Often it is the case with biographies to explain the unnecessary bits and pieces about the subject's life. This abundance of facts is not what the reader needs because one does not always care to know when the subject at hand learned to brush his or her teeth. However, this type of information is useful when it gives particularly good insight as to why whoever is being written about is so special and worthy of a whole book. It is rather unfortunate, though, in the case of Vergil that the bits of information that survive are few and far between so that one may not be able to know as much as one would like. Many of the sources that help the reader understand the poet are open to speculation, however the ones that we do still have are of some interest. The information below should be read for entertainment and enjoyment. If one wants to do a report on Vergil and his poetry, I suggest that one finds a book.
Vergil's name is often seen spelled two ways: Vergil and Virgil. The former of which was how the Romans would have spelled it, and the latter is the Anglicized way of spelling it. The "i" is said to have come from two places. The Latin word for a virgin or maiden is: virgo, virginis f, and because Vergil was said to have been very shy and quiet about his fame, his friends adopted virgo because he was like a maiden on account his bashful behavior. That is one version. The other version involves the Latin word for a wand, particularly a magical one: virga, virgae f. This is of interest because after Vergil died, some people began to worship him as a god, while others claimed, especially during the Middle Ages, that he had magical powers and he could raise people from the dead. Hence, virga, the wand of a magician.
Vergil is said to have been born on 15 October 70 BC in a village relatively close to Mantua, a city in what is now northern Italy. Vergil's family was not a poor one, because he was educated in both Cremona and Milan before he came to Rome, where he soon became acquainted with Maecenas, his patron, and later with Octavian (Caesar Augustus). These lofty connections aided to Vergil's already great status, for his brilliance as a poet was already widespread and regarded highly. Vergil wrote three main bodies of poetry. The first of which was The Eclogues, followed by The Georgics, and lastly by his Aeneid. The story of The Aeneid is particularly interesting, because Vergil died before he completed it, and in his will, he is said to have wanted it burned. Thank goodness his executors knew better. Vergil is also said to have composed his own epitaph on his deathbed:
Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc
Parthenope; cecini pascua rura duces.
Mantua bore me, Calabria snatched me away, now
Naples holds me; I sang of pastures, fields, and kings.
*The Internet is not by any means a substitute for good, old-fashioned books. No matter what your school says in praise of the Internet, please take the time to read a book on your interest instead of relying on what could be hollow, unlearned material. -Ted Karanikolas
*I would also like to add that without my trusty Oxford Classical Dictionary, I would be at a great loss. So thanks to all the scholars who have contributed to the marvelous Third Edition. If any one is curious as to where to get information regarding most any Classical topic, the OCD is an excellent place to get started. -Ted Karanikolas
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