Virgil

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A bust of Virgil, from the entrance to his tomb in Naples, Italy.

Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) lived from 70 to 19 BC. He was a well known and great Roman poet & philosopher who was born at Mantua in Italy and went to study in Cremona, Milan, and finally Rome. Maecenas was his patron (he paid for him to write and live) and he was friends with Octavian, who was to become the first emperor of Rome.

Three of Virgil's works are known to have been of note:

  • Eclogues are pastoral poems about his own day. The fourth "Messianic" eclogue was perceived by some as foretelling the coming of Christ [1], ensuring that Virgil's works were well-read through the Middle Ages to the present.
  • Georgics is a didactic poem on farming, using the world of the farmer as a model for the world at large.
  • Aeneid was the work he spent the last decade of his life on. It was an epic poem, the about the wanderings of Aeneas after the Trojan War and his eventual settlement in Italy, where his descendants would one day found the city of Rome and eventually the Roman Empire. It is this work for which he is best known in history.

In Dante's classic The Divine Comedy, it is Virgil who as the noble pagan and symbol of wisdom, is the man to lead him through the lower levels of his journey, showing the respect that he still had in European culture over 1000 years after his death.

Although Virgil's Latin name (nomen) was "Vergilius", it is nonetheless commonly rendered in English as "Virgil", with the second vowel an "i". This is often attributed to a desire in the Middle Ages to associate Virgil with the Latin "virga", "wand", thereby reinforcing belief in his prophetic powers. The more straightforward spelling "Vergil" also remains in common English usage.

References

  • The New American Desk Encyclopedia, Penguin Group, 1989
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