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HARVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY
GEORGE ARTHUR PLIMPTON
'molle atque facetum Vergilio annuerunt gaudentes rure Camenae.' HORACE.
Thou that singest wheat and woodland,
Titles of the poems. Early life of Virgil. Origin and rise of Pastoral poetry. The 'Muse of Sicily' developed by Virgil. How far was he an original poet? The rise, progress, and decline of modern Pastoral. Publication of the Eclogues. MSS. and principal Editions. Various readings and critical remarks.
THE earliest descriptive title by which the following poems were known was Bucolica, or Songs of Herdsmen (Bovkóλoi); hence, by extension of meaning, poems on country life, in which shepherds and husbandmen and other rustic characters play their respective parts. The name, if any, which Virgil himself gave to these early essays in verse is unknown : their alternative title Eclogae seems to mean 'selections' (ekλoyaí) from a number of pieces on a similar subject', now published in a collected form. At what time. and on what occasions these Eclogues were severally written will appear from the following sketch of the poet's life, down to the year 37 B. C. when the tenth and last poem of the series was completed.
Our chief source of information is the Life of Virgil ascribed to Aelius Donatus, a grammarian of the fourth century A. D., but almost certainly the work of Suetonius early in the second century. There is also a fragment of a Life by Valerius Probus, of the first century, which is of little additional value. Both these seem to have been drawn from
1 Or possibly selected passages' for imitation, studies (so to speak) from the Greek poets, especially Theo itus.
2 For evidence of this see Nettleship, Ancient Lives of Vergil, pp. 29, 30.
contemporary records, especially from Memoirs by the poet Varius (Ecl. ix. 35) and other personal friends of Virgil. We have besides the internal evidence from Virgil's own writings', and from other poets of the time, among whom Horace was his intimate friend and often mentions him as a kindred spirit. Lastly there are anecdotes of Virgil and scattered references in Gellius, Seneca, Macrobius and the early commentators on his poems.
P. VERGILIUS 2 MARO, the son of a small landowner, was born at Andes near Mantua, B. C. 70. He went to school, first at Cremona, then in his 16th year at Mediolanum (Milan), and was shortly afterwards removed to Rome. There he studied rhetoric under Epidius with a view to the Bar, but finding the legal profession uncongenial, he turned his attention to philosophy under the direction of Siron the Epicurean. In one of the minor poems ascribed to Virgil 3 he expresses his joy at exchanging, not only grammar and rhetoric, but even poetry, for natural science, which seems to have had peculiar attractions for him throughout his life. We have evidence of this in a famous passage of the fourth Georgic ll. 475, etc., and the influence upon his mind of Lucretius (whose poem de Rerum Natura was then newly
1 See Introductions and Notes to Ecl. i, iii, iv, vi, ix, x, also the concluding lines of the fourth Georgic.
2 The spelling Vergilius is attested by the best MSS. in G. iv. 563, as well as by inscriptions. But with Conington and others I have retained the familiar Virgil in English. For a complete life of the poet see Sellar's Virgil, or the shorter one by Prof. Nettleship in Macmillan's series of Classical Writers.
3 The seventh poem of the Catalecta (more accurately Catalepton, i. e. Poemata kaтà λETTÒν or 'trifles'). Part of it is here quoted-'Ite hinc, inanes, ite, rhetorum ampullae, inflata rore non Achaico verba...
Nos ad beatos vela mittimus portus,
published) is clearly traceable in the sixth Eclogue, in Aen. i. 740, vi. 724, etc. and other passages of his works.
Following the Life by Suetonius we read-'Mox cum res Romanas incohasset, offensus materia ad Bucolica tranşiit.' This evidently means that Virgil began a history of Rome in verse, or a poem on the wars of Rome 'reges et proelia' Ecl. vi. 3—but found the task beyond his powers1; or, as he himself says, Apollo warned him to desist, and confine himself to the slighter themes of rural poetry. It is not, however, till some years later that we find him actually employed on the Eclogues. During the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, which broke out in 49 B. C., Virgil was probably domiciled in his native Andes, where in the intervals of farm-work he would have ample time for pursuing his literary studies. The influence of Greek poetry, especially the Idylls of Theocritus, must have powerfully affected him; hence his earlier compositions took the form of pastoral or bucolic poems, as being congenial to his habits of thought, and easily imitable in their subjects and manner of expression. Hitherto nothing of the sort had been attempted at Rome, for although the inhabitants of ancient Italy were devoted to agricultural pursuits, these were of so practical a kind, as to leave no room for leisure and contemplation. But the rural descriptions of Theocritus could not fail to charm, and Virgil must have struck a responsive chord, when he endeavoured to reproduce them to Roman ears. It is quite likely that he wrote many other specimens of bucolic verse, besides what have come down to us, during this period of retirement; the earliest of the 'selections' can hardly however be assigned to an earlier date than the year of Philippi (42 B. C.) or the one preceding.
1 So Milton in his youth formed the idea of writing a British epic, as well as a Scriptu tragedy. The one eventually became a prose History of Britain, the other (like Virgil's Aeneid) developed into an epic poem, the Paradise Lost.
In 41 B. C. the lands in the district of Cremona and the neighbouring Mantua were appropriated by the veterans of Octavianus and Antony, and Virgil's father among others lost his estate. In his ninth Eclogue Virgil appealed to Varus, the governor of Cisalpine Gaul, and having by his influence, in conjunction with Pollio and Gallus, obtained restitution, he wrote his first Eclogue as a memorial of gratitude for the favour 1.
During this troublous time he seems to have taken refuge in a villa that once belonged to his old master Siron, the locality of which is unknown 2. It is probable that Virgil did not continue long at Andes after the restoration of his property. The liberality of Octavian and Maecenas had secured him leisure and comparative wealth, and we know from the concluding lines of the fourth Georgic that he was soon afterwards residing at Naples. There is also a passage in Propertius3 (iii. 26. 67) intimating that the seventh Eclogue was written at or near Tarentum, and his descriptions of scenery in the Eclogues (when he is not obviously copying Theocritus) are better suited to the 'sunny south' of Italy than to the bare and level district surrounding Mantua.
In his notice of the Bucolics Suetonius goes on to say that they were written 'chiefly in praise of Varus, Pollio, and Gallus.' Two Eclogues, the fourth and tenth, are entirely devoted to the two last-named patrons; the sixth is dedicated to Varus and includes an incidental compliment to Gallus.
1 See Introductions to the first and ninth Eclogues for the probable order of events in the life of Virgil.
2 This is referred to in the tenth poem of the Catalepton
Villula quae Sironis eras, et pauper agelle,
Me tibi, et hos una mecum, quos semper amavi,
Commendo, in primisque patrem. Tu nunc eris illi,
'Tu canis umbrosi subter pineta Galaesi
Thyrsin et attritis Daphnin arundinibus.'