Publius Vergilius Maro was born in 70 BC in the village of Andes near Mantua, in the area of the river Po, in Northern Italy. Thus in common with many other Latin writers, he was not Roman (although the area was granted citizenship in 49 BC by Julius Caesar). His family were of humble origins, but his father owned land and was able to provide his son with a good education. He studied at Cremona, Milan and finally Rome, where he met many men who were to feature prominently in Roman public life. Though not involving himself directly in the politics of the day, he became an important member of the literary circle that surrounded Augustus and was patronised by Maecenas.

He first made his name with the Eclogues, a collection of ten pastoral poems, loosely modelled on the Sicilian Theocritus, written between 42 BC and 37 BC, and published in 37 BC. The characters of the poems are, for the most part, shepherds; their subjects love, death, and contemporary rural life within an idealized locale; and their supposed date the period subsequent to the land confiscations following the civil war. The Eclogues demonstrate Virgil's early mastery of the Latin hexameter and his love of the Italian countryside. This love is expressed again in the Georgics, published in 31 BC, a didactic poem in four books, owing much to Hesiod, that was concerned with rural life - its crops, its animals, its farming methods etc. However, in both the Eclogues and the Georgics, we find signs that even at these times Virgil had in mind to write a Roman national epic. In Eclogue 6.3-5, he mentions that he desired to sing of kings and battles, the standard subject-matter of epic ('cum canerem reges et proelia'), before Apollo advised him to keep to writing pastoral poems; while in the proem to Georgic 3, he states that he will create a temple of song, the shrine of which shall be Caesar's and that the glory of the Romans and their ancestors shall be depicted upon its doors. With the completion of the Georgics, he set about his longest and most complex work, the Aeneid. According to his ancient biographer, Donatus, he first wrote the epic in twelve books of prose which he then adapted into poetry. By 19 BC, he had essentially completed his task, but set himself another three years in which to revise the entire work. With this aim, he set out for Greece in order to gain first-hand experience for parts of the poem that he intended to modify. During the voyage, however, he was taken ill and was forced to return to Italy, where he died a few days later at Brundisium. He left instructions for the Aeneid to be burnt, but Augustus, who had already been treated to private readings of Books 2, 4 and 6 ordered that the work be published in its unfinished state.

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