Virgil - the Roman poet
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Virgil

latin manuscript with a large painted picture showing a white woman lying in bed with her attendants around her
The death of Dido, Queen of Carthage, from an illustrated copy of Virgil's Aeneid, about 400 AD

May 2017 - Virgil was a poet who lived during the civil wars in Rome and then in the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus, just before the birth of Jesus Christ. Virgil (VER-jill) was a friend of Maecenas (my-SEEN-ass), who was a friend of Augustus, and Virgil wrote poetry in order to support Augustus' government. Virgil wrote a bunch of poems, called the Georgics, which are about how wonderful Italy is, and how nice it is to have peace (thanks to Augustus), and how good it is to live a simple, traditional life.

But the work Virgil is most remembered for is the epic poem called the Aeneid. This is a long poem in twelve books, like the Iliad or the Odyssey. The hero is Aeneas (i-KNEE-ass), who was a Trojan who was supposed to have escaped from Troy when the Greeks captured it during the Trojan War. It is the story of how, after the Trojan Horse, Aeneas and his men (like Odysseus and his men) escaped from Troy and travelled from Troy to Italy to found the city of Rome. This makes the Trojans the ancestors of the Romans (and the natural enemies of the Greeks). Aeneas travels first to Carthage, in Africa, where their queen Dido falls in love with him. When Aeneas insists on leaving her, Dido kills herself. But Aeneas goes on to Italy, where he visits the underworld, and then to Rome.

Virgil was not happy with the Aeneid. It was not published while he was alive, and when he died in 19 BC he left instructions that it should be destroyed. But his heirs published it anyway.

Read Virgil online
More about Carthage
More about the Trojan War

Bibliography and further reading about Virgil:

Livy
Ovid
More Roman literature
Ancient Rome
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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