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The life of Vergil : an investigation of the historical sources Ramage, Edwin Stephen


We must depend mainly upon the so-called historical sources for the life of Vergil. These are divided into three groups-inscriptions, references in various writers and the Vitae Vergilianae. The first two groups are limited in their usefulness. Each of the Vitae has obvious flaws, the Donatus-Suetonius Life being the most complete. Our purpose will be to examine the many problems posed by these historical sources, offering solutions where possible, but always remembering that to most of the questions raised there is no satisfactory answer. Vergil was born on the Ides of October (Suetonius, Vita Bernensis, Probus, Ausonius), in 70 B.C. (all the sources), somewhere near Mantua and perhaps at Andes. His father's name may have been either Maro, Vergilius, Istimichon, or Stimichon. His mother's name was Maia, Magia, or Magia Polla. His father was either a potter, a cultor agelli, or a hireling of Magius, being probably of Etruscan origin. Vergil studied first at Cremona, going to Milan when he was fifteen or sixteen, and to Rome a short while later. At Rome he studied under the Epicurean Siro (Eocas, Servius) and perhaps under Epidius (Vita Bernensis). His first piece of writing was a distich on Ballista and perhaps he wrote the Culex (Suetonius, Servius, Eocas, Donatus Auctus, Martial, Statius) and maybe the Catalepton or part of them. Soon he became involved in the confiscations. There are a number of problems raised by the historical sources regarding this period of his life. Did these confiscations take place after Philippi, Mutina, or Actium? Were Pollio, Varus and Gallus in charge, or Pollio and Gallus, or Pollio and later Varus? Was the Mantuan land confiscated because of its proximity to Cremona, because the Mantuans were partisan to Antony, or because they had remained neutral? What were the circumstances surrounding the attack on Vergil's person? Did he win back his farm or was he reimbursed for the loss of it? Was there only one eviction or were there two? He may have begun his Eclogues in 42 B.C., but he more probably began them in 41. The order of writing seems to have been: IX, I, IV, VI, VIII, X. The others cannot be dated. Between 40 and 38 B.C. Vergil left Mantua for Rome and Naples, coming at this time into the Augustan Circle. He began his Georgics in 38 or 37 B.C. at Naples, and it took him seven years to complete them, for he travelled and also seems to have written at a very slow rate. They may have been read to Augustus after Actium (Suetonius). About 30 B.C. Vergil began the Aeneid, which Augustus was eager to hear (Suetonius). In 26 B.C. Vergil read either the Second, Fourth and Sixth Books or the Third, Fourth and Sixth Books to him and Octavia. Vergil travelled to Greece in 19 B.C. to revise his Aeneid, but Augustus, meeting him at Athens, persuaded him to return to Italy. Vergil fell ill at Megara and died at Brundisium on September twenty-first (Suetonius, Filargyrius), 19 B.C. (Probus, Filargyrius, Jerome). Probably lie was buried somewhere near Naples. Vergil was a large man of dark complexion, with a somewhat rustic appearance and was never in perfect health. He was slow of speech, modest and restrained, but he had faults and even had made a number; of enemies. In addition, he was not above retaliating when angered.

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