As frontispiece in some first century de luxe edition of the Aeneid there appeared (just as in Mackail’s) a portrait of Virgil beneath which the editor had composed the following elegant prelude to the epic:

Ille ego, qui quondam gracili modulatus avena carmen, et egressus silvis vicina coegi ut quamvis avido parerent arva colono, gratum opus agricolis: at nunc horrentia Martis …

I am he who once tuned my song on a slender reed, then, leaving the woodland, compelled the neighbouring fields to serve the husbandman, however grasping— a work welcome to farmers: but now of Mars’ bristling …

Misled by the word ego (as they were by Mantua me genuit in the poet’s epitaph) the ancient commentators jumped to the erroneous conclusion that these verses were composed by the poet himself and then deleted by his editor Varius. They are well worth preserving as editorial ornament, but are not to be attributed to Virgil. That the epic began with the words Arma virumque is proved not only by the unanimous witness of the manuscripts but by the explicit references of Propertius (2.34.63), Ovid (Trist. 2.533), Persius (1.96), and Martial (8.56.19).

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.virgil-aeneid.1916