Virgil , or Vergil, (70–19 B.C.), a Roman poet. His full name was Publius Vergilius Maro. Virgil's Aeneid , the story of the wanderings of Aeneas after the fall of Troy, gave him rank as an epic poet second only to that of Homer. Virgil was an intense patriot, and one of his main purposes in writing the Aeneid was to provide a heroic background for Rome and to celebrate its legendary connection with Aeneas.

Virgil's lyrical skill and his deep feelings for nature are shown in the Eclogues , or Bucolics , a series of pastoral poems patterned after the idyls of the Greek poet Theocritus. In the Georgics Virgil reveals himself as a serious naturalist and agriculturist as well as an accomplished poet. He gives practical advice about raising crops, stock farming, orchard culture, and beekeeping. To add variety, he introduces here and there a historical episode or an interesting legend.

Virgil was the greatest and most popular Roman poet of his time. His influence on Latin literature was strong for many centuries after his death. In the Middle Ages Virgil often was represented as having been a magician or a wonder worker. Dante expresses this viewpoint when picturing him as his guide in the Divine Comedy.

Poet and Farmer

Virgil was born on a farm near Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy). After studying in Cremona and Mediolanum (now Milan), he went to Rome at the age of 17. There he continued his studies in rhetoric and philosophy and planned a career as a lawyer. Virgil soon realized he was too shy to practice, and returned to his father's farm. While working there, he began to write.

After the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C., Virgil's peaceful existence was interrupted. War veterans who had served in the victorious armies of Octavian (later Emperor Augustus) and Antony were being settled on confiscated lands, and Virgil's farm was one of them. Indignantly he set out for Rome to protest to the authorities.

Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, one of the principal advisers of Octavian, was a patron of the arts who interested himself in Virgil's cause. The poet was fortunate not only in having other lands assigned to him but in gaining the friendship of Maecenas and the future emperor. On his new estate he wrote the Eclogues and probably began the Georgics at the suggestion of Maecenas. Virgil spent four years in or near Naples, continuing his work on the Georgics. His retiring manner caused the Neapolitans to nickname him Parthenias ("The Maiden").

Later Years

After he finished the Georgics (30 B.C.), Virgil became absorbed in the Aeneid. In 19 B.C. he set out for Greece with the intention of polishing what he considered to be a rough draft of his epic. Before he had time to complete the work, Augustus appeared in Athens and asked Virgil to return to Italy with him. Virgil agreed, but fell ill with a fever at Megara. As his condition became worse, he begged that the manuscript of the Aeneid be destroyed since he did not consider it satisfactory.

Virgil died shortly after the ship docked at Brundisium. The exact location of his tomb, known to be near Naples, was lost. Augustus wisely refused to comply with his dying request, and thus saved the Aeneid for posterity. Virgil's works remained in manuscript form until 1469, when they first appeared in a printed edition in Rome. Three nearly complete manuscript editions, dating from the fourth and fifth centuries, are preserved in the Vatican Library in Rome.