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Vergil / A Biography By Tenney Frank Characters: 3738

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Of the poet's physical traits we have no very satisfactory description or likeness. He was tall, dark and rawboned, retaining through life the appearance of a countryman, according to Donatus. He also suffered, says the same writer, the symptoms that accompany tuberculosis. The reliability of this rather inadequate description is supported by a second-century portrait of the poet done in a crude pavement mosaic which has been found in northern Africa.[7] To be sure the technique is so faulty that we cannot possibly consider this a faithful likeness. But we may at least say that the person represented-a man of perhaps forty-five-was tall and loose-jointed, and that his countenance, with its broad brow, penetrating eye, firm nose and generous mouth and chin, is distinctly represented as drawn and emaciated.

[Footnote 7: See Monuments Piot. 1897, pl. xx; Atene e Roma, 1913, opp. p. 191.]

There is also an unidentified portrait in a half dozen mediocre replicas representing a man of twenty-five or thirty years which some archaeologists are inclined to consider a possible representation of Vergil.[8] It is the so-called "Brutus." The argument for its attribution deserves serious consideration. The bust, while it shows a far younger man than the African mosaic, reveals the same contour of countenance, of brow, nose, cheeks and chin. Furthermore it is difficult to think of any other Roman in private life who attained to such fame that six marble replicas of his portrait should have survived the omnivorous lime-kilns of the dark ages. The Barrocco museum of Rome has a very lifelike replica[9] of this type in half-relief. Though its firm, dry workmanship seems to be of a few decades later than Vergil's youth it may well be a fairly faithful copy of one of the first busts of Vergil made at the time when the Eclogues had spread his fame throug

h Rome.

[Footnote 8: See British School Cat. of the Mus. Capitolino, p. 355;

Bernoulli, R?m. Ikonographie, I, 187, Helbig,'3 I, no. 872.]

[Footnote 9: Mrs. Strong, Roman Sculpture plate, CIX; Hekler, Greek and Roman Portraits, 188 a. The antiquity of this marble has been questioned.]

A land of sound constitutions, mentally and physically, was the frontier region in which Vergil grew to manhood; and had it not later been drained of its sturdy citizenry by the civil wars and recolonized by the wreckage of those wars it would have become Italy's mainstay through the Empire. The earlier Romans and Latins who had first accepted colonial allotments or had migrated severally there for over a century were of sterner stuff than the indolent remnants that had drifted to the city's corn cribs. These frontiersmen had come while the Italic stock was still sound, not yet contaminated by the freedmen of Eastern extraction. Cities like Cremona and Mantua were truer guardians of the puritanic ideals of Cato's day than Rome itself. The clear expressive diction of Catullus' lyrics, full of old-fashioned turns, the sound social ideals of Vergil's Georgics, the buoyant idealism of the Aeneid and of Livy's annals speak the true language of these people. It is not surprising then that in Vergil's youth it is a group of fellow-provincials-returning sons of Rome's former emigrants-that take the lead in the new literary movements. They are vigorous, clever young men, excellently educated, free from the city's binding traditionalism, well provided also, many of them, with worldly goods acquired in the new rich country. Such were Catullus of Verona, Varius Rufus, Quintilius Varus, Furius, and Alfenus of Cremona, Caecilius of Comum, Helvius Cinna apparently of Brescia, and Valerius Cato who somehow managed to inspire in so many of them a love for poetry.

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