I have a 1662 version of the Aeneid, with Latin and French on facing pages, with the French having been translated by M. de Marolles, Abbé de Villeloin, [additional book info continues: À Paris, Chez Gvillavme De Lvyne, Libraire - Iuré au Palais, en la Gallerie des Morciers, à la Iustice, M. DC. LXII.]

There are four lines preceding the normal line 1 (the normal line 1 being 'Arma virumque cano...', which is line 5 in Marolles' version).

Ille ego, qui quondam gracili modulatus auena
Carmen; & egressus syluis, vicina coëgi,
Vt quamuis auido parerent arua colono;
Gratum opus agricolis: at nunc horrentia Martis

Arma virumque cano...

There is no mention of these lines having been a later insertion (including in the notes where Marolles refers to them as having been written by Vergil), but I am told by my Latin teacher that they must be an insertion, and that line 1 as written by Vergil is 'Arma virumque cano...'.

Thought I'd ask who knows anything about these lines?

  • 1
    A lot of research has been written on this, e.g. Austin 1968 jstor.org/stable/637692 - strongly recommend
    – Alex B.
    Sep 15, 2019 at 3:56

1 Answer 1


Fascinating question! I've found some editions of the Aeneid with these extra lines included, and some (most) without.

It seems that they aren't found in any of the oldest manuscripts of the Aeneid (except where one commentator scribbled them in the margin much later). Instead, they're first mentioned by the grammarian Aelius Donatus, who wrote in his Vita Vergiliana:

Nisus grammaticus audisse se a senioribus aiebat, Varium duorum librorum ordinem commutasse, et qui tunc secundus erat in tertium locum transtulisse, etiam primi libri correxisse principium, his versibus demptis: Ille ego, qui…

Nisus the Grammarian said that he'd heard from his predecessors that Varius had swapped the order of two books, and that he'd moved the one that used to be second to become the third, and that he'd even cleaned up the beginning of the first book by removing these verses: Ille ego, qui…

I didn't bother copying them all out, but Donatus goes on to quote exactly those four lines that you found. This seems to be the oldest source to include them. According to the legend, Vergil on his deathbed asked Varius to burn the manuscript because he didn't want his masterpiece to go out into the world unfinished; Varius refused, and (according to Donatus) went on to clean things up a bit.

But Patrick Finglass doesn't consider this story likely. Vergil was clearly emulating Homer's style, and Homeric epics start with a brief summary of the story, not with a note about the author. The incipit arma virumque was also tremendously famous, and was used by various other contemporary poets and writers to refer to the Aeneid—everyone from Ovid to an anonymous graffitist in Pompeii; if these "deleted" lines were actually well-known enough for Donatus to have found them uncorrupted in the mid-fourth century, it's hard to imagine Ovid and Martial not knowing about them.

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