Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Classical Dictionary. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 15 April 2021


, 70–19 BCE
  • Don P. Fowler
  •  and Peta G. Fowler

Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro (70–19 bce), Roman poet. The contemporary spelling of Virgil's name was with an e: the first occurrence with an i is on an honorific inscription to Claudian in Greek (CIL 6. 1710 = ILS 1. 2949). Virgil is traditional in English, but the slightly historicizing Vergil is preferred by some modern critics. Virgil and his friends in any case punned on virgo, a virgin (G. 4. 564, perhaps 1. 430, Donatus (1) 's ‘Life’ of Virgil 11). Varius Rufus is said to have written on Virgil (Quint. 10. 3. 8) and there were other accounts by friends and acquaintances (cf. Gell. GelliusNA 17. 10. 2): the extant lives go back in part to Suetonius , De poetis Much (but not all) of the information in them derives from interpretation of the poems (including the spurious ones in the Appendix Vergiliana ), and few details, however circumstantial, can be regarded as certain.

Nevertheless, Virgil is said to have been born on 15 October 70 bce in Andes, a village near Mantua . Macrobius (Sat. 5. 2. 1) says that he was ‘born in the Veneto of country parents and brought up amongst the woods and shrubs’, and his father is variously described as a potter and a courier who married the boss's daughter (Vit. Don. 1), but the real status of the family is uncertain. His mother was a Magia: both the gentes (see gens ) covered a spectrum of social levels. Virgil is said to have been educated in Cremona and Milan ( Mediolanum ) before coming to Rome (Vit. Don. 7) and the family would clearly have had to be sufficiently well-off for such an education to be feasible. At some stage Virgil was associated with the Epicurean (see epicurus ) community in Naples ( Neapolis ; see M. Gigante, Stud. Ital.1989, 3–6: his name appears in a papyrus from Herculaneum with Plotius Tucca , Varius Rufus, and P. Quinctilius Varus ); Catalepton 5 and 8, if either genuine or based on a sound biographical tradition, have him fleeing from the normal rhetorical education of a Roman to Epicurean retirement (cf. G. 4. 563–4, where he is again (?) enjoying otium, leisure, in Naples).

After the defeat of the tyrannicides in 42 bce, Octavian (see augustus ) attempted to settle members of his army on confiscated land (see proscription ), a controversial move which led to the Perusine War (see perusia ): full-scale war between Antony ( M. Antonius(2) ) and Octavian was only narrowly (and temporarily) avoided by the treaty of Brundisium in 40 bce. Virgil's first collection of poems, the Eclogues, probably appeared around 39–38 bce (controversial: see R. J. Tarrant and G. W. Bowersock in Harv. Stud.1978, 197–202) in the midst of the turmoil: the confiscations are a central topic in Eclogues 1 and 9. In the first poem, a slave Tityrus says that he has to thank a young man for freedom and security (1. 42): in the context of the times, this can only be Octavian. Other poems mention a Varus (6. 7, 9. 27), presumably the jurist P. Alfenus Varus , suffect consul 39 bce, C. Asinius Pollio (4. 12, and probably the addressee of 8—for the controversy, see Tarrant and Bowersock), consul 40 bce, one of Antony's most important supporters and an architect of the Peace of Brundisium, and the important eques and poet C. Cornelius Gallus (6. 64–73, 10 passim). These three men are said to have been involved in the distribution of land, though the arrangements are uncertain and the Virgilian commentators our only source (cf. MRR 2. 377–8). The biographical tradition says that Virgil's father's land was amongst the land confiscated, and some personal experience of loss is suggested by Ecl. 9. 27–9 ‘Mantua, all too near to unhappy Cremona’ and G. 2. 198 ‘the land unfortunate Mantua lost’, but it is impossible to know how many of the details derive from allegorical reading of the poems.

At some time after the publication of the Eclogues, Virgil entered the circle of Maecenas , and thus of the future Augustus. He is mentioned several times in the first book of *Horace'sSatires, published at the end of the decade; in 1. 6. 55 he is said to have introduced Horace to Maecenas, and in 1. 5 (40, 48) he is described as joining the ‘journey to Brundisium’. The dramatic date of the latter poem is 38 or 37, depending on which of the two possible diplomatic missions it is associated with (cf. I. M. Le M. DuQuesnay, in T. Woodman and D. West, Poetry and Politics in the Age of Augustus (1984), 39–43). In the concluding satire of the book (1. 10. 45, cf. 81) Virgil is one of the poets whose achievements Horace contrasts with his own: ‘to Virgil the Muses who delight in the countryside have granted tenderness and charm’ (molle atque facetum, trans. P. M. Brown). The sixteenth of Horace's Epodes (Iambi), also published at the end of the 30s, parodies Ecl. 4 in a context which highlights the violent alternation of hope and despair which characterized the decade.

The publication of Virgil's second major work, the Georgics, is usually dated to 29 bce; the battle of Actium (31 bce) is referred to in Georgics 3. 28–9 and according to the Donatus life, Virgil read the poem to Octavian ‘after his return from the victory at Actium’ (Vit. Don. 27): Octavian reached Italy in the summer of 29 bce, and celebrated a great ‘triple triumph’ in August of that year, though the description of his achievements as depicted on the metaphorical temple at the opening of Georgic 3 (26–39) can plausibly be dated before or after this triumph. There was a story that the work had originally ended with praise of Cornelius Gallus, which was removed after his fall and suicide in 26 bce (Servius on Ecl. 10. 1; G. 4. 1) but this is unlikely to be true (J. Griffin, Latin Poets and Roman Life (1985), 180–2).

Like the Eclogues, the Georgics are a constant presence in the poetry of the 20s bce, but by the time that the final poem of Propertius ' second (?) book of elegies is published some time after Gallus' death (2. 34. 91–2), ‘something greater than the Iliad is being brought to birth’ (2. 34. 66), that is, the Aeneid. Macrobius quotes a letter from Virgil to Augustus declining to send any samples as more work is needed; this may be a reply to the letter of Augustus quoted at Vit. Don. 31 asking for a sketch or fragment, and to be dated to 27–25 bce since Augustus is described as away from Rome in Spain. It is possible, however, that more scepticism as to the genuineness of these letters is in order. Horace, Odes 1. 3 addresses a ship carrying a Vergilius to Greece; if this is taken to be Virgil, the bold enterprise of the ship's journey may also be read metapoetically of the vast undertaking of the Aeneid. The tradition claims that books 2 (or 3), 4, and 6 were recited to Augustus, the reference to the young M. Claudius Marcellus(5) in 6 causing Octavia (2) to faint (Vit. Don. 32; Servius on Aen. 4. 323, 6. 861); this episode, whether true or not, must be set after the death of Marcellus in 23 bce. Virgil himself, however, died in 19 bce, with the poem apparently felt to be unfinished: ‘in the 42nd year of his life, intending to finish the Aeneid, he decided to go off to Greece and Asia Minor, and to spend three straight years simply in correcting the poem, to leave the rest of his life free for philosophy. But when he had set out on his trip, he met Augustus in Athens returning to Rome from the east, and decided not to go off, and even to return with Augustus. He visited a small town near Megara in very hot sun and caught a fever; this was made worse by his continued journey, to the extent that he was somewhat sicker when he put into Brundisium, where he died on 20 September’ (Vit. Don. 35). He was buried at Naples ‘within the second milestone on the road to Puteoli ’ (Vit. Don. 36: this does not fit the tomb known to tradition), and is said to have composed his own epitaph on his death-bed:

Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc Parthenope; cecini pascua rura duces.

Mantua bore me, Calabria snatched me away, now

Naples holds me; I sang of pastures, fields, and kings.

Varius Rufus and Plotius Tucca were said to have ‘emended’ the Aeneid after Virgil's death, but without making any additions. The tradition also preserves the famous story that Virgil wished to burn the Aeneid on his death-bed: like everything else in the tradition, this may or may not be true.

Propertius' prophecy came to pass on the publication of the Aeneid: Virgil became the Roman Homer , the Aeneid in particular serving as the great Roman classic against which later epic poets and in a sense all Latin poets had to situate themselves (cf. P. Hardie, The Epic Successors of Vergil (1993), cf. e.g. Pliny, Ep. 3. 7. 8 on Silius' veneration). Schoolboys studied it, even in Roman Egypt (R. Cavenaile, Corpus Papyrorum Latinorum (1958), 7–70), and its opening words became a common graffito on the walls of Pompeii (R. P. Hoogma, Der Einfluss Vergils auf die Carmina Latina Epigraphica (1952)). Already in his lifetime Virgil is said to have been famous (Tac.Dial. 13. 3) and his friendship with the great brought him considerable wealth: according to Valerius Probus ' life (15–16) he was given ten million sesterces by Augustus (cf. Hor.Epist. 2. 1. 245–7 with Helenius Acro 's comm.). As with Homer, all human learning came to be seen as condensed in the Aeneid, a view which finds full expression in Macrobius' Saturnalia: the ancient biographical tradition already shows a tendency to see Virgil as a theios anēr, a divine genius, and this became pronounced in the Middle Ages, with the legends of Virgil the Magician (D. Comparetti, Vergil in the Middle Ages (1997; It. orig. 1885), with new introduction by J. M. Ziolkowski) The text of the Aeneid was consulted as an oracle in the sortes Vergilianae (cf. SHAHadr. 2. 8).

A number of portraits of Virgil are known (Enc. Virg. V** 103–4; see below, bibliography after Enc. Virg.): there is no reason to believe that any are based on a genuine likeness, but the tradition describes him as a valetudinarian who never married and preferred sex with boys (variously identified amongst the characters of the poems). All of this, naturally, tells us more about Roman constructions of gender and culture than about ‘the man Virgil’.

The Literary works

The Eclogues If any of the poems in the Appendix Vergiliana are genuine (which is unlikely), they may have been juvenilia, but essentially Virgil enters world literature with his first collection, the Eclogues, published probably around 39–38 bce (see above): ten short hexameter poems (the longest is 111 lines long) in the pastoral genre. The original title was Bucolica, ‘cowherd songs’ (Eclogae, N. Horsfall, BICS1981, 108); eclogae means ‘selections (from a larger corpus)’ and it is unfortunate that a version of this later title has become usual in English. Bucolica as a title signals a clear allusion to pastoral (in Greek ta bukolika) and to Theocritus in particular (cf. the refrain ‘begin the bucolic song’ in Idyll 1; in Moschus 3. 11 the pastoral poet Bion is called a cowherd, boukolos), and the collection makes constant reference to Theocritus' Idylls: commentators note four separate echoes in the first line. But the intertextuality with earlier Roman poetry is as dense: the opening lines are also significantly Lucretian (cf. G. Castelli, RSC1966, 313–42; 1967, 14–39; see lucretius ) and the ‘Song of Silenus’ in the sixth poem seems to interact with a broad selection of contemporary poetry, hints of only some of which are we able to pick up (cf. P. E. Knox, Ovid's Metamorphoses and the Tradition of Augustan Poetry (1986), 11–26).

This combination of the Greek and the Roman, the ancient and the contemporary, and the rustic and the sophisticated is typical of the collection as a whole. Although we do not know exactly in what form the poems of Theocritus and the other bucolic poets circulated in Rome, it is likely that any edition included both the strictly pastoral poems like the first idyll, urban mimes like 15, and the encomiastic poems 16 and 17. In one sense, Virgil carries this mixture further: just as Theocritus addresses his friend Nicias in the frame of Idyll 11, Virgil addresses Varus in 6 (though there Virgil is called ‘Tityrus’ himself by Apollo) and Pollio (?) in 8, but his contemporaries also make an appearance within the bucolic setting (3. 84–91, 6. 64–73, 9. 47, 10 passim). Idyll 7, the nearest equivalent in Theocritus, is much less explicit. In another sense, however, Virgil is more consistently pastoral: the encomiastic birth poem 4, explicitly paulo maiora, ‘a little greater (in theme)’, is still more consistently pastoral than Theocritus 16 or 17 (cf. Ecl. 4. 3, 21–2, 42–5, 55–9).

The ten poems are intricately arranged around the central poem 5; the first and ninth poems deal with the subject of the land confiscations, 2 and 8 contain long laments by star-crossed lovers, 3 and 7 are both ‘ amoebean ’ with exchanges of song, and 4 and 6 are the most obviously ‘elevated’ of the collection. Poem 5, another amoebean exchange, describes the apotheosis of Daphnis; 10 concludes the collection with Cornelius Gallus taking on the role of dying lover played by Daphnis in Theocritus, Idyll 1. Some supplement this patterning with numerological correspondences, of varying suggestiveness (cf. J. Van Sickle, The Design of Virgil's Bucolics (1978)); certainly Eclogue 4, which is 63 (9×7) lines long, is structured around the magical number seven, but this has special point in relation to its oracular tone and subject-matter. The collection equally responds, however, to a serial reading. There is a clear movement from the first poem, where Tityrus describes how his land was saved, to the ninth, where Moeris says that he was not so fortunate: ‘our poems, Lycidas, have as much power amongst the weapons of Mars as they say the Chaonian doves have when the eagle comes’ (9. 11–13, with a pun on the ‘eagle’ of the legionary standard; for the doves see dodona and cf. chaones ). Poem 6 opens with a ‘proem in the middle’ (cf. G. B. Conte, YClS1992, 147–59) which echoes the opening of Callimachus (3) 's Aetia and establishes the pastoral deductum carmen, ‘fine-spun song’, as the equivalent to Callimachus' ‘slender muse’ (Ecl. 6. 5, cf. 6. 8). At the end of the collection, Gallus gives in to love (10. 69), the poet rises from his pastoral ease in the shade (75–6), and the goats are told to go home, now fed to satiety (77).

As this suggests, the Eclogues are highly ‘artificial’ and metaliterary, and the relation of the world of song to the world outside is a central concern. Virgil toys with a variety of partial identifications in the poems: in 5. 86–7 Menalcas claims to have written Eclogues 2 and 3 and in 9. 10 Lycidas says that the same character ‘saved all with his poems’ but Apollo calls the narrator Tityrus in 6. 4 and it is not hard to see him in the idle singer of an empty day in the first poem (cf. G. 565–6); in a broader sense he is also the helpless Corydon of 2 and the magical Silenus (see satyrs and silens ) of 6. Interwoven with and inseparable from the literary texture are the celebrated descriptive passages that so appealed to Romantic enthusiasts like Samuel Palmer, the buzzing bees and cool springs of the pastoral world (cf. e.g. 1. 51–8). The union of the two was an inheritance from Theocritus which Virgil passed on to the west, particularly through Renaissance imitators like Mantuan and especially Sannazaro; although ‘Arcadia’ is mentioned only rarely in the poems (7. 4, 26, 10. 31, 33, cf. 4. 58–9, 10. 26) and its significance is disputed (B. Snell, The Discovery of the Mind, trans. T. G. Rosenmeyer, ch. 13; D. Kennedy, Hermathena1984, 47–59; R. Jenkyns, JRS1989, 26–39), the Eclogues came to signify Arcady as a place where poetry and love meet with or avoid the worlds of politics, cities, and empires.

One of the Eclogues came to have particular significance for later readers: Eclogue 4, with its description of the birth of a child whose lifetime will see a return of the world to the golden age . There were several possible candidates for the identification of the child even for contemporary readers (cf. E. Coleiro, An Introduction to Vergil's Bucolics with an Edition of the Text (1979), 222–32: the modern favourite is an anticipated son of M. Antonius(2) and Octavia, a hope already dashed by the time of the Eclogues' publication), but the poem can equally be read as a broader allegory of renewal; Christian readers naturally saw reference to the birth of Jesus (cf. Coleiro, 232–3; Constantine, Oratio ad sanctum coetum 19–21, PL, 8. 454–66). The influence of Jewish messianic writing on the poem is nowhere a required hypothesis, but is not in itself unlikely (cf. R. G. M. Nisbet, BICS1978, 59–78). See pastoral poetry, greek and latin .

The Georgics

Virgil's call to himself to ‘rise’ at the end of the Eclogues (10. 75 surgamus) was answered by a rise in generic level with his next work, the Georgics, a didactic poem in four books on farming (book 1: crops, book 2: trees and shrubs, book 3: livestock, book 4: bees). Again there are Hellenistic Greek models: little can be said of the lost Georgica of Nicander (fragments in A. F. S. Gow and A. F. Scholfield, Nicander (1953), 145–61), but it is clear even from the fragments that we have of Callimachus' Aetia that that was an important model (four-book structure, and especially the links between the proem to the third and conclusion to the fourth book of each work: R. F. Thomas, CQ1983, 92–113) and Aratus (1) 's Phaenomena was both a central Hellenistic text (translated by Cicero and P. Terentius Varro Atacinus ) and of particular relevance to the discussion of weather in book 1 (cf. also the translation of a passage from Eratosthenes at G 1. 233–51). But there was also now an important archaic model in *Hesiod'sWorks and Days (cf. 2. 176 Ascraeum…carmen, ‘Hesiodic song’), and the relationship to Lucretius' De rerum natura is so central that the Georgics may be seen as an anti-Lucretius (cf. P. R. Hardie, Virgil's Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium (1986), 157–67, and in general J. Farrell, Vergil's Georgics and the Traditions of Ancient Epic (1991)). Lucretius' confident exposition of the power of reason is ‘remythologized’ into a more sceptical and yet more accepting attitude towards the natural world and its traditional divinities (2. 490–4).

Just as Aratus' Phaenomena had been based on a prose treatise of Eudoxus (1) and the De rerum natura on Epicurean texts, especially the Letter to Herodotus, so the Georgics also have important prose models, though none is as central as in those texts. Virgil's sources for the agricultural lore were various (L. A. Jermyn, G&R1949, 50) but the most significant was *Varro'sRes rusticae, published in 37 bce and influential especially in books 3 and 4 (but note also Rust. 1. 1. 4–7 with the opening invocation of the gods in G. 1. 8–23, and Rust. 1. 69. 2–3 with the end of the first book). The didactic, narrator is portrayed as a saviour-sage, taking pity on ‘the farmers…ignorant of the path’ (1. 41, with Lucretian overtones: cf. Hardie, 158) but the practical advice avoids technical precision (in contrast to the fragments of Nicander) and the addressee is the extremely unrustic Maecenas (1. 2, 2. 41, 3. 41, 5. 2; cf. also L. P. Wilkinson, The Georgics of Virgil (1969), 52–5; S. Spurr, G&R1986, 171–5). As with the De rerum natura, the central concern is rather the place in the world of human beings and their possibilities of happiness.

In the established manner of didactic poetry , passages of direct instruction are interspersed with ‘digressions’, descriptive or reflective passages with a more figured relationship to the main theme, such as *Jupiter's paternal disruption of the golden age (1. 121–59) or the ‘praises of Italy’ (2. 136–77). In particular, on the Lucretian model, the concluding section of each book stands out: the troubles of Italy in 1 (464–514), the virtues of the country life in 2 (475–540), the Noric plague in 3 (478–566, imitating the end of the De rerum natura: for book 3 as a microcosm of that work, cf. M. Gale, CQ1991, 414–26), and especially the ‘ epyllion ’ of Aristaeus and Orpheus that ends book 4 (315–58). This last section dramatizes (but also in part deconstructs) the opposition between the successful conquest of nature through hard work (Aristaeus) and the pathos of loss and failure (Orpheus) which can be traced throughout the Georgics and which has led to a debate over the ‘optimism’ or ‘pessimism’ of the work which parallels similar disputes over the Aeneid (cf. D. O. Ross, Virgil's Elements (1987); C. Perkell, The Poet's Truth (1989); T. Habinek, in M. Griffith and D. J. Mastronarde (eds.), Cabinet of the Muses (1990), 209–23; and R. F. Thomas, CPhil.1991, 211–18). The contemporary relevance of this is reinforced by a constant comparison between the bee society of book 4 and Rome (cf. J. Griffin, Latin Poets (1985), 163–82).

The poem concludes with an epilogue (modelled in part on the conclusion to Callimachus' Aetia) in which Virgil contrasts Augustus' ‘thundering’ on the Euphrates (cf. R. F. Thomas and R. Scodel, AJPhil.1984, 339; J. Clauss, AJPhil.1988, 309–20) with his own easeful retirement in Naples (4. 559–64) and looks back to the Eclogues, depicted as the playful work of his youth (565–6). At the opening of Georgics 3 he had promised to write a political epic (3. 46–8), a familiar enough turn in the recusatio (refusal to handle a topic), but just as Callimachus at the end of the Aetia prophesies a move ‘down’ to the Iambi (fr. 112), so at the end of the Georgics we are left feeling that for Virgil the next move would be ‘up’ in the hierarchy of genres (cf. Farrell, Vergil's Georgics).


Virgil's final work was the Aeneid (in Latin Aeneis), an account in twelve books of hexameter verse of the flight of Aeneas from Troy and his battles in Italy against Turnus (1) to found a new home, the origin of Rome. As an epic , the Aeneid occupies the summit of ancient generic classification. Epic was the sustained narration of great events (‘kings and heroes’ according to Callimachus fr. 1) by an inspired, omniscient, but distanced narrator (see vates ); it was also the genre in which the anxiety of influence was greatest, since any epic was inevitably read against Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, by common consent the greatest poems of antiquity. Intertextuality with both poems is intense: the standard study takes 60 pages just to list the most obvious parallels (G. N. Knauer, Die Aeneis und Homer (1964), 371–431). The basic armature is that of the Odyssey (note also the focus on the hero in the title, though that has other implications: cf. Aristotle , Poetics 1451a 20): the first half of each epic describes the wanderings of the hero, the second his fight for victory in his home (cf. also the ‘overlap’ in the book-structure in the middle of each: Od. 13. 1–91 with Aen. 7. 1–36, and contrast Apollonius (1) Rhodius , 3. 1), and Aeneas is harried by Juno as Odysseus is by Poseidon , but the anger of Juno (cf. 1. 4, 11) also corresponds to the anger of Achilles (and Apollo) in the Iliad, and the end of the poem is more like the battle between Achilles and Hector in Iliad 22 than the killing of the suitors in Odyssey 22 (contraF. Cairns, Virgil's Augustan Epic (1989), 177–214). One may also contrast the first six books as ‘Odyssean’ with the second half as ‘Iliadic’ (cf. K. W. Gransden, Virgil's Second Iliad (1984): for a different version of this opposition, cf. D. Quint, Epic and Empire (1993)). But the correspondences with both epics go much further and much deeper (cf. Knauer, Aeneis; ANRW 2. 31. 2 (1981), 870–918; A. Barchiesi, La traccia del modello (1985); R. R. Schlunk, The Homeric Scholia and the Aeneid (1974)). The relationship is signalled in the famous opening words of the poem, arma virumque cano, ‘arms and the man I sing’, where ‘arms’ points to the Iliad, ‘man’ to the Odyssey (and ‘I sing’ perhaps to ‘Cyclic’ epic, cf. Ilias parva fr. 1).

Two other epics are also of importance: the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius (cf. D. P. Nelis, The Aeneid and the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius (2001)) and Ennius ' Annales (E. Norden (ed.), Aen. 6 (1926), 365–75; M. Wigodsky, Vergil and Early Latin Poetry (1972), 40–79). The relationship with Ennius is of great ideological significance (cf. G. B. Conte, The Rhetoric of Imitation (1986), 141–84). But the range of material whose traces may be interpreted in the Aeneid is vast: other earlier epics like Greek ‘cyclic’ epic (E. Christian Kopff, ANRW 2. 31. 2 (1981), 919–47; see epic cycle ) and Naevius ' Punica (M. Barchiesi, Nevio Epico (1962), 50–1 and passim), Greek and Roman tragedy (Wigodsky, 80–97; A. König, Die Aeneis und die griechische Tragödie (1970); P. Hardie, PVS1991, 29–45), Hellenistic poetry (W. Clausen, Virgil's Aeneid and the Tradition of Hellenistic Poetry (1987)), lyric and elegy (F. Cairns, 129–76), and many other genres (cf. N. Horsfall, G&R1991, 203–11). The Aeneid thus both preserves the narrower generic norms of epic and expands the genre towards the variety that critics like M. Bakhtin have reserved for the modern novel, a process taken further by Ovid (J. B. Solodow, The World of Ovid's Metamorphoses (1988), 25). The included genres maintain, however, their separate ideological implications.

Although the particular version of the Aeneas legend presented in the Aeneid has become canonical, the versions of the myth in the preceding tradition were many and varied (N. M. Horsfall, in J. N. Bremmer and N. M. Horsfall, Roman Myth and Mythography, BICS Suppl. 52 (1987), 12–24), and the reconstruction of the matrix of possibilities against which the Aeneid situates itself has always been a standard critical procedure (cf. esp. R. Heinze, Virgil's Epic Technique, trans. H. and D. Harvey and F. Robertson (1993); N. Horsfall, Virgilio: l'epopea in alambicco (1991)). It is clear that many of the details offered by Virgil were by no means the standard ones in his day, that his ‘sources’ were multiple, and that there was no compunction against free invention. The Aeneid is not therefore a ‘safe’ text to use for the investigation of early Latin history and cult. The story as told by Virgil takes the reader, as in the Odyssey, in medias res. Aeneas on his way to Italy is blown off course to North Africa by a storm instigated by Juno (book 1). There he meets Dido , and tells her the story of the fall of Troy (book 2) and his subsequent wanderings (book 3). He and Dido become lovers, and he forgets his mission; Mercury is sent to remind him, and his departure leads to Dido's tragic suicide (book 4). In book 5, the threat of another storm forces Aeneas to put into Sicily, where funeral games are celebrated for his dead father Anchises ; after Juno instigates the Trojan women to burn the ships, part of the group are left behind in Sicily and Anchises appears in a dream to urge Aeneas to visit the Sibyl of Cumae (near Naples). The first half of the epic concludes with the consultation of the Sibyl and their visit to the Underworld, where Aeneas meets his father and receives a vision of the future of Rome (book 6).

The events of the second half are described by Virgil as a ‘greater work’ (7. 44, maius opus). Landing in Latium, Aeneas sends a successful embassy of peace to the Latin king Latinus ; but Juno uses the Fury Allecto (see erinyes ) to stir up the young Rutulian king Turnus and Latinus' wife Amata to encourage war. Aeneas' son Iulus kills a pet stag while hunting, and from that small spark a full-blown war develops. Before battle commences we are given a catalogue of Italian forces (book 7). In book 8 Aeneas, advised by the god of the river Tiber in a dream, visits the Arcadian king Evander , who is living on the future site of Rome; Evander's young son Pallas (see pallas(2) ) joins the Trojan forces, and Aeneas receives a gift of armour from his mother Venus, including a shield which again depicts future events in the history of Rome, most notably the battle of Actium (book 8). In the succeeding books of fighting, emphasis falls on the terrible cost of the war, as the young lovers Nisus(2) and Euryalus die in a night expedition (book 9), Turnus kills Pallas, and Aeneas kills both the equally tragic youth Lausus and his father the evil Mezentius (book 10), and Turnus' ally the female warrior Camilla is killed by an arrow to her breast (book 11). Finally in book 12 Aeneas and Turnus meet in single combat, despite Juno's attempts to delay the duel; Aeneas is victorious, and hesitates over sparing Turnus until he sees the sword-belt that Turnus had taken from the dead Pallas. In a paroxysm of love and anger, he slaughters Turnus.

Throughout the Aeneid, as this summary suggests, there is a strong narrative teleology, reaching beyond the events of the story to the future Rome. ‘Fate’ is a central concept; it coincides with the will of Jupiter, though the exact relationship is kept vague (C. Bailey, Religion in Vergil (1935), 204–40). Juno, pained and angry at past events (1. 25–8), attempts always to retard the progress of the story, as a sort of ‘counter-fate’ (7. 294, 313–16). She is always doomed to failure; at the end of the epic she is reconciled to the fate of Aeneas (12. 808–28) but we know that this is only temporary (10. 11–15: D. Feeney, in Oxford Readings in Virgil's Aeneid (1990), 339–62). Onto the opposition between the king and queen (1. 9) of heaven may be projected many other oppositions in the poem: heaven and hell, order and disorder, reason and emotion, success and failure, future and past, epic and tragedy. The treatment of these oppositions has been the central issue in the criticism of the Aeneid. It is clear that although many of them coincide, the contrast is never absolute: if Juno naturally turns to Allecto and the underworld (7. 312), Jupiter god of the bright sky (1. 253) also uses the infernal Dirae (see erinyes ) as the instruments of his wrath (12. 849–52); if Aeneas like Hercules (cf. 8. 299, contrast 2. 314) represents reason and self-control, he also concludes the epic with an act of passion (12. 946–7). It is possible to see these inconsistencies as ‘energising contradictions’ (C. Martindale, Redeeming the Text (1993), 51) which forge a successful viewpoint on the world; or to see them as undermining or subverting the claims to dominance of Roman order, as in the ‘two-voices’ school of criticism that came to prominence in Harvard in the 1960s (cf. A. Parry, Arion1963, 66–80; W. Clausen, Harv. Stud. 1964, 139–47; M. C. J. Putnam, The Poetry of the Aeneid (1965); R. O. A. M. Lyne, Further Voices in Vergil's Aeneid (1987)); or more generally to see the oppositions (like all oppositions) as inherently unstable and liable to deconstruction. Naturally, simple appeal to the text or its historical setting cannot settle which of these approaches is adopted.

Three particular aspects of the debate may, however, be mentioned. First, the opposition between Jupiter and Juno is a gendered one, and many of the other contrasts drawn relate to ancient (and modern) conceptions of typically male or female characteristics, such as reason and emotion. Women in the Aeneid feature predominantly as suffering victims opposed to the progress of history (Juno, Dido, Amata, Camilla, Juturna), and this may be read either as an affront to the values of martial epic or as reinforcing them. At any rate, Virgil's treatment of gender is distinctive and central to the interpretation of the poem, though it is idle to use it to speculate about his own sexuality.

Second, the political aspects of the oppositions are more than implicit. The hero of the epic is pius Aeneas (1. 378; see pietas ; religion, roman, terms relating to ), a man marked out by attachment to communal values who at the fall of Troy turns away from individual heroism to save his father and in Carthage rejects personal happiness for the sake of his son's future and the destiny of Rome (4. 267–76). This subordination of the individual to the collective is often seen as a prime component of Roman ideology, and its embodiment in Aeneas a central feature of the epic. At the same time, as in Virgil's earlier work (J. Griffin, Latin Poets (1985), 163–82), the pain and loss suffered by individuals are at least equally as prominent in the poem. The question of the relationship between individual and community is raised in a different form by the question of the poem's relationship to the new autocratic rule of Augustus. The purpose of the Aeneid was commonly seen in antiquity as to praise Augustus (Servius, Aen. pref.), who receives explicit eulogy from Jupiter (1. 286–96, though Caesar in 286 is ambiguous), Anchises (6. 791–805), and the primary narrator in the description of Aeneas' divine shield (8. 671–728). Much of the imagery of the Aeneid can be related to Augustan symbolic discourse (P. Hardie, Virgil's Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium; P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (1988)) and there are many typological links between Augustus and Aeneas and other figures such as Hercules (cf. G. Binder, Aeneas und Augustus (1971); K. W. Gransden, PVS1973–4, 14–27; J. Griffin, Latin Poets (1985), 183–97). On the other hand, many have again seen the poem's tragic elements as incompatible with a celebration of power. It is impossible to separate the question of the Aeneid's political tendency—in its crudest form, whether we make it pro- or anti-Augustan—from the wider ideological issues mentioned above, and again the debate cannot be resolved by an appeal to text or history (cf. D. Kennedy, in A. Powell (ed.), Roman Poetry and Propaganda in the Age of Augustus (1992), 26–58). See propaganda .

Finally, these same issues have also surfaced in relation to the philosophical aspects of the Aeneid. Just as the Georgics may be read as a reply to the De rerum natura, so the Aeneid may be seen as again ‘remythologizing’ Lucretian rationalism (P. Hardie, Virgil's Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium, passim); as Aeneas rejects retirement in Carthage or Sicily for his fate in Italy, so the Aeneid turns from ‘ignoble ease’ to harsh commitment (cf. 6. 851 with De rerum natura 5. 1130, though there is more than one way of reading the intertextuality). Several passages of the Aeneid are explicitly philosophical in their language, most notably Anchises' account of the soul in 6. 724–51; this contains both Stoic and Platonic elements (see stoicism ; plato(1) ), and such eclecticism is typical and unsurprising in a period where the two schools pulled closer with figures such as Antiochus (11) and Posidonius (2) . But the debates over the philosophy of the Aeneid have concentrated on ethics and the theory of the passions, especially anger. Is the Aeneid essentially a Stoic text, which deprecates emotion? Or is it rather Peripatetic , and thereby endorsing a right measure of anger (A. Thornton, The Living Universe (1976), esp. 159–63)? Others have looked to Cynicism (F. Cairns, Virgil's Augustan Epic (1989), 33–8) or the Epicurean theory of anger as presented in Philodemus'De ira (cf. G. K. GalinskyAJPhil. 1988, 321–48; M. Erler, GB (1991)). Any decision on these matters involves a consideration of the poem's imagery, as well as explicit statement by characters and the narrator; and once again the evaluation of these images is not a simple one. A similar ambivalence attends the depiction of the gods: although they may at times function as metaphors for psychological activity on the human plane (G. W. Williams, Technique and Ideas in the Aeneid (1983)), they cannot simply be reduced to allegory (D. Feeney, The Gods in Epic (1991), 129–87).

The classic status of the Aeneid is at once apparent from the parody of its opening line (and 7. 41) as the epitome of epic openings in the first of Ovid's Amores (date uncertain, but perhaps before 7 bce: cf. Mckeown on Am. 1. 1. 1–2). Intertextuality with the Aeneid is the central way in which Ovid's Metamorphoses, Lucan's De bello civili (see annaeus lucanus, m. ), and especially the works of the Flavian epicists generate meaning: the Aeneid is figured as the official voice of the empire, to be subverted or recuperated (cf. P. Hardie, The Epic Successors of Virgil). But just as all Greek literature everywhere of necessity situates itself against Homer, so traces of the Aeneid can be seen in every genre of verse and prose, Christian as well as pagan (cf. W. Suerbaum, ANRW 2. 31. 1 (1986), 308–37; W. F. Jackson Knight, Roman Virgil (1966), 362–98). Inevitably, this role as a machine for generating meaning in others, a stable backdrop for new dramas, may lead to a simplification of the possibilities of the original text, but equally the links between parts of the Aeneid established by imitations often offer the possibility of new critical insights into the Aeneid itself (cf. P. Hardie, Virgil and his Epic Successors (1993)).


Virgil's works, but especially the Aeneid, retained their classic status throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance as prime examples of pastoral (cf. A. M. Patterson, Pastoral and Ideology (1988); S. Chaudhuri, Renaissance Pastoral and its English Developments (1989)), didactic (cf. J. Calker, The English Georgic (1969)), and most obviously epic, from Dante to Milton (cf. T. M. Green, The Light in Troy (1982); D. Quint, Epic and Empire (1993)). Many aspects of this reception in the various vernaculars were studied in the publications connected with the bimillenary celebrations of 1981–2 (lists in A. Wlosok, Gnomon1985, 127–34 and Enc. Virg. V** (1991), 114–18: cf. C. Martindale, Virgil and his Influence (1984) and Redeeming the Text (1993)). Although in English literature the Augustan period is most obviously an aetas Vergiliana, he has played a surprisingly important role in the modern period, from Eliot to Hermann Broch (T. Ziolkowski, Virgil and the Moderns (1991)); if no major work stands in relation to the Aeneid as Joyce's Ulysses does to the Odyssey, the tactics that novel adopts towards its model are entirely Virgilian. For Eliot as for Milton and Dryden Virgil was the classic; if this centrality has given way first before vernacular heroes (Shakespeare, Dante) and then before a more general scepticism towards the canon, Vergil continues to possess the alternative canonic virtue of continual reinterpretation and cultural reuse (cf. W. Suerbaum, Vergils Aeneis, Beiträge zu ihrer Rezeption in Gegenwart und Geschichte (1981)).


  • R. A. B. Mynors, P. Vergili Maronis Opera (Oxford Classical Texts, 1972).
  • M. Geymonat,P. Vergili Maronis Opera (1973, 2nd edn. 2008).
  • G. B. Conte, Aeneis (2009).
  • C. Day Lewis, Eclogues, Georgics (1983).
  • C. Day Lewis, Aeneid (1986).
  • G. Lee, Eclogues (1980).
  • D. West, Aeneid (1990).
  • H. R. Fairclough (Loeb, 1934–5).


  • C. G. Heyne and G. P. E. Wagner, P. Virgili Maronis Opera, varietate lectionis et perpetua adnotatione, 4th edn. (1830–41, Lat.).
  • J. Conington and H. Nettleship, The Works of Virgil, 3rd edn. (1881–93).
  • T. E. Page (1894–1900).
  • R. D. Williams (1972–9).


  • C. Hosius, P. Vergili Maronis Bucolica (1915, Lat.).
  • R. Coleman, Virgil: Eclogues (1977).
  • E. Coleiro, An Introduction to Vergil's Bucolics (1979).
  • W. V. Clausen, A Commentary on Virgil Eclogues (1994).


  • R. F. Thomas (1988).
  • R. A. B. Mynors (1990).
  • A. Biotti, Georgiche libro IV (1994).


  • R. G. Austin, P. Vergili Maronis Aeneidos Liber Primus (1971).
  • R. G. Austin, P. Vergili Maronis Aeneidos Liber Secundus (1966).
  • R. G. Austin, P. Vergili Maronis Aeneidos Liber Quartus  (1955).
  • R. G. Austin, P. Vergili Maronis Aeneidos Liber Sextus (1977).
  • N. M. Horsfall, Virgil, Aeneid 2: A Commentary (2008).
  • N. M. Horsfall, Virgil, Aeneid 3: A Commentary (2006).
  • N. M. Horsfall, Virgil, Aeneid 7: A Commentary (2000).
  • N. M. Horsfall, Virgil, Aeneid 11: A Commentary (2003).
  • R. D. Williams, Aeneidos Liber tertius (1962).
  • R. D. Williams, Aeneidos Liber quintus (1960).
  • A. S. Pease, Publi Vergili Maronis Aeneidos liber quartus (1935).
  • E. Norden, P. Vergilius Maro, Aeneis Buch VI, 3rd edn. (1926, Ger.).
  • C. J. Fordyce, P. Vergili Maronis Aeneidos, Libri VII-VIII (1977).
  • P. T. Eden, A Commentary on Virgil: Aeneid VIII (1975).
  • K. W. Gransden, Aeneid. Book VIII (1976).
  • P. R. Hardie, Aeneid: Book IX (1994).
  • J. Dingel, Kommentar zum 9. Buch der Aeneis Vergils (1997).
  • S. J. Harrison, Vergil, Aeneid 10 (1991).
  • K. W. Gransden, Aeneid, Book XI (1991).
  • R. Tarrant, Aeneid. Book XII (2012).

See also appendix vergiliana for the spurious works attributed to Virgil.

  • W. Suerbaum, Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 31. 1 (1980, Aeneid).
  • W. Suerbaum, Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, 31. 2 (1981, Georgics).
  • W. W. Briggs, Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 31. 2 (1981), 1265–1357 (Eclogues).
  • M. T. Morano Rando, Bibliografia Virgiliana (1987).
  • Enciclopedia Virgiliana (1984–91): the last volume (V**) includes texts, It. trans., biographical material, etc.

Introductions, Surveys, Handbooks

  • J. Griffin, Virgil (1986).
  • N. M. Horsfall, A Companion to the Study of Virgil (1995).
  • C. Martindale (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Virgil (1997).
  • P. Hardie, Virgil (1998).
  • N. Holzberg, Vergil (2006).
  • J. Farrell and M. C. J. Putnam (eds.), A Companion to Vergil's Aeneid and its Tradition (2010).

General books

  • B. Otis, Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry (1964).
  • F. Klingner, Virgil (1967, Ger.).

Collections of essays

  • S. Commager, Virgil: A Collection of Critical Essays (1966).
  • T. A. Dorey, Tacitus (1969).
  • F. Robertson, Meminisse iuvabit: Selections from the Proceedings of the Virgil Society (1988).
  • I. McAuslan and P. Walcot, Virgil (1990).


  • H. J. Rose, The Eclogues of Vergil (1942).
  • M. C. J. Putnam, Virgil's Pastoral Art (1970).
  • E. W. Leach, Vergil's Eclogues: Landscapes of Experience (1974).
  • J. Van Sickle, The Design of Virgil's Bucolics (1978).
  • P. J. Alpers, The Singer of the Eclogues (1979).
  • B. W. Breed, Pastoral Inscriptions (2006).


  • L. P. Wilkinson, The Georgics of Virgil (1969).
  • M. C. J. Putnam, Virgil's Poem of the Earth (1979).
  • G. B. Miles, Virgil's Georgics: A New Interpretation (1980).
  • P. A. Johnston, Vergil's Agricultural Golden Age (1980).
  • D. O. Ross, Virgil's Elements (1987).
  • C. Perkell, The Poet's Truth (1989).
  • J. Farrell, Vergil's Georgics and the Traditions of Ancient Epic (1991).
  • R. Jenkyns, Virgil's Experience (1998).
  • L. Morgan, Patterns of Redemption in Virgil's ‘Georgics’ (1999).
  • M. R. Gale, Virgil on the Nature of Things (2000).


  • W. A. Camps, Introduction to Virgil's Aeneid (1969).
  • R. D. Williams, The Aeneid (1987).
  • K. W. Gransden, Virgil: The Aeneid (1990).
  • S. Commager, Virgil: A Collection of Critical Essays (1966).
  • S. J. Harrison, Oxford Readings in Vergil's Aeneid (1990).

Major studies

  • R. Heinze, Virgil's Epic Technique (trans. H. Harvey, D. Harvey, and F. Robertson 1993).
  • V. Pöschl, The Art of Virgil (trans. G. Seligson 1962).
  • V. Pöschl, Die Dichtkunst Virgils: Bild und Symbol in der Aeneis (1977).
  • F. J. Worstbrock, Elemente einer Poetik der Aeneis (1963).
  • V. Buchheit, Vergil über die Sendung Roms (1963).
  • M. C. J. Putnam, The Poetry of the Aeneid (1965).
  • K. Quinn, Virgil's Aeneid: A Critical Introduction (1968).
  • W. R. Johnson, Darkness Visible (1976).
  • G. Williams, Techniques and Ideas in the Aeneid (1983).
  • P. R. Hardie, Virgil's Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium (1986).
  • R. O. A. M. Lyne, Further Voices in Vergil's Aeneid (1987),
  • R. O. A. M. Lyne, Words and the Poet (1989).
  • F. Cairns, Virgil's Augustan Epic (1989).
  • D. C. Feeney, The Gods in Epic (1991).
  • H.-P. Stahl (ed.), Vergil's Aeneid (1998).
  • G. B. Conte, The Poetry of Pathos (2007).