Vergil’s final work was the Aeneid. He planned for it to be the Romans’ version of the Iliad and the Odyssey put together. For this endeavor, he combined many foundation myths and focused on the Aeneas myth harkening back to Homeric legend. Although his version of the myth has become canonized, many of his details were inventions or alterations. The work was crafted to glorify the rulers of the Imperial age, chiefly Augustus, for having created peace after so many years of war. Vergil spent the last decade of his life working on it and died with it incomplete. When Augustus found the mostly complete manuscript, he had two other scholars prepare it for publication because he liked it so much.
Vergil was a member of what is now called the golden age of Latin Literature. Other poets in this tradition were Catullus, Horace and Ovid. Vergil is, by far, the most widely read of these today. Horace shared Maecenas as a patron with Vergil and Catullus, though dead over a decade before Vergil published, was a member of a very influential movement called Alexandrianism, the elements of which permeate certain parts of Vergil’s works. His work was adored by the Caesars and quickly became part of the traditional Roman school and literature program. It became as widely read as the Homeric epics in Latin-speaking areas. His manuscripts were frequently copied and later enhanced with elaborate illustrations. Besides the Homeric epics, his works represent the best manuscript tradition from Classical antiquity.
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Because it was so commonly read and respected, the Aeneid became the most well-preserved example of Latin literature from this period. It influenced early medieval authors such as Milton and Dante. Late Renaissance and Elizabethan writers also found Vergil a good source of inspiration. In the twentieth century, Vergil has retained a wide readership through many levels of education, while maintaining influence on writers from Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot to Robert Frost. According to Theodore Ziolkowski: “Virgil has permeated modern culture and society in ways that would be unimaginable in the case of most other icons of Western civilization” (ix).