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Virgil's Aeneid: A Forbidden Masterpiece
on 23 January 2002
This translation of Virgil's masterpiece is the perfect choice for a reader who wishes to experience the original form of this Augustine work of art. It is written in easy flowing and accessible blank verse, unlike the rather cloggy and unattractive prose translations. After all The Aeneid was written to be read as an epic poem: not the post Renaissance format of a novel, and Lewis's translation is as close to capturing the originally intended delivery as you can get without the lengthy process of learning Latin.
This classic epic poem was commissioned by Augustus Caesar in 31BC, a task which was reluctantly accepted by Virgil. Ten years of writing followed, and unfortunately the poet died, by contracting a disease, whilst returning from a trip to Athens. The epic was not fully revised by then, yet the contents of all twelve books are complete except for a rather abrupt ending.
However, just before his death Virgil left strict instructions for The Aeneid to be burnt: lost to the world for all time. Yet this command was counteracted by Caesar. Why was this? Why didn't Virgil want the greatest poem in Latin to be discovered for its prominence?
These are questions which will truly interest any reader. When you hold this book in your hands you cannot help thinking that Virgil did not want you to read this - if it had not been for the Imperial arm of Caesar we would be forever lacking this great Latin work. Thus a guilty feeling pervades when reading The Aeneid, moreover, those of you already well versed in Greek mythology will know that Actaeon paid very highly for his antlers, a lesson hard to forget whilst perusing forbidden splendour.
When commissioned to write an epic with the sole purpose of portraying an almighty Augustus in 31 BC it is difficult to capture the magic of the Homeric sagas. To have the inclusion of gods and mystical powers in ordered Roman society would have been simply laughed at.
Therefore Virgil chose the legendary founder of Rome - Aeneas of Troy - as the protagonist of his epic. This poem documents the various adventures of Aphrodite's son: whose quest is to find his destined homeland - Italy. Jupiter has ordained that Aeneas's ancestors will become the great masters of Rome, and it is here that Virgil can cleverly celebrate Augustus's magnificent achievements.
But what is the underlying meaning to Virgil's epic? What you can witness in The Aeneid is Homer's similar appreciation of acts of bravery; yet what you will observe for the first time is the dreadful price that Imperialism exacts. Aeneas is forced to reject his passionate love, experience the death of his father, and kill the noble sons of people he is destined to rule.
Therefore a fundamental enigma in Virgil's work must be to endeavour whether this is a work that supports Imperialism or refutes it. Did Virgil advocate Augustus's omnipotence? If yes, why did the poet wish the epic to be destroyed? The price of blood for the fellowship of freedom is one continual theme that pervades not only archaic history, but also that of the modern day; and in Virgil's masterpiece it is portrayed no less effectively than in all great works of literature.