PubliusVergilius Maro • As is often the case, reliable biographical information is difficult to come by. • Much of what is know of Virgil’s early life is thought to depend upon a lost biography by his contemporary, Varius, which was later incorporated into that of Suetonius. • Tradition holds that he was born in Cisalpine Gaul in 70BCE. • Likely of the equestrian order. • ‘[he] was tall…with a dark complexion and a rustic appearance…he spoke very slowly and almost like an uneducated man…’ • Yet when he read his poems, his delivery was sweet and wonderfully effective’ – Suetonius life of Virgil p. 467-74 trans. Rolfe J. C. • He wrote three major works of Latin literature: The Eclogues, the Georgics and the Aeneid
Publius Vergilius Maro II • At some point Virgil was brought to the attention of Maecenas, a benefactor of poets and personal friend or Octavian. • In Satire 1.5 Horace describes a journey from Rome with Maecenas during which they meet another group of which Virgil is part. • ‘o qui complexus et gaudia!’ He exclaims. • With Maecenas as patron, pro-imperial propagandistic elements can be found in all of Virgil’s works.
Pastoral poetry • Like the vast majority of Roman poems, theEclogueshave a Greek model. • Callimachus, a Hellenistic poet, insisted that poetry should be free from politics and indeed ‘serious’ subject matter and should instead function as a celebration of language, dealing only with pleasant themes. • Theocritus, another Hellenistic poet, invented a genre of poetry that used Homeric hexameters to express notably ‘un-Homeric’ themes: Singing contests, love affairs, the rivalries of shepherds and herdsmen for whom competing in song was the only means of relieving boredom etc… • And goats. • Names such as ‘Daphnis’ would become a staple of the genre, and return again in Virgil’s Eclogues and later works of Greek prose fiction. • Virgil appropriated the Theocritean model, but used adapted it so that his poems dealt with contemporary Roman issues without abandoning the pastoral genre.
Pastoral poetry continued • Pastoral poetry, like many Hellenistic innovations, is self-reflexive. • The works of both Virgil and Theocritus display a self-conscious awareness of their own status as art. • Notably, not all of Theocritus’ works featured shepherds. • One of his ostensibly pastoral poems sings the praises of Ptolemy II, for example. • Similarly, Virgil too abandons the shepherd staple in Eclogue IV to prophesise the birth of a son who will bring back the Golden Age. • Many Christians, from Lactantius onwards, took this to be a prophecy of the birth of Christ, further augmenting Virgil’s almost legendary fame long after his death. • The ‘child’ in question is more likely a reference to the expectation that Octavian’s sister, Octavia, would bare Mark Antony a son.
Eclogues • Composed during the 2ndTriumvirate (42-39BCE) while the relationship between Octavian and Mark Antony was under strain. • They resolved their differences in 40BCE with the Treaty of Brundisium and divided the Empire between them. • The Eclogues are thought to have been an immediate success. • Some of the dialogues were performed in theatres. • Quotations and parodies abounded. • They were considered a landmark in the history of Latin poetry owing to the elegance with which Virgil handled the hexameter verse and maintained exquisite control overthe rhythmic patterns.
Eclogue IV • The aforementioned ‘Prophetic Eclogue.’ • Although the Octavia’s son interpretation does appear valid, the text does remain ambiguous. • One might assume that this was a conscious decision on the part of the poet. • Note the reference to AsiniusPollio, a patron of poets though to be responsible from introducing Virgil to Maecenas/Octavian. • Not a representation of reality. • The poem conceals the realities and oppressions of the rural class in a manner that suits the ruling elite.
Eclogue V • Dialogue between Menalcusand Mopsus • Mopsus Laments and celebrates the deceased Daphnis. • Menalcus sings of his Apotheosis. • Are we to read it a an allegory for the death and deification of Julius Caesar?
Eclogue Vi • ‘The song of Silenus.’ • The companion and tutor of Dionysus in Greek mythology. • Associated with truth and wisdom. • Is he a device used to reveal the ‘proper’ subject matter of the epic poet? • Conventional epic appears to be rejected at the poems inception?
Eclogue VIII • Damon and Alphesiboeus. • A more traditionally Theocritean work of pastoral? • A further reference of Pollio – ‘accept the songs begun at your command…’
Eclogue X • Gallus’ love. • Gallus’ Amores provide a further literary model for this work. • A debate about the limitations and deficiencies of literary models. • ‘let us speak if Gallus’ anxious love, while the snub-nosed goats crop the tender thickets.’ lines 6-7 • A acknowledgement of the failure of the pastoral genre to deal with matters of love? • Basket weaving as a metaphor for the composition of poetry. • A metaphor that was familiar since Catullus. • ‘Extremumlaborem’. Self-consciously the final Eclogue in the collection. • Circular ‘shade’ motif.