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Virgil Murder




According to the official version, Virgil had finished the Aeneid, except the ultima manus, when he decided, instead of publishing it, to visit the countries where some actions of the poem take place. As he intended to pass three years in peregrination through Geece and Asia, he cautiously recommended to his friends to burn the Aeneid in the event of a fatal accident. His tour was brief: he had only just gone out of the boat in Greece when he got a fever in visiting the city of Megara sole feruentissimo. Fortunately, Augustus was there at the time, and he persuaded the sick poet to return with him in Italy (but, according to Donatus, Virgil was not yet sick). But the fever rose during the crossing, and Virgil died in his emperor's arms.

This account raises questions (cf. item n° 2):

a) Is it conceivable that, after devoting ten years of his life to the realisation of the Aeneid, Virgil could estimate that his poem, a masterpiece that generations would admire, deserved to be burnt ? If he wished to correct it, he had only to remain where he was, and that for two good reasons: -1) it is not by touring Greece and Asia that he could hope to improve his poetry, even if these places had been very much concerned with the text, which is not the case ; -2) since he did not want his poem to be published as it stood, he ought certainly not to have taken the risk to undertake a long journey before correcting it or destroying it himself.

b) Virgil resided in South Italia and was therefore used to hot weather. It is unlikely that he would have ventured to visit Megara sole feruentissimo.

c) It is difficult to believe that the encounter between Augustus and Virgil in Athens was casual. How could Virgil have been unaware that if he embarked at that time he had every chance to meet the prince once arrived in Greece? So there are two possibilities: -1) he anticipated to go to meet the emperor and pay court to him ; -2) Augustus had called him.
The first hypothesis might be dismissed in consideration of what is known of Virgil's character, but in any case we should wonder why our sources, evidently controlled by Augustus, present the encounter as a pure coincidence.

d) Why did Augustus take the sick poet on his board, instead of having him treated in Greece, where good doctors were not lacking ? Of course, the patient's condition deteriorated by the crossing.

e) Was it fortuitous that Virgil died the day before Augustus' birthday ?

f) How is it that Virgil's death went totally ignored by Horace, Propertius, Ovid ? This silence resembles a black-out, and some scholars, e.g. J. Perret and P. Hardie, have expressed their astonishement on this subject.