Virgil Publius Virgilius Maro

(70 B.C.E.-19 B.C.E.) Virgil was born on October 25, 70 b.c.e. into a wealthy farming family. He was an adept student. Although he leaned towards medicine and mathematics at first, his pursuit of rhetoric, Greek, and literary arts led him to the Academy of Epidius in Rome, ca. 54 b.c.e., where he studied law. While there, he became friends with a classmate, Octavian, later Emperor Augustus and Virgil's patron (see patronage). Virgil graduated and practiced law, but he soon gave that up in pursuit of philosophy. Civil disturbances led him to flee Rome in 49 b.c.e. Arriving in Naples, Virgil continued his studies and began writing poetry. He remained primarily in Naples for the remainder of his life, occasionally traveling to Rome or Greece. It was on one such trip, in 19 b.c.e., that he grew ill and died.

Contemporary accounts describe Virgil as intelligent, pleasant, friendly, and somewhat sickly. He never married. Many scholars believe he was predominantly same-sex oriented, as he frequently wrote about a relationship with a man named Alexander ("Alexis").

Virgil produced only three works: the Eclogues (sometimes called the Bucolics), the Georgics, and the Aeneid. Though Virgil was greatly admired during his lifetime, his influence on later poetry was tremendous.

He is directly referenced by Chaucer in numerous poems, including "The House of Fame," The Book of the Duchess, and Troilus and Criseyde. The Aeneid, translated fully by Gavin Douglas, immortalized Rome as an ideal of perfection, a theme that pervaded works ranging from Arthurian Literature to William Shakespeare's plays. A later partial translation by Henry Howard, early of Surrey, led to the development of English blank verse. Virgil's work also directly inspired almost every poetic genre, especially the pastoral and the epic. Edmund Spenser, for instance, cited him as a direct predecessor for The Shepheardes Caldender. It also became fashionable during the Tudor era to write in the style of his Eclogues in spite of their homosexual themes (see, for example, Richard Barnfield's The Affectionate Shepherd).

See also eclogue, translation tradition.

further reading

Levi, Peter. Virgil: His Life and Times. New York: St. Martin's

Press, 1999.

Reed, J. D. Virgil's Gaze: Nation and Poetry in the Aeneid.

Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007.

VIRGIN LYRICS Lyric is a broad term whose definition has changed over time. When modern readers encounter "lyric poetry," they tend to expect intense personal emotion. However, medieval lyrics are usually rather conventional and lack the individual voice of a personal speaker. As a result, critics are sometimes apologetic of the form. Lyrics to the Virgin are no exception.

Devotion to Mary was an extremely popular form of piety throughout the Middle Ages. Medieval legends and artwork demonstrate an interest in the life of Virgin; they create and draw upon the Apocrypha (nonca-nonical biblical texts) to fill in the blanks of the sparse Gospel narratives. However, the lyrics diverge from such legends in that they usually either describe biblical events from Mary's point of view or they praise and revere the Virgin as the mother of Christ, the mother of all humanity, the queen of heaven, and the second Eve, who redeems original sin and through whom all of humanity is redeemed. Many lyrics are anonymous, but we also find lyrics written by such illustrious writers as Geoffrey Chaucer and, later, John Lydgate.

There is some debate as to how much influence the Franciscan and Dominican orders had on the origins of lyrics to Mary. Some scholars suggest that the earliest lyrics were actually verse translations of basic Latin prayers, such as the "Ave Maria." Tropes such as the Joys and Sorrows of the Virgin have been traced back to the Meditationes of John of Fecamp (1078), and in the mid-12th century St. Godric composed his well-known lyrics to the Virgin, which at one time earned him the title of the "first English lyricist." In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Franciscans and Cistercians certainly contributed to the genre's popularity.

Virgin lyrics are found in Latin and the vernacular, as well as a combination of both, often with the refrain written in Latin. Some lyrics draw upon scriptural and liturgical themes and may have been used in homilies or sermons, while others, based on the manuscript's context, seem to have been used for contemplation and mystical purposes.

The imagery, allusions, and titles used in lyrics to describe Mary are remarkably conventional. They often draw from the natural world and from old Testament biblical images that the Christian church reads as "prefigurations" of Mary and Christ's birth. For example, the Virgin is accompanied by or aligned with the dawn, a dove, a rose without thorns, a lily among thorns, a fountain, or a sealed door or garden. The lyric "Marye, mayde mylde and fre" is particularly rich in biblical allusions, with Mary as the Burning Bush, as dew, and as other common prefigurations. The epithets most frequently used for the Virgin refer to her role as maid, mother, queen, or, at times, all of these at once.

Lyrics from the 12th and 13th centuries are marked by what has been called a "restrained" style. They seem didactic, fashioned to be used as guides for devotion. This period reflects an emphasis on Mary as merciful mediator. Audiences would have found in Mary a sympathetic mother to whom they could plead for intercession with her Son the Judge. Such lyrics will often feature legalistic imagery.

During this period, which saw an increase in affective (emotional) piety, we also find lyricists describing events such as the Crucifixion from Mary's perspective. Affective piety encouraged empathy in the believer and focused on Christ's manhood rather than his divinity.

Mary's point of view both allows the audience to witness divine events through human eyes and encourages identification between the audience member and Mary. These lyrics use homely and tender imagery, as in the lyric "Stond wel modor under rode."

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the lyrics take on courtly language, and they feature Mary as a romance heroine, where often sin is a disease and Mary is the physician. Indeed, the romance genre and the language of religious devotion influence one another so heavily that it is sometimes difficult to classify a particular lyric as secular (to a maiden) or religious (to Mary). "Maiden in the Mor Lay" and "I sing of a Maiden" are two popular examples of such ambiguous lyrics. The 14th century also saw lyrics in which Mary is cast as a model of perfect courtesy: a meek, mild, and dutiful maiden to be imitated by medieval women.

The lyrics of the 15th century and later contrast the "restrained" style of the earlier works as they express devotion rather than instruct. These lyrics do not encourage identification with Mary as mother and maid but express admiration for Mary as queen of heaven. Rather than featuring the Nativity and Crucifixion as earthly narrative foci, these later lyrics describe Mary's heavenly Assumption and coronation. There is an aesthetic self-consciousness among these later lyrics, which are marked by an ornate, aureate style (see aureation). This is particularly true of those with named authors, as it was believed that the more elaborate the lyric, the more lavish the praise it would send to Mary.

While there seems to be great variation over time in this genre, lyrics to the Virgin are conventional enough that thematic categories can be established, including: the Annunciation, the Nativity, Mary at the foot of the Cross, the Assumption and Mary as Queen of Heaven, Mary Mediatrix and penitential poems, and Meditations of the Joys of Mary.

See also "Cherry-Tree Carol, The"; "In Praise of Mary"; Middle English lyrics and ballads.

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