“Troy Fell, Let It Perish With Its Name”: Jupiter Decides the Fate of Refugees From the East

“When they make peace through joyful weddings,
(May it happen), when the laws and treaties have joined them,
Do not allow the Latins to change their ancient name
either in becoming Trojans or being called Teucrians.
Don’t let them change their language or their clothing,
may it be Latium, may there be Alban kings for generations;
may the Roman race be strong through Italian power.
It fell: let Troy perish with its name.”

Laughing, the master of man and creation responded:
“Truly you are the sister of Jove and Saturn’s other child:
Such waves of rage turn within your chest.
But come, put down your rage conceived in vain—
I grant what you want, and, overcome, I willingly give in.
The Ausonians will preserve their inherited tongue and customs,
The name will stay as it is—the Teucrians will fade into the land
Once they have shared their blood. I will provide their sacred rites
And will unite all the Latins in a single tongue.
You will see a race mixed with Ausonian blood rise up
And outpace all men, even the gods in devotion,
No other race will perform your honors the same.”

cum iam conubis pacem felicibus, esto,
component, cum iam leges et foedera iungent,
ne vetus indigenas nomen mutare Latinos
neu Troas fieri iubeas Teucrosque vocari
aut vocem mutare viros aut vertere vestem.
Sit Latium, sint Albani per saecula reges,
sit Romana potens Itala virtute propago:
occidit, occideritque sinas cum nomine Troia.”
Olli subridens hominum rerumque repertor
“Es germana Iovis Saturnique altera proles:
irarum tantos volvis sub pectore fluctus.
Verum age et inceptum frustra submitte furorem
do quod vis, et me victusque volensque remitto.
Sermonem Ausonii patrium moresque tenebunt,
utque est nomen erit; commixti corpore tantum
subsident Teucri. Morem ritusque sacrorum
adiciam faciamque omnis uno ore Latinos.
Hinc genus Ausonio mixtum quod sanguine surget,
supra homines, supra ire deos pietate videbis,
nec gens ulla tuos aeque celebrabit honores.”

Caveat Lector: Personal commentary follows…

Anyone who happens to read this site will sometimes come upon obvious references to current events; other times the subtexts of the selected passages may be clear only to frequent visitors or those more familiar with the particular texts. More often than not, we mull over arcane references, silly passages, or the obscure and strange. Less often, we are serious.

I lived in NYC for 9/11 and walked out of the city along with many thousands of others from lower Manhattan across the Queensboro Bridge. It was my first semester in graduate school and I was not alone in wondering if I was in the right place—my family begged me to come home, to leave the danger behind me. The first week back in classes, there were moments of silence, awkward attempts to recognize the magnitude of what had occurred and then a mad, dogged return to business. We marched into Aeschylus, Plato and more, but it took an effort.

It was Homer that brought me balance again. Rather than doing my actual coursework, I plowed back through the Iliad, finding the war passages even more brutal as our bombs began to drop on Afghanistan, appreciating the epic all the more for its treatment of the Trojans as our public rhetoric split the world into us and evildoers.

It would probably be a stretch to say Homer saved me, but not a long one. So, when the world outside has seemed too much, I have often taken shelter in our texts—finding solace and new meaning in the Odyssey at the sudden death of my father and renewed hope in discussing many other texts both inside and outside the classroom.

But I have struggled to do this successfully since the attacks in Paris last week, and the all too typical political responses in their wake. The first stage was accepting yet again that fear of sudden violence is part of human life (and has been more often than not); the second is acknowledging the far greater suffering that those not protected by two immense oceans are undergoing.

What does Classical literature have to teach us about refugees, shameless political posturing, and the consequences of now nearly two decades of war? Some variation of this question has been dogging me all week. A facile parallel is the flight of refugees from Asia after a war between West and the East—Aeneas’ search for a home.

I don’t cite the passage above with any pleasure or approval. I have always been troubled by Jupiter’s compromise here—without religion, language or custom, without even a name, the Trojans themselves are erased; they become a footnote in someone else’s story. Even more troubling: Juno’s pleasure.

There are many conclusions we could draw, further parallels we could find between this tale and our own, but I don’t believe the results would be altogether satisfying. So, I wonder, is this the best we can do? Can Classics give us some hope for more humane resolutions to a series of conflicts that show no sign of ending? Can we even imagine peace between West and East without the erasure of one or the other?

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