October 15th in the year 70 BC was the birth day of Virgil, the Roman epic poet and poet laureate under Emperor Augustus. World Poetry Day used to be observed on this date until 1999 when UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) moved it to March 21.
Virgil is traditionally ranked as one of Rome’s greatest poets. Virgil wrote a set of poems called The Georgics, basically a book for farmers about how good it is to live a simple, traditional life, though it also mentions how wonderful Rome is, and how nice it is to have peace (thanks to Augustus). The Eclogues are ten short poems in the genre of pastoral poetry, poems about nature that are imagined as being composed or performed by herdsmen and other rustic characters.
Virgil lived in the time just before the birth of Jesus Christ, and in the Middle Ages Virgil was considered a herald of Christianity. His Eclogue IV verse, also known as the “Messianic Eclogue,” hails the birth of a baby boy who will usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity. This was read by some as a prophecy of Jesus’ nativity.
Virgil’s most famous work, The Aeneid, has long been considered the national epic (a long poem centered around a legendary hero) of ancient Rome. Modeled after Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the Aeneid follows the Trojan refugee Aeneas who escaped from Troy when the Greeks captured it during the Trojan War. It is the story of how Aeneas and his men traveled from Troy to the shores of Italy – which in Roman mythology was the founding act of Rome.
The story of Aeneas and the founding of Rome is full of excitement and adventure, magic and romance, humor and sadness. And yet Virgil himself was not satisfied with the way The Aeneid turned out when he was writing it. Upon his death in 19 BC, he left instructions that it should be burned. But Emperor Augustus refused to do so and ordered Various and Tucca, two of Virgil’s friends, to edit it for publication. The Aeneid was published two years after Virgil’s death.
Virgil’s epitaph reads: “cecini pascua, rura, duces.” (“I sang of pastures, of sown fields, and of leaders.”) This Roman poet’s work has had wide and deep influence on Western literature, most notably the Divine Comedy of Dante, in which Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.
Read online or download: