The creative artist is only incidentally a human being; he wins fame and immortality not by his human condition, which is terminated by his death, but by what he was inspired to create, which lives on. We know nothing about Homer the man and tantalizingly little about Shakespeare; the world acknowledges their genius without being able to explain it from their circumstances or to deduce from their productions the record of their private lives. A like situation confronts us in the case of Virgil, incomparably the greatest of Roman poets. Moreover, he was, judging by reports about him, shy almost to paranoia. Entrée to him can only be made through his literary creations: these are clearly authenticated by the capital manuscripts and the ancient line by line commentaries; and at the end of the Georgics the poet identifies himself as the author of the Eclogues, which he composed “in youth’s boldness.” But while Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid constitute, almost by definition, the authentic oeuvre of the poet, it is impossible to believe that his first steps in verse-making were the consummate pastorals, hardly conceived, let alone executed, before he was some thirty years old. What we can assert is that Virgil himself neither published nor acknowledged any earlier work, and that there is no evidence that Augustus
or Varius or Horace or Propertius, for example, knew of any.
Nevertheless, this did not satisfy some early enthusiasts, who attributed to Virgil sundry items of heterogeneous verse which had come to their attention from sources we know not what or how. At first these sensational attributions led to an eager and uncritical acceptance of them as genuine: Lucan, Statius, and Martial all refer to Culex as Virgil’s; and Quintilian, without giving a reference other than our author’s name, quotes Catalepton 2. But in his Life of Virgil Donatus, i.e. Suetonius, gives a longer list of titles, lacking only the Moretum and three Ausonian poems to form the definitive list of the Appendix Vergiliana, as these questionable Virgilian items were labelled by Scaliger in 1572 and now appear in the 1968 Oxford Classical Text.
As was asserted at the outset, it is the greatness of Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid that determines the author Virgil and not the other way round. This consideration enables us to see that the principal question to be asked of the Appendix is not so much “Did Virgil compose these poems?” as “Do these poems or any of them reflect or presage the greatness of Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid?” The answer is an uncompromising no. For one thing, they are so disparate in subject matter and style as scarcely to be the products of a single author; and, for another, there is no hint of the genius which aspires to immortality: we meet with many an echo of Virgil, but nothing that is stamped as Virgilian.
Of the three longest poems in the collection Housman has this to say: “The authors of the Culex and Ciris and