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Aeneid 13: Four Vergilian Imitators

Patrick M. Owens

Nearly every book of Vergil’s Aeneid includes the unfinished verses which bespeak the author’s precocious death. The indications that Vergil left his work uncompleted lead some readers to believe that he might have intended to write a thirteenth book, and authors throughout the centuries have themselves composed additional books for the epic. This paper concerns four Neo-Latin imitators of Vergil from across Europe.  It will focus not only on their work itself but also on the methods by which it has been judged as standards have changed over time concerning what constitutes a successful imitation of Vergil’s style.

Finally, this paper will present a brief stylistic analysis of these four Neo-Latin imitations to evaluate the various ways in which they succeed or fail in their quest to be Vergilian.

Of these aforementioned imitators, the Milanese humanist Maffaeus Vegius is the best known.  His ambitious Aeneidos Liber XIII (1428) tells the story of Turnus’s funeral, the wedding of Aeneas and Lavinia, and finally the deification of Aeneas. The work was so successful that it was sometimes included in Renaissance editions of the Aeneid with little more than its title to differentiate it from the rest of the work. Before Vegius’s notable continuation, his friend Petrus Candidus Decembrius (1399–1477), who is best known to posterity for his Latin translations of Plato, had himself set out to write an Aeneidos Liber XIII in 1419. Decembrius wrote fewer than 100 lines before setting the work aside, perhaps because he foresaw Vegius’s monumental work. Nor was Vegius the last humanist who attempted to put the final touches on Rome’s greatest epic.  In the seventeenth century, Jan van Foreest (1651) and Simonet de Villeneuve (1698) also composed Vergilian continuations, which have both received less scholarly interest than Vegius’.

Due to the success of Vegius’ continuation and its appearance in early print editions of Vergil, there has already been a great deal of research published on his work.  Perhaps most notable for the purposes of this paper is George Duckworth’s 1969 work, Vergil and Classical Hexameter Poetry, in which Duckworth includes an entire chapter devoted to the comparison of Vegius’ and Vergil’s mechanics.  Despite prior near-ubiquitous praise of Vegius’s style as Vergilian, Duckworth deconstructs the poem’s hexameters through rigorous metrical analysis to reveal the stunning differences between Vegius and Vergil. He concludes with a resounding rejection of the description of Vegius’ work as “Vergilian” in any respect other than theme.

The aim of this paper is two-fold: to offer a metrical analysis of the other three continuations of the Aeneid and to treat some additional aspects of Vegius, Decembrius, Foreest, and Villeneuve, (viz. figures of speech, imagery, vocabulary, and diction) which may better justify the description of these imitations as Vergilian, but which are obscured and minimized by Duckworth due to his overreliance on the analysis of metrical pattern.

Session/Panel Title:

Neo-Latin Texts in a World Context: Current Research

Session/Paper Number

56.6

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