The Aeneid stands as a towering work of Classical Roman literature and a gripping dramatization of the best and worst of human nature. In the process of creating this epic poem, Vergil (70–19 BCE) became a living legend.
But the real Vergil is a shadowy figure; we know that he was born into a modest rural family, that he led a private and solitary life, and that, in spite of poor health and unusual emotional vulnerabilities, he worked tirelessly to achieve exquisite new effects in verse. Vergil’s most famous work, the Aeneid, was commissioned by the emperor Augustus, who published the epic despite Vergil’s dying wish that it be destroyed.
In Vergil: The Poet's Life (Yale UP, 2023), Sarah Ruden, widely praised for her translation of the Aeneid, uses evidence from Roman life and history alongside Vergil’s own writings in an endeavor to reconstruct his life and personality. Through her intimate knowledge of Vergil’s work, she evokes the image of a poet who was committed to creating something astonishingly new and memorable, even at great personal cost.
Benjamin Phillips is an MA student in History at Ohio University. His primary field is Late Antique Cultural and Intellectual History.
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