Virgil was one of Eriugena’s companion authors, but the Irishman’s attitude toward and use of the Poet was complex and varied. As a teacher of the liberal arts, Eriugena mined Virgil for information on mythology, ancient geography, and grammar. As a poet, he adopted many Virgilian phrases and poetic patterns. As a philosopher, he cited Virgil as the coiner of sublime descriptions of the early cosmos. But as a Christian, he rejected the fictions peddled as truths by the epic poets Homer and Virgil.
“Eriugena and Virgil” surveys the extant evidence of Eriugena’s knowledge of Virgil and supplies, in an appendix, all the identified citations and uses of Virgil by Eriugena. The study explores the reasons for Eriugena’s guardedness in employing Virgil, and argues that we need to approach Eriugena’s use of Virgil piece by piece and work by work. Eriugena was all at once aware of how deeply indebted he was to Virgil and of how dangerous and entrancing the Poet could be. And so he tried to keep his distance, when he could, from the Poet.