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Vergil (Publius Vergilius Maro)


Greatest of the Latin poets and of major significance in Christian education and culture; b. Andes, near Mantua, 79 b.c.; d. Brundisium, 19 b.c., buried at Naples. The greatness of Vergil's Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid were recognized in his own lifetime. The few hostile critics, such as Carbilius Pictor with his Aeneidomastix, were soon forgotten. While owing much to the Greeks, and especially to Homer and Hesiod, Vergil put his own stamp on all his poetry. His Aeneid is truly a mature national epic whose language itself mirrors the majesty of Rome. But underlying the glorification of Rome, there is deep religio-philosophical reflection on peace, duty, and the lot of mankind that has universal appeal for all times and peoples.

Vergil's works immediately became a schoolbook in the Roman schools of grammar and rhetoric and has occupied a central position in the Latin curriculum ever since. Subsequent Latin poets and prose writers were thus deeply influenced by Vergilian episodes, thought, and diction. The Vergilian borrowings of Lucan, Statius, Silvus Italicus, Ausonius, and Claudian are well known. Latin Christians trained in the schools were likewise deeply influenced by Vergil. In this respect, the fourth Eclogue was important, because the mysterious reference to the birth of a child who would begin a new age was interpreted early as a pagan witness to the coming birth of Jesus. The familiarity of Lacantius, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and above all of Prudentius, who was called the "Christian Vergil," with Vergil has been established in detail by special philological studies. The allegorical interpretation of Vergil by Fabius Planciades Fulgentius helped to make him a source and symbol of wisdom.

Vergil's works and the scholarly commentaries on them by Servius and others were among the most precious and influential medieval inheritances from antiquity. The Aeneid was the most important pagan text employed in the school tradition of the Middle Ages, and it served as a standard model for the composition of Latin hexameters. The hexameter, either alone or in combination with the pentameter, was the most widely used Latin verse form throughout the medieval period.

L. Traube coined the happy phrase aetas Vergiliana to emphasize the role of Vergil in the 8th and 9th centuries; but despite the popularity of Ovid in the 11th and 12th centuries, Vergil continued to occupy the chief position, at least in the schools. Owing in part to the connection of his name in the form Virgilius with virga (wand), Vergil had a great vogue in medieval literature and folklore as the good magician. The medieval influence of Vergil culminates in dante, who makes him, as the symbol of human wisdom, his guide in the Inferno and Purgatorio.

The Renaissance inaugurated a new epoch in Vergilian study and influence. In Neo-Latin epic and pastoral poetry he was the supreme model, and his epic structure, content, and style have left their mark especially on the Romance and English literatures. Vergil has remained the favorite Latin poet of the school tradition from the rise of the new education of the Renaissance down to the present time. In 19th-century Germany, enthusiasm for Homer led to a temporary eclipse of Vergil in that country, but recent German scholarship has again recognized his full greatness in the history of poetry and in the classical tradition.

Bibliography: m. schanz, c. hosius, and g. krÜger, Geschichte der römischen Literatur, 4 v. in 5 (Munich 191435) 2:3 1113, esp. 96113. k. bÜchner, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. (Stuttgart 1893) 8A.2 (1958) 12651486, esp. 146386. r. r. bolgar, The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries (Cambridge, Eng. 1954), passim, Index s.v. "Vergil." Manitius, v.13, Indexes s.v. "Vergilius." t. haecker, Virgil: Father of the West, tr. a. w. wheen (New York I934). j. w. spargo, Virgil the Necromancer (Cambridge, Mass. 1934). g. highet, The Classical Tradition (New York 1949), passim, Index s.v. "Vergil."

[m. r. p. mcguire]

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