Virgil—Publius Vergilius Maro—was born at Andes near Mantua, in the year 70 B.C. His life was uneventful, though he lived in stirring times, and he passed by far the greater part of it in reading his books and writing his poems, undisturbed by the fierce civil strife which continued to rage throughout the Roman Empire, until Octavian, who afterwards became the Emperor Augustus, defeated Antony at the battle of Actium. Though his father was a man of humble origin, Virgil received an excellent education, first at Cremona and Milan, and afterwards at Rome. He was intimate with all the distinguished men of his time, and a personal friend of the Emperor. After the publication of his second work, the Georgics, he was recognized as being the greatest poet of his age, and the most striking figure in the brilliant circle of literary men, which was centred at the Court. He died at Brindisi in the spring of 19 B.C. whilst returning from a journey to Greece, leaving his greatest work, the Aeneid, written but unrevised. It was published by his executors, and immediately took its place as the great national Epic of the Roman people. Virgil seems to have been a man of simple, pure, and loveable character, and the references to him in the works of Horace clearly show the affection with which he was regarded by his friends.
Like every cultivated Roman of that age, Virgil was a close student of the literature and philosophy of the Greeks, and his poems bear eloquent testimony to the profound impression made upon him by his reading of the Greek poets. His first important work, the Eclogues, was directly inspired by the pastoral poems of Theocritus, from whom he borrowed not only much of his imagery but even whole lines; in the Georgics he took as his model the Works and Days of Hesiod, and though in the former case it must be confessed that he suffers from the weakness inherent in all imitative poetry, in the latter he far surpasses the slow and simple verses of the Boeotian. But here we must guard ourselves against a misapprehension. We moderns look askance at the writer who borrows without acknowledgment the thoughts and phrases of his forerunners, but the Roman critics of the Augustan Age looked at the matter from a different point of view. They regarded the Greeks as having set the standard of the highest possible achievement in literature, and believed that it should be the aim of every writer to be faithful, not only to the spirit, but even to the letter of their great exemplars. Hence it was only natural that when Virgil essayed the task of writing the national Epic of his country, he should be studious to embody in his work all that was best in Greek Epic poetry.