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I. LIFE AND POEMS OF VIRGIL 1.
I. P. VERGILIUS MARO was born a. d. xvii Kal. Novembr. (Oct. 15), in the year 70 B.C. [five years before Horace and seven years before the Emperor Augustus] at Andes, a 'pagus' or country district in the neighbourhood of Mantua. The green banks and slow windings of the Mincius, recalled with affectionate memory in the Eclogues and Georgics, were thus familiar to him from childhood; but the only passage which seems to describe the features of any one spot along that stream is Ecl. ix. 7-10: 'qua se subducere colles
Incipiunt, mollique iugum demittere clivo,
Usque ad aquam et veteres, iam fracta cacumina, fagos . . .' 'The only hills in the neighbourhood,' says Professor Sellar2, 'to which these lines can apply are those which for a time accompany the flow of the river from the foot of the Lago di Guarda, and gradually sink into the plain a little beyond the picturesque hill and castle of Valleggio, about fifteen miles higher up the river than Mantua.' Pietola, three miles down the river from Mantua, was by a tradition as old as Dante's time identified with Andes; but lines 62-64 of the same Eclogue, implying that the two shepherds had further than this to walk into Mantua, give an indirect support to Prof. Sellar's view. The 'sacri fontes' of Ecl. i. 53 (cp. G. ii. 200) are 'more naturally to be sought in the more picturesque environment of the upper reaches of the river than in the level plain in the midst of which Mantua stands3:' and the accurate description of the Lago di Guarda, in G. ii. 160,' might well reproduce familiar impressions of a scene not far from the poet's early home. Though Virgil claims a Tuscan origin for Mantua (Aen. x. 203), Etruscan had long been superseded by Gaulish (i.e. Celtic) settlements in the region north of the Po;
1 On the orthography of the poet's name see Preface.
and the population, however assimilated to the Italian races, must have retained a large admixture of Celtic blood. 'Andes' is probably a Celtic name, for Caesar (B. G. ii. 35) mentions a Gallic tribe and town of that name, now 'Angors' in the Anjou district; and so, according to one theory, is 'Vergilius '—though Corssen more probably connects it with 'Vergiliae,' a name for the Pleiades as rising at the end of spring (vergo), comparing it with 'Quintilius,' ,' 'Sextilius,' 'Marcius,' and other names originally denoting time of birth.
2. His parents were of obscure social position; but, like those of Horace, were able to appreciate their son's talent, and give him the best education obtainable. At twelve years old he was sent to Cremona, the birthplace of the poet Furius Bibaculus, thirty years his senior, and of Quintilius Varus (Hor. Od. i. 24, A. P. 438), the critic and friend of both Horace and Virgil. At sixteen he assumed the 'toga virilis' and went to Milan, removing thence to Rome in 53 B.C., when in his seventeenth year; and, after the fashion of the time, studied, first rhetoric under Epidius (also the teacher of the young Octavianus), and then philosophy under Siron, a celebrated exponent of Epicureanism. To the period spent at Rome are assigned some of the collection of short poems called 'Catalepton2 (Toιýμaтa Katà λeñтóv, or 'minor poems '), which bear his name, but which can hardly all have been by his hand. Three of them (iii, iv, and v) are abusive lampoons in the style of Catullus and Horace, which no one would willingly believe to be written by Virgil. The parody on Catullus' 'Phaselus ille' (No. viii) may well be his : so may vi, in which a sacrifice is promised to Venus in the event of finishing the Aeneid, and x, which seems to refer to his ejection from his farm in 41 B. C. (Ecl. i, ix, see below, § 4). More interesting is vii, written apparently when beginning philosophical studies, and expressing delight at exchanging rhetorical and grammatical studies for philosophy :
'Ite hinc, inanes rhetorum ampullae,
Inflata rore non Achaico verba,
'Aussprache,' etc., i. pp. 543, 544 (2nd ed.). The word 'virga,' which has been connected with 'Vergilius,' is referred by Corssen (ii. p. 521) and Curtius (Greek Etymology, § 184) to a root 'varg;' Skt. 'ûrg,'' strength,' 'urgâ,' 'sap;' Gk. ỏpyá-w, 'to swell,' pyn, 'impulse;' Lat. 'virgo' (so opyádes, of the full shape of marriageable maidens).
2 For a conclusive vindication of this title against the hitherto common 'Catalecton,' and an instructive criticism upon the claims of the poems to genuineness, see Professor Nettleship's 'Ancient Lives of Vergil.'
Like Lucretius, he hopes to find in philosophy an ideal serenity of life (cp. G. ii. 490-492); but the last four lines show that the desire of his heart and the bent of his genius are for poetry-the 'dulces ante omnia Musae' (ib. 475), to whom his life was to be devoted. Traces, however, of the early longing for philosophy, here first expressed by him, and never altogether forgotten, appear afterwards in such passages as the song of Silenus in Ecl. vi; G. ii. 477 sqq.; the song of Iopas, Aen. i. 742–746; and the exposition of the 'Anima Mundi' vi. 724 sqq. (See notes ad locc.).
Of the four other poems assigned to Virgil, the 'Moretum ' (Salad) and 'Copa' (Hostess) might be, but are not proved to be, productions of his boyhood: while the 'Culex' (Gnat) and 'Ciris' (? Woodpecker) are now generally recognised as not by him, despite the tradition as to the former vouched for by Suetonius.
3. How long Virgil remained at Rome is uncertain. We find him in 43 B.C. living at Mantua and engaged on the Eclogues: and it is probable that the outbreak of the Civil War in 49 B. C. would have interrupted his stay in the capital. During this period he must have learned to admire the writings of Lucretius, of the epic poet Varius, and of the tragedian and historian Asinius Pollio: and Suetonius tells us that he began a poem on the history of Rome, after the example of Ennius and other early poets-a statement borne out by Virgil himself in Ecl. vi. 2-5. We gather also that Varus (Ecl. vi. 6–12) and Pollio (Ecl. viii. 6 sqq.) pressed him to give a poetical account of their own and Caesar's exploits; but that for the time he put all such work aside for the sake of pastoral poetry. It is, however, noticeable, as Professor Sellar points out', that afterwards in the 'Aeneid' he combined the revival of ancient traditions about the origin of Rome and the celebration of the great deeds of his own time. It is by the capacity of forecasting some great work, and dwelling on the
1 P. 116.