Virgil was born on the ides of October during the first consulship of
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Virgil was born on the ides of October, during the first consulship of Gnaeus Pompeius
the Great and Marcus Licinius Crassus, in a region called Andes, not far from Mantua. While his
mother was pregnant with him, she dreamed that she gave birth to a laurel branch, which struck
root when it touched the earth and sprang up on the spot, so that it looked like a full-grown tree,
stuffed with diverse fruits and flowers. And the following day, while she was making for the
neighboring fields with her husband, she turned aside from the path, threw herself into a ditch, and
disburdened herself by delivering the child. In this manner they say that the child was born, and
did not cry, so mild was his countenance; that even then, he gave men no small reason to hope
that his birth would prove to be auspicious. Another presage was added to this, when the poplar
sprout that is immediately planted in the same place by women who have given birth actually grew
up so fast that it stood level with the poplars sown long before. It is called on that account the
"tree of Virgil," and prayers for childbirth and safe delivery are still offered with the greatest
reverence there by pregnant women and new mothers.
He spent the first years of his life at Cremona, until the toga of a man, which he received
fifteen years after his birth, at which time those same two men were consuls; as it happened, the
poet Lucretius passed away that same day. But then, a short time afterward, Virgil made his way
from Cremona to the city of Milan.
Virgil was large in person and stature, with a swarthy complexion, a peasant's brow, and
uneven health, for he commonly suffered from pain in his stomach, throat, and head; indeed, he
often spat up blood. He was sparing of food and wine. With regard to pleasure, he was partial to
boys. He loved Cebes and Alexandrus most of all. Alexandrus was a gift to him from Asinius
Pollio; the second poem of his Bucolics refers to him as "Alexis." Nor was the other one
unlearned; in fact, Cebes was a poet as well. It is also circulated that he lived together with Plotia
Hieria. But Asconius Pedianus maintains that she herself made a habit out of telling stories about
the older man; indeed, that although Varius invited him to be his companion, he refused
obstinately. For the rest, all are thoroughly agreed that his life was upright, both in word and
thought, with the result that he was commonly known as the "Virgin of Naples." And if perchance
someone should spot him in public at Rome he would seek refuge in the nearest house, cut off
from those who were pointing him out.
He did not, however, disdain to accept the property of a certain exile, when Augustus
offered it to him. Thanks to the generosity of his friends, he had almost 100,000 sesterces, and he
owned a house in Rome on the Esquiline, next to the gardens of Maecenas.
Virgil lost his family when he was full-grown, among them his father and two full brothers:
Silo, a boy; and Flaccus, an adult at the time, whose passing he lamented under the name of
Daphnis. Among other studies, he bestowed his labor on medicine and especially on mathematics.
To be sure, he also argued a case before the judges...once, and once only. For it has been handed
down by Melissus that Virgil was very slow in speaking, almost like someone who had not gone
to school. It was at this time that the promising lad made this distich on Ballista the
gladiator-master, who was buried under rocks for his infamous highway robberies:
Covered under this mountain of stones, Ballista is buried;
Night and day, traveller, tread this road in safety.
After this--though he was only 26--he composed the Catalecton, as well as pieces about Priapus,
as well as epigrams, as well as curses, along with poems about the ciris and the gnat. The
argument of this last runs as follows: just as a shepherd, wearied by the heat, had fallen asleep
under a tree and a serpent from the marsh was rushing up to him, a gnat flew out and stung the
shepherd between the temples. At once the shepherd crushed the gnat and slew the serpent,
erecting also a tomb for the gnat and making this distich:
Little gnat, the guardian of the herds repays
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Literature, Poetry, Latin literature, Epic poets, Virgil, Latin poetry, Georgics, Gaius Asinius Pollio, Appendix Vergiliana, Aeneid, Eclogues, Lucretius
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