Virgil 70–19 B.C. Roman Poet

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70–19 b.c.
Roman poet

One of the greatest poets of ancient Rome, Virgil was also one of the most widely read classical* authors of the Renaissance. His best-known works were the Eclogues, a series of ten pastoral* poems; the Georgics, a set of four books on farming; and his famous Aeneid, an epic* about the wanderings of the hero Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome. Virgil's poetry became a key part of the school curriculum during the Renaissance and had a profound influence on the literature, art, and values of the period.

In the late 1300s, humanist* scholars began trying to recover the great works of ancient Greece and Rome. As humanism made its way into the schools, Virgil's works took a central place in education. By the end of the 1500s, almost everyone who received a humanist education was familiar with at least some of Virgil's poetry. Renaissance readers turned to Virgil's work for guidance in mastering Latin, the international language of the day. They drew on his poetry for well-turned phrases, figures of speech, and moral lessons, such as "fortune helps the bold and drives away the coward."

Virgil's works served as models for much of the literature written in Latin during the Renaissance. His poetry inspired generations of famous writers, including Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio. The Aeneid was particularly influential. As a poem about exploration, it offered a literary model for Europeans coming to terms with the discovery and settlement of the New World. Renaissance artists and musicians also turned to Virgil's epic for ideas. The Aeneid inspired several sets of frescoes* (including one by the Italian painter Raphael), as well as paintings, sculptures, and other artistic works. It also became the subject of musical works by such master composers as Josquin des Prez and Orlando di Lasso.

(See alsoClassical Scholarship; Education; Latin Language and Literature. )

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome

* pastoral

relating to the countryside; often used to draw a contrast between the innocence and serenity of rural life and the corruption and extravagance of court life

* epic

long poem about the adventures of a hero

* humanist

Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)

* fresco

mural painted on a plaster wall