Sarah Ruden, translator
Yale University Press, 320 pages, $35
Introductions to Virgil’s Aeneid often begin with reference to Homer. Rightly so. Knowing the Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil translated and reworked phrases, similes, and an enormous number of episodes and elements from them for his Aeneid—so much so that already during his lifetime he was criticized for stealing. He reportedly replied to his critics that they should try such theft: they’d find it was easier to snatch Hercules’ club from him than to take verses from Homer. Readers of Greek and Latin would agree that whatever the difficulty, Virgil could have taken Hercules’ club and lion skin and anything else he wanted. However much he borrowed, his monumental account of Aeneas and the origins of Rome and Roman values is his own.
But Virgil was right about the...