For the rest of his life Vergil worked on the Aeneid, a national epic honoring Rome and foretelling prosperity to come. The adventures of Aeneas are unquestionably one of the greatest long poems in world literature. Vergil made Aeneas the paragon of the most revered Roman virtues—devotion to family, loyalty to the state, and piety. In 12 books, Vergil tells how Aeneas escaped from Troy to Carthage, where he became Dido 's lover and related his adventures to her. At Jupiter's command, he left Carthage, went to Sicily, visited his father's shade in Hades, and landed in Italy. There he established the beginnings of the Roman state and waged successful war against the natives. The work ends with the death of Turnus at the hands of Aeneas. The verse, in dactylic hexameters, is strikingly regular, though Vergil's death left the epic incomplete and some of the lines unfinished. The sonority of the words and the nobility of purpose make the Aeneid a masterpiece. Vergil is the dominant figure in all Latin literature. His influence continued unabated through the Middle Ages, and many poets since Dante have acknowledged their great debt to him. Minor poems ascribed to Vergil are of doubtful authorship. For translations of the Aeneid see A. Mandelbaum (1981), R. Fitzgerald (1983, 1985), R. Fagles (2006), and S. Heaney (Book VI, 2016).
See biographies by F. J. H. Letters (1946), T. Frank (1922, repr. 1965), and B. Otis (1966); W. F. J. Knight, Vergil, Epic and Anthropology (1967); F. Cairns, Virgil's Augustan Epic (1989); K. W. Grandsen, Virgil (1990).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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