Publius Vergilius Maro or Vergil, the Roman poet known for The Aeneid, one of the great epic poems in history, sponsored a lavish funeral for a fly, a common housefly he claimed was a favorite pet. The funeral ceremony was held in Vergil’s splendid mansion on Esquiline Hill in Rome. An orchestra was on hand to soothe the paid mourners. Many celebrities attended, among them Vergil’s patron, Maecenas, who gave a long and moving eulogy to the fly. To cap it off, Vergil himself wrote several poems for the occasion and read them. The fly was buried in a special mausoleum. The entire extravaganza cost Vergil 800,000 sesterces – about $100,000.
What motivated this funeral to a fly? Vergil may have known in advance that the government – the second triumvirate of Octavius, Lepidus and Mark Antony – planned to confiscate the property of the rich and parcel it out to war veterans. One exception was that no grounds containing burial plots were to be touched. When this law came to pass, Vergil sought exemption because there was a mausoleum on his land. Exemption was granted, and Vergil’s housefly had saved his master’s property.