from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Depiction of Virgil in a mosaic from the 3rd century AD in Trier

Publius Vergilius Maro , German usually Virgil , Late Antique and Middle Latin Virgilius and later in German also Virgil (born October 15, 70 BC near Mantua ; † September 21, 19 BC in Brindisi ) was a Roman poet and epic poet , that during the time of the Roman civil wars and the principate of Octavian (from 27 v. Chr. Augustus lived). He is considered the most important author of classical Roman antiquity and is a classic of theLatin school reading. In addition to Horace and Lucius Varius Rufus , with whom he belonged to the circle of Maecenas , as well as the elegists Cornelius Gallus , Properz and Tibullus , Virgil was probably one of the most famous poets of " Augustan literature " among contemporaries . His works, the Bucolica ( Eclogues ), the Georgica and the Aeneid and their ideas revolutionized Latin poetry and shortly after his death were repeatedly copied, edited, commented on and processed intertextually .

The epic Aeneid provides the founding myth or the prehistory to the founding of the city of Rome by processing the mythological material from the Homeric epics Iliad and Odyssey . The Aeneid replaced the Annales of Quintus Ennius as a kind of Roman national epic.



As diverse and spectacular as the legends surrounding the vita of the reclusive poet Virgil were already during his lifetime (and especially in the late antique vitae), so little is known about his life. Many inferences about Virgil's life come from hints in his own works. To interpret these loose facts in the light of his works would be a circular argument. A number of Virgilvites have survived from late antiquity, including smaller passages in the Virgil Commentary by the grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratius and the Vita Donati , which refer to the Vita Vergili of the Roman archivist Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus and some other common sources that are no longer extant , could go back. The memorable grave epigram on the Via Puteolana between Naples and Puteoli , an elegiac distich that reflects Virgil's life and work in equal measure, impressively emphasizes the overall Italian merits of the poet:

Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc
Parthenope; cecini pascua, rura, duces.
Mantua brought me out, Calabria took me away, now hides me
Naples. I sang pastures, fields, rulers.

The stations of his works, which he wrote in more or less certain chronological order, also reflect the stations of his life, which stretch across Italy. While he spent his childhood and youth in the north (Mantua and Po Valley) and died in the extreme south of Italy ( Calabria ), he continued to work in the heart of Italy, in his residence in Naples.


Virgil brought the Latin language to a new bloom. Like his predecessor Quintus Ennius, he wrote an epic with over 12,000 verses, following the design principles of the tradition of Alexandrian and neoteric poetry. He was a poeta doctus , d. That is, he worked on his works cum lima ("with the file") and covered them with allusions to his predecessors. According to Varius , Quintilian reports that Virgil wrote only a few verses a day, which he usually wrote in the morning, to look through them in the afternoon and to cross them out again in the evening. He was just as adept in the various philosophical teachings as he was in mythology and the literary genres in which his predecessors had written.

Virgil's works provided templates and a rich pool of ideas for numerous later movements in art and literature. A famous example is the 69th verse of the tenth eclogue Omnia vincit amor, et nos cedamus amori , which Virgil wrote in memory of the work of his friend Cornelius Gallus and which minstrels of the 13th and 14th centuries took as their motto.


Virgil was born the son of Magia Polla and the potter Vergilius Maro on an estate near Mantua in northern Italy . The localization of his place of birth is controversial. It is very likely that it is not in the earlier Pietole , where there is no evidence of an estate or property belonging to the family. The village of Andes near Mantua is usually called. The close connection to rural life and the rural world will later influence his work again and again.

Contemporary references to Virgil's youth and education can be found almost exclusively in his own works. Most of the facts come from Suetonius. After this, Virgil received the toga virilis when he entered manhood at the age of 15. At that time he was attending a rhetorician school in Cremona. A controversial question is what role the catalepton , a body of poetry formerly attributed to Virgil and possibly dating to the early imperial era, plays in this. Epigrams V and VIII there report on Virgil's departure from Cremona (V) to the estate of the Epicurean Siro (VIII) near Naples . According to the epigrams, he turned from rhetoric to poetry (the Carmina ) at this time . The authenticity of the entire body of the poem is controversial, but they date earlier than Sueton's records. In addition to Virgil's training in Cremona, they mention a stay in Milan and then in 53 BC. The direct move to Rome. According to Suetonius, it was only at this time that Virgil wrote the catalepton and also studied mathematics and medicine .

Beyond his early devotion to poetry, Virgil appears to have been rhetorically untalented. In addition to the complaint about the dull talk in the catalepton, Ovid handed down a praefatio from the controversiae of the rhetoric teacher Seneca maior , who portrays Virgil as an untalented prose writer and speaker. According to Suetonius, Virgil once practiced as a speaker in front of a court, according to a statement by Melissus, and spoke very slowly there, almost like an uneducated person.

At the beginning of the 1940s of the 1st century BC Virgil stayed in Rome and Naples, from where he wrote his earliest work, the Eclogues . It is possible that he developed closer ties to neoteric poets' circles at this time, and a friendship with the elegiac poets Sextus propertius and Cornelius Gallus can almost certainly apply. Virgil's other acquaintances only appear in the eclogues , and they reveal more details about his position as a poet in Rome. The sixth eclogue names Varius Rufus and Gaius Helvius Cinna as great poets and role models. Virgil's patron at the time, Gaius Asinius Pollio, names the third eclogue .

In the wake of the politics of the second triumvirate , Octavian, who later became the princeps , led in 40 BC. Land expropriations to compensate the veterans from the civil wars against the republicans. Virgil's family in Mantua was affected by these expropriations. The first eclogue deals with the impact of such a displacement. The ninth Eclogue shows how problematic the relation of the eclogues to Virgil's experiences with the land expropriations is. Here a poet gets his expropriated land back for his services. However, there is no further source of evidence that Octavian had restored the land to Virgil's family, especially since the poet mourns Mantua in the same eclogue, to which he never returned afterwards ( Mantua, uae miserae nimium vicina Cremonae ). The last mention of Mantua is in the Georgica .

In the 1930s, Virgil belonged to a group of poets around the art patron Maecenas , an officer of Octavian. Horace mentions him alongside Plotius Tucca and Varius Rufus in his satires . Varius and Virgil would have suggested it to Maecenas. The poets often accompanied Maecenas on trips and on political occasions. To the agreement of the two triumvirs Mark Antony and Octavian, they traveled with Maecenas to Brundisium , they were invited to recitations in his house on the Esquiline or made excursions to his villa in Capua . Virgil was writing at this time in the Georgica , his pamphlet on agriculture, which is dedicated to Maecenas. Octavian's victory in the naval battle of Actium in 31 BC also fell during this period . In the first book of Georgica he received an extraordinary honor from Virgil and a praise for his divinity. In the third book of Georgica , the poet mentions writing an epic for Octavian's glorious deeds. Whether this was in direct connection with the soon after 35 BC Aeneid that began in BC, i.e. reflects the author's intention, cannot be decided due to a lack of sources.

Presumed tomb of Virgil in Parco Virgiliano a Piedigrotta in Naples

It is not known when Virgil began work on the Aeneid . The problem with dating his work is that after the Georgica and the Bucolica , contemporaries already had high expectations of the work and stylized the poet in this sense. This is exemplified by the third poem in Horace's first book of Odes. Here the poet addresses a ship that is supposed to lead his friend Virgil safely back to Rome from his destination in Attic regions with the words: navis, quae tibi creditum debes Vergilium: finibus Atticis reddas incolumem precor [...] . If the poet here refers to a real trip by Virgil to Athens, nothing more is known about it than what the ode itself says. If the ode dates earlier, the ship could just as easily be a metaphor for the wanderings in the first six books of the Aeneid , and the request for Virgil's return a request that the completion of these books be easy for him. The Vita Suetons, which date from 31 BC. (One book for each remaining year of his life = 12 books Aeneid), gives at most the approximate period for Virgil's decision-making (end of the 30s).

Virgil's last years are only set out in Sueton's Vita . The Vita According had made Virgil late 20s, the work on the Aeneid to end a three-year improvement of the work. After that, he wanted to travel east, retire, and devote the rest of his life to philosophy. On his way he met Augustus, who was returning from his victory over the Parthians , and joined him on the return journey. In Megara he is said to have suffered a severe fever and when he arrived with Augustus in Brundisium on the southern tip of Italy, he died there soon after his arrival. He was burned and his ashes were brought to Naples, where they were buried in a burial mound. It is not certain whether the ashes actually lie in today's burial mound at the foot of Posillipo in Parco Virgiliano a Piedigrotta near Naples.

It was not until the second century that literary historians speculated about Virgil's appearance and character. However, contemporary information should be viewed with just as great caution. In the third part of his first book of satires, Horace mentions a friend who was often to be found at his side and who was a ridiculous sight. He is said to have worn a rustic haircut, an unironed toga and loose boots, but was a good person and a sincere friend. These philosophical statements are in the service of Horace's satire and were not intended to depict the real state of the poet in detail. The formulation about Virgil's rural appearance has at least parallels with Suetonius, who also described the poet as rusticanus , gaunt and suntanned. According to the biographer, he was also easily susceptible to diseases and had stomach and lung problems. Suetonius describes Virgil as a very reserved, almost shy person who liked to flee the city from the shops.

Little is known about Virgil's personal life. He is said to have owned two estates in Taranto in Calabria (georg. 2, 197ff.) And in Campania near Naples. Suetonius also mentions a town house given by Maecenas in Rome among the horti Maecenati . Virgil's eventual homosexuality and preference for boys was an issue even among contemporaries. Properz dedicated a few verses in his second elegy to the shepherd boy Alexis from the second eclogue, in which he celebrates the happiness of a landowner who only has to love his Alexis and does not have to fulfill the service of love ( servitium amoris ) to a woman. Similar mentions can be found in Martial and Suetonius.


Catalepton (Appendix Vergiliana)

The catalepton (Greek katá leptón : poems written in a fine, delicate manner) are eighteen short poems (14 epigrams, three Priapea, one Sphragis), which, together with some epyllies, have been passed down over and over again with Virgil’s works (in the appendix Vergiliana ). In the opinion of many modern researchers, the majority of these works are considered not to have been written by Virgil. Whether individual poems of the corpus (namely the epigrams V and VIII) could not have been written by the youthful poet Virgil is disputed in the judgment. These two poems apparently provide biographical information about Virgil's tendencies to turn away from rhetoric and move to the estate of the Epicurean Siro . A later Epicureanism of Virgil, similar to that of his poet colleague Horace, is not evident from Virgil's works. The authenticity of the eighth epigram is controversial because the author complains that Cremona , where Siro was supposed to be good, and Mantua were badly affected by the land expropriations of the civil wars. As early as the 1970s, the German classical philologist Heinrich Naumann, contrary to Büchner's opinion, among others. to the fact that Virgil had no reason to mourn Cremona due to his living conditions and did not do so later (e.g. in the Bucolica ) either.

The epyllies and didactic poems of the appendix Vergiliana are consistently considered to be inauthentic in today's research. They are:

  • the didactic poems Moretum (“The herb cheese poem ”, peasant hand cheese recipe) and Aetna (about volcanism) [late 1st century BC. Or middle of the 1st century AD],
  • the short epics Culex ("The Midge") and Ciris ("The Heron") [14–37 AD],
  • the Dirae ("curses" of a peasant who was driven from his estate) [formerly principate],
  • the two Elegiae ad Maecenatem [uncertain dating],
  • the copa ("landlady") (about a dancing Syrian landlady).

See also: Appendix Vergiliana .

Virgil, Eclogae in the manuscript Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palatinus lat. 1631, fol. 15v ("Vergilius Palatinus", around 500)

Eclogues (Bucolica)

The Eclogues or Bucolica are a collection of ten pastoral poems by Virgil, written between about 43 and 39 BC. Were created. The distributions of land in the years 42/41 after the defeat of Brutus and Cassius , the murderers of Caesar , in which the released soldiers of the victors were settled on expropriated land in Italy, appear as historical background, especially in the first and ninth eclogues . The fact that Virgil's estate near Mantua had also been confiscated, but that Octavian had his property returned to him, was already revealed in late antiquity from the first poem (probably written in 40 BC, according to Clausen not until 35 BC). want to remove.


Virgil soon belonged to the circle of Gaius Maecenas , one of Octavian's early allies, who later promoted poets like Virgil and Horace and made them famous in Rome's influential circles. After the Eclogae were completed, Virgil worked from 37 to 29 BC. To the Georgica ("About the Landing"), which are dedicated to Maecenas.


Octavian, the Antony in the battle of Actium 31 BC. Chr. And four years later was awarded the title " Augustus " by the Roman Senate , Virgil is said to have urged to write an epic to the glory of his reign. Virgil's answer was the Aeneid , which occupied the last ten years of his life.

Virgil's death and afterlife

Vergilius Vaticanus : Virgil, Aeneis, 3rd book, scene: Aeneas circumnavigates Sicily and lands in Drepanum, in the manuscript Vatican City, BAV, lat. 3225, fol. 31v, around 400
Vergilius Romanus : Virgil (portrait of the poet), in the manuscript Vatican City, BAV, lat. Lat. 3867, fol. 3v, 5./6. century

Virgil died without being able to complete the Aeneid . Augustus ordered his administrators, Varius and Tucca , to publish the Aeneid as little edited as possible.

In late antiquity , Gorippus wrote an epic based on Virgil's Aeneid called Johannis ; it represents the last significant contribution to ancient Latin literature. Around the same time - in the 6th century - Fulgentius wrote an allegorical interpretation of the Aeneid from a Christian perspective. Virgil is one of the few authors whose writings have been preserved in a relatively large number of manuscripts from antiquity . These include two richly illustrated codices , the Vergilius Vaticanus and the Vergilius Romanus .

In the Middle Ages , Virgil was considered the poet par excellence and at the same time the harbinger of Christianity - in the 4th Eclogue the birth of a boy is predicted in words that strongly recall the birth of Christ. The verses could allude to the pregnancy of Octavian's wife, Scribonia , who gave birth to a girl. Dante made Virgil, who in his work had described the hellish place of the departed, the guide in his Divine Comedy . In the late Middle Ages, a number of fabulous stories circulated about him, in which he appears as a powerful magician who does a great job for Naples and Rome, but also suffers failures (see Virgilian sagas of the Middle Ages ).

In the Weimar Classic , it was thought of, among other things, with the creation of the Vergilgrotte Tiefurt . The Reale Accademia di Scienze e Belle Lettere in Mantua took over Virgil's name by order of Napoleon Bonaparte and is now called Accademia Nazionale Virgiliana . The person of the poet is at the center of Hermann Broch's novel The Death of Virgil .

In 1990 the asteroid (2798) Vergilius was named after him. The genus Virgilia L'Hér. from the Asteraceae family was named after him in 1788.

Name forms

The late antique folk etymology brought the name of the poet as Virgilius with the Latin virga , "rod" in context. (A golden branch, which is also called virga in one place ( Aeneis VI, 144), enables Aeneas in the sixth book of the Aeneid to access the underworld .) The form Virgilius is only used in the Romance languages to this day, cf. French . Virgile , Italy. and Spanish Virgilio , Portuguese Virgílio . In German and English older are Virgil and later, approximate to the classical antiquity Virgil side by side. A few linguists, however, also associated his name with the Latin vergalilius , which means "The Blessed One".

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. Vita Donati 3 .: His mother is said to have dreamed before he was born that she was giving birth to a branch of laurel.
  2. See Suet. vita Verg. 46f.
  3. See Albrecht, Virgil, 2007, p. 10.
  4. See Quint. inst. 10.3.8.
  5. Cf. Verg. Ecl. IX 7 - 9, interpreted by Servius as a description of the Virgilian property near Mantua.
  6. cf. Albrecht, Virgil, 2007, p. 7 (note 3).
  7. See Suet. Vit. Carr. 6.
  8. See Suet. Vit. Verg. 7, 15.
  9. See Sen. contr. 3, praef. 8., Vergilium felicitas ingenii in oratione soluta reliquit
  10. See Suet. Vit Verg. 16: […] nam et in sermone tardissimum eum ac paene indocto similem fuisse Melissus tradidit .
  11. Cf. Verg. Ecl. 10, 35.
  12. Cf. Verg. Ecl. 3, 84ff.
  13. Cf. Verg. Ecl. 9, 27.
  14. See Verg. Georg. III, 12f.
  15. See Hor. Sat. 1, 6, 54f.
  16. See Hor. Sat. 1, 5.
  17. Cf. Prop 2, 34: Cedite, Romani scriptores, cedite Grai: Nescio quid maius nascitur Iliade .
  18. See Hor. Carm. 1, 3, 5ff.
  19. See Suet. Vit. Verg. 25f.
  20. See Suet. Vit. Verg. 35f.
  21. See Hor. Serm. 1, 3, 29ff .: iracundior est paullo, minus aptus acutis naribus horum hominum; rideri possit eo, quod rusticius tonso toga defluit et male laxus in pede calcaeus haeret: at est bonus, ut melior vir non alius quisquam, at tibi amicus, at ingenium ingens inculto latet sub hoc corpore .
  22. See Suet. Vit. Verg. 8f.
  23. See Suet. Vit. Carr. 13.
  24. Cf. Prop 2, 67., cf. Mart. 7, 56., see Suet. Vit. Carr. 9.
  25. See Büchner, Vergilius, in: RE, Vol. VIII, Sp. 1070-1087.
  26. Cf. Naumann, Virgil is the author of Catalepton V and VIII, in: Rhm, Vol. 121 (1978), pp. 83ff.
  27. ^ Albrecht, M. v., Virgil, Bucolica, Georgica, Aeneis. An introduction. Heidelberg 2007, 11, 31.
  28. ^ Schmidt, EA, Zur Chronologie der Eklogen Vergils, Heidelberg 1974, 28.
  29. Clausen, W., On the Date of the First Eclogue. In: Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 76, Harvard 1972, 201-205.
  30. ^ The Oxford Classical Dictionary . January 1, 2012, doi : 10.1093 / acref / 9780199545568.001.0001 .
  31. On the eight ancient manuscripts, see the article Virgil manuscripts of late antiquity .
  32. (Italian, accessed February 20, 2013).
  33. Minor Planet Circ. 16590
  34. Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymous plant names - extended edition. Part I and II. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin , Freie Universität Berlin , Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-946292-26-5 doi: 10.3372 / epolist2018 .

Text output

Latin text

  • P. Vergili opera recognovit brevique adnotatione critica instruxit , ed. by FA Hitzel, Oxford, London and New York 1900 (series: Scriptorum classicorum bibliotheca Oxoniensis).
  • Vitae Vergilianae Antiqvae. Vita Donati. Vita Servii. Vita Probiana. Vita Focae. S. Hieronymi Excerpta , ed. by Colin Hardie , Oxford: Clarendon Press 1966.
  • P. Vergilius Maro: Opera , ed. by Roger AB Mynors , Oxford: Clarendon Press 1969, ISBN 978-0-19-814653-7 .
  • P. Vergilius Maro: Aeneis , ed. by Gian Biagio Conte , Berlin: de Gruyter 2009 (Bibliotheca Teubneriana), ISBN 978-3-11-019607-8 .

Latin and German text


Overview display

  • Michael von Albrecht : History of Roman literature from Andronicus to Boethius and its continued effect . Volume 1. 3rd, improved and expanded edition. De Gruyter, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-026525-5 , pp. 560-598

Introductions and general presentations

  • Michael von Albrecht: Virgil. Bucolica, Georgica, Aeneid. An introduction , 2. unchangeable. Edition, Heidelberg: Winter 2007, ISBN 978-3-8253-5338-4 .
  • Karl Büchner : P. Vergilius Maro, the poet of the Romans (RE, Vol. VII, A 2), special edition: Druckermüller, Stuttgart 1956, Col. 42–160.
  • Marion Giebel : Virgil. With personal testimonials and picture documents , 4th edition. Reinbek: Rowohlt 1999, ISBN 3-499-50353-0 .
  • Pierre Grimal : Virgil. Biography , Düsseldorf and Zurich: Artemis & Winkler 2000, ISBN 3-7608-1226-0 .
  • Niklas Holzberg : Virgil. The poet and his work , Munich: CH Beck 2006, ISBN 3-406-53588-7 .
  • Brooks Otis : Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry , Oxford: Clarendon Press 1964.


  • Achim Hölter , Eva Hölter: Virgil. In: Peter von Möllendorff , Annette Simonis, Linda Simonis (eds.): Historical figures of antiquity. Reception in literature, art and music (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 8). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2013, ISBN 978-3-476-02468-8 , Sp. 1021-1034.
  • Philipp Weiß: Homer and Virgil in comparison. A paradigm of ancient literary criticism and its poetics. Narr Francke Attempto, Tübingen 2017, ISBN 978-3-8233-8110-5 .


Web links

Wikisource: Publius Vergilius Maro  - Sources and full texts (Latin)
Wikisource: Virgil  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Virgil  - Collection of Images