Culture and Recreation
What innovations are credited to Virgil?
Scholars acclaim Virgil (70–19 B.C.) for transforming the Greek literary traditions, which had long provided Roman writers with material, themes, and styles. Virgil populated his pastoral settings (always idealized by other writers) with contemporary figures; he combined observation with inquiry; employed a more complex syntax than had been in use previously; and developed realistic characters. These technical innovations informed all subsequent literature.
However, writing was not supposed to have been Virgil’s occupation: In his youth, he studied rhetoric and philosophy, and he planned to practice law, but proved too shy for public speaking. So he returned to the small family farm his mother and father operated, where he studied and wrote poetry.
In addition to the Aeneid, Virgil wrote Eclogues (or Bucolica), a set of 10 pastoral poems written (from 42–37 B.C.) as a response to the confiscation of his family’s lands; and Georgics, a four-volume work (written from 36–29 B.C.) glorifying the Italian countryside. Within 50 years of his death in 19 B.c., Virgil’s poems became part of the standard curriculum in Roman schools, ensuring the production of numerous copies. Virgil’s works have remained accessible to scholars and students ever since.