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The following translation of the ECLOQUES has been revised and corrected by Archdeacon WRANGHAM, who has also supplied many valuable notes, chiefly collected from Martyn, Penn, &c.
The GEÒRGICS are reprinted from the last edition of Mr. SOTHEBY's excellent translation, of which the Editor of the Bibliographical Miscellany speaks in terms of high commendation.
“ DRYDEN's version of the ÆNEID is the most noble and spinted translation I know in any language."-POPE.
VIRGIL was born at a village called Andes, now Petula, near Mantua, on the 15th of October, in the year of Rome/684, during the consulate of Pompey and Crassus.
At a very early age Virgil showed marks of a very fine genius, and was sent at twelve years old to study at Cremona, where he remained till seventeen. He then removed to Milan and to Naples, where he pursued his studies with great assiduity, taking care to select the most elegant of the Greek and Roman writers. It appears that his favourite sciences were those of physic and mathematics ; and there is no doubt, that to this early tincture of geometrical learning we must attribute that regularity of thought, and propriety of expression, which characterize his writings. After Virgil had completed his studies at Naples, he made a journey to Rome, where he was introduced to Augustus, who procured for him some appointment in the royal
stables, in consequence of his skill in the cure of diseases incidental to horses.
It cannot be imagined that such a genius as Virgil's could remain long inactive, and he accordingly framed the bold and noble design of writing a poem on the wars of Rome, but was in some measure discouraged, in consequence of the roughness of the old Roman names, which were discordant to an ear so delicately constituted. He, however, began his Eclogues about the year of Rome 713, and finished them in three years : they possess one remarkable characteristic, being allegories. We find a great difference between them and the Theocritean Idylls, as the allegorical veil is sometimes withdrawn, and the shepherds who represent the poet and his friends converse like scholars and philosophers.
The publication of the Eclogues created a very powerful sensation in Rome ; and we have the high authority of Tacitus for the reality of those honours which were publicly lavished on the author. From him we learn that when some of his verses were recited on the stage, and the poet happened to be present, all the spectators rose to pay him the same marks of respect which they would have shown to Augustus.
The poetical beauties of the Eclogues induced Mæcenas to request Virgil to undertake the Georgics, of the character of which it is unnecessary to speak, because no reader of this sketch can be ignorant that this poem is the most elaborate and extraordinary instance of the power of genius in
embellishing the most barren subjects, which human wit has ever afforded. The commonest precepts of farming are delivered with an elegance which could scarcely be attained by a poet who should endeavour to clothe in verse the sublimest maxims of philosophy. Indeed, one consideration alone is sufficient to show us the excellence of Virgil in this particular,—the uniform failure of his imitators. It is, however, much to be regretted that he was not free to select his own subject, as in all probability he would have chosen a theme better suited to his muse. To the year following the battle of Actium the completion of the Georgics is commonly assigned.
After the completion of the Georgics, Virgil, in his forty-fifth year, determined on composing the Æneid ; a poem which portrays the wanderings of Æneas, and the Roman destinies, forming a continuation of the Iliad to the Roman times. The idea was extremely noble ; the poem has consequently obtained the highest reputation, and is styled the imperial poem. His design in writing it has been so excellently explained by Mr. Spence (Polymetis, dial. iii. cap. 18), that it would be unjust not to quote his own words : “ Virgil is said to have begun this poem the very year that Augustus was freed from his great rival Antony: the government of the Roman empire was to be wholly in him : and though he chose to be called their father, he was in every thing but the name their king. This monarchical form of government must
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naturally be apt to displease the people. Vir seems to have laid the plan of his poem to reconcile them to it. He takes advantage of their religious turn, and of some old prophecies that must have been very flattering to the Roman people, as promising them the empire of the whole world. He weaves this in with the most probable account of their origin; that of their descent from the Trojans."
Augustus was eagerly desirous to peruse the poem as far as it had been carried ; and entreated Virgil to communicate it to him, by several letters, in the warmest manner. *
Prevailed on at last by his importunities, Virgil recited (and it is remarked that he read his verses with a wonderful sweetness and propriety) the sixth book to Augustus ; and his sister Octavia, who had just lost her son Marcellus, the darling of Rome, and the adopted son of Augustus, made one of the audience, to alleviate and divert her sorrow.
Let us indulge a thought that is naturally pleasing, for a moment! Virgil reading the finest part of the Æneid to the lord of the whole earth, attended by his sister, and perhaps Mæcenas, Horace, and other favourites. He had artfully inserted that beautiful
* Macrobius, in the first book of his Saturnalia, has preserved to us one of Virgil's answers to the emperor :-"Ego vero frequentius a te literas accipio.-De Ænea quidem meo, si mehercule jam dignum auribus haberem tuis, libenter mitterem. Sed tanta inchoata res est, ut pæne vitio mentis tantum opus ingressus mihi videor; cum præsertim, ut scis, alia quoque stu dia ad id opus, multoque potiora impartiar.”