Although not many details are known about the life of Virgil, the work he left behind has earned him the prestige of being the greatest Roman poet and also amongst the composers of world’s greatest poems. Virgil is best known for his epic, The Aeneid which is modeled after Homer’s epic poems Iliad and Odyssey.
Financially sound and well-off, Virgil’s parents provided him with a good education. He studied in various places including Cremona, Milan and Rome, showing a specific interest in mathematics and medicine. He moved on to study law and rhetoric at the Academy of Epidius, Rome in 54 B.C. One of his classmates at the academy was Octavian, who would later become the Emperor Augustus and Virgil’s greatest supporter. After graduation, Virgil took up his first law case but did not take long to abandon the study of law and shift focus to studying philosophy.
Virgil studied with Epicurean philosopher Siro and began his career as a poet after fleeing to Naples due to the civil disturbances in 49 B.C. when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River. He was at first known as an Alexandrian when he entered the literary circles. A group of poets who wrote poems inspired from the work of third-century Greek poets were known as Alexandrians. Although he had a house in Rome, Virgil spent most of his life in Campania and Sicily after his property was confiscated for veterans during the battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. However, it was restored later on the command of Octavian. Virgil spent the next four years composing pastoral poems, Eclogues and Georgics which was mostly about farming.
30 B.C. onwards, Virgil spent the rest of his life composing The Aeneid, which was pressed upon him by Augustus Caesar. Augustus insisted Virgil to write about the glory and magnificence of Rome. The Aeneid became Rome’s national epic. Ironically, Virgil was never happy about writing the composition; he felt it was a task imposed upon him which he was bound to do as a religious and political duty. Unsatisfied with the manuscript, Virgil had wanted The Aeneid to be destroyed but Augustus did not let that happen and the poem was published posthumously. The Aeneid gained Virgil immense fame and a godlike persona after his death.
A journey to Italy and Megara with the Emperor proved to be fatal for Virgil. He died in 19 B.C. due to a fever he had contracted in Greece. He was laid to rest near Naples. Virgil was the voice of the Roman people who wanted to tell the world about the glory, significance and greatness of the Roman Empire, and the men who created it.
What makes the cornfield smile; beneath what star Maecenas, it is meet to turn the sod Or marry elm with vine; how tend the steer; What pains for cattle-keeping, or what proof Of patient trial serves for thrifty bees;- Such are my themes.