the former compared Virgil to the moon and Homer to the sun, the latter translated the episode of Euryale and Nyssa into German. In Alexander Pushkin”s novel Eugene Onegin, the scene of the title character”s last meeting with Tatiana shows clear parallels with the scene of Aeneas and Didon”s meeting in the afterlife. Virgil had a notable influence on Charles Baudelaire, Paul Valéry, Alfred Tennyson, and Ivan Turgenev. Pastoral elegies in the Virgilian spirit were composed by Percy B. Shelley, Matthew Arnold, and Stéphane Mallarmé.

Since the end of the nineteenth century the works of Publius have become more readable due to the growing popularity of Dante and the publication of a number of studies. According to Mikhail Gasparov, “the twentieth century, having parted with romanticism, realized that the naturalness and immediacy of poetry is a myth and that the unwieldy complexity and contradictory tensions of Roman civilization are hardly more understandable to our time – and again managed to perceive and appreciate Virgil. Publius again becomes simply “the Poet,” and endowed with the traits of a sage. It is known that his works influenced the work of the French poet Charles Peguy. Hermann Broch dedicated to him the novel The Death of Virgil (1945), Giuseppe Ungaretti a cycle of poems (1950), Joseph Brodsky wrote the poem Aeneas and Didon.

Literary historians and publicists saw Virgil primarily as a close associate of Augustus and a “singer of the empire,” and this influenced their assessments of his personality and work. The liberals of the 19th century were disgusted with Caesarism and considered Augustus” principate a hypocritical political system which hid autocracy behind a screen of republican institutions; accordingly they were ready to consider Publius a court flatterer. This tendency continued in twentieth-century scholarship. Many scholars believed that Virgil”s work served the political interests of Augustus, and some saw it as unworthy, while others welcomed it as a service to historical necessity and progress. Italian Fascists and German Nazis made Publius an object of veneration as a supporter of strong power; the stir surrounding the celebration of the 2000th anniversary of Virgil”s birth in 1930 contributed to a partial redefinition of his role in literature. After 1945, the anticologist Karl Büchner declared that Virgil and Fascism had always been in opposing camps: he likened Nazi Germany to Thurn, who rebelled against Providence and was punished for it.

There is also an alternative view, which considers liberal and anti-liberal constructions too simplistic. Virgil may not have had a political program of his own, or it may not have been crucial to his work. Publius was never straightforward in his poems, and his characters are unsure of their own rightness, even if the reader assumes that they are acting according to the dictates of fate. Aeneas, for example, feels pain and shame when he encounters Didon, who has abandoned him, in the afterlife. He knows that he should have left Carthage to create the power chosen by the gods, but still he cannot forgive himself. The shepherd Titir, in Eclogue I of the Bucolic, is happy to stay home thanks to the mercy of the “god,” but he sympathizes with a friend who has not received help from the power. Proponents of this view of Virgil always see uncertainty and suffering in his poetry.

Modern scholars state that Virgil in his work moved in an atypical direction for that era – from Alexandrian complexity to classical simplicity. They recognize “Aeneid” as a fundamental text for the whole European culture and one of the greatest works of world literature, and Publius as the most outstanding poet of Augustus era, who was able to express the self-awareness of his people within the epic. Yet he may not be considered the official singer of the Principate, but rather one of the last poets of the Republic.

In the pre-Romantic era, painters began to depict episodes from Virgil”s real biography. Angelica Kaufmann was the first to depict the reading of the Aeneid by Octavia and Augustus in a painting of Virgil reading the Aeneid, described by Suetonius: Octavia faints when she hears her dead son”s name in the text, Augustus gestures to the poet to silence (17901793). The same theme was developed by Jean Joseph Tylasson (1787), Jean-Baptiste Joseph Vicard (circa 1800), and Jean Auguste Dominique Engrère (Tu Marcellus eris, 1812-1819). Kaufmann painted two more paintings with Virgil as the protagonist. In one the poet reads the Aeneid to Augustus and Livia, in the other he writes an epitaph for his own tomb while lying on his deathbed (1785).

One of the most famous paintings with Virgil is Eugène Delacroix”s Dante”s Rook (1822), in which the two poets cross the Styx. Adolphe William Bouguereau painted Dante and Virgil in Hell, based on the account of the eighth circle of hell in The Divine Comedy (1850). Cycles of illustrations for The Divine Comedy were created by William Blake (1825-1827), Gustave Doré (1860s), Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Franz von Bayros (1921), and Salvador Dali (1950s).

In Mantua, a monument to Virgil appeared in 1801 (in Piazza Virgiliana). In 1884 a statue of the poet was erected in the village of Pietola, identified as the ancient Andes, the birthplace of Publius. The poet”s image appeared on Italian 500 lire coins and on postage stamps of the Vatican, Monaco, and Tunis.

In cinema Virgil appears only as the hero of a number of screen adaptations of the Divine Comedy. The first of them, Inferno, was released in Italy in 1911. In Peter Greenaway”s film “Dante. Inferno. Songs I-VIII,” Publius is played by John Gielgud. In Lars von Trier”s The House That Jack Built (2018), the character Virgil, played by Bruno Ganz, appears and leads the protagonist through hell.

The works of Virgil are preserved in many majuscule manuscripts (with only capital letters), the oldest of which were created no later than the 4th century. These are the Codex Fulvii Ursini schedae bibliothekae Vaticanae (5th century, fragments of the Georgics and Aeneid), Codex Sangalensis (5th century, fragments of all three poems with lacunae), Codex Mediceus (5th-VI centuries, part of the Aeneid in Latin and Greek), Codex Romanus (5th-VI centuries, all poems with lacunae). The publishers rely mainly on the M, P, and R manuscripts. Sometimes they also use medieval manuscripts – for example, the related P Codex Guelferbytanus Gudianus, dating from the ninth to tenth centuries.

The first printed edition of Virgil was published in Paris in 1470. The commented Lyon edition of 1612-1619 still retains its value. The works of Publius were published in full in the authoritative book series Collection Budé (France, five volumes) and Loeb Classical Library (USA, two volumes). In Russian Virgil was first published in its entirety in 1979, in the series “Library of Ancient Literature”.

Translations into Russian

There are many translations of Virgil into Russian. The first of them date back to the 18th century.

Translations of “Bukolik” and “Georgik:

Complete Translations of the Aeneid:

Some partial translations of the Aeneid:

Selected editions:




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