Virgil was commissioned by the Emperor Augustus to write the Aeneid in about 30BC. The theme of the importance of sensibility, hard work and religion that Virgil had shown in his earlier works, the Eclogues and the Georgics, was exactly what Augustus thought Rome needed to reclaim order after the civil war.
The Aeneid is a fictional epic tale of Aeneas, a Trojan prince, on his journey over land and sea to become the founder of Italy. After the Greeks slip out of their huge wooden horse into his city of Troy, Aeneas is faced with the perils of his city’s defeat. As the son to Venus, he is told that he has a divine destiny that he must carry out for himself and the Trojan people, and that he must leave his beloved home behind. Throughout the traditional 12-part epic, Aeneas’ faith is tested as he faces adversity, the loss of loved-ones, near-death experiences, and the temptations to live an easier life by simply abandoning his fated mission.
Roman Silver Denarius with a portrait of the Emporer Augustus. Acc# 180.96.18, James Logie Memorial Collection.
Ultimately, Aeneas does achieve his goal of founding a new home for the Trojans in Italy, and so the epic acts as a reminder that fortune comes to those who persevere through adversity. Like any modern novel the character of Aeneas was meant to be humanly credible, with obvious strengths and weaknesses, so that educated Romans could relate to him. In addition, through scenes such as Aeneas mercilessly killing the Rutulian Prince Turnus at the end of Book 12, his character flaws were supposed to act as a warning to Emperor Augustus himself of the ruthless behaviour that can come with power.
Gawin Douglas, the author of this translation of the Aeneid, was obviously not satisfied with this ending, because he decided to include a 13th book which was composed by Maffeo Vegio in 1428. As a much more congenial ending to the traditional 12-part Aeneid, this version uses hope rather than fear to motivate readers to live a god-fearing and law-abiding life.