Robert Fagles' new translation of Virgil's masterpiece has received excellent reviews from many sources, and it was that printed in the first London Review of Books of 2007 that caused me to pause long enough in the book shop to pick up a copy for myself. Since then I have been held captivated by the force of this extraordinary narrative, told with great skill and sensitivity by a master of the translator's art.
Fagles, we are told, comes to Virgil from a Hellenistic background, having produced acclaimed renditions of Homer, and his skill in that most difficult of disciplines is evident from his confidence in creating new for us one of literature's most famous opening lines. Most impressive is his ability to balance dramatic urgency of narrative with a measured and never over-the-top tone, achieving a sense of balance which retains for the work a distinctly "classical" feeling.
However, it is the story itself that makes this book quite so stunning, and rightly so. The cast of characters is extraordinary, from the mightiest of gods to the most base of humans, yet the semi-divine hero of the tale, Aeneas, son of Venus, remains profoundly human throughout. His grief at having to forsake Dido is not some passing gesture in the mouth of a man obsessed by destiny, yet Aeneas knows it remains to him to take the household gods of Troy, laid waste by the Greeks, and sail to found his new kingdom at Rome.
Such is the awe-inspiring reputation of this work that one is unlikely to turn to it for entertainment, let alone light reading, but it is entertainment of the very best sort that this book offers. The world created by Virgil and opened up to us by Robert Fagles is more vivid than any fiction of the intervening two thousand years, and it can be highly recommended to every reader.