THE SOURCE: "Tape Delay" by Madeline Miller, in Lapham'sQuarterly. 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 …