Publius Vergilius Maro (15 October 70–21 September 19 BCE)
Virgil, Dante’s idol, is his guide through Hell and most of Purgatory. He appears right in Canto I of Inferno, shortly after the book begins. Dante is initially rather frightened to see this shadowy figure, but ecstatic once he realizes who it is. Virgil then comforts him and promises to guide him on the amazing otherworldly journey he’s about to undertake.
While I was rushing on my downward course
Suddenly on my sight there seemed to start
One who appeared from a long distance hoarse.
When I beheld him in that great desert
“Have pity on me!” I cried out to his face,
“Whatsoever—shade or very man—you are.”
He answered me: “Not man; man once I was.
My parents both were of the Lombard name,
Of Mantua by their country and by their race.
Sub Julio I was born, though late I came:
In Rome the good Augustus shone on me,
In the time of the false gods of lying fame.
Poet was I, and sang of that just son
Of old Anchises, who came out from Troy
After the burning of proud Ilion.
But you, why do you turn back so annoyed?
Why don’t you climb the Mount Delectable
The cause and the beginning of all joy?”
Virgil derives from the Roman family name Vergilius, which is of unknown meaning. During the Late Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, Vergilius morphed into Virgilius. This happened either because of a false etymology with the Latin word virgo (virgin) and Virgil’s excessive modesty, or an analogy between the Latin word virga (wand) and the prophetic, magical powers attributed to Virgil during the Middle Ages. Though I tend to prefer the authentic forms of names, I far prefer Virgil to Vergil. The E spelling looks kind of ugly to me.
Virgil was of course the author of The Aeneid, Latin’s greatest epic, about legendary hero Aeneas escaping Troy at the end of the Trojan War, having many adventures, and eventually founding Rome. He worked on the book during his final 11 years. I’m long overdue to revisit this book, with a better, more updated translation. Virgil also wrote The Ecologues and The Georgics.
Bearing of the Cross with St. Veronica, by Lucas van Leyden
Saint Veronica was said to have wiped Jesus’s face with her handkerchief, towel, or veil on the Via Dolorosa, and when he gave it back to her, it bore the image of his face. Every year in Rome, this artifact was exhibited at Easter and New Year. This incident is mentioned in Canto XXXI of Paradiso.
The story of Veronica wiping Jesus’s face isn’t mentioned in the Bible itself. The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus identifies Veronica as the woman who was healed when touching Jesus’s hem on the Via Dolorosa.
Veronica is an alternate Latin form of the Macedonian name Berenike (Berenice), which means “bringing victory,” from the elements phero (to bring) and nike (victory). The original Greek form is Pherenike. The spelling was influenced by the Latin phrase vera icon, “true image.” It only became popular as an English name in the 19th century.
Veronika is the spelling used in most of Eastern and Central Europe; Weronika is the Polish version; Verónica is the Spanish form; Véronique is the French form; and Verônica is Portuguese.