The Eclogues, also called the Bucolics, is the first of the three major works of the Latin poet Virgil.
Virgil was regarded by the Romans as their greatest poet, an estimation that subsequent generations have upheld. His fame rests chiefly upon the Aeneid, which tells the story of Rome’s legendary founder and proclaims the Roman mission to civilize the world under divine guidance. His reputation as a poet endures not only for the music and diction of his verse and for his skill in constructing an intricate work on the grand scale but also because he embodied in his poetry aspects of experience and behaviour of permanent significance.
Virgil was born of peasant stock, and his love of the Italian countryside and of the people who cultivated it colours all his poetry. He was educated at Cremona, at Milan, and finally at Rome, acquiring a thorough knowledge of Greek and Roman authors, especially of the poets, and receiving a detailed training in rhetoric and philosophy. It is known that one of his teachers was the Epicurean Siro, and the Epicurean philosophy is substantially reflected in his early poetry but gradually gives way to attitudes more akin to Stoicism.
During Virgil’s youth, as the Roman Republic neared its end, the political and military situation in Italy was confused and often calamitous. The civil war between Marius and Sulla had been succeeded by conflict between Pompey and Julius Caesar for supreme power. When Virgil was 20, Caesar with his armies swooped south from Gaul, crossed the Rubicon, and began the series of civil wars that were not to end until Augustus’ victory at Actium in 31 bce. Hatred and fear of civil war is powerfully expressed by both Virgil and his contemporary Horace. The key to a proper understanding of the Augustan Age and its poets lies, indeed, in a proper understanding of the turmoil that had preceded the Augustan peace.