Ms. Bergen/ Mrs. Downer
English 10 - 4/ Latin II – 2
9 November 2011
Virgil the Latin Poet
“When I was a schoolboy Virgil was the Latin poet…” (Levi 1). During the Roman Empire’s Golden Age art and literature was at its height under the reign of Augustus. The great works of art produced by the artists, authors and poets of this time brought Rome a great sense of nationalism. Of the poets that had produced great works in the Golden Age perhaps the most known was Virgil formally known as Publius Vergilius Maro. Originally imitating styles of Theocritus, Virgil honed his skills over the course of his works in order to take on the great challenge of emulating Homer’s style of the epic poem. In being able to duplicate Homer’s style of the epic Virgil was able to create the national epic of Rome, the Aeneid. The Aeneid itself was a milestone in Latin poetry because of the poetic techniques used and how it had been formed to model Homer that it had brought much Roman nationalism and was known by all educated Romans. With Virgil’s ability to imitate the styles of great poets he was able to construct the national epic of Rome, the Aeneid which was known by all educated Romans.
All educated Romans appreciated Virgil’s Aeneid and why it was such a great creation of the Roman Empires Golden Age. The Aeneid’s structure was a factor that had made it to be known by educated Romans: "in other words Homer gave him a form, something of a style, a great deal of content, but not the essential idea or meaning, not the ideological truth he wanted to convey.” (Otis 384). When Otis says Homer had given Virgil a form he had pointed to how Virgil had modeled his Aeneid after two of Homer’s own epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The first half of the Aeneid was modeled after the Odyssey while the second half was modeled after the Iliad. This is shown in how books one through six of the Aeneid are of Aeneas’s journey around onto Italy just as Odysseus also journeys around the world until he gets home to Ithaka in the Odyssey. While in the second half of the Aeneid which is books seven through twelve, just as in the Iliad there is a battle that breaks loose between two groups of people. Except in the Aenied Aeneas and his troops are pitted against the people of Latium. In which Aeneas wins and he finds Rome. Educated Romans knew this and understood that Virgil did something no poet in that time was able to do in years. Educated Romans understood that Virgil was able to use Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad as a model for his Aeneid. But beyond that the Romans understood how Virgil had put symbolism into the Aeneid to symbolize the Roman Empire.
Virgil was sure to add much symbolism of the Augustan period into his Aeneid. An example of a symbolism Virgil provided was actually the main character himself Aeneas, “Aeneas is, in effect an Augustan type- a divine man, not necessarily copied after the Emperor himself but embodying the Augustan ruler-ideal-who emerges out of Homeric society and, in virtue of his emergence, imposes upon a more primitive but still quasi-Homeric society a defeat that is the means of unity, peace and civilization on the Augustan plan.” (Otis 384.) Aeneas, the main hero of the Aeneid symbolizes Augustus the first Roman Emperor. Aeneas is shown to have qualities just like Augustus for he was also a great leader leading his army to defeat the citizens of Latium and found Rome. While Augustus was also a leader in being the first emperor of Rome and transitioning Rome from a republic to an empire. In addition to being symbolic, Aeneas was also a way for Virgil to model Homer since Aeneas was a Homeric hero that had displayed and symbolized the virtues of the Augustan time period. Therefore educated Romans had truly appreciated and understood why the Aeneid was so special because of Virgil’s ability to symbolize Augustan ideas and people into a Homeric epic styled poem.
Virgil’s Aeneid also brought a surge of nationalism for Rome since it was an epic poem that was based off the epic form of the Greek poet Homer. In which at this time Rome loved to have their own culture be based off of the Greeks. Plus the story of the Aeneid was about a Greek, Aeneas, who had supposedly found Rome, this meaning that the Romans had derived from the Greeks according to myth. After the Aeneid was published Virgil became a legend, “Eighty years is rather longer than a generation, but eighty years after his death Virgil was adored like a god...” (Levi) 125. Levi basically sums up how proud Roman citizens were of Virgil because of the great epic he had produced. But it took eighty years after Virgil’s death for all Romans to know his epic and be proud. For he created an epic poem filled with symbolism of the accomplishments of Augustus, the rise of a Roman empire, new Roman values and much more. It was his poem alone that had brought Rome’s poetry to a higher level. Essentially wraps up Virgil being the definition of a great Augustan Roman poet. By being the great Augustan Roman poet he was able to bring Rome great nationalism through writing his great epic, the Aeneid.
Virgil wasn’t able to create Rome’s greatest epic of all time in one shot. He had to hone his skills as a poet through his works and move into the direction of creating the greatest Roman epic of all time. Virgil started off his poetry career by writing other works, the Eclogue and the Georgics. As a younger poet Virgil did not immediately emulate Homer’s style but rather someone, “So Virgil did not begin with Homer but with imitations of Theocritus and, on a much greater scale with a didactic poem on agriculture,” (Otis 383.) Otis tells of how a younger Virgil first emulated the works of Theocritus before trying to create an epic poem following the model of Homer. Also when Otis states didactic poems on agriculture, he refers to Virgil’s Georgics that had been about agriculture. Virgil emulates Theocritus’s way of poetry in this line,”O lovely boy don’t put yout faith in colour, White box falls, dusky cranberries are picked.” (Virgil) lines 17-18. This line from the second Eclogue show how Virgil follows Theocritus example by creating a setting that in a landscape that drifts off into new ideas. Showing how Virgil had caught that simple little detail of Theocritus and mimicked it into his works foreshadow how he will have copy Homer’s style as well. “So Virgil had developed during the years 41-38 from a neoteric and Theocritean to at least a potentially Augustan poet,” (Otis 143.) Otis states this because of how Virgil had written in an unexpected narrative form in the sixth Eclogues. The sixth Eclogues was so different from the others before it displayed how Virgil’s skills were evolving as well. In the sixt Eclogue he had showcased the narrative form he’ll be using when he writes the Aeneid. This meaning by the end of writing the Eclogue his skills seemed to become more of a young promising Augustan poet because of his ability seen to write in the narrative rather than a Theocritean poet.
“The Aeneid seems at first sight something radically different from either the Eclogues or the Georgics. We can understand why the “young Virgil, the Virgil of 42 BC, should have turned from his projected res romane to the ‘soft and pleasing’ verses of the Eclogue. He was both too immature and too aware of Homer’s unapproachable excellence to undertake such a task at the time.” (Otis 215.) Otis describes at how unprepared Virgil was to write an epic poem when he was writing the Eclogues and Georgics. For the facts his Eclogues did not have a main idea rather it was mainly just a collections of works with no obvious plot pieced together. In addition with the lack of narratives he had written in the Eclogues he wasn’t prepared to have written an epic at the time. However, through the experiences of writing those two works led to him being able to find a way to emulate Homer’s style.
Virgil has been considered to symbolize being the Latin poet of the Golden Age for his great national epic of Rome, the Aeneid. Being the national epic of Rome all educated Romans understood why the Aeneid was so great. However a young Virgil wouldn’t have been able to write the great epic, but through years of practice through other works and imitation of others like Theocritean he finally created the Aeneid combining and honing all the skills he learned to create the national epic of Rome by replicating the style of Homer’s epics into his own. So by honing his skills as a poet through the years Virgil was able to create the national epic of Rome known by all educated Romans that brought Roman nationalism.
Gale, Monica. “Poetry and Backward Glance in Virgil’s Georgics and Aeneid” John Hopkins University 2003
Levi, Peter. Virgil His Life and Times. London: Duckworth, 1998.
Otis, Brooks. Virgil A Study in Civilized Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.
Slavitt, David R. Virgil. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991.
Virgil, Aeneid Translated by Theodore C. Williams 1910
Virgil, Georgics Translated by J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1900.
Virgil, Eclogue Translated by Fairclough, H R. Loeb Classical Library Volumes Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. 1916.