Vergil or Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) (both: vûr´jil), 70 BC–19 BC, Roman poet, b. Andes dist., near Mantua, in Cisalpine Gaul; the spelling Virgil is not found earlier than the 5th cent. AD Vergil's father, a farmer, took his son to Cremona for his education. Thereafter Vergil continued his studies in Milan, Naples, and Rome. The poet's boyhood experience of life on the farm was an essential part of his education. After his studies in Rome, Vergil is believed to have lived with his father for about 10 years, engaged in farm work, study, and writing poetry. In 41 BC the farm was confiscated to provide land for soldiers. Vergil went to Rome, where he became a part of the literary circle patronized by Maecenas and Augustus and where his Eclogues, or Bucolics, were completed in 37 BC In these poems he idealizes rural life in the manner of his Greek predecessor Theocritus. From the Eclogues, Vergil turned to rural poetry of a contrasting kind, realistic and didactic. In his Georgics, completed in 30 BC, he seeks, as had the Greek Hesiod before him, to interpret the charm of real life and work on the farm. His perfect poetic expression gives him the first place among pastoral poets.

For the rest of his life Vergil worked on the Aeneid, a national epic honoring Rome and foretelling prosperity to come. The adventures of Aeneas are unquestionably one of the greatest long poems in world literature. Vergil made Aeneas the paragon of the most revered Roman virtues—devotion to family, loyalty to the state, and piety. In 12 books, Vergil tells how Aeneas escaped from Troy to Carthage, where he became Dido's lover and related his adventures to her. At Jupiter's command, he left Carthage, went to Sicily, visited his father's shade in Hades, and landed in Italy. There he established the beginnings of the Roman state and waged successful war against the natives. The work ends with the death of Turnus at the hands of Aeneas. The verse, in dactylic hexameters, is strikingly regular, though Vergil's death left the epic incomplete and some of the lines unfinished. The sonority of the words and the nobility of purpose make the Aeneid a masterpiece. Vergil is the dominant figure in all Latin literature. His influence continued unabated through the Middle Ages, and many poets since Dante have acknowledged their great debt to him. Minor poems ascribed to Vergil are of doubtful authorship. For translations of the Aeneid see A. Mandelbaum (1981), R. Fitzgerald (1983, 1985), and R. Fagles (2006).

See biographies by F. J. H. Letters (1946), T. Frank (1922, repr. 1965), and B. Otis (1966); W. F. J. Knight, Vergil, Epic and Anthropology (1967); F. Cairns, Virgil's Augustan Epic (1989); K. W. Grandsen, Virgil (1990).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Virgil: Selected full-text books and articles

Virgil By R. Alden Smith Wiley-Blackwell, 2011
Virgil By D. R. Dudley Basic Books, 1969
FREE! Vergil: A Biography By Tenney Frank H. Holt and Company, 1922
The Roman Poets of the Augustan Age: Virgil By W. Y. Sellar Biblo and Tannen, 1965 (3rd edition)
The Aeneid of Virgil By Virgil; Rolfe Humphries Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951
An Introduction to Virgil's 'Aeneid' By W. A. Camps Oxford University Press, 1969
Virgil's Aeneid: Interpretation and Influence By Michael C. J. Putnam University of North Carolina Press, 1995
Vergil's Eclogues By Virgil; Barbara Hughes Fowler University of North Carolina Press, 1997
Georgics By Virgil; Kristina Chew Hackett, 2002
A Commentary on Virgil, Eclogues By Wendell Vernon Clausen; Virgil Oxford University Press, 1995
God and the Land: The Metaphysics of Farming in Hesiod and Vergil By Stephanie A. Nelson; Hesiod; David Grene Oxford University Press, 1998
The Development of Virgil's Art By Henry W. Prescott The University of Chicago Press, 1927
Virgil and the Augustan Reception By Richard F. Thomas Cambridge University Press, 2001
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