This paper will focus on the writing style of Virgil and how it changes from the time he writes the Appendix Vergiliana until the writing of the Aeneid. I will also focus on the development into the mental state that was necessary in writing such an epic. Also I will discuss the controversy concerning the authorship of certain minor poems accredited to Virgil.
Publius Virgilius Maro also referred to as Virgil or Vergil ( through the remainder of this paper he will be referred to as Virgil) was born on the 15th of October in 70 B.C. near the the city of Mantua which was in the Roman province of Italy. His father was a crop and honey farmer, a lumber jack, and a potter. His mother's name has been found to be Magia Polla. Because of Virgil's fathers great success in farming, he was able to afford his son the best education money could buy.(Grant, p.463) Virgil originally began studying law and philosophy in the same class as young Mark Antony and Octavius with ambitions to go into government but he became discouraged with politics and enrolled in a school of philosophy and poetry called "The Garden" under the instruction of Siron of Epiurean. In this school, he studied the writing styles of established poets such as Catullus and Lucreatius. They studied these works by trying to write in their style. A piece thought to be written by Virgil for this purpose is called the Appendix Vergiliana which is one of his earlier authentic works. After the death of his teacher it is said that Virgil inherited his villa.(Great Books of the Western World, p. v)
Virgil is thought to have begun the Eclogues (which means "Selections") or the Bucolics (neither one of these is the title given by the Virgil) which are a series of poems mostly about the life of rural Roman life around the year 37 B.C., they where put together later into this one book in the certain order which was specified by Virgil.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Biography.) During Virgil's time these poems generated little or no criticism. But these poems where thought to be the turning point into the Romantic Age of Latin literature which was called the "golden age". Through these poems Virgil changed the theme of Latin literature. The external appearance of Virgil's poems are said by scholars to look much externally like that of the pastoral Greek poet Theocritus in his writing of the Idylls and other great poets that came before Virgil that are referred to as pastoral poets. Because of Virgil's use of the pastoral writing style as a guildline and then trying to cover it up, there are many weaknesses in the technical quality of the work. It is said that Virgil wrote the Eclogues in this format as not to astound the public with a new writing style which they had not seen but still allowing himself to be established. In the Eclogues because of his dependence on others writing style when he ventured away into his own style, the verse was considered totally out of tone with the rest of the previously written verse and the verse was unequal and imperfect. Some critics go so far as to say because of that, Virgil's poems are clearly not Latin meaning that is because of his basis on Greek authors for this reason his writing style is nothing like that of the usual accepted style of Latin literature.(Mackail, p. 93-94) Though Virgil is criticized for using the pastoral Greek format, many other authors did the same in his time. But Virgil is accredited as the only one who actually attempted to transform the Greek literary traditions into something new for use by other Latin poets.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Biography.) Virgil did this through a special touch referred to as "the enchanted touch" which can be seen clearly in the Eclogues.(Mackail, p. 94) He also adapted Theocritus's hexameter, characters and dramatic form. Unlike Theocritus's, Virgil's characters are more sensitive and serious over the whole span of the poem.
Even though Virgil is credited with changing Theocritus's dramatical form it can be seen how Virgil does better on a narrative level which he seemed to realize as can be seen by the increase in the use of narrative form.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Biography.)
The 4th and 10th Eclogues break away from the pastoral and are considered to show "a new human language". Because of this the 4th Eclogue is very difficult to read it as it is intended to be because it consists of rambling thoughts of Virgil. Some people are said to have misconstrued this Eclogue and thought it to be talking about the coming of Christ. And in the 4th Eclogue Virgil is considered to parallel Isaiah in the Old Testament of the Bible.(Mackail, p.94) Virgil was even worshiped in some Christian churches because of this interpretation, and was by some regarded as a divine prophet himself. One prime example of this is a verse sung in a medieval mass which says Saint Peter cried over Virgils tomb because Virgil was also a guild at the gates of paradise. Another group also tried to predict the future by opening a volume of Virgils works at random this is called Vergalian Lots.(Harvey, p.447) Most scholars say that these people are trying to push the limits of the golden age which is displayed in the Eclogues by saying Virgil was a prophet.(Mackail, p. 94) The real meaning of this passage is thought by most scholars to be the announcement of the birth of child belonging to the consul Pollio who was anticipated to be a great leader in his time.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Biography.) The 10th Eclogue is a prime example of Virgil's great golden age authorship. In this Eclogue there is a love sick shepherd in the field at the end of a long day as he begins to pray to the gods. About this time the gods pass overhead with glorious angles around them and the lilies in the field bow in reverence. This poem is thought to be the one that launched Latin literature into its romantic period known as "the golden age".(Mackail, p. 95)
Seven years after the Eclogues where published and two years after the battle of Actium the Georgics, which are a series of agriculturally related poems where released. These where thought to be some of the best poetry around that taught agriculture in Virgil's time. These poems where probably very enjoyable for him to write because of the years he had spent on the farm with his dad while growing up.(Mackail, p. 95) Most of the actual information in the Georgics is thought to have come from a common treatise on agriculture at the time called the De Re Rustica.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Biography.) It is thought that the Georgics where commissioned by Augustus Ceasar and Virgils friend Maecenas which the poem is dedicated to. (Mackail, p. 95) This complete work of the Georgics is preceded by a proem which introduces it's subject and dedicates it to Maecenas and is closed by an eplouge. As well as the complete work each of the four individual books is preceded by a proem that introduces its topic. Even though the Georgics are a book of agriculture something was weighing on Virgils heart when he wrote this it was the threat of war that was impending on the Province. He craftily uses his poem to influence the people about the war by sabotaging the bountiful harvest by reminding the reader of the impending war by saying "curved sickles are melted into a unbending / sword". Which means all the farmers hard work will be given up eventually for use by the army. The thing which Virgil is praised for most in this work is his ability to combine informative information and philosophy which can be seen in this prime example of didatic poetry. Part of the philosophy Virgil promotes in this work is even though it is dictated by the Gods that man must toil to live. He believes man should make it as easy on himself as possible. For this reason book two and four describing the easier agricultural jobs are livelier in tone.(DISCovering Authors, "Virgil", Biography.)
Virgil at this time was very great but greatness brought responsibility, this responsibility being his wish to write a epic this pressed upon him in mind and spirit.(Mackail, p.95) Epics traditionally branch from oral poems which have been passed from generation to generation usually fictitious that where eventually put into poems using a type of epic meter. In this case the main basis was the legend that some families of Rome could trace their families back to the Trojans from the city of Troy, one such family being the family of Augustus Ceasar Virgil used this basic story line to serve as a carrier for his philosophy. An epic besides being a story is a moving picture.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Criticism #2.) Virgil's wish to write an epic can be even seen back in the 6th Eclogues in a part which was probably just an experiment in epic writing as most new poets did at that time. It can be seen greatly in the 4th Georgic in a part which was later added to because of a political reasons. This new part tells of how a farmer's bees had died and it was because they where haunted by Orpheus who was froze into stone while rescuing his wife from the underworld. Through this small excerpt it is very visible how Virgil wished to write an epic. This excerpt was not quite epic though most scholars consider it to be a transition between the idly and the epic.(Mackail p.95-96)
The Naevius and the Ennius had already established the connection between Troy and Rome. Basically Virgil decide to combine the Naevius and the Ennius with parts of Homer's Illiad using the Homeric method but at the same time adding his own philosophy and psychology. Virgil began writing the Aeneid one year after publishing the Georgics. He was 40 years old at this time, living at the government's expense.(Mackail, p.97) The original draft was written in prose and then transferred into epic measure.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Biography.) Virgil did not rush his work and was not made to rush his work. It is said that most days he averaged only one line per day. Thus Virgil's works are so perfect and if he had finished the Aeneid it would have been the most perfect of his works. Though there are only small defects in the work as we have it because Virgil died before he could complete the work. Some accredit his perfection to writing being the only thing that he could do because of his poor health and the fact he was as far away from the hustle and bustle of the city life he did not have anything to distract him so that he may concentrate for hours.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Criticism #2.) It is said that the later books of the Aeneid is very accurate in imagery to the area in which Virgil's villa was located. But the thing which is very astounding is the accuracy by which he describes Greece, for this reason it is believed that he may have visited Greece more times than the one that is recorded as his only trip which was in 19 B.C.(Mackail, p.97-99)
The Aeneid in Virgil's time was credited to be greater than the Illiad or the Odyssey even though it is thought to be a major source of subject matter for Virgil. The Aeneid though in writing style is not a direct takeoff of Homers Illiad. The Aeneid is more grave in tone where the epics of Homer was more joyful and quick in spirit. Virgil also reworked Homer's characters from a mere character into a living person with the feelings that are associated with him. This change in character format allowed Virgil to add different ironic interpretations of how one character sees an event and how another character sees the same event.(DISCovering, Authors, "Vergil", Biography.) This was probably on account of Virgil's wish to convey the great losses and psychological factors faced by his characters which was all for the sake of the future prosperity of Rome not just the great joy of victory.(Mackail, p.99) Virgil did not stop with just his characters to express his thoughts he even put words in the mouth of Jupiter, in this excerpt Jupiter proclaims that Rome would destroy the most renowned cities of Greece which where responsible for the fall of Troy and that Rome would have one great leader after many others this being the current Augustus Ceasar. The reason Virgil decided to put these words into Jupiter's mouth is he did not really believe in the many gods of Rome, he believed in just one supreme god thus his religious convictions did not stop him from this act. But in turn he respected the power the Roman gods held in the public's eye. Thus the main reason he put these words in Jupiter's mouth was to get a political philosophy across to the people and to impress Ceasar. Also part of Virgil's conviction of philosophy was that even the wicked or evil deserve envy as can be seen in the sensitivity by which he talked about the suicide of Dido which was really a wicked obstacle in Aeneas's way.(Brisson, p.25, 27) But on the other hand Virgil was not the greatest at fitting his philosophy into the words to make a great point as Pindari and Dante had perfected. Neither is the Aeneid a untroubled calm as if all passion was ignored as in Saphocles's writing, and the writing is not of just of the Greek or Roman writing style. In all of these areas Virgil hits a comfortable mid area to which he sticks as not to use one authors writing style. Some critics though in a desperate attempt to deny Virgil supremacy over all other classical ancient authors say that Virgil's basic story comes from the Illiad which is not true.(Mackail p.99-100)
Here are two ways in which Scholars analyze Virgils writing style. A scholar named Brooks Otis has been able to divide the Aeneid into two symmetrical parts each one corresponding to one of Homer's epics. By doing this, it is claimed that compassion is easier because what came from Homer can easily be seen and what Virgil himself did can be seen very easily also. Another way way in which the scholars Viktor Poschel and George Duckworth approach the writing style is they observe the tone how in some parts it is dark and in others light and then divide the book on this basis. Thus the first four are seen as dark, the middle four are light, and the last four are seen as dark.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Biography.)
It can not be denied though that Virgil is unsurpassed in narrative and dramatic qualities. And some even go so far as to say that he is unequaled in his dramatic power and his ability to accurately tell what happened in the past history of Rome probably because he did extensive research for this epic. The second book is credited for being told in his own views, rich, and in brilliant fervor it is also very good at taking its time to explain its point without loosing interest of the reader. The 9th and 10th in certain portions is considered to be very vivid and very concise, and the portrait of Dido in the 4th book is considered to be a masterpiece of human literature. Some say that these special touches that make these selections what they are was borrowed from the poets Eurpides or that of Sophocles. Even if Virgil had gotten this from them he was so good at camouflaging it that it is very hard to detect even by the most skilled scholars. His construction that of such that the Aeneid if you where to start at any point it would take hold in your mind with out the previous passages. It is said that Virgil seems to have missed some opportunities for improvement but in some cases he over labored others. The pride and joy of Virgil was his hexameter. Even the earlier books show great contrast to the later books of the Aeneid is said if one foot alone of Virgil's hexameter is taken alone it may not seem that great but if the whole group it is one of the greatest innovations in Latin literature. Among some of the great advances Virgil made in made in the hexameter are complete stops in the middle of the middle of a line, more allusions, larger percentages of short words more repeated anounciations, and freer use of epochs of verbs using the same conjugations of tense. In translation into Latin it losses much of the greatness of Virgil but what survives is a combination of novel and old trochaics with majesty which is a distinguishing feature of Virgil. It is said that the art of English hides the real art of Virgil's Latin.(Mackail, p. 100-103)
The work of the Aeneid gives us an indepth perspective of the anxiety's of Augustan Rome. Some of the questions which the primarily Aeneid deals with are: "Does progress necessary result in and justify human suffering?" and "Can art minister ,to that, of suffering?" which are still major subjects in todays society.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Biography.) The messages that he was trying to get across personally as stated by the critic Knight is "Be True" and "Avoid Excess". Virgil was able to stretch this message across the whole work, Aeneas's was considered to be "The True" but most of his trouble came from his excess love of Dido caused much trouble on the way to Italy.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Criticism #2.) The famous simile in the 12th Aeneid in which he compares the personalities of Aeneas's and Turnus to a pot of water. Turnus's pot boils over while Aeneas's pot stays calm and reflects light; the meaning of this the light at the end of the tunnel for Aeneas's, but all that can be seen for Turnus is the darkness of death. This is an instance of Virgil's amazing mastery of this writing style in this he is said to make Latin into a kind of music, by describing the human process of feeling emotionally.(Mackail, p. 100-103) All of Virgils psychology can never be understood in full. If Virgil had written a scientific book containing all of his psychology it would be of enormous length.(DISCovering Authors, "Vergil", Criticism #2.)
A few other works other than the four we have discussed have been credited by some to belong to Virgil. One of these is a set of three poems in epic measure called the epylliam meaning (little epic) they are pastoral subject and treatment. The most important of these is called the Gnat or the Culex which consist of 400 lines and talks about a gnat saving the life of a shepherd from a snake and being crushed in the process and how he comes back to haunt the serpent which killed him. The poets Martial and Statius are quoted to have said that Virgil wrote this and named it this. But modern critics believe it to have to imperfect of a meter for Virgil so it is thought that a contemporary illuminator of Virgil's wrote this with rather great accuracy. Another work thought by some to be written by Virgil is the Ciris which is of a somewhat greater length than the Gnat it is the story of Scyllas and Nisus. It is said to be originally of the forgotten poet Marcus Valerius Messalla, and is part of the great attempts of the later Augustain government to carry on the legacy of Virgil. The third poem "Mortem" is thought to be a close copy of the Parthenius by the greek author Nicaen a teacher of Virgil during his school year thus this poem may be a exercise given to him during his extensive apprenticeship, saved from being destroyed by himself as most of his work was if it didn't meat up to his standards. The rest of the works credited to Virgil is in elegiac and lyric verse one of these is called the Copa is so unlike Virgil's writings that it is not even considered by most to be his. Probably Virgil wrote many more works than have been credited to him because anything which didn't meet his personal standards was destroyed and never seen by any other eyes than his. This can be seen by his wishes to destroy the Aeneid at his death.(Mackail, p. 104-105)
Mackail probably sums up Virgil's writing style the best in Latin Literature: "- his haunting and liquid rhythms, his majestic sadness, his grace and pity, he embodies for all ages that secret which makes art the life of life itself. (Mackail, p. 105)
This Appendix a outline of the three major works of Virgil. The divisions and the basic subject in each division.
The Eclogues The Eclogues or the Bucolics consist of ten poems in pastoral format seemingly unrelated in in subject. That are put in a specific order for flow of subject matter. As follows is a brief synopsis of each Eclogue:
Eclogues I and IX- These two poems talk about the confiscation of land and the sorrow which is envolved in it for the farmer or shepherd in question (This probably comes from the fact that Virgils land was also confiscated for land for retirement farms of returning soldiers.)
Eclogue II- A shepherd named Corydon talks to his fellow shepherd Alex which dose not feel the same mutual love for Corydon as he feels for Alex. Corydon was thus fired from his position as a shepherd.
Eclouges III, V, and VII- Are poetical competitions between two or more shepherds while there sheep are grazing..
Eclouge IV- There is great controversy over this poem the actual meaning is not understood some claim it to prophesy the coming of Christ others say it is talking about the birth of the counsel Polio's son.
Eclouge VI- Is a letter written to Varius discussing love for a woman named Thalia.
Eclouge VIII- This is a letter to the counsel Pollio explaining a poetical competition between two shepherds.
Eclouge X- This explains the end the day for a love sick shepherd as he prays gods pass overhead and the flowers bow in reverence. (Grant, p.464)
The Georgics are didatic poems relating to farming that are divided into four books as follows:
Book I- deals with the cultivation of crops and weather signs.
Book II- deals with the tending of orchards and vineyards.
Book III- deals with the raising of cattle.
Book IV- deals with beekeeping. (Grant, p.465)
The Aeneid tells of Aeneas's (the descendant of all Romans) escape from Troy and his adventures before he landed in Italy. It consist of 12 books with the main subjects as follows:
Book I- Introduces the poem and describes the storm which brought him and his followers to the coast of Carthage where they receive the hospitality of Queen Dido.
Book II- In a long flash back Aeneas's tells Dido of the fall of Troy.
Book III- He then describes Aeneas's wanderings from Troy to Sicily.
Book IV- The love story of Aeneas's and Dido is told in this book along with the tragic suicide Dido committed when Aeneas's sailed to Africa under the instructions of Jupiter.
Book V- Here is a break in the tension of the rest of the story , it describes the funeral of Aeneas's father Anchises.
Book VI- Aeneas's in this book is guided down into the underworld to receive a revelation of what is to come for Rome in the future from his father.
Book VII- Some of Aeneas's men reach the Tiber river and the Latins try to drive them out.
Books VIII-XII- Aeneas's sails to the future site of Rome where he has to fight the Latins and there allies which are lead by Turnus. In the twelfth book a battle between Aeneas's and Turnus occurs Turnus dies and the people of Aeneas's and Turnus join to become one nation of Rome. (Grant, p.466)
This appendix will focus upon the latin hexameter which Virgil is praised for perfecting.
In Roman verse rhythm was established by the arrangement of long and short syllables. A recurring pattern of long and short syllables is called metrical foot. The establishment of the long and short syllables is done through markings above each syllable in the word. A long syllable is marked with a vertical line which is called macra, short syllables are marked by a mark something like a u called a brevus.(Jenny, p.162)
The Romans had names for the short patterns of syllables most often occurring in verse. A dactyl is formed when a long syllable is followed two short syllables. A spondee is two long syllables together. A trochee is a long syllable followed by a short syllable. Another marking found in epic verse is called a elision mark that looks much like a tipped parentheses laying on its back these are marked under the text. Elisions take place when a vowel, or a m that is preceded by a vowel an the next word begins with a vowel or a h ( example: pem et or que haec are both elisions).(Jenny, pp. 161-162)
The basic pattern for the hexameter is: It is comprised of six feet (a foot is marked by a vertical line) in each line of epic verse is either dactyl or spondee; the fifth foot is almost always dactyl; the sixth is either spondee or a trochee. A pause usually occurs around the third foot. This is called the ceasura marked with two vertical lines. If there is no ceasura in the third foot there may be two, one in the second and one in the fourth foot. Elisions are marked where appropriate. (Jenny, p.162)
Alder, Mortimer J. (ed.), Great Books of the Western World: Virgil. Trans. James Rhodes, Vol.13, Chicago, New York: Encyclopedia Bratanica, Inc., 1952.
Brisson, Jean Paul. "Aeneas, Rome's Man of Destiny", UNESCO Courier, Iss: 9 (September, 1989) , pp. 22-27
DISCovering Authors CD-ROM, "Vergil", Gale Research Inc., 1993.
Grant, Michael. "Virgil," Greek and Latin Authors 800B.C. - 1000A.D. NewYork: H.W. Wilson Company, 1980, pp. 463-468
Harvey, Sir Paul. (ed.). "Virgil," The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1980, pp. 447-448
Jenny, Charles Jr. (ed.) "Your Poetry: Epic Verse," Second Year Latin. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990, pp. 161-162
Mackail, J.W. "Virgil," Latin Literature. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895, pp. 91-105.