Virgil is one the most misquoted people on instagram, making his name quite familiar for all the wrong reasons.   Years ago, I got my copy his Aeneid. The last time I heard of Virgil was while reading Dante’s Divine Comedy last year. And I thought, although many of us are familiar with Greek mythology mainly through Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, we are not as familiar with Roman mythology and mainly Virgil’s epic masterpiece The Aeneid.

Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil) was born on 15/10/70 BC. He was an ancient Roman poet during the Augustan period (27 BC–AD 14). He wrote  three of the most famous poems in Latin literature: The Eclogues or Bucolics,  The Georgics , and the epic The Aeneid along with a number of minor poems.

In his first work, The Eclogues or Bucolics (meaning a draft or a selection), Virgil created a Roman version of Greek Bucolic poetry with ten pieces about herdsmen in rural settings. The book reflected feelings of suffering, growth, love, happiness and sadness. This work made Virgil a celebrity in his own lifetime.

His second work, The Georgics he discusses agriculture; but far from being an example of peaceful rural poetry, it is a work characterised by tensions in both theme and purpose.

In 29 BC, Emperor Augustus ordered Virgil’s third piece of work. The one that we all know as The Aeneid. It has been considered the National Epic  of ancient Rome ever since it was composed. Modeled after Homer‘s Iliad and Odyssey, The Aeneid follows the Trojan refugee Aeneas as he struggles to fulfill his destiny and reach Italy, where his descendants Romulus and Remus were to found the city of Rome.

Ancient commentators noted that Virgil did not only get his story inspired from Homer’s works but he seems to divide the Aeneid’s twelve parts into two sections ; the first six parts similar to the Odyssey while the last six were connected to the Iliad.

Virgil kept working on the piece and made sure to visit Greece regularly for further edits. In September  19 BC while travelling to Greece, he fell sick on the way and died. Virgil had previously asked that The Aeneid be burnt after his death. However, Emperor Augustus disregarded Virgil‘s own wish and requested it be published with as few editorial changes as possible.

The high importance associated to this poet is justified in my opinion and that of historians. Virgil’s works do not only provide a holistic historical, cultural and contextual reference to one of the most important eras in history but also provided a concrete and standard texts of Latin which was used later to educate Romans and all other civilizations speaking Latin derived languages afterwards. Thus affecting the documentation, perpetuity and continuity of the language.  Virgil also inspired important writers like Ovid and Dante who are considered cornerstones of literature until our time.

Virgil, The Aeneid cover (amazon.com)

Book review by booksbyhala