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Virgil | Biography

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Publius Vergilius Maro, known as Virgil, was born October 15, 70 BCE, near Mantua in northern Italy. Although he was the son of a farmer, Virgil received training in formal writing. He wrote the Eclogues, a collection of poems, between 42 and 37 BCE. His poems were immediately and hugely successful in Rome. He was the unsurpassed master of the poetic form of the time, and Romans felt his poems spoke for them.

At some point Virgil came into contact with Gaius Maecenas (c. 70 BCE–8 BCE), a patron of literature and an adviser for the young Gaius Octavian (63 BCE–14 CE), who would later become Emperor Augustus Caesar. Maecenas steered Virgil and other writers to topics that glorified Augustus and Rome. The destiny of Rome (and Augustus) is a major theme in The Aeneid. It is unclear when Virgil started writing The Aeneid, but most of it was likely composed after Octavian won the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, finally ending nearly a century of civil wars. Both Virgil's patriotism and his strong dislike of civil war can be seen in his epic.

In 19 BCE, after more than a decade of work, The Aeneid was mostly complete, but Virgil wanted three years to revise and perfect it. He traveled to Greece to do so but caught a fever and returned to Italy. He died September 21, 19 BCE, shortly after reaching the port of Brundisium (now known as Brindisi). He reportedly wanted his unfinished work destroyed after his death, but his wishes were overridden by Augustus, who required the epic to support not only Roman superiority, but also his own claim as Aeneas's descendant.

In the two millennia since, Virgil's work has never ceased to be influential. One of the Eclogues, which seemed to prophesy the birth of Christ and Aeneas's piety in The Aeneid, inspired early Christians so much that Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) made Virgil his guide to the Christian afterlife and included other Aeneid characters, such as Dido, in his Divine Comedy.

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