Just before Virgil (70-19 BC) died, he left instructions that his epic poem, The Aeneid, should be burned. Caesar Augustus (the one who called the census which brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem) disagreed with Virgil’s dying wishes and rescued the manuscript at least in part because the story legitimized Roman culture and rule.
The Aeneid is a sequel of sorts to Homer’s Iliad. The Iliad narrates the Trojan war. At the end of the war, Odysseus journeys home (see Homer’s Odyssey) and Aeneid escapes and goes on his own convoluted journey. The good Aeneid begins the book fleeing the ruins of Troy and ends a mature hero who wins a new homeland: Rome.
Most interesting in The Aeneid is the interplay between divine and human agents. The gods are capricious, following up petty insults with life-altering storms. They back various human actors to play out their own squabbles. Eventually Jupiter has to step in with a stern, “Stop it!”
From a Christian perspective The Aeneid is a depressing world where capricious deities and fates tug humans around like puppets. Despite this, many Christian theologians were inspired by the ethics of the good Aeneid. In his Divine Comedy, Dante summoned up Virgil to guide him through Hell and Purgatory!
The Collector’s Library edition features a prose translation by J. W. MacKail. The most difficult part of reading The Aeneid was remembering all the names. SparkNotes does an excellent job summarizing the plot of each book and describing the significance of the narrative. I recommend reading SparkNotes before and after each book of The Aeneid to aid in comprehension.
The Aeneid is a foundational work of literature that deserves its reputation as a classic.
Virgil. The Aeneid. Translated by J. W. MacKail. London: Collector’s Library, 2004.