Publius Vergilius Maro
--Reproduced in its entirety from The Works of Virgil, vol. I, Printed by Joseph Davidson, 1794. Spelling and Italics are from the original text. In the Latin, the j has been replaced with i.
VIRGIL was born at Mantua,
in the first Consulship of Pompey the Great, and Licinius Crassus, in
the Year of Rome DCLXXXIV, sixty-nine Years before the Birth of our Saviour, on
the fifteenth of October, which the Latin Poets observed annually in
Commemoration of his Birth. His Father Maro, was but a mean Person of no
Extraction; but his Mother, whose Name was Maia, was nearly related to Quintilius
Varus, who was of an illustrious Family.
He passed the first seven Years of his Life at Mantua; thence went to Cremona, where he lived to his seventeenth Year; at which Age, as is usual among the Romans, he put on the Toga Virilis, Pompey and Crassus happening that Year to be, a second Time, Consuls.
From Cremona he went to Naples, where he studied the Greek and Latin Languages with the utmost Application and Assiduity: After that, he applied himself closely to the Study of Physic and the Mathematics, in which he made a very great Proficiency.
After he had spent some Years at Naples, he went from thence to Rome, where he was soon taken notice of by some of the great Men at Court, who showed the high Esteem they had of him by introducing him to Augustus. But whether Virgil did not like the Hurry and Bustle of a Court Life, or the Air of Rome did not agree with his sickly Constitution, is uncertain; however, he retired again to Naples, where he set about writing his Bucolics, chiefly with a Design to celebrate the Praises of Pollio, Varius, and Gallus, who recommended him to Mæcenas, by whose Interest he was particularly exempted from the common Calamity of the poor Mantuans; whose Lands, as a Reward to the Veterans for their Bravery at the Battle of Philippi, were divided among them, Virgil's only excepted, as appears by the first Eclogue, wherein he expresses the utmost Gratitude for so singular a Favour, in such a Manner as ingratiated him more and more to Augustus. It is said he spent three Years in writing his Eclogues; and had he spent as many more, the Time would have been well employed, that produced the finest Pastorals in the Roman, or perhaps any other Language.
Italy being now reduced to the utmost Extremity, the Grounds lying uncultivated, and the People in Want of the very Necessaries of Life, the fatal but natural Consequences of a Civil War, in so much that the State seemed to be in Danger, the People throwing all the blame on Augustus; Mæcenas, sensible of the great Parts and unbounded Knowledge of Virgil, set him about writing the Georgics for the Improvement of Husbandry, the only Mean left to save Italy from utter Ruin; in which Virgil succeeded so well, that after their Publication, Italy began to put on a new Face, and every Thing went well: For the Georgics are not only the most perfect of all Virgil's Works, but the Rules for the Improvement of Husbandry are so just, and at the same time so general, that they not only suited the Climate for which he wrote them, but have been found of such extensive Use, that the greatest Part of them are put in Practice in most Places of the World at this very Day. Virgil was now thirty-four Years of Age; having spent seven of the Prime of his Years in composing this inimitable Poem, which has been, and ever will be, admired as the most finished and complete Piece that ever man wrote: For here indeed he shines in his Meridian Glory.
Having now finished his Georgics; after a few Years Respite, he set about the Æneid, when turned of forty; though it is generally believed he laid the Foundation of that great and arduous Work more early, to which he seems to allude in his sixth Pastoral:
Cum canerem reges et proelia, Cynthius aurem
But when I try'd her tender Voice, too young,
Virgil's Design of writing the Æneid, taking Air, the Expectations of the Romans were raised so high with the Thoughts of it, that Sextus Propertius did not scruple to prophesy,
|Credite Romani scriptores, cedite Graii,
Nescio quid maius nascitur Iliade!
And had Virgil designed the Æneid only as an Encomium on Augustus,
he might surely have wrote short Panegyrics on his Prince, as Horace has done, at
several Times, and on proper Occasions, at a far less Expence of Time and Labour than the Æneid
must of Necessity have cost him: For he has not only given Augustus's Character
under that of Æneas, but has wrought into his Work the whole Compass of the Roman
History, with that of the several Nations, from the earliest Times down to his own; and
that with such Exactness as to deserve the Title of The Roman Historian, much
better than Homer did that of Writer of the Trojan War: Most Romans,
in any controverted Point, submitting rather to his Authority than to the most learned
The Æneid is an Epic Poem, which being the noblest Composition in Poetry, requires an exact Judgment, a fruitful Invention, a lively Imagination, and an universal Knowledge, all centering in one and the same Person, as they did in Virgil, whose prodigious Genius has been the Admiration of all Mankind, and will be so, while Learning and Good Sense have a Place in the World. Virgil spent about seven Years in writing the first six Books of this admirable Poem, some Part of which Auguftus and Octavia longed to hear him rehearse, and hardly prevailed with him, after many Intreaties. Virgil to this Purpose pitches on the Sixth, which, not without Reason, he thought would affect them most; as in it he had, with his usual Dexterity, inserted the Funeral Panegyric of young Marcellus (who died a little before that) whom Augustus designed for his Successor, and was the Darling of his Mother Octavia, and of all the Romans; and as the Poet imagined, so it happened: For after he had raised their Passions by reciting their inimitable Lines,
|O nate, ingentem luctum ne quaere tuorum:
Ostendent terris hunc tantum fata, neque ultra
Esse sinent. Nimium vobis Romana propago
Visa potens, superi, propria haec si dona fuissent.
Quantos ille virum magnum Mavortis ad urbem
Campus aget gemitus! vel quae, Tyberine, videbis
Funera, cum tumulum praeterlabere recentem!
Nec puer Iliaca quisquam de gente Latinos
In tantum spe tollet avos: nec Romula quondam
Ullo se tantum tellus iactabit alumno.
Heu pietas! heu prisca fides! invictaque bello
Dextera! non illi quisquam se impune tulisset
Obvius armato: seu cum pedes iret in hostem,
Seu spumantis equi foderet calcaribus armos.
He at last surprizes them with
|Heu miserande puer! si qua fata aspera rumpas,
Tu Marcellus eris.
At which affecting Words the Emperor and Octavia burst both into
Tears, and Octavia feel into a Swoon. Upon her Recovery she ordered the Poet ten
Sesterces for every Line, each Sesterce making about seventy eight Pounds in our Money. A
round Sum for the whole! but they were Virgil's Verses.
In about four Years more he finished the Aeneid, and then set out for Greece, where he designed to revise it as a Bye-work at his Leisure; proposing to devote the chief of the remaining Part of his Days to Philosophy, which had been always his darling Study, as he himself informs us in these charming Lines;
|Me vero primum dulces ante omnia Musae,
Quarum sacra fero ingenti perculsus amore,
Accipiant, coelique vias et sidera monstrent;
Defectus solis, varios lunaeque labores;
Unde tremor terris; qua vi maria alta tumescunt.
Obicibus ruptis, rursusque in seipsa residunt.
Quid tantum Oceano properent se tingere solis
Hiberni, vel quae tardis mora noctibus obstet.
Ye sacred Muses,
with whose Beauty fir'd,
But he had not been long in Greece, before he was seized
with a lingering Distemper. Augustus returning about this Time from his Eastern
Expedition, Virgil was willing to accompany him home; but he no sooner reached Brundusium
than he died there, in the Year of Rome DCCXXXV, and in the fifty-first Year of
his Age, and was buried at Naples, where his Tomb is shewn to this Day.
He was tall and of a swarthy Complexion, very careless of his Dress, extremely temperate, but of a sickly Constitution, being often troubled with a Pain in his Head and Stomach: He was bashful to a Fault, and had a Hesitation in his Speech, as often happens to great Men, it being rarely found that a very fluent Elocution and Depth of Judgment meet in the same Person.
He was one of the best and wisest Men of his Time; and in such popular Esteem, that one hundred thousand Romans rose up when he came into the Theatre, shewing him the same Respect they did Caesar himself: And as he was beloved in his Life, he was universally lamented at his Death. He went out of the World with that Calmness of Mind that became so great and good a Man, leaving Augustus his Executor, who committed the Care of publishing the Æneid to Tucca and Varius, strictly charging them, neither to cancel, nor add one Word, nor so much as fill up the Breaks or half Verses.
A little before his Death, it is said, he wrote this Inscription for his Monument, which does him the more Honour, as it favours not the least of Ostentation:
|Mantua me genuit; Calabri rapuere; tenet nunc
Parthenope: Cecini pascua, rura, duces.
I sung, Flocks, Tillage,
Heroes; Mantua gave