After publishing highly acclaimed translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Princeton scholar Fagles presents a new version of Virgil's Aeneid, that great epic of ancient Rome, narrating the journey of Aeneas, who flees the burning city of Troy and is sent by the gods to found what will become the Roman Empire.

Was it always your plan to translate all three of these major epics? Were you working your way up to the Aeneid?

I don't think I ever had that plan. I tried my hand at the Aeneid because it was the closest thing I could find to a sequel to Homer.

Do you think Virgil's original audience was hungry for a sequel?

I think it's very likely. I can see that audience saying, after an experience of Homer, "More! More! Give me more!" There's a lot of drive coming off the Iliad and the Odyssey to be told what really happened at Troy on that fateful night.

Do you see differences between Homer's writing and Virgil's?

Homer is a public, oral poet. He's not a literary artifact at all. Virgil is a great literary artifact. When I began reading Virgil in Latin, I came upon something very obvious: even in our most private acts of reading, we are performers.

Do you find it difficult to put yourself into the mindset of a culture that is so distant from ours?

In many ways I do. The mores, language, customs and history are different. At the same time things like the Aeneid, the Iliad and the Odyssey are so eternal that they're not only timely, they're timeless. I've come to think that Aeneas is a very modern hero: beset by the gods of history, burdened by his mission and trying to find some relationship between what he is told he must do and what he really desires to do. It's an age-old burden: the problem of fate and free will.

How might the Aeneid speak to the contemporary world?

Without trying to ride the horse of relevance, people have said that the Aeneid is about the price of empire, imperialism and colonization. The price is very high indeed, and it's a price that we seem to keep on paying, without learning or profiting from it. My advice is not to search for relevance; read the poem and let it sink in. The ties between today and yesteryear are unavoidable. And they don't always console, either; they often point to the same foibles, weaknesses and vulnerabilities that we've been saddled with generation in and generation out.