Virgil published his first poems in 38. He called them eclogues (“selections”). In them rural shepherds talk about love, politics, ambition, and fame. In the last eclogue, Virgil describes rural
Over the next ten years Virgil worked on his next long poem, the Georgics (On Farming) and published it in 28. In it he follows Hesiod’s Works and Days by discussing ways of raising plants and animals and creating a successful farm. Virgil wrote this in days when more and more farmers were being driven off the land.
Virgil’s most important work, the epic poem Aeneid, features a prince of
The first half of the epic, like the Odyssey, describes a long difficult journey. The story begins with Aeneas fleeing the burning city of
The second half of the epic, like the Iliad, describes battle and rage. Once in Latinia, Aeneas becomes engaged to a princess already promised in marriage to a king named Turnus. Battles follow, the history of
Virgil died of a fever on September 21, 19 BC, in the
After Virgil’s death, his Aeneid became required reading for generations of Roman children. It served as their shared story as a nation, splendidly linking them to the gods and the legendary Homer, explaining the wars between Rome and Carthage, justifiying the rule of the Caesars, and teaching them good stout virtues like devotion to duty. At the same time it linked growth in power and fulfillment of destiny with the death of others and the loss of one’s humanity. Later poets like Ovid refer to his poems in theirs.
The Aeneid remained the most significant poem in Latin for centuries. In his Divine Comedy, Dante has Virgil guide him through Hell and Purgatory before he follows Beatrice through Heaven.