National Geographic : 1930 Oct
THE PERENNIAL GEOGRAPHER After 2,000 Years Vergil Is Still the Most Widely Read of Latin Poets-First to Popularize the Geography of the Roman Empire BY W. COLEMAN NEVILS, S. J., D. D., PH. D. President, Georgetown University ONE of our younger poets has lately given us a delightful picture of Methuselah and his lady wife sit ting by the shore on a mild moonlight night after nine hundred years of happy married life; the lady is musing upon those early centuries when her spouse was a mere lad of a hundred and twenty years, and she a debutante of one hundred and ten! Perhaps, if the greatest of Latin poets, Publius Vergilius Maro, were to re turn to earth and join in our world-wide celebration of his two-thousandth birth day, October 15, 1930, he, too, would look complacently upon those early centuries when he was only a thousand or fifteen hundred years old. And were he to travel in England and visit classic halls at Cambridge and Ox ford, or wander through the learned uni versities of the Continent and the Amer icas, he would find that, as far as birthday celebrations go, he is as young as ever and just as revered as in the days of the Ro man Empire; moreover, his admirers have grown from thousands to tens of thou sands. Commemorative exercises of the bimillenary of his birth are being held the world over; great festivals have been inaugurated for the summer and autumn; Vergilian tours and cruises have been widely heralded; great libraries have ex hibits of priceless tomes and relics; it would seem that no author, ancient or modern, has ever received so universal a celebration. This is, of course, highly gratifying and most encouraging to the old-time profes sors of classics and to schools and colleges that have all along held to Latin as a re quirement for the Arts degree. This year 1930 has been hailed as a sea son of pilgrimage; off to Mantua, to Cre mona, to Rome, and to Naples many are flocking to pay homage to one who has ruled almost continuously for two thou- sand years in classic halls. A certain sacredness attaches to those spots where Vergil was born, was reared, studied and wrote. Even places that he may not have seen, but has written of in his immortal verses, are honored as never before. Troy and Carthage and Crete and Ithaca, all find themselves bedecked with a new at tractiveness, because Vergil has sung their praises. It is interesting to note that these pil grimages and celebrations of a birthday are quite in keeping with an old pagan cus tom among the Romans; it was their wont to attach a certain sacredness to their own birthdays and to those of their great men. But the birthday of Vergil, the Ides of October, not only during his own life, but for centuries after, has enjoyed a very special fame and a sanctity akin to that of a day of religious or national festival. TIHE SON OF A PROSPEROUS FARMER It was seventy years before the Chris tian era on October 15 that a prosperous yeoman farmer in the commune of the Andes was presented by his wife, Magia Polla, an heiress, his employer's daughter, with a little boy who was destined to be one of those rare creatures, a poet born, not made. Of the mother we know very little beyond her name; the father spent his working days in forestry and in bee keeping, a simple man, but one who knew how to rear a son to classic fame. The commune of Andes was in territory attached to Mantua; tradition has identi fied it with Pietole, which is three miles to the southeast of Mantua, on the banks of the Mincio. The boy was sent to school first at Cre mona, and then to the larger and better equipped schools at Milan, and finally, at the age of eighteen, to Rome, that in the metropolis he might enjoy the tutelage of the great masters in literature and oratory.