The pastoral setting of so many of Virgil's shorter poems was not merely a literary convention; he was in fact born on a farm near Mantua and throughout his life struck his contemporaries as shy, awkward, and countrified. Of sturdy build, Virgil, nevertheless, suffered from poor health and was often ill from headaches and hemorrhaging lungs; his modesty and lack of aggressiveness earned him a nickname--"the Virgin."
His earliest patron, Asinius Pollio, encouraged him to write of rural life in his first important poems, the Eclogues, completed when Virgil was about thirty. Pollio, a former general, had retired from public affairs to devote himself to authorship and the encouragement of literature. He had known Catullus and was a friend of Horace. He also owned a slave named Alexander, with whom Virgil, who never married, fell in love.
We know this last detail from a biography of Virgil appended to the Commentary of Donatus, a fourth-century critic. (It is possible that this Life is by Suetonius rather than Donatus; scholarship has been unable to decide the issue.) Virgil is characterized as "inclined to passions for boys," an unusual instance of a man's being assigned a specific preference by a Latin biographer.
We are also told that Virgil "especially favored" two boys named Cebes and Alexander, that the boys were educated by him, and that Cebes even became a poet. We also learn that Alexander was a slave given to Virgil by Pollio and that he was, in fact, the "Alexis" of Virgil's second eclogue.
Both of the boys had, presumably, been slaves, but apart from this, Virgil's relation to them seems to have approximated to the Greek ideal, according to which the older man became the protector and mentor of the younger.
One other ancient document also seems to attest to Virgil's homosexuality. The collection of epigrams and short poems called the Catalepton has two poems that are probably by Virgil, the fifth and seventh. In the former, the poet says farewell to a friend in Rome and to all the city's "beautiful boys"; in the latter, he confesses to Varius that he is in love with a boy.
Author: Crompton, Louis
Entry Title: Virgil
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated July 28, 2005
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/virgil.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date September 21, 2012
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates
Virgil's Aeneid: Interpretation and Influence by Michael C. J. Putnam
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (April 17, 1995)
Amazon: Virgil's Aeneid: Interpretation and Influence
In this collection of twelve of his essays, distinguished Virgil scholar Michael Putnam examines the Aeneid from several different interpretive angles. He identifies the themes that permeate the epic, provides detailed interpretations of its individual books, and analyzes the poem's influence on later writers, including Ovid, Lucan, Seneca, and Dante. In addition, a major essay on wrathful Aeneas and the tactics of Pietas is published here for the first time.
Putnam first surveys the intellectual development that shaped Virgil's poetry. He then examines several of the poem's recurrent dichotomies and metaphors, including idealism and realism, the line and the circle, and piety and fury. In succeeding chapters, he examines in detail the meaning of particular books of the Aeneid and argues that a close reading of the end of the epic is crucial for understanding the poem as a whole and Virgil's goals in composing it.
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