Maybe there’s something to the timing. As Americans turn against a war and occupation whose origins and conduct are defined by arrogance, mendacity and lawlessness, a new translation of Virgil’s epic poem about empire, “The Aeneid,” is being published this week.
In an interview in Monday’s New York Times, translator Robert Fagles speaks of the timelessness and timeliness of the epic –and of its relevance for the contemporary situation. “It’s a poem about empire,” Fagles explains, “and was commissioned by the emperor Augustus to celebrate the spread of Roman civilization. To begin with it’s a cautionary tale, about the terrible ills that attend empire–its war-making capacity, the loss of blood and treasure both. But it’s all done in the name of the rule of law, which you’d have a hard time ascribing to what we’re doing in the Middle East today.”
“It’s also a tale of exhortation. It says that if you depart from the civilized, then you become a murderer. The price of empire is very steep, but Virgil shows how it is to be earned, if it’s to be earned at all. The poem can be read as an exhortation for us to behave ourselves, which is a horse of relevance that ought to be ridden.”
Isn’t it time we rode that “horse of relevance”?