Vergil - Aeneid and the Classical Tradition
The Aeneid had been commissioned by the emperor (Augustus) to glorify Rome and the Roman people by means of a Homeric epic about the adventures of Aeneas, ancestor of Romulus and the Julian line.
"The real subject of the Aeneid is not Aeneas... it is Rome and the glories of her empire, seen as the romanticist sees the great past. The first title given it was The Deeds of the Roman People. Aeneas is important because he carries Rome's destiny; he is to be her founder by the high decrees of fate."
Edith Hamilton, The Roman Way, 1960
( www.sjc.ox.ac.uk/users/ gorney/aencrit.htm - Critical Approaches to the Aeneid )
It was a laborious undertaking and so, after 11 years of work on it, it wasn't finished when the poet died. Vergil (or Virgil) had asked that the Aeneid be burned rather than published should he die before it was finished, but Augustus countermanded these instructions.
Although the author was dead, his Aeneid was immortal. St. Augustine (Ep. 137) believed Vergil had foretold the birth of Jesus in the Aeneid. Vergil acted as guide to Dante Alighieri, known as the greatest writer of the Middle Ages and author of The Divine Comedy. It was Vergil who led Dante through his literary Hell and Purgatory. All together there are 200 references showing a debt to Vergil in Dante's work (p. 79, Highet), twice as many as to Ovid. Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) modeled his Africa on the Aeneid. Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the Theseid in the classical form of twelve books and in precisely the same number of lines as Aeneid. He is said to have started its composition sitting in Vergil's tomb. Geoffrey Chaucer summarized the Aeneid in The House of Fame and The Legend of Dido.
In the Renaissance, Vergil's Aeneid appeared translated into prose or paraphrased into Gaelic, French, and Spanish in the fifteenth century. A French verse translation appeared about 1500 and in 1515 T. Murner created a German version. In 1513 a Scotsman translated it into heroic couplets.
Prose and verse, the translations continued. Even John Keats created a prose translation of the entire Aeneid by age 14. But that's nothing compared with Victor Hugo who translated Vergil at sight at age nine in the entrance exam for his school. Matthew Arnold and Alfred Lord Tennyson were also inspired by the Augustan poet.
Today translating Vergil's Aeneid is still important for those interested in the Classics as it has been a standard part of the AP Latin course.