Virgil (70 B.C-19 B.C), regarded as the greatest Roman poet, known for his epic, the Aeneid (written about 29 B.C.E), which had taken its literary model from the Greek poet, Homer’s epic poems Iliad and Odyssey.
His real name was Publius Vergilius Maro. We know him as the Roman poet and writer Virgil who lived during the time of 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-us), who was a good friend of the Emperor Augustus, and the poetry Virgil wrote was meant to support the government. He wrote poems, called the Georgics, which are about how wonderful Rome 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 Aeneas and his men (like Odysseus and his men) traveled from Troy to Italy to found the city of Rome. This makes the valiant fighting Trojans the ancestors of the Romans.
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 to their credit…his heirs published it anyway.
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Aeneas was supposedly raised by Nymphs and received his education from Cheiron, the King of the Centaurs. During the Trojan wars, he served under the command of Hector, the Prince of the Trojans. Aeneas was encouraged by Apollo to challenge the Greek warrior Achilles. Poseidon removed Aeneas from the area to preserve him so that he could become the future leader of Troy. However, when Troy was destroyed, Aeneas began an odyssey very similar to that of Odysseus in the Greek poet, Homer’s tales. Instead of trying to return home like Odysseus did, Aeneas had to find a new home.
Aeneas went through a series of adventures trying to find a place to settle with his fellow Trojans. They encountered Harpies and bleeding bogs. At the urging of the god Juno, Aeneas and his companions were attacked by the god of the winds, Aeolus. They were protected by Neptune who keep them from being shipwrecked. Finally, Aeneas arrived in Carthage where the god of love, Cupid disguised himself as the son of Aeneas and influenced the Queen Dido to fall in love with Aeneas. Aeneas did fall in love with Dido. Mercury, the messenger of the gods, was sent to visit Aeneas twice to remind him of his destiny and to get him to break away from Dido, after which Aeneas resumed his journey to his new land.
After landing in Italy, Aeneas tried to determine where to settle. Aeneas visited the Cumaean Sibyl, a prophetess. who had access to the underworld through a cave with a hundred openings. Sibyl agreed to be the guide and directed Aeneas to take an item from a nearby magical bough(pine tree) which was sacred to Proserpine, wife of Pluto. Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx, allowed Aeneas to pass because of the item from the magical bough. In the underworld, Aeneas met with and spoke to his dead father Achises and was told where to settle. He returned from the underworld and sailed again to the Tiber River in a land called Latium.
Aeneas, after fighting and defeating a rival tribe who had been sent against him by the god Juno, began to rule the area where he settled. For twelve generations the throne was passed peacefully down until the thirteenth king, Numitor. Numitor was a good king but was removed from the throne by his own brother Amulius. Amulius tried to make sure that none of Numitor’s descendents could challenge him and take away his throne. Amulius killed both of his nephews and appointed his niece, Rhea Silvia a Vestal Virgin. This position forced Rhea to stay a virgin, which would eliminate any prospect of Numitor’s children to challenge Amulius.
Mars, the god of war and farming, became enamored with Rhea, and depending on the account, seduced or raped her. She became pregnant and gave birth to two sons, Romulus and Remus. Amulius had Rhea imprisoned. He put the two boys in a basket and tossed it into the Tiber River. The boys were saved by their father Mars, who sent two animals to feed them. A she-wolf fed the boys until they were discovered by a shepherd named Faustalus. The boys were sheltered by the shepherd and his wife until they had grown up. The boys were re-united with their grandfather Numitor, and they all then planned revenge on Amulius. The three, along with a band of shepherds, stormed the palace and killed Amulius and restored Numitor to the throne.
Now read the post about Romulus and Remus.
Aeneas, son of the goddess Venus and the mortal Anchises, left the burning city of Troy with his elderly father and his small son Ascanius. His wife and daughters were left in the city to be sold as slaves to the Greeks. After many adventures, which the Roman poet Virgil describes in the Aeneid, Aeneas and his son arrived at the city of Laurentum on the west coast of Italy. Aeneas married Lavinia, the daughter of a local king, Latinus, and founded the town of Lavinium in honor of his wife. Ascanius, son of Aeneas, decided to build a new city, which he named Alba Longa, under the Alban mountain.
Aeneas as Founder of Rome: Aeneas is sometimes credited with the founding of Rome, but the version of the Roman foundation myth that is most familiar is that of Romulus, the first king of Rome.
The Family of Romulus and Remus: Romulus and Remus were twin brothers, the sons of a vestal virgin named Rhea Silvia and the god Mars, according to legend. Since vestal virgins could be buried alive if they violated their vows, whoever forced Rhea Silvia to enter the equivalent of an ancient convent assumed that Rhea Silvia would remain childless.
The grandfather and great-uncle of the twins were Numitor and Amulius, who between them divided the wealth and kingdom of Alba Longa, but then Amulius seized Numitor’s share and became sole ruler. To prevent retaliation by offspring of his brother, Numitor made his niece a vestal virgin. When Rhea (also called Ilia) became pregnant, her life was spared because of the special pleading of Amulius’ daughter Antho, but Rhea was confined.
When the twin boys were born, Numitor wished to have them killed, and so bid Faustulus, a swineherd, expose the boys. Faustulus left the twins on the river bank where a she-wolf nursed them, and a woodpecker fed and guarded them until Faustulus took them into his care again. The two boys were well educated by Faustulus and his wife, Acca Larentia. They grew up to be strong and attractive.
As adults, Remus found himself imprisoned, and in the presence of Amulius, who determined from his age that Remus and his twin brother could be his grandsons. Learning of Remus’ predicament, Faustulus told Romulus the truth of his birth, and sent him off to rescue his brother.
Numitor was despised, and so Romulus drew a crowd of supporters as he approached Alba Longa to kill the king. The twins re-installed their father Amulius on the throne and freed their mother.
The Establishment of Rome: Since Numitor now ruled Alba Longa, the boys needed their own kingdom and settled on the area in which they had been raised, but the two young men couldn’t decide on the exact site and started building separate sets of walls. Each twin claimed his was the city and used omens to support his claim. An angry Remus jumped over Romulus’ wall and Romulus killed him.
Rome was therefore named after Romulus.
Points to Note About the Founding Legend:
- Rome was founded on 21 April 753 B.C., according to tradition. It was celebrated in Rome with the festival of Parilia.
- Because a woodpecker tended to the twins, the woodpecker was sacred to Rome.
- In some versions of the story, Rhea was drowned and then married the river god Tiber.
- When Faustulus first let the twins go, they floated into the river and then washed ashore at the base of a fig tree. This was the site where they built their city.