Virgil, the "patron" of Naples before San Gennaro

by Claudia Paesano

Few people know that Publio Virgilio Marone is remembered by the Neapolitan people not so much as a poet, but above all as magician and alchemist and, before the arrival of the cult of San Gennaro, was often invoked as a kind of "pagan saint". He was not Neapolitan by origin: he was born nearby Mantua, in 70 BC
TO twenty-six years arrived in Naples, at the time one of the capitals of epicurean philosophy.
Here the poet attended the school of philosopher Sirone, as also testified in his first work: le Bucolic.

Virgil, the "patron" of Naples before San Gennaro
Virgil's tomb in Mantua. Picture of Federico Quagliuolo

Virgil: from magician to philosopher

One of the main reasons that earned him the attribution of magical powers is the fact that he also joined the neo-Pythagoreanism. This current philosophical-magical focused on study of alchemy and on the observation of nature and its phenomena through the instrument of number, of the geometric figure, of dialectical logic.
Furthermore the neo-Pythagorean doctrine he emphasized the theme of metempsychosis, or the reincarnation of the soul as a consequence of a fault.
Alchemy and magic were needed to achieve the purification of the spirit, able to remove the soul from the natural cycle of reincarnations.

Like that epicurean, this philosophy was also very widespread in the Magna Grecia and in particular a Neapolis. The city in fact, despite the Roman conquest, had preserved Hellenic customs and traditions which in part are come up to our daysi, explaining its esoteric charm suspended in time.

Virgil, the "patron" of Naples before San Gennaro
Lake Averno

The works inspired by Campania

But let's get back to us; after the publication of the Bucolics, Virgilio joined the circle of Maecenas (thus also coming into contact with Octavian Augustus), and began work on his second great poem, le Georgics, inspired by Campania landscapes.
And Naples also returns here, described as beloved place of retreat and literary engagement.

But it doesn't stop there: thanks to the charm of the Phlegraean land, the poet he placed the gate of the Underworld near Lake Averno, a place immortalized over the centuries in Canto VI of the Aeneid.

Capo Miseno
Capo Miseno, photo by Federico Quagliuolo

The legend of Capo Miseno

Misenus era son of the god of winds, Aeolus, and companion in arms of Aeneas.
His death had already been foreseen by the Sibyl, the mysterious oracle of Cuma, as a necessary sacrifice to allow Aeneas access to Hades, whose door was, in fact, in Lake Averno.

Misenus met his death sinning of ὕβϱις (pride), because he dared to challenge the gods in a trumpet contest.
At that point Triton, son of the god of the sea Poseidon, killed him by drowning him, and his body was found on the shoreline by his companions.
The Trojans then began the solemn funeral ceremony.
The personal contribution of Aeneas, the greatest friend of Misenus, was that of erect, on what was left of his remains, a real mountain on which he placed his weapons, the oar and the sonorous trumpet of the deceased.
We are talking about Capo Miseno, which was named after this ancient hero.

Romolo Augustolo, the last Roman Emperor who lived at the Castel dell & #039; Ovo

Therefore Virgil the poet, but above all Virgil the magician.

Various legends that see him as the protagonist tell of how protected Parthenope from diseases, attacks and other disasters thanks to his esoteric abilities.
The most important legend concerns the oldest of the gods castles present in Naples: the Castel dell'Ovo.

This takes its name from the legend according to which Virgil put an egg in a cage and placed the latter in the dungeons of the castle.
Then he announced that if the egg remained intact, the city would be safe forever.

Vergiliano Virgilio Park
The view from the Vergiliano park: Virgil's tomb is a fantastic place!

Virgil's tomb

He died in 19 BC in Brindisi, returning from a trip to Greece, and loved Naples so much that he asked to be buried there. And so it was.

“Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc Parthenope; cecini pascua, rura, duces. "

Tomb of Virgil

“Mantua gave birth to me, Puglia kidnapped me (to life), Naples now holds me; I sang the pastures, the fields, the leaders ”.

And this the epitaph engraved on his grave, one of the most esoteric and mysterious places in the city, located in a park dedicated to him. And tradition has it that the sentence was dictated by Virgil himself on his deathbed.

Saint Gennaro
Saint Gennaro

An eternal cult, a "pagan saint"

But the Poet remained alive and felt in the conscience of the Neapolitan people at least until the Middle Ages, revered as patron and protector of the city. In short, a real one pagan saint.
Starting from11th century though, Naples was besieged and conquered by Normans that, in order to tame the rebellious Neapolitan spirit, they profaned the tomb of Virgil.
This outrageous gesture threw the population into total despair and despair. But Virgil's bones were recovered secretly from the Neapolitans e secretly transferred to an urn (which recalls the shape of the egg) then placed safely in the foundations of Castel dell'Ovo.

The cult of Virgil it only ceased when Catholicism imposed a new figure to replace it: that of bishop Ianuario, which later became the much loved and celebrated San Gennaro, to which processions, prayers and recommendations are still dedicated today.

But at the foot of the Vesuvius Naples resists, protected forever by spells of Virgil.

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