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Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is often
regarded as the greatest of the Roman poets. His epic poem, the Aeneid,
has been of continuing importance to Western literature. Although it was commissioned
by the emperor Augustus, the poem is more than early imperial propaganda. It
proclaims the divine mission of Aeneas to found Rome and the divine injunction
of the Romans to unite the world under a noble emperor such as Augustus.
Products of the chaos of the Roman civil war years, Virgil's works show a
longing for a more peaceful ordering of society. His two major works, the
Eclogues and the Aeneid, emphasize different aspects of this longing. The
Eclogues, written first, is a collection of escapist poems that dwell on
the ideal nature of a peaceful, rural life. The Aeneid, a more complete
consideration of the new world Virgil desired, considers the political form
under which this new order will come. Virgil's importance to world literature
is difficult to underestimate. Later poets and writers have venerated and sought
to imitate him. Among his more famous admirers were Dante (1265-1321) and Milton
(1608-1674), who composed epic poems on his model.
On its own merits, the Aeneid is a masterpiece of epic poetry and the
Latin language, and it has been used as a textbook for the study of Latin almost
from its first publication. In addition, the Aeneid had an impact on
Christian thought during the Middle Ages. Virgil was widely believed in medieval
times (through allegorical interpretations) to have prophesied the coming of
Jesus Christ to the Roman world and therefore lent support to the view of the
Holy Roman Empire as the protector and champion of Christianity.
Works by the Author
Maro, Publius Vergilius (Virgil). The Aeneids of Virgil. Translated
by William Morris. Sheffield: G. C. Snaith, 1876.
Maro, Publius Vergilius (Virgil). The Aeneid, Eclogues, Georgics.
Translated by J. W. Mackail. New York: Modern Library - Random House, 1950.
Maro, Publius Vergilius (Virgil). Virgil. 2 vols. Translated by H.
R. Fairclough. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1916-18.
Maro, Publius Vergilius (Virgil). The Works. Translated by Dryden.
London: Jacob Tonson, 1697.
Works about the Author
MacCormack, Sabine. The Shadows of Poetry: Vergil in the Mind of Augustine.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The
Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.