The Aeneid - Study Guide
The Aeneid
(70-19 B.C.)
"The way down to hell is easy. The gates of black Dis stand open night and day. But to retrace one's steps and escape to the upper air - that is toil, that is labour" (Aeneid VI,126)

Publius Vergilius Maro, generally known as Virgil, was born at Andes, near Mantua in 70 B.C. and became the greatest and most influential of all the Roman poets. His life story, taken particularly by English Renaissance poets as a poetic ideal in itself, is largely passed down to us by Donatus. Virgil's father seems to have been either a farmer or a potter, while his mother was called Magia Polla. He learnt rhetoric, philosophy and other subjects in Rome and was taught by, among others, the Epicurean philosopher Siron who would later house him after land confiscations in 41 B.C. that lost him the farm where he had composed his first works, the Eclogues (37 B.C.), in 43 B.C.

For some time before Virgil, as in art, the Romans had sought to little effect to emulate the successes of the Greeks in the writing of pastorals (associated with Theocritus), didactic poems (see Hesiod) and epics (see Homer's Odyssey). Virgil mastered all of these forms: in his pastoral Eclogues, in his panegyric Georgics (31 B.C.) - celebrating Italy and the rural existence to which he was acquainted - and, crucially, in his epic Aeneid which he spent the final eleven years of his life completing.

Despite the fact that his health worsened in his later years and he refrained from visits to Rome, Virgil became famous in his own lifetime (centrally due to his patriotic stance and the fact that finally here was a representative and brilliant voice for Latin). The sheer numbers of high quality manuscripts of Virgil's works that have been found from the 3rd to the 5th centuries A.D. demonstrate the lasting effect of this man who is held in eternal and often superstitious reverence. A number of translations in the 16th and 17th centuries (particularly that of John Dryden, that remains the definitive example) brought Virgil enormous influence over the development of English poetry during that time. Along with Homer, he remains one of the two greatest poets of the classical age if not of all human history.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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