During four days which Augustus passed at Atella, to refresh himself from
fatigue, in his return to Rome, after the battle of Actium, the Georgics,
just then finished, were read to him by the author, who was occasionally
relieved in the task by his friend Mecaenas. We may easily conceive the
satisfaction enjoyed by the emperor, at finding that while he himself had
been gathering laurels in the achievements of war, another glorious
wreath was prepared by the Muses to adorn his temples; and that an
intimation was given of his being afterwards celebrated in a work more
congenial to the subject of heroic renown.
It is generally supposed that the Aeneid was written at the particular
desire of Augustus, who was ambitious of having the Julian family
represented as lineal descendants of the Trojan Aeneas. In this
celebrated poem, Virgil has happily united the characteristics of the
Iliad and Odyssey, and blended them so judiciously together, that they
mutually contribute to the general effect of the whole. By the esteem
and sympathy excited for the filial piety and misfortunes of Aeneas at
the catastrophe of Troy, the reader is strongly interested in his
subsequent adventures; and every obstacle to the establishment of the
Trojans in the promised land of Hesperia produces fresh sensations of
increased admiration and attachment. The episodes, characters, and
incidents, all concur to give beauty or grandeur to the poem. The
picture of Troy in flames can never be sufficiently (169) admired! The
incomparable portrait of Priam, in Homer, is admirably accommodated to a
different situation, in the character of Anchises, in the Aeneid. The
prophetic rage of the Cumaean Sibyl displays in the strongest colours the
enthusiasm of the poet. For sentiment, passion, and interesting
description, the episode of Dido is a master-piece in poetry. But Virgil
is not more conspicuous for strength of description than propriety of
sentiment; and wherever he takes a hint from the Grecian bard, he
prosecutes the idea with a judgment peculiar to himself. It may be
sufficient to mention one instance. In the sixth book of the Iliad,
while the Greeks are making great slaughter amongst the Trojans, Hector,
by the advice of Helenus, retires into the city, to desire that his
mother would offer up prayers to the goddess Pallas, and vow to her a
noble sacrifice, if she would drive Diomede from the walls of Troy.
Immediately before his return to the field of battle, he has his last
interview with Andromache, whom he meets with his infant son Astyanax,
carried by a nurse. There occurs, upon this occasion, one of the most
beautiful scenes in the Iliad, where Hector dandles the boy in his arms,
and pours forth a prayer, that he may one day be superior in fame to his
father. In the same manner, Aeneas, having armed himself for the
decisive combat with Turnus, addresses his son Ascanius in a beautiful
speech, which, while expressive of the strongest paternal affection,
contains, instead of a prayer, a noble and emphatic admonition, suitable
to a youth who had nearly attained the period of adult age. It is as
Disce, puer, virtutem ex me, verumque laborem;
Fortunam ex aliis; nunc te mea dextera bello
Defensum dabit, et magna inter praemia ducet.
Tu facito, mox cum matura adoleverit aetas,
Sis memor: et te animo repetentem exempla tuorum,
Et pater Aeneas, et avunculus excitet Hector.–Aeneid, xii.
My son! from my example learn the war
In camps to suffer, and in feuds to dare,
But happier chance than mine attend thy care!
This day my hand thy tender age shall shield,
And crown with honours of the conquered field:
Thou when thy riper years shall send thee forth
To toils of war, be mindful of my worth;
Assert thy birthright, and in arms be known,
For Hector’s nephew and Aeneas’ son.
Virgil, though born to shine by his own intrinsic powers, certainly owed
much of his excellence to the wonderful merits of Homer. His susceptible
imagination, vivid and correct, was (170) impregnated by the Odyssey, and
warmed with the fire of the Iliad. Rivalling, or rather on some
occasions surpassing his glorious predecessor in the characters of heroes
and of gods, he sustains their dignity with so uniform a lustre, that
they seem indeed more than mortal.
Whether the Iliad or the Aeneid be the more perfect composition, is a
question which has often been agitated, but perhaps will never be
determined to general satisfaction. In comparing the genius of the two
poets, however, allowance ought to be made for the difference of
circumstances under which they composed their respective works. Homer
wrote in an age when mankind had not as yet made any great progress in
the exertion of either intellect or imagination, and he was therefore
indebted for big resources to the vast capacity of his own mind. To this
we must add, that he composed both his poems in a situation of life
extremely unfavourable to the cultivation of poetry. Virgil, on the
contrary, lived at a period when literature had attained to a high state
of improvement. He had likewise not only the advantage of finding a
model in the works of Homer, but of perusing the laws of epic poetry,
which had been digested by Aristotle, and the various observations made
on the writings of the Greek bard by critics of acuteness and taste;
amongst the chief of whom was his friend Horace, who remarks that
——–quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus.–De Arte Poet.
E’en sometimes the good Homer naps.
Virgil, besides, composed his poem in a state remote from indigence,
where he was roused to exertion by the example of several contemporary
poets; and what must have animated him beyond every other consideration,
he wrote both at the desire, and under the patronage of the emperor and
his minister Mecaenas. In what time Homer composed either of his poems,
we know not; but the Aeneid, we are informed, was the employment of
Virgil during eleven years. For some years, the repeated entreaties of
Augustus could not extort from him the smallest specimen of the work; but
at length, when considerably advanced in it, he condescended to recite
three books–the second, the fourth, and the sixth–in the presence of
the emperor and his sister Octavia, to gratify the latter of whom, in
particular, the recital of the last book now mentioned, was intended.
When the poet came to the words, Tu Marcellus eris, alluding to Octavia’s
son, a youth of great hopes, who had lately died, the mother fainted.
After she had recovered from this fit, by the care of her attendants, she
ordered ten sesterces to be given to Virgil for every line relating (171)
to that subject; a gratuity which amounted to about two thousand pounds
In the composition of the Aeneid, Virgil scrupled not to introduce whole
lines of Homer, and of the Latin poet Ennius; many of whose sentences he
admired. In a few instances he has borrowed from Lucretius. He is said
to have been at extraordinary pains in polishing his numbers; and when he
was doubtful of any passage, he would read it to some of his friends,
that he might have their opinion. On such occasions, it was usual with
him to consult in particular his freedman and librarian Erotes, an old
domestic, who, it is related, supplied extempore a deficiency in two
lines, and was desired by his master to write them in the manuscript.
When this immortal work was completed, Virgil resolved on retiring into
Greece and Asia for three years, that he might devote himself entirely to
polishing it, and have leisure afterwards to pass the remainder of his
life in the cultivation of philosophy. But meeting at Athens with
Augustus, who was on his return from the East, he determined on
accompanying the emperor back to Rome. Upon a visit to Megara, a town in
the neighbourhood of Athens, he was seized with a languor, which
increased during the ensuing voyage; and he expired a few days after
landing at Brundisium, on the 22nd of September, in the fifty-second year
of his age. He desired that his body might be carried to Naples, where
he had passed many happy years; and that the following distich, written
in his last sickness, should be inscribed upon his tomb:
Mantua me genuit: Calabri rapuere: tenet nunc
Parthenope: cecini pascua, rura, duces. 
He was accordingly interred, by the order of Augustus, with great funeral
pomp, within two miles of Naples, near the road to Puteoli, where his
tomb still exists. Of his estate, which was very considerable by the
liberality of his friends, he left the greater part to Valerius Proculus
and his brother, a fourth to Augustus, a twelfth to Mecaenas, besides
legacies to L. Varius and Plotius Tucca, who, in consequence of his own
request, and the command of Augustus, revised and corrected the Aeneid
after his death. Their instructions from the emperor were, to expunge
whatever they thought improper, but upon no account to make any addition.
This restriction is supposed to be the cause that many lines in the
Aeneid are imperfect.
Virgil was of large stature, had a dark complexion, and his (172)
features are said to have been such as expressed no uncommon abilities.
He was subject to complaints of the stomach and throat, as well as to
head-ache, and had frequent discharges of blood upwards: but from what
part, we are not informed. He was very temperate both in food and wine.
His modesty was so great, that at Naples they commonly gave him the name
of Parthenias, “the modest man.” On the subject of his modesty; the
following anecdote is related.
Having written a distich, in which he compared Augustus to Jupiter, he
placed it in the night-time over the gate of the emperor’s palace. It
was in these words:
Nocte pluit tota, redeunt spectacula mane:
Divisum imperium cum Jove Caesar habet.
All night it rained, with morn the sports appear,
Caesar and Jove between them rule the year.
By order of Augustus, an inquiry was made after the author; and Virgil
not declaring himself, the verses were claimed by Bathyllus, a
contemptible poet, but who was liberally rewarded on the occasion.
Virgil, provoked at the falsehood of the impostor, again wrote the verses
on some conspicuous part of the palace, and under them the following
Hos ego versiculos feci, tulit alter honorem;
I wrote the verse, another filched the praise;
with the beginning of another line in these words:
Sic vos, non vobis,
Not for yourselves, you—-
repeated four times. Augustus expressing a desire that the lines should
be finished, and Bathyllus proving unequal to the task, Virgil at last
filled up the blanks in this manner:
Sic vos, non vobis, nidificatis, aves;
Sic vos, non vobis, vellera fertis, oves;
Sic vos, non vobis, mellificatis, apes;
Sic vos, non vobis, fertis aratra, boves.
Not for yourselves, ye birds, your nests ye build;
Not for yourselves, ye sheep, your fleece ye yield;
Not for yourselves, ye bees, your cells ye fill;
Not for yourselves, ye beeves, ye plough and till.
The expedient immediately evinced him to be the author of the distich,
and Bathyllus became the theme of public ridicule.
When at any time Virgil came to Rome, if the people, as was commonly the
case, crowded to gaze upon him, or pointed at him with the finger in
admiration, he blushed, and stole away (173) from them; frequently taking
refuge in some shop. When he went to the theatre, the audience
universally rose up at his entrance, as they did to Augustus, and
received him with the loudest plaudits; a compliment which, however
highly honourable, he would gladly have declined. When such was the just
respect which they paid to the author of the Bucolics and Georgics, how
would they have expressed their esteem, had they beheld him in the
effulgence of epic renown! In the beautiful episode of the Elysian
fields, in the Aeneid, where he dexterously introduced a glorious display
of their country, he had touched the most elastic springs of Roman
enthusiasm. The passion would have rebounded upon himself, and they
would, in the heat of admiration, have idolized him.
HORACE was born at Venusia, on the tenth of December, in the consulship
of L. Cotta and L. Torquatus. According to his own acknowledgment, his
father was a freedman; by some it is said that he was a collector of the
revenue, and by others, a fishmonger, or a dealer in salted meat.
Whatever he was, he paid particular attention to the education of his
son, for, after receiving instruction from the best masters in Rome, he
sent him to Athens to study philosophy. From this place, Horace followed
Brutus, in the quality of a military tribune, to the battle of Philippi,
where, by his own confession, being seized with timidity, he abandoned
the profession of a soldier, and returning to Rome, applied himself to
the cultivation of poetry. In a short time he acquired the friendship of
Virgil and Valerius, whom he mentions in his Satires, in terms of the
most tender affection.
Postera lux oritur multo gratissima: namque
Plotius et Varius Sinuessae, Virgiliusque,
Occurrunt; animae, quales neque candidiores
Terra tulit, neque queis me sit devinctior alter.
O qui complexus, et gaudia quanta fuerunt!
Nil ego contulerim jucundo sanus amico.–Sat. I. 5.
Next rising morn with double joy we greet,
For Plotius, Varius, Virgil, here we meet:
Pure spirits these; the world no purer knows,
For none my heart with more affection glows:
How oft did we embrace, our joys how great!
For sure no blessing in the power of fate
Can be compared, in sanity of mind,
To friends of such companionable kind.–Francis.
By the two friends above mentioned, he was recommended to the patronage
not only of Mecaenas, but of Augustus, with whom he, as well as Virgil,
lived on a footing of the greatest intimacy. Satisfied with the luxury
which he enjoyed at the first tables in (174) Rome, he was so unambitious
of any public employment, that when the emperor offered him the place of
his secretary, he declined it. But as he lived in an elegant manner,
having, besides his house in town, a cottage on his Sabine farm, and a
villa at Tibur, near the falls of the Anio, he enjoyed, beyond all doubt.
a handsome establishment, from the liberality of Augustus. He indulged
himself in indolence and social pleasure, but was at the same time much
devoted to reading; and enjoyed a tolerable good state of health,
although often incommoded with a fluxion of rheum upon the eyes.
Horace, in the ardour of youth, and when his bosom beat high with the
raptures of fancy, had, in the pursuit of Grecian literature, drunk
largely, at the source, of the delicious springs of Castalia; and it
seems to have been ever after his chief ambition, to transplant into the
plains of Latium the palm of lyric poetry. Nor did he fail of success:
Exegi monumentum aere perennius.–Carm. iii. 30.
More durable than brass a monument I’ve raised.
In Greece, and other countries, the Ode appears to have been the most
ancient, as well as the most popular species of literary production.
Warm in expression, and short in extent, it concentrates in narrow bounds
the fire of poetical transport: on which account, it has been generally
employed to celebrate the fervours of piety, the raptures of love, the
enthusiasm of praise; and to animate warriors to glorious exertions of
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