October 15, 70 BC– Virgil:
“Even virtue is fairer when it appears in a beautiful person.”
I am not much of a classicist, but I have long planned to adopt a pitbull and name him Virgil. Publius Vergilius Maro, or Virgil, as he was referred to in my Roman Classics 101 class, was born in a region of Northern Italy near Mantua. The name “Virgil” is from the Latin word virga, meaning “wand”. In the ancient Roman manner, and in present day Australia, poets were thought to be gifted with mystical and supernatural powers.
Legend has it that when Virgil was in the womb, his mother had a dream that she gave birth to a laurel branch, that when planted, sprung within moments into a tree heavy with fruit and flowers. The very next day, Virgil’s mother was walking along a dirt path when she suddenly flung herself into a ditch and delivered an extraordinarily mild-mannered child and all who encountered him remarked that he was destined for greatness.
Virgil was said to have been a lovely, if not particularly healthy guy. A bit prissy, he was an ascetic, notoriously picky about music, food and wine. Although he avoided the gym, Virgil was assuredly gay. He had a large collection of Original Broadway Cast Albums and he was noted for his floral designs and for hosting superb, kicky brunches. He had an especially close relationship with a dude named Alexander, whom he wrote about as “Alexis”, even without having seen Dynasty.
Virgil intended his great work The Aeneid to be the Roman counterpart to the Greek author Homer‘s The Odyssey and The Iliad. The Aeneid is a sort of very early Valley Of The Dolls.
Virgil left this world to live with the gods in 19 BC. He had asked that The Aeneid go with him to the grave. Apparently unsatisfied with the manuscript, he dictated in his will that it be destroyed, but his former classmate and pal Emperor Augustus, to the immense benefit of generations of Latin scholars and literary enthusiasts, turned it over to Virgil’s besties Tucca and Varius (note to self: more terrific dog names?). The men gave the manuscript a bit of polish, adding nothing to the text, but correcting obvious errors. Although the epic includes a moving episode between the male lovers Nisus and Euryalus, Virgil’s greatest gay stories are in his later collection, The Eclogues. The second of those poems is dedicated to his beloved Alexis:
The shepherd Corydon with love was fired/ For fair Alexis, his own master’s joy…
Although he was a popular poet in his lifetime, with a noted blog, short pieces in literary magazines, and his own line of athleisure clothing, The Eneid is Virgil’s masterpiece, giving him more fame in death than he had ever enjoyed during his lifetime. In the years following his passing, Virgil acquired a sort of mystical persona. That nutty poet Dante (1264-1321) even selected him as the guide through The Underworld in his epic The Inferno, made in to a popular film in 1974 AD starring Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Faye Dunaway.
On his deathbed, Virgil composed the following epitaph, which was inscribed on his tombstone in Naples:
Mantua me genuit; Calabri rapuere; tenet nunc Parthenope; cecini pascua, rura, duces (Mantua gave me birth; Calabria took me away; and now Naples holds me; I sang of pastures, farms, leaders).
I think his story is ripe for a film treatment with a frequently shirtless Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the great poet, Zac Efron as Alexis, the newly svelte Zach Galifianakis as Augustus, and Angelina Jolie as his mother. Let’s have Ridley Scott direct, but please, do not have sucker-lipped Steven Mnuchin produce.