Event Detail

Fri Mar 18, 2011
370 Dwinelle Hall, 12:30–2:30 AM
Sather Lecture
Alessandro Barchiesi (University of Siena at Arezzo and Stanford University)
The War for Italia: Conflict and Collective Memory in Vergil’s Aeneid - The Aeneid and the Destiny of Italy

This is the fourth and final lecture in the 2011 Sather lecture series.

E pluribus unum? Is Vergil’s Aeneid the story of the creation of unity out of diversity, and what kind of unity? In modern thought, it is easier to imagine fragmentation as the status that comes after, not before unity. One could think, alternatively, of the Latin slogan that has been adopted (without much publicity) by the European union, in varietate concordia (less assertive than the previous suggestion, in varietate unitas!).

This is a fruitful angle if one wants to investigate one important polarity in the history of the epic genre: the tension and interaction between the global and the local. In these lectures I examine the relationship between Italy and Rome in Vergil’s Aeneid and the way it functions as a foundational narrative for the Roman empire. In lecture (i), I argue that the Social War, a critical phase in Roman/Italic history, is important to Vergil’s narrative of the war between the Trojans and the Italic peoples – I cannot say ‘intertextual with the Aeneid’ because there is no specific text to reckon with, and I will have to invoke the notion of ‘collective memory’. Then in (ii), ‘Ennius and the dark Virgin,’ I explore what can be reconstructed about Roman Republican imaginations of Discord and its working in the history of Italia. (iii) examines representations of Italic landscapes in the Aeneid, especially wilderness, as seen in mountains and woods, and (super)natural phenomena, volcanic and sulphurous. I discuss those images in a double perspective: on the one side ‘wild Italy’ anticipates ideas of Roman control over nature, on the other it allows the poem to be read not only as a meditation on the Italic past, but as a foundational text for Roman imperial expansion, colonial and diasporic.

There will be one more chapter in the book version (but not in the performed series), an analysis of how the Aeneid imagines the ethnogenesis of the Romans and the relationship with the ethnic groups of Italy. This is followed, at least ideally, by the final lecture of the series (iv), where I turn my attention to the functions of Rome and Italia in the evolution of modern Italy. In a nation that only has 150 years of history (the anniversary we rather quietly celebrate this year), literature, education and culture played a major role in the formation of collective identity before the creation of the nation-state, and revision of the past has therefore been a constant activity. If we adopt a comparative perspective with other European states and communities, it is impressive that identification and continuity with the Roman state has been more a source of problems and anxieties than a foundation for national identity.

In the light of my Virgilian discussion, I examine two Italian historical novels dealing with a quest for the origins of Italy (they were published respectively in the 1830s and 1990s): this helps me to formulate a question about Italian cultural identity. As a national discourse about Italy came into being, it confronted the problem of arbitrating between Rome and Italia, with contrasting results. On the one hand, emphasizing Rome accelerates ideas of unity and unification, but the unity generates bad politics, in which Italy is seen as the host to something greater; shifting towards Italia allows the recuperation of local identities and popular tradition, but it can encourage fragmentation and localism.