The Emperor's New Clothes
THE SOURCE: “Tape Delay” by Madeline Miller, in Lapham’s Quarterly, Spring 2012.
For centuries, ambitious rulers have cloaked themselves in the mantle of patriotism they found in Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid. Elizabeth I minted coins with words from Virgil (70–19 BC), and America’s Founders quoted him on the nation’s great seal. Benito Mussolini had Virgil’s books reissued and his likeness printed on stamps, and even staged a bimillennial extravaganza in 1930.
On its surface, the Aeneid is an imperialist screed, telling of the half-god Aeneas’s travels from his Trojan homeland to subdue the backward Latin peoples and found Rome. But...