Vitae Vergilianae antiquae, recc. G. Brugnoli et F. Stok, Romae 1997, 21-23.
Servius’ commentary on Vergil is preceded by a short biography of the poet, the so-called Vita Serviana (cf. Suerbaum 1981: 1180), that follows the Vita Donatiana closely in terms of its function and content: both use the biography to introduce the reader to the works of Vergil before embarking on the commentary proper. In Donatus, however, the biography maintains a position independent of the praefatio to the Eclogues; this is made clear when the incipit of the latter announces its passage from author (de auctore) to work (de ipso opere) and declares that its second section will be arranged by rubric (titulus; causa; intentio; numerus; ordo; explanatio). By way of contrast, Servius incorporates the Life within this schema (and includes it in the praefatio), establishing the form that would become known as the ‘accessus’ in the Middle Ages: in exponendis auctoris haec consideranda sunt: poetae vita, titulus operis, qualitas carminis, scribentis intentio, numerus librorum, ordo librorum, explanatio. One may also note that Servius’ text is incorporated into the praefatio to the Aeneid, whereas in Donatus’ commentary the Vita precedes the praefatio to the Eclogues. The order in which Servius presents Vergil’s works is Aeneid-Eclogues-Georgics, while Aelius Donatus arranged them Eclogues-Georgics-Aeneid. Servius largely follows the content presented by Donatus, but abridges his predecessor’s work extensively and adds certain comments that are absent from it. It is also possible, however, that the brevity of the Vita Serviana—also reflected in its rewriting of the praefatio to the Eclogues, which is shorter than the one found in the Vita Donatiana (cf. Naumann 1975; Monno 2006; Holtz 2011)—could derive in part from certain sections of the Life being lost during the course of its manuscript transmission. Support for this view comes from the fact that Servius’ praefatio to the Eclogues cites Donatus for the order in which Vergil’s works were composed (quod etiam in poetae memoravimus Vita), even though there is no trace of this in the Vita as it has come down to us (cf. Norden 1906). Despite this, Servius does not limit himself to repeating the details found in Donatus’ Vita. The following notices represent points of divergence:
One branch of the manuscript tradition ends the Life with a passage that—despite the objections of the Harvard editors—should be considered an interpolation. It offers three pieces of information: a) a notice that Vergil died at Tarentum while preparing to visit Metapontum; b) a notice that he was buried at Naples (a detail also found in Donatus); and c) a transcription of his epitaph.
Of all the Lives of Vergil that have survived to us, the Vita Serviana enjoyed the greatest popularity in the medieval period thanks to its presence in a commentary of the poet’s works. This led it to have a great impact on the medieval tradition of Lives of Vergil, not only through the form of the accessus that it proposes at its start, but also for its contents: in fact, there are numerous medieval Lives that used the Vita Serviana as their principal source, mostly in tandem with the lemmata on Vergil found in Jerome’s Chronicle (cf. Suebaum 1986; Stok 1991).
The text of the Vita Serviana is published in editions of Servius, in many editions of Vergil, and in collections of the Vitae Vergilianae: Nettleship 1879: 21-4; Diehl 1910: 40-3; Brummer 1912: 68-72; Hardie 1954 (=1957b): 17-20 (=1965: 21-4); Bayer 1958: 582-5 (=1970b: 242-4, with German translation); García 1985: 167-9, in Spanish translation; Brugnoli and Stok 1991: 448-9; Brugnoli and Stok 1997: 137-57; Ziolkowski and Putnam 2008: 202-5, with English translation). [F. Stok; tr. C. L. Caterine].