Read my review in Spanish here: http://bit.ly/161XNXO
I did like this one much better than the original Greek poems. This is the roman version of the Iliad and the Oddisey. Virgil wisely took the best of the heroes, and added some qualities that they clearly didn't have such as maturity (Aeneas is a man, unlike Achiles and Ulyses, who are grown up children). And he also added humanity and mercy. Of course being a better person did not stop Aeneas to kill his enemies, but he did so with disgust, he did not like to kill or to impose suffering. He did it because he had a strong sense of duty, but he did realize how absurd all of that was. In sum, I really liked this guy.
I read it with minimum understanding of ancient Roman history and culture, 30 years after last having studied something similar in school.
The first clear result is: yes you can read epics with your standard contemporary reader's mind and it does make quite some sense - see two lessons in Italian culture below.
As a very unartistic fellow, I missed much of the aesthetic beauty and felt in awe of the epic propaganda effort that's how you sanction a people's superiority and roots by making up a myth and bolstering it with thousands of lines.
With hindsight, it may be better for those who understand even a basic Latin to read it in double version, so one can capture a few of the most impressive phrases in the original.
Two points struck me as uncannily capturing what is Italian culture to this day:
- Aenea's apology to Dido - "yes, I am leaving you after eternal love promises, and after you fell for it as a jerk, but it's somebody else's fault - and I would marry you if I could, and I never quite promised anything anyway"
- at the end of the athletic games, losers generously cheat to help their friends win against other winners, then each player takes parts according to self interest, finally additional prizes are given to those cheated to keep the everybody happy and the party going.