In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Virgil in Renaissance Thought

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Early Printed Books
  • Illuminated Manuscripts and Early Illustrated Editions
  • Commentaries
  • Schooling
  • Eclogues
  • Georgics
  • Aeneid
  • Renaissance Supplements to the Aeneid
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Other European Countries
  • The Encounter
  • Art
  • Music

Renaissance and Reformation Virgil in Renaissance Thought
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 November 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0284


As one of the key canonical authors in Latin literature, Virgil came to occupy an important place in the culture of the period as humanism positioned the classics at the center of Renaissance education. The spread of printing made his poetry accessible in the far corners of Europe and the Americas, with translations extending Virgil’s reach to those who could not read Latin. From this base, Virgilian material reappears throughout the art, literature, and music of the period. It has long been known that Spenser and Milton, for example, knew Virgil well, but the bi-millennium of Virgil’s death in 1980–1981 unleashed a torrent of books and articles that extended scholarly inquiry in new directions. This inquiry has been further stimulated by the new prominence of reception within the discipline of classical studies. This article collects the most important results of this recent work, along with the best of the older studies and specialized material that is representative of the directions research is currently heading in.

General Overviews

Wilson-Okamura 2010 is the long-awaited counterpart to Domenico Comparetti’s Vergil in the Middle Ages, an overview of Virgil’s basic place in Renaissance culture. Burkard, et al. 2010 and Pellegrini 1984 offer essays on a variety of topics, while Kallendorf 1995 explains one of the more influential interpretive paths through which Renaissance readers approached Virgil, and Neuse 1978 shows how Virgil’s literary career provided a model for his Renaissance imitators.

  • Burkard, Thorsten, Markus Schauer, and Claudia Wiener. Vestigia Vergiliana: Vergil-Rezeption in der Neuzeit. Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft, Beihefte, Neue Folge, 3. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110247213

    A Festschrift for Werner Suerbaum (see Illuminated Manuscripts and Early Illustrated Editions) that contains essays on a number of Renaissance topics connected to Virgil—the concept of the hero, the Messianic eclogue, early pessimistic readings of the Aeneid—and the authors Conrad Celtis, Marco Girolamo Vida, Luís Vaz de Camões, and Melchior Barlaeus.

  • Kallendorf, Craig. “From Virgil to Vida: The Poeta Theologus in Italian Renaissance Commentary.” Journal of the History of Ideas 56 (1995): 41–62.

    DOI: 10.2307/2710006

    Explores an important strain in the Renaissance interpretation of Virgil: the idea that the author served in some sense as a prophet of Christian truth, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not.

  • Neuse, Richard. “Milton and Spenser: The Virgilian Triad Revisited.” ELH 35 (1978): 606–639.

    DOI: 10.2307/2872580

    Draws attention to the so-called wheel of Virgil, which is an idea derived from the introductory verses preceding the Aeneid (ille ego . . .) that sets out a progression of genres, from pastoral to georgic to epic, that was seen as a model for literary careers in the Renaissance.

  • Pellegrini, Anthony L. The Early Renaissance: Virgil and the Classical Tradition. Acta, 9. Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1984.

    A collection containing essays on Virgil’s poetry and its relationship to Cristoforo Landino, Baptista Spagnuoli (Mantuan), Lorenzo Valla, Francesco Petrarca, Edmund Spenser, Lodovico Ariosto, and early Tudor culture in general.

  • Wilson-Okamura, David Scott. Virgil in the Renaissance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511762581

    An ambitious book that seeks to recover the ideas about Virgil that educated readers of the Renaissance held in common. Identifies one theme arising in ancient literary criticism that structures the reception of each of Virgil’s major works. Then it offers an extended study that stresses how different Renaissance commentaries to the Aeneid are from modern interpretations of the poem.

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