Back to the ancient world again for one of the greatest epics ever written. Octavian, who had defeated Antony in 31 BC and upon whom the title "Augustus" had been bestowed four years later by the Roman Senate, pressed Virgil to write an epic to praise his regime.
Virgil responded with the Aeneid, the writing of which took up the last ten years of his life. The first six books of the epic tell how the Trojan hero Aeneas escapes from the sacking of Troy and makes his way to Italy. On the voyage, a storm drives him to the coast of Carthage, where the queen Dido, welcomes him, and under the influence of the gods falls deeply in love with him. Jupiter recalls Aeneas to his duty, however, and he slips away from Carthage, leaving Dido to commit suicide, cursing Aeneas as revenge. On reaching Cumae, in Italy, Aeneas consults the Cumaean Sibyl, who conducts him through the Underworld and reveals his destiny to him. Aeneas is reborn as the creator of Imperial Rome.
The six books (of "first writing") are modeled on Homer’s Odyssey, but the last six are the Roman answer to the Iliad. Aeneas is betrothed to Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus, but Lavinia had already been promised to Turnus, the king of the Rutulians, who is roused to war by the Fury Allecto. The Aeneid ends with a single combat between Aeneas and Turnus, whom Aeneas defeats and kills, spurning his plea for mercy.
Thus all the glory and sweep of Homer but with far more realistic characters.
A side note in passing, this marks the 10% point in the MobileRead series of Harvard Classics.
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