Who was Virgil?
Augustus and Virgil
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 the Georgics
So Virgil wrote a bunch of poems, called the Georgics, which are about how wonderful Italy is. The poems are about how nice it is to have peace (thanks to Augustus), and how good it is to live a simple, traditional life.
Virgil wrote the Aeneid
What’s the Aeneid about?
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.
Dido and Aeneas: a love story
This makes the Trojans the ancestors of the Romans (and the natural enemies of the Greeks). Aeneas travels first to Carthage, in Africa. In Carthage, the queen, Dido falls in love with Aeneas. 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, as a friend of Augustus, wanted his readers to see that Augustus was right to reject alliances with women, and his enemy Mark Anthony was wrong to ally himself with the foreign woman Cleopatra, in Egypt. So Dido is like a metaphor for Cleopatra here.
Virgil’s death and the Aeneid
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 ignored his instructions and published it anyway.