Virgil (Publius Virgilius, Or Vergilius, Maro), a Roman poet, born at Andes, a small village near Mantua, Oct. 15, 70 B. 0., died in Brundusium, Sept. 22, 19 B. 0. His birthplace, acoording to an old tradition, is the same as the modern village of Pietola. His father was the owner of a small landed estate, and the son received his early education at Cremona and Mediolanum (Milan), and assumed the toga virilis at the former city in 55. Afterward he studied Greek at Naples under Parthenius, was a pupil of Syron the Epiourean, and throughout his whole life was a student of history, antiquities, medicine, agriculture, and mathematics. Being naturally of a delicate constitution, and not entitled by birth to the rights of a Roman citizen, he never attempted to gain distinction either by oratory or arms, and seems to have retired to his father's estate near Mantua. He lost this estate at the time of the agrarian division, but obtained it again through Asinius Pollio, who was one of the first to recognize his poetical talent. He was afterward befriended by Maecenas, and became a favorite of Augustus; but, being of a rather retiring nature, he spent the latter part of his life mostly outside of Rome, either at Tarentum or Naples, which last appears to have been his favorite residence.
In 19 he went to Greece with the intention of remaining in that country several years for the purpose of laboring on the Aeneid; but the same year he met the emperor at Athens, and set out with him for Italy, but died on the journey. His remains were carried to Naples, and buried on the road leading from that city to Puteoli. - The earliest works of Virgil were the Bucolics, which were written probably between 43 and 37. Although modelled after the pastoral poems of Theocritus, they are not pastorals in a stricter sense. Many of them treat of matters of present interest, unconnected with any description of rural sights; and the fourth eclogue, addressed to Pollio, does not even pretend to be a pastoral poem. They were however the first of their kind which had appeared in Latin, and, though far inferior to the productions of Theocritus, were exceedingly popular with the Romans. The Georgics form a didactic poem in four books, addressed to Maecenas, and by far the most finished of Virgil's productions. The first book treats of the proper cultivation of the soil, the second of the management of fruit trees, the third of horses and cattle, and the fourth of bees.
The subject seems unpromising for a poem of much interest; but he embellished the monotonous and uninteresting details of agricultural life with apt allusions and skilful ornament, and occasionally with beautiful digressions. The story that he wrote this work at the request of Maecenas to revive the languishing agriculture of Italy, and that in consequence the country soon assumed a flourishing appearance, is improbable. The Aeneid, or the adventures of Aeneas after the fall of Troy, is in twelve books, the first six of which were modelled after the Odyssey, and the last six after the battles of the Iliad. Virgil worked at this poem with great deliberation and care, but he did not live to perfect it. He bequeathed it to his friends Varius and Tucca, who at the express wish of Augustus edited it with the utmost care. In the form which it thus received the Aeneid became at once the most popular and most highly esteemed poem of the Romans. The poet interwove with the adventures of Aeneas allusions to the glories of the Julian line, of which the Trojan hero was the assumed ancestor, and prophecies' of the future splendor of the city of which he was indirectly the founder.
Although the Aeneid as a whole is inferior to the great works upon which it is modelled, and the characters of many of the actors, especially of the chief hero Aeneas, are 'comparatively uninteresting, yet the particular scenes and incidents are treated in the most successful manner and with the highest degree of poetical feeling. Original genius did not belong to Virgil, but his taste, his skill, and his power of versification are unsurpassed. Other poems attributed to him are Culex, Ciris, Copa, Moretum, and 14 Catalecta; but only the first four larger poems are with good reason supposed to be his. His influence on Roman literature and the literature of the middle ages was almost without a parallel in literary history. His poems were the text books of the Roman youths and the models of the Roman poets. The great men of the middle ages were his admirers and imitators. A sort of religious veneration was felt for him, and various legends came to be connected with his person, which soon transformed him into a magician and conjurer. Petrarch tells us that the grotto of Posilippo was thought in his time to have been excavated by the magic incantations of the poet.
Traces of this feeling can be found in the custom of inquiring into the future by the sortes Virgilianoe. - Several hundred manuscripts of Virgil's works have come down to our time. They were first printed at Rome in 1469 by Sweynheym and Pannartz. C. G. Heyne published an edition (4 vols. 8vo, Leipsic, 1767-75) upon which much labor was spent, and of this an improved edition, by G. P. E. Wagner, appeared in 1830-'41. Valuable for their exhaustive critical apparatus and prolegomena are the later editions by Ribbeck (Leipsic, 1859-'66) and Forbiger (4th ed., Leipsic, 1873). The English notes of the editions by Conington (London, 1858-71), A. IT. Bryce (new ed., London, 1875), and B. H. Kennedy (London, 1876) are also very complete. Dryden's translation of the Aeneid (1697) is still very popular. Among the recent English versions are Conington's (1866), Cranch's (1872), and William Morris's (1876). A good translation of the Georgics and Bucolics is Owgan's (1853). The chief authority for Virgil's life is a biography by Donatus. Commentaries were written on his works in ancient times, especially by Macrobius and Servius; the latter is very valuable.