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lamentation, for the death of young Marcellus, beginning with,
O nate, ingentem luctum ne quære tuorumbut suppressed his name till he came to the line
Tu Marcellus eris; on hearing which Octavia could bear no more ; but, suddenly struck with surprise and sorrow, fainted away.
When she recovered she made the poet a present of ten sesterces for every line in praise of her son, which amounted in the whole to above two thousand pounds sterling; a reward equal to Octavia's generosity, and not above Virgil's merit.
An event at length occurred, which forms a prominent feature both in the biography of our poet and in the poetical history of the time. Virgil, who had just revised and altered the Eclogues and Georgics, with a view to give the ultimate polish to the Æneid, which he had now completed, projected a tour in Greece and Asia. With a dread almost prophetic, and an ardour not disproportionate, Horace addresses the ship which bore his departing friend (See lib. i. ode 3). At Athens Virgil met with Augustus, who was returning to Rome from Samos, where he had wintered after his Syrian expedition. Changing his former intention, Virgil determined to accompany his patron.
A circumstance happened about this time too remarkable to be omitted. Augustus, either cloyed with glory, or terrified by the example of his predecessor, or to gain the credit of moderation with the people, or possibly to feel the pulse of his friends,
deliberated whether he should retain the sovereiga power, or restore the commonwealth. Agrippa ad vised the latter ; but Mæcenas who had thoroughly studied his master's temper, gave contrary advice in an eloquent oration.
Cæsar, finding his council thus divided, asked Virgil's advice. Thus a poet had the honour of determining the greatest point that ever was in debate, between the son-in-law and the favourite of Cæsar. Virgil delivered his opinion in words to this effect :-" The change of a popular into an absolute government has generally been of very ill consequence : for between the hatred of the people, and injustice of the prince, it of necessity comes to pass that they live in distrust and mutual apprehension. But if the commons knew a just person, whom they entirely confided in, it would be for the advantage of all parties that such a one should be their sovereign. Wherefore, if you shall continue to administer justice impartially, as hitherto you have done, your power will prove safe to yourself, and beneficial to mankind.” This excellent sentence, which seems taken out of Plato (with whose works the writers of that day were not much acquainted, and therefore cannot reasonably be suspected of forgery in this matter), contains the true state of affairs at that time; for the commonwealth maxims were now no longer practicable; the Romans had only the haughtiness of the old commonwealth lest, without one of its virtues. And this sentence we find, almost in the same words, in the first book of the Æneid, which at this time he was writing ; and one might wonder that none of the commentators have taken notice of it. He compares a tempest to a popular insurrection, as Cicero had compared a sedition to a storm a little before.
On a visit to Megara, Virgil was seized with an indisposition, which his voyage increased, and he died a few days after his arrival at Brundusium, in his fifty-second year.
On his death-bed he earnestly desired that his Æneid might be burned, and even left in his will an injunction to that effect. Being however informed by the celebrated Varius and Plotius Tucca that Augustus would not permit the destruction of his poem, he left it to them to publish, on condition that they would make no additions to the text, even for the purpose of supplying an unfinished verse.
Virgil was certainly the most correct poet of his time, as almost all the facts in the Æneid are built on history. He used to revise his verses with extreme severity, to dictate many lines in the morning, and to spend the rest of the day in correcting and reducing them to a less number. He compared himself to a she-bear which licks her cubs into shape. He was so benevolent and inoffensive, that most of his contemporary poets (even the 'genus irritabile vatum”), though they envied and maligned each other, agreed in loving and esteeming him.
With regard to the characteristical difference between Virgil and Homer on which so many fruitless disputes have been raised, it may with truth be affirmed, that the former excelled all mankind in judgment, and the latter in invention. “ Methinks the two poets,” says Mr. Pope,“ resemble the heroes they celebrate : Homer, boundless and irresistible as Achilles, bears all before him, and shines more and more as the tumult increases : Virgil, calmly daring, like Æneas, appears undisturbed in the midst of the action, disposes all about him, and conquers with tranquillity. Or, when we look on their machines, Homer seems like his own Jupiter in his terrors, shaking Olympus, scattering the lightnings, and firing the heavens : Virgil, like the same power in his benevolence, counselling with the gods, laying plans for empires, and regularly ordering his whole creation."
Virgil was of a swarthy complexion, tall, and athletic, but of a weakly constitution. He was so bashful that when people crowded to see him he would slip into some passage or shop to avoid them. He appeared to have had little regard for the fair sex, and it is on this account that we do not discover in his poems the character of one good woman; nay, he rather refers to them with contempt. His life, however, was as chaste as his style, and those who criticise his poetry can never find a blemish in his morals. With respect to his fortune, he was affluent; and, as Juvenal remarks, we should have wanted the strongest paintings and the noblest strokes of imagination in the Æneid, if Virgil had not been blessed with the comforts and conveniences of life.
His studies, sickliness, and the troubles he met with turned his hair gray before the usual time. He had a hesitation in his speech, as many other
great men; it being rarely found that a very fluent elocution and depth of judgment meet in the same person : his aspect and behaviour were rustic and ungraceful; and this defect was neither likely to be rectified in the place where he first lived, nor afterward, because the weakness of his stomach would not permit him to take exercise.
He was of a thoughtful and melancholy temper, spoke little, loved retirement and contemplation, and was an enemy to those talkative impertinents from which no court, not even that of Augustus, could be
He had a delightful villa in Sicily, and a fine house and well-furnished library near Mæcenas's gardens on the Esquiline hill at Rome.
He died with such steadiness and tranquillity as to be able to dictate his own epitaph, in the following words :
Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc
Parthenope; cecini Pascua, Rura, Duces. His bones were carried to Naples, according to his earnest request, and a monument was erected at a small distance from the city.