Virgilio Marone

VIRGIL, THE NEAPOLITAN MAGICIAN

He was born in Andes (today Pietole, small town of Borgo Virgilio – Mantova) on 15 October of 70 BC; his father Stimicone Virgilio Marone was a landowner; his mother Polla Magio was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Virgil (Virgilio) lived a happy childhood in the family campaigns, he studied grammar in Cremona and then continued his studies in philosophy and rhetoric in Naples and in Rome where, from 53 BC he attended the school of eloquence Elpidio, going to the legal profession. Virgil, shy and reserved, could not utter a word at his first experience as a lawyer; this negative experience marked him for all  life.

In 44 BC Julius Caesar was assassinated by Brutus; a power struggle took place between Octavian and Mark Antony against Caesar’s assassins Brutus and Cassius as a result of this crime. The troops of the imperialist faction pro-cesarea guided by Octavian and Mark Antony clashed with pro-republic troops led by the adopted son of Caesar and Cassius, at the Battle of Philippi in Macedonia in 42 BC, after two clashes happened on 3 and 23 October Marco Antonio got the better; Brutus and Cassius committed suicide because of the defeat.


Following the victory plots of land were distributed to the army veterans that were taken from their owners; estates were requisitioned in this operation of redistribution around Mantova. Even Virgil’s possessions were involved in the division. Virgil went to Mantua hastily, where his friend Asidio Pollio was in charge of the distribution of the fields to the veterans. At first he was able to avoid the seizure of his property, but in the following year, because the land already requirements were not sufficient to satisfy all veterans, also the ownership of Virgilio Marone family were requisitioned.

This loss of his property, in which Virgil was particularly fond because there he spent his childhood and youth, deeply affected him so much that he decided to move to Naples with his family in 42 BC.

He abandoned the legal profession, in Naples he continued his philosophical studies as a student of Filodemo and Sirone, epicurean masters. Among 42 and 38 BC he composed his first opera the “Bucoliche”; in the past, some previous minor poems called “Appendix Vergiliana” were considered as written by Virgil, today most of the critics do not recognize the paternity of Virgil.

In the “Bucoliche” composed of 10 “eclogues” the poet spoke of the life of cattle farmers, not lacking in the same autobiographical references of the poet’s life in his beloved lands in Mantova; he described in the first “eclogue”, through the story of the events of Melibeo farmer, its ups and downs with the division of land to veterans; he sang the exploits of Gallo, Pollio and Varo, administrators of the Cisalpine province, in the last three “eclogues”, perhaps to ingratiate them with the hope for the return of his property.

Virgil met Horace and knew Maecenas in Naples. He was a frequent guest in the various estates in Campania of Maecenas. He was presented by Maecenas to Augustus, who appreciated the poetic gifts of Virgil. He was several times host of Augustus in Rome.

Some historian say that Virgil urged at the Emperor Augustus some civil works to improve the lives of Parthenopeans. The Serino aqueduct was built with his impulse, the aqueduct conveyed water from Avellino to Naples, providing the city with a water supply and also it supplied water to the pool Mirabilis of Bacoli continuing through a tunnel in the hills of Posillipo.

According to popular voice Virgil built in one night the Posillipo cave, which was called “Grotta di Virgilio” (even Neapolitan Crypt) until the Middle Ages, it connected Naples to Pozzuoli, situated between present districts of Piedigrotta and Fuorigrotta. In truth, the cave had already been present from a century previous Virgil. This cave was used until 1884, when the new grotto, called “tunnel del tram”, was built parallel to the old cave of Posillipo. In 1940 it was expanded and renovated (now called “the four days tunnel”). The new tunnel replaced the old “Crypt” crossing the hill to reach new districts of Fuorigrotta and Bagnoli, continuing as far as Pozzuoli; there was an elevator that carried to Posillipo, nearby Via Manzoni, within the “tram tunnel”, at a public transport stop called “Lift”, This elevator was suppressed after the modernization works of the “tunnel”.

The grotto of Posillipo is now closed as unsafe in some of his points, the Mergellina entrance is located within the Vergiliano park, behind the church of Piedigrotta. In the park is the tomb of Leopardi, whose remains were transferred from the church of San Vitale, and the tomb of Virgil, construction of Pythagorean inspiration, in which there are no remains of the poet, as they were transferred to the Norman period.

The construction of two huge statues was also made for initiative of Virgil; those statues represented a cheerful man and a sad woman (auspicious and inauspicious), arranged on either side of the old “Porta di Forcella”. They were removed during abatement thereof and transferred to the Royal Villa (Poggioreale), they went missing during the transformation of Villa in the town cemetery.

In 30 BC Virgil completed his second literary work: “Le Georgiche”; it was a collection of poems in four books, it was a perfect guide to the agricultural work. This Virgil work would describe in the minimum details the rural life, with information on the various aspects of arboriculture, apiculture and breeding of livestock. Virgil faced also a topic in monograph form in each of the four books: Civil wars, The praise of rural life, The plague in animals in Noricum, The story of Aristeo and its bees.

In 29 BC Emperor Augustus, returning from the naval battle of Azio which had defeated the fleet of Antonio and Cleopatra, stopped in Naples a guest in the house of Virgil. Here the poet read his latest poem. Augusto was enthusiastic and wanted to celebrate the poet naming him “poet” of the Roman Empire.

In the same year Virgil began the writing of “Aeneid”, which included twelve “books” inspired by Homer and his two poems Iliad and Odyssey. he retraced the Homeric lines describing the story of Aeneas, son of the goddess Venus and Anchises cousin of Priam, he had fought the Trojan War with the Trojans. The poem is inspired by the Odyssey in the first part describing the journey that Aeneas made at the end of the war with the Achaeans from Ilium (Troy) to the shores of Lazio; the second part, inspired by the Iliad, described the terrestrial adventures of Aeneas with the various populations in the Lazio. According to Virgil, Aeneas founded the “Iulia” gens, from Ilium hero’s native city, from which descended the Emperor Augustus.

In 19 BC the poet wanted to face a long journey in the Middle Eastern regions to verify the conformity of his poem to the sites described in it, in spite of his poor health . During the trip he met his great friend the Emperor Augustus that, considering the precarious conditions of Virgil, asked to the poet to return to Naples for treatment. Virgil got worse during the return journey because of a sunstroke, and came in Brindisi, died on 21 September of 19 BC.

He recommended his Varo and Tucca disciples who accompanied him on the journey, on his deathbed, to destroy the manuscript of the Aeneid, for he had not had time to review it; but the same delivered the manuscript to Maecenas, to whom the poem was dedicated, who supervised its spread.

Virgil body was moved to Naples where he was placed in the tomb that was sited at the entrance of the Neapolitan Crypt, in “Parco Vergiliano” (not to be confused with the “Parco Virgiliano” at the Cape of Posillipo). On the grave, a construction of Pythagorean inspiration, was placed the inscription “Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc Parthenope; Cecini pascua, rura, duces ” ” Mantova gave birth to me, Calabria (read: Puglia; in ancient times was called Calabria) killed me, Partenope (Naples) keeps me, sang pastures, fields and heroes (with reference to his three poems: “Bucoliche”, “Georgiche”, “Eneide”) “.

The myth of the poet Virgil grew enormously after his death, he was loved in the following centuries up to now by the people and by writers who were inspired by his writings in their works; in Middle Ages he was even regarded as a deity by the Neapolitan people who saw him as the protector of the city. Silio Italico, who lived in the 1st century AD, bought the estate and the assets that belonged to Virgil, including the place of his burial, setting up a feast on the day of his birth on the Ides of October, that was perpetuated throughout the Middle Ages. The people also considered him a magician who was entrusted with the salvation of the city; a legend tells that Virgil, at the beginning of the Castel Dell’Ovo building, poses an egg in support of the foundation of the same and that, in case of egg breakage, in addition to the collapse of the castle also the city would be destroyed.

In the twelfth century the Normans were aware of the myth of Virgil for the Neapolitan people. They hid his remains by transferring them from the tomb nearby Neapolitan Crypt, in which took place rituals in honor of Virgil, to the dungeons of the Castel Dell’Ovo, which are missing today, encouraged by the Church that saw a dangerous rival to its power over the people in the memory and in the veneration of the poet.

In 1370 an earthquake destroyed the isthmus that connected the Castel Dell’Ovo to the ground; quickly the voice spread of the imminent destruction of the city as provided by the legend. Queen Joanna had it rebuilt in a hurry, to cope with the fear that was taking over the city’s population, even restoring the castle.

Dante Alighieri, in his greatest poem “The Divine Comedy” elected Virgil as his teacher and guide. The language “vulgar”, in which his poem was written, was inspired to the refined writing of the Latin of Virgil. Dante, in his journey through the supernatural world, appointed the poet as his guide through Hell and Purgatory, later replaced by Beatrice in the book of Heaven. The Neapolitan poet Jacopo Sannazaro was even dubbed the “Christian Virgil” for his pastoral poem “Arcadia” inspired by the “Bucoliche” of Virgil. Ariosto also was inspired by Virgil in his “Orlando Furioso” and the pastoral theme, so dear to Virgil, returned in the “Aminta” by Torquato Tasso, also recalled in his “Gerusalemme Liberata”.