Publius Vergilius Maro (Classical Latin: [ˈpuː.blɪ.ʊs wɛrˈɡɪ.lɪ.ʊs ˈma.roː]; traditional dates October 15, 70 BC – September 21, 19 BC), usually called Virgil or Vergil /ˈvɜːrdʒᵻl/ in English, was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He wrote three of the most famous poems in Latin literature, the Eclogues (or Bucolics), the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid. A number of minor poems, collected in the Appendix Vergiliana, are sometimes attributed to him.
Virgil is traditionally ranked as one of Rome’s greatest poets. His Aeneid has been considered the national epic of ancient Rome since the time of its composition. Modeled after Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the Aeneid follows the Trojan refugee Aeneas as he struggles to fulfill his destiny and reach Italy; where his descendants Romulus and Remus were to found the city of Rome. Virgil’s work has had wide and deep influence on Western literature, most notably Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through Hell and Purgatory.
The legend of “Virgil in his basket” arose in the Middle Ages, and is often seen in art and mentioned in literature as part of the Power of Women literary topos, demonstrating the disruptive force of female attractiveness on men. In this story Virgil became enamoured of a beautiful woman, sometimes described as the emperor’s daughter or mistress and called Lucretia. She played him along and agreed to an assignation at her house, which he was to sneak into at night by climbing into a large basket let down from a window. When he did so he was only hoisted halfway up the wall and then left him trapped there into the next day, exposed to public ridicule. The story paralleled that of Phyllis riding Aristotle. Among other artists depicting the scene, Lucas van Leyden made a woodcut and later an engraving.