Showing posts with label Virgil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Virgil. Show all posts

15 October 2020

Virgil – Roman poet

Writer’s epic poem commemorates achievements and ideals of Rome

Virgil was held in high regard by the emperor  Augustus, to whom he read his work
Virgil was held in high regard by the emperor
 Augustus, to whom he read his work
Regarded as the greatest of the Roman poets, Virgil, or Publius Vergilius Maro as he was originally named, was born on this day in 70 BC in the village of Andes near Mantua, in what is now Lombardy.

Virgil is famous for his work, the Aeneid, which told the story of Rome’s founder and the Roman mission to civilise the world under divine guidance. It is widely considered one of the most important poems in the history of Western literature.

Experts have high regard for Virgil’s poetry, not only for the music and diction of his verse and for his skill in constructing an intricate work on a grand scale, but also because of what it reveals about Roman life and behaviour.

Virgil was born of peasant stock and his love of the Italian countryside and the people who worked in it is well reflected in his poetry.

He was educated in Cremona, Milan and Rome and acquired a thorough knowledge of Greek and Roman authors and was trained in rhetoric and philosophy.

When Virgil was 20, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and began the series of civil wars that did not end until Augustus’s victory at Actium in 31 BC.  Hatred and fear of civil war is powerfully expressed by Virgil in his poetry, to which he devoted his whole life.

A 3rd century Roman mosaic depicting Virgil with the muses Clio and Melpomene
A 3rd century Roman mosaic depicting Virgil
with the muses Clio and Melpomene
His health was never robust and he was said to be shy and retiring, but as his poetry brought him fame, he won the friendship of important Romans.

His earliest surviving work is the Eclogues, a collection of ten pastoral poems composed between 42 and 37 BC. They describe an imaginary world where shepherds sing in the sunshine about the simple joys of life.

But some of the poems refer to the real world, either directly or through allegory, which gave a new direction to the genre.

The fifth eclogue on the death of the king of the shepherds is thought to have some relationship with the death of Julius Caesar, which was still recent at the time it was written.

Virgil set out to embody his ideal Rome in the Aeneid by telling the story of the foundation of the first settlement in Italy, from which Rome was to spring, by an exiled Trojan prince, Aeneas.

He presented Aeneas as the prototype of the Roman way of life, the last of the Trojans and the first of the Romans. In describing the pictures on his shield, Virgil foreshadowed real events in Roman history.

A leaf from an 18th century manuscript of the Aeneid
A leaf from an 18th century
manuscript of the Aeneid
The enthusiasm Virgil felt for the reborn Rome promised by Augustus is evident in the poem. For example, the line: ‘Then shall the harsh generations be softened and wars shall be laid aside.’ Virgil promoted the idea that Rome was divinely appointed first to conquer the world in war and then to spread civilization and the rule of law among the people.

Virgil worked on the Aeneid for 11 years and had not finished its final revisions when he died in 19 BC.

He was on his way to Greece to do research for the revisions but caught a fever on the voyage and returned to Italy. He died soon after his arrival at Brundisium, modern day Brindisi in Puglia in southern Italy. 

There is a story that Virgil’s dying wish was for his epic poem to be burned, but that this was countermanded by the order of Augustus, to whom Virgil had previously read extracts. Therefore the Aeneid survived to commemorate the achievements and ideals of Rome in the Augustan age and keep alive the sensitive voice of the poet himself.

The parish church of Pietole, close
to where Virgil was born
Travel tip:

According to legend, the birthplace of the Roman poet Virgil is the village of Andes, now called Pietole Vecchia, which is a short distance from the centre of Pietole in modern Virgilio. The comune - municipality - of Virgilio is cited as ‘Pietoli patria di Virgilio’ in the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican Museums. Modern day Virgilio is a frazione - hamlet - of the comune of Borgo Virgilio in the province of Mantua in Lombardy. It is about 130 km (81 miles) southeast of Milan and about six km (4 miles) south of Mantua.

The tomb of Virgil, at the entrance to the  grotta vecchia in Piedigrotta, near Naples
The tomb of Virgil, at the entrance to the 
grotta vecchia in Piedigrotta, near Naples
Travel tip:

Virgil’s tomb is at the entrance to an ancient Roman tunnel, ‘grotta vecchia’, in Piedigrotta, a district 3km (1.9 miles) from the centre of Naples, near Mergellina and Fuorigrotta, on the road heading north along the coast to Pozzuoli. The verse inscription at the tomb has been translated as: ‘Mantua gave me life, the Calabrians took it away, Naples holds me now, I sang of pastures farms and commanders.’ In the Middle Ages, Virgil’s name became associated with miraculous powers and his tomb was a destination for pilgrims. The poets Petrarch and Boccacio were among those who visited. At the time of Virgil’s death there was a large bay tree near the entrance, but according to a local legend, the tree died when Dante died, so Petrarch planted a new one in its place. However, visitors took branches from it as souvenirs and so the second tree died as well. The tomb remains a tourist attraction and still contains a tripod burner, which was originally dedicated to Apollo, but Virgil’s ashes were lost while being moved during the Middle Ages.

Also on this day:

1764: Edward Gibbon in Rome is inspired to write his ‘Decline and Fall’

1785: The birth of painter Giovanni Migliara

1905: The birth of footballer Angelo Schiavio, whose goal won Italy’s first World Cup

1964: The birth of astronaut Roberto Vittori


10 April 2020

Jacopo Mazzoni – philosopher

Brilliant scholar could recite long passages from Dante

Jacopo Mazzoni was known for literary criticism as well as philosophy
Jacopo Mazzoni was known for literary
criticism as well as philosophy
Jacopo Mazzoni, a University professor with a phenomenal memory who was a friend of Galileo Galilei, died on this day in 1598 in Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna.

Mazzoni, also sometimes referred to as Giacomo Mazzoni, was regarded as one of the most eminent scholars of his period. His excellent powers of recall made him adept at recalling passages from Dante, Lucretius, Virgil and other writers during his regular debates with prominent academics. He relished taking part in memory contests, which he usually won.

Mazzoni was born in Cesena in Emilia-Romagna in 1548 and was educated at Bologna in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, rhetoric and poetics. He later attended the University of Padua where he studied philosophy and jurisprudence.

He became an authority on ancient languages and philology and promoted the scientific study of the Italian language.

Galileo Galilei was a fellow professor at Pisa University
Galileo Galilei was a fellow
professor at Pisa University
Although Mazzoni wrote a major work on philosophy, he became well known for his works on literary criticism, in particular for his writing in defence of Dante’s Divine Comedy - Discorso in Difesa Della Commedia della Divina Poeta Dante - published in 1572 and Della Difesa Della Commedia di Dante, which was not published until 1688.

Mazzoni was also influenced by Plato and Aristotle and often made references to their works.

In turn, his theories about poetry influenced romantic writers who came later such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Friedrich von Schiller.

Mazzoni is also credited with helping to found the Accademia della Crusca, a society of scholars of Italian linguistics and philology, in 1583. The academy, in Florence, is the oldest linguistic academy in the world and the most important research institution into the Italian language.

The pala - shovel - given to Mazzoni by the Accademia della Crusca
The pala - shovel - given to Mazzoni
by the Accademia della Crusca
Crusca is the Italian word for bran, its use a reflection of the society's symbology, which likened 'good' language to flour sifted from bran.  The society's emblem was the frullone, a machine used to separate flour from bran. The operator would load bran into the machine using a pala - shovel - and the society extended the symbolism by presenting each member with a shovel bearing the member's name and a motto, usually a line of verse.

Mazzoni worked as a university professor, first at Macerata and then at Pisa, where he taught philosophy from 1588 to 1597. It was there he met Galileo, who was a young mathematics professor at the university. They became good friends and in May 1597, Galileo wrote Mazzoni a letter in which he commented on Mazzoni’s latest book, In universam Platonis et Aristotelis philosophiam praeludia, and also stated his inclination towards the Copernican system over the Ptolemaic one.

Later that year, Mazzoni accepted the chair in philosophy at Rome’s La Sapienza University.

He was asked to accompany Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini on a mission to Venice in 1598. After they stopped off in Ferrara on the way back, Mazzoni was taken ill and later died. He was 57 years old.

The Rocca Malatestiana in Cesena, once a prison, now houses a museum of agriculture
The Rocca Malatestiana in Cesena, once a prison, now
houses a museum of agriculture
Travel tip:

Cesena, the birthplace of Jacopo Mazzoni, is a city in Emilia-Romagna, south of Ravenna and west of Rimini. One of the main sights in the town is the 15th century Biblioteca Malatestiana, which houses many valuable manuscripts and was the first public library in Europe. The library has been preserved in its 15th century condition and is now a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. The city’s castle, the Rocca Malatestiana, was used by Cesare Borgia as a prison during the Italian Wars and is now a museum.

The Castello Estense is the centrepiece of the city of Ferrara, where Mazzoni died
The Castello Estense is the centrepiece of the city
of Ferrara, where Mazzoni died
Travel tip:

Ferrara, where Jacopo Mazzoni died, is a city in Emilia-Romagna, about 50 km (31 miles) to the northeast of Bologna. It was ruled by the Este family between 1240 and 1598. Building work on the magnificent moated Este Castle (Castello Estense) in the centre of the city began in 1385 and the castle was added to and improved by successive rulers of Ferrara until the end of the Este line. The castle was purchased for 70,000 lire by the province of Ferrara in 1874 to be used as the headquarters of the Prefecture. You can still see Ferrara’s original narrow, medieval streets to the west and south of the city centre, between the main thoroughfares of Via Ripa Grande and Via Garibaldi. These were the original heart of the city in the middle ages before the Este family redesigned it.

Also on this day:

1726: The birth of physicist Giovanni Aldini

1886: The death of physician and politician Agostino Bertani

1926: Airship leaves Rome for the North Pole

1991: The Moby Prince disaster

(Picture credits - Mazzoni's shovel by Sailko CC-BY-3.0; Rocca Malatestiana by Otello Amaducci CC-BY-SA 3.0) 


27 November 2017

Horace - Roman poet

Writer who ‘seized the day’ and left his vivid account of it

Horace, as imagined by the 19th century Italian painter Giacomo di Chirico
Horace, as imagined by the 19th century
Italian painter Giacomo di Chirico
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace, died on this day in 8 BC in Rome.

He had become a leading poet during the reign of the Emperor Augustus and acquired a farm near Rome which he made famous through his poetry.

His Odes and his more informal Satires and verse Epistles vividly portrayed contemporary Roman society, with the background themes of love, friendship and philosophy.

Horace’s career coincided with Rome’s momentous change from a republic to an empire and he became a spokesman for the new regime.

He is said to have revealed far more about himself and his way of life in his writings than any other poet in antiquity. His most famous two words are ‘carpe diem’ – taken from his first book of Odes – which are usually translated as ‘seize the day’.

Horace was born in 65 BC in Venusia in southern Italy, a town that lay on a trade route between Apulia and Basilicata. Horace’s father had been a slave but had managed to gain his freedom and improve his social position.

He spent money on his son’s education and eventually took him to Rome to find him the best school.

At the age of 19 Horace went to Athens to enrol in the Academy founded by Plato.

The German painter Anton von Werner's depiction of Horace
The German painter Anton von
Werner's depiction of Horace
After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Marcus Junius Brutus came to Athens seeking support for the Republican cause. He recruited Horace as a senior officer and the poet learnt the basics of military life while on the march.

The Republican forces were crushed by Augustus, Caesar’s heir, and Mark Anthony, at the Battle of Philippi. Augustus offered an early amnesty to his opponents and Horace accepted it. Back in Rome he obtained a position as a clerk of the treasury and wrote his poetry.

He was introduced by the poet Virgil to Gaius Maecenas, a principal political advisor to the Emperor Augustus and Horace forged friendships with them both. He went on several journeys with Maecenas, which he described in his poetry.

Horace received the gift of a farm from Maecenas, which included income from five tenants, enabling him to work less and spend more time on his poetry.

He died at the age of 56, only a few months after Maecenas. He was laid to rest near his friend on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. Both men bequeathed their property to Augustus, an honour that the emperor expected from his friends.

The Odes written by Horace attracted interest during the Renaissance and went on to have a profound influence on western poetry.

The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson referred to them as ‘jewels that sparkle for ever’. The intricacy of these jewels has challenged many translators over the centuries and although each Ode has now been translated thousands of times, new versions continue to appear.

Venosa has a statue of Horace in its main square
Venosa has a statue of Horace in its main square
Travel tip:

Venusia, where Horace was born, is now called Venosa and is a town in the province of Potenza in Basilicata. Remains of the ancient city walls and of an amphitheatre can still be seen there and there are fragments of Roman architecture built into the walls of the cathedral.  There is a statue of Horace in the main square and a museum dedicated to him.

Travel tip:

The Esquiline Hill in Rome, where Horace and his friend Maecenas were buried, is one of the celebrated seven hills of Rome. Rising above the Colosseum to the northeast, much of it today is taken up with the Parco del Colle Oppio, a large park covering the southern spur, the Oppian Hill. It was once a fashionable residential district.  Nero built his extravagant, mile-long Golden House there, while Trajan constructed his bath complex, the remains of which are visible today along with the Temple of Minerva Medica. The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore was built on the Esquiline Hill, on the Cispian spur.