on that new translation of The Aeneid
, from the Boston Globe.
It's not just the retro vogue in sword-and-sandal flicks, from Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" to HBO's "Rome" -- all that costume drama as a kind of makeshift shadow play on the jittery state of the American geopolitical psyche. Academics too have lately been making heavy weather with what the Princeton historian Harold James calls "the imperial analogy." Niall Ferguson, for one, has practically made a career out of promoting that angle, and it's right there in the admonitory title of his 2004 tome, "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire." James himself has just come out with a new study called "The Roman Predicament: How the Rules of International Order Create the Politics of Empire," complete with a cover caricature of George W. Bush decked out as Caesar.
So does a vetting of "The Aeneid" lend credence to these sweeping imperial parallels? Was its author the consummate apologist for empire, or something closer to its brooding voice of conscience? Readers who might be cramming for a handy take-home message are best advised to take a breather. The durable relevance of "The Aeneid" has everything to do with Virgil's profound sense of ambivalence over the wages of war and peace.