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to the young Octavian, who after a show of opposition soon joined him. The battle of Philippi in 42 B.c. put an end to Republican hopes, and Sextus Pompeius, who held out at sea with the last remnant,' was finally defeated in 36 B. C. Meanwhile there was a new breach: Antony had retired into the East, and leagued himself with Cleopatra in Egypt, and there arose a real danger of a split into an Eastern and a Western empire. Cautiously, by diplomacy and treaties, Octavian kept this threat at bay and finally, when his position was secure and his power strengthened, he met Antony at the naval battle of Actium 31 B. C. and completely defeated him. At last the struggle of thirty years was over, and Augustus,—as he was soon after called—was left in undisputed supremacy and could turn to the work of establishing the new constitution, settling the provinces in peace, and inaugurating a new epoch in the history of Rome.
A boy brought up at Rome during those early years could hardly have escaped from the atmosphere of political struggle and the more terrible dread of civil war. If he were of a poetic turn of mind and a peaceful disposition, he could only have prayed, as Lucretius did, that Mars might be soothed to lay aside his arms for a while and sleep. But Virgil's boyhood was passed far enough away from Rome for the echo of the struggle to be dimmed, and the circumstances of his parentage and life gave other and permanent directions to his thoughts. He was born, so his biographer tells us, at the small village of Andes, near Mantua. His father was the hired servant of one Magius, a travelling merchant, but his industry had enabled him to acquire a little property, on which he kept bees, and ultimately to marry his master's daughter. (Can her name Magia have had something to do with the subsequent legends of Virgil's power as a magician ?) His earliest years were thus spent in country occupations and among country sights and sounds, but his father was ambitious for him and sent him to school at Cremona: there on his fifteenth birthday he took the toga virilis, and legend says that it was the day on which Lucretius died. Thence he went to Milan and to Naples, where so much of his later life was spent.
All this is remote enough from politics and even if, as some modern writers have supposed, Virgil early made the acquaintance of the young Octavius, brought on a visit by Caesar to the neighbourhood of Mantua, he does not seem to have been touched as yet by the interest of public affairs. He progressed rapidly in his studies and early showed a liking for philosophy. Certain poems have come down to us as the work of his youth, and in those which can be accepted as genuine we may recognize something of his later powers and a certain playfulness which died away in after years.
Coining at last to Rome Virgil soon made the acquaintance of men of letters and persons on the fringe of politics. The school of poetry then prevalent was under the influence of the late Greek literature of Alexandria; its ideal was style and polish, its themes mostly romantic or didactic, but in practice it was marred by pedantry and affectation. Of this school there were strong adherents among Virgil's new friends in C. Asinius Pollio and C. Cornelius Gallus, who had modelled himself on the Alexandrian poet Euphorion, and may have been the author of a short and pedantic poem in the epic manner called the Ciris, which has come down to us as Virgil's own. The influence of the Alexandrine school gave Virgil for ever his sense of form and largely determined the setting of his poetry, but he seems from the first to have preserved himself instinctively from its excesses and its dullnesses.
Meanwhile the political storm had burst, and though Virgil, then in his early ' twenties', and probably not yet at Rome, may have been untouched by the contest of Julius Caesar with the Republicans, the second outburst, after Caesar's murder, affected him directly. Octavian, after the victory of Philippi in 42 B. c, settled many of his veterans in the northern provinces of Italy, and for this purpose ejected existing owners. Virgil was either expelled, or threatened with expulsion from his father's estate, and was only restored by the good offices of his friends Pollio and Varus, and of another and still greater friend, C. Cilnius Maecenas, destined to be Octavian's chief adviser and the patron of the band of poets who gathered round the new court.
Virgil's first published work, The Eclogues or Bucolics, which dates from about 37 B. C, is largely the natural outcome of his own experience. Its form is Alexandrine, for it is closely modelled on the Idylls of Theocritus, the poet of Sicilian shepherd-life. He has put into it something of his feeling at the death of the 'divine' Julius (Ecl. V), of his admiration for Octavian and his gratitude for his generosity (Ecl. I), and of his great hopes for a new era which should dawn on the world at the birth of Octavian's child (Ecl. IV). Of his personal friends Pollio figures in Ecl. IV and VIII, Gallus in VI and X, and Varus in VI and IX, quaintly mixed up often with Sicilo-Italian shepherds. His own leaning to philosophy, and in particular to epicureanism, finds its place even in a rustic story (VI), and the loss and recovery of his farm are the thinly-disguised subject of the first poem. But over all this curious medley of themes and interests the genuine love of country and country-life, which are the inheritance of his early years, comes out supreme and almost succeeds in welding the incongruous elements into a consistent series of uniform pictures.
During the years of Octavian's struggle with Antony it seems that Virgil spent much of his time at Naples, in the latter years meditating and writing his next great work; for when Octavian returned in 29 B. C, after the battle of Actium and the conquest of the East, we are told that Virgil met him at Atella and recited to him the Georgics, In the Georgics we find the Virgil of the Eclogues but greatly strengthened and developed. He is now in every way more independent, as becomes the acknowledged poet. There is no mention of his lesser patrons, and though the work was dedicated to Maecenas, his addresses to Caesar are now direct. Alexandrine influence led him no doubt to the choice of a didactic subject, and while his ostensible model is the old Greek poet Hesiod, he really owes more in substance and diction to the Alexandrian astronomical poets, Aratus and Eratosthenes. But the particular didactic subject is his own: he revels in the details of the farmer's life and works, and has put all the experience of his own boyhood into it. Above all, his political outlook has broadened. We can hardly believe the tradition that the Georgics was written to support Octavian's schemes for the revival of Italian agriculture (what peasant or wouldbe farmer would read it ?), but there is a new spirit of wide patriotism breathing in his famous praises of Italy, and we feel that his sense of Rome's greatness and her mission is fast becoming a religion.
It was indeed this religion which was the inspiring motive of the Aeneid, which occupied Virgil for the last ten years of his life and was even left unfinished at his death. The poem must be more fully dealt with below, but here we may just observe how it was the culmination of what had gone before. Virgil has shaken himself free of patronage—if the figure of Augustus is always looming in the background, it is not as his personal friend, but as the embodiment and the hope of Rome's new greatness. Religion, literature, and history are all pressed into the service of this new ideal; Greek and Roman poets alike are called on to suggest themes and situations and phrases, but he is no longer dependent on them. He has in fact under the supreme inspiration of his life created a new form of poetry.
Dissatisfied with his efforts he wrote and rewrote, and when, on his return from a visit to Greece in 19 B. C, he felt himself to be on his deathbed, he asked again and again for his manuscript that he might destroy it. Refused by his friends, he left directions for its burning in his will, but his executors, with Augustus's sanction, disregarded his instructions and published the poem. His body was taken to his beloved Naples, and his tomb was for many generations the object of veneration and, it was believed, the scene of miracles.
The details which we possess of Virgil's life are few, but with the help of the evidence given by the poems themselves, they enable us to form a fairly clear picture. The main feature of the picture is perhaps an ever-growing detachment alike from the traditions of poetry and the influence of his surroundings. As he shakes off the fetters of the Alexandrine school, . while preserving all that was good in it, so he rises to a higher and higher view of his own mission and of the meaning of the great events among which he lived. We may try to complete the picture with some personal details which ancient writers have handed down to us. Virgil is said to have been tall and largely built, dark in colouring, and boorish in appearance. His health was uncertain and he suffered much from headache. He was abstemious in habit and modest in demeanour, so that at Naples he was given the nickname of Parthenius (the Girl). He was kindly and wholly free from jealousy; and 'when he saw anything well said by another, he rejoiced as if it were his own': he was liberal and generous, and allowed other scholars and poets to make free use of his library, quoting Euripides' dictum that'friends should have all things in common'. His method of composition was laborious, and it is said that when he was writing the Georgics he used every day to dictate a number of verses, and then spend the rest of the day going over them and cutting them down to the smallest limits: the Aeneid he is said to have sketched out in prose and then to have worked indifferently at any part of it moulding it into its poetical shape until the whole poem was completed. He was a bad speaker and is said only once to have undertaken to plead a cause. There must then, have been in his character something of the same tender, yet half-melancholy, attractiveness which we find in his poetry;