Name at birth: Publius Vergilius Maro
The most famous poet of ancient Rome, Virgil (or Vergil) wrote the Aeneid, one of the greatest epic poems in human history. Raised on a farm in northern Italy, he made his way to Rome as an adult and gained fame for his collections of poems Eclogues (around 39 B.C.) and Georgics (29 B.C.). A clear picture of his life is not possible, but Virgil was apparently famous during his lifetime and had friends in high places, notably the emperor Augustus. The Aeneid is Virgil's masterpiece, a national epic that tells the story of the heroic Aeneas and the founding of Rome. The long poem is often compared to Homer's the Iliad and the Odyssey, Greek epics combining history and mythology. Virgil died before finishing the work, but it was published (tradition has it that he wanted it destroyed after his death) and became a revered text for centuries. In medieval Europe Virgil became an almost mystical personage, with magic powers attributed to him and his work (he is used as the guide to Hell in Dante's Inferno). The Renaissance revived scholarly study of the Aeneid and Virgil is still considered the greatest of Roman poets.
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