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.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.
Last modified April 10, 2014