Great Contributions of Virgil to Latin Literature and Roman Society

(Image source : Wikipedia)

Virgil is a short name of an ancient Roman poet and legend Publius Vergilius Marco(70 BC-19 BC). He was the most influential Latin poet of Augustun’s era. In fact, Latin literature is incomplete without “The Eclogues” , “The Georgics" and “The Aeneid” — three of Virgil’s most acclaimed poems still now. He was among the greatest poets of “The Golden Age of Latin Literature” along with Horace,Ovid,Livy,Cicero,Julius Caesar,Tibullus and Propertius. He was a friend of Horace and Augustus (Future Roman Emperor).

Childhood and Education

Virgil was born in a country side region of Gaul which was part of then Roman Republic.That’s why he always loved and admired nature and it’s beauty. He got his education from Milan, Cremona and Rome. He studied rhetoric and law in his childhood . It is narrated that he was very shy,introvert and socially aloof in his childhood. He was also very weak and skinny.

Later, he went to Rome to study Medicine, Rhetoric , Astronomy and Philosophy in detail. But then he shifted his interests and turned towards poetry and revolutionized the Latin poetry. He was inspired by the ancient Greek poet “Homer”(famous for his poems Odyssey and lliad). Virgil studied him to get a guide about techniques and tips for poetry.

Political Circumstances of That Era

When he was in his youth, the Roman Republic was near it’s collapse. General Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great were first allies at that time and then later they broke out and a Civil War(49–45 BCE) started between them . Ultimately,Pompey was defeated at the “Battle of Pharsalus”(48 BCE). Political and military situation was very bad. But Virgil was not at all interested in this political , social and military turmoil and crises which were accompanied by the fall of Roman Republic. He was totally devoted to his work and poetry. He was very workholic. He never married and had no children.

Now we will look briefly at some of his works and their impact…i.e Aeneid,Georgics, Eclogues.

Aeneid is the Latin epic poem which is literally the masterpiece of world literature. It has been the national epic of ancient Rome. In this poem, Virgil narrated the story of a Roman trojan “Aeneas" and his friends who escaped from their city due to political crises and fled to Rome,Italy. There, they built a great empire for Romans. That’s why Aeneas is regarded as mythical forefather of Romans. This poem was actually a tribute to Caesar’s and Augustus’s struggles because at many places, Virgil had drawn parallels between them and the main hero “Aeneas.” As, Augustus used to patronize Virgil,some critics argued that Aeneid was written on the orders of Augustus to make a good impression of the newly created Roman Empire and to legitimize his rule.

However,Virgil wrote this poem to motivate his countrymen and to make them stay loyal to their motherland. Virgil ordered to burn “Aeneid" when he was on his deathbed because he wanted to rewise some portions of it but it wasn’t practically possible due to his weak health. He didn’t insisted when Augustus ordered him not to do so.
The Eclogues(also called Bucolics)” was also an epic poem written in dialogue form and its main subject was agricultural and pastoral life.

The Georgics" is about history and politics of country folk,their life, their difficulties and their simplicity.

In general,his poems are about man’s struggle, success and it’s cost.

Legacy

Virgil had left an everlasting impact on world’s literature.His poems had been the part of educational curricula of Rome. Roman critic and educationalist Marcus Fabius Quintilian (35–100 AD) recommended that “Virgil’s poems should be included in standard textbooks of schools.”

Many Latin and Greek writers have been influenced by Virgil’s works. His own contemporary Latin poet Ovid’s book “Metamorphosis” is sometimes called the “Mini-Aeneid.”

Aelius Donatus (a Roman author and grammarian of 4th century AD)wrote about biography and works of Virgil;but unfortunately some portions of his commentaries on Virgil’s life have been lost

Virgil influenced English writers and poets as well including Shakespeare, William Words Worth,Alfred Tennyson and many other.

One of the most epic pieces of world literature is “Divine Comedy" which was written by Dante Alighieri during 1308–20 AD. In this poem, Virgil was one of the guides of the writer Dante who guides him through hell.

Here is the Dante-Virgil oil on canvas painting which was made by William Adolphe Bouguereau in 1850.

( Image source: Wikipedia)

John Milton(1608–1674 CE) also greatly admired Virgil and his works.Aeneid served as a framework for his book “Paradise Lost”. He drew many parallels between the main character of his book “Satan" and Aeneas(main hero of Aeneid). However, Paradise Lost was banned by Catholic Church in 1753 while Aeneid has been considered an everlasting book by romans.

John Dryden(1631–1700) translated Aeneid. Similarly, Barry B Powell, William Morris, Robert Fitzgerald, Sarah Ruden, Gavin Douglas also translated it. Cecil Day Lewis translated both Aeneid and Georgics.

Virgil’s Teachings

  • Endurance and steadfastness can overcome every difficulty.
  • Your successors have to harvest what you are sowing.
  • A point comes when your desires will become your God.
  • Every conquest begins with a firm belief.
  • Love can conquer everything.
  • Sweet and happy time go fast.
  • Be steadfast ,for fortune favours only those who are brave and bold.
  • Your knowledge can do no good for anyone.Your services and actions can.
  • Fortunate is the one who loves and studies nature and it’s laws.
  • Don’t be attracted towards outer beauty.Find the original charm in others ,for beauty of face is temporary.

These quotes and teachings of thousand years old poet are still so relatable and thought provoking.That’s why it is said:

“Great people live beyond the boundaries of time and space.”

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Natasha Matloob

Natasha Matloob

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