Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Cultural Memory and Constructed Ethnicity in Vergil's Aeneid
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This dissertation examines the ways in which the Aeneid’s fictionalized ethnic communities—principally the Trojans, Carthaginians, Latins, and Arcadians—construct and promote their collective identities, and how members of these groups employ memory and identity in political rhetoric. Building on theoretical and comparative sources on ethnicity, national identity, and cultural memory, this study shows that the depiction of ethnic identity and communal politics within the world of the poem corresponds closely with real practices among ancient Mediterranean communities, most pertinently Augustan Rome. Like their historical counterparts, the epic’s fictive communities employ cultural memory and identity in several political activities, including diplomacy, elite self-representation, and public displays. Vergil’s characters also appeal to shared identity and values to mobilize collective action, reinforce group solidarity, and legitimize political decisions or leadership. The dissertation applies this evidence to a broad literary analysis of the Aeneid and a re-evaluation of its engagement with contemporary Augustan ideology. Chapter 1 introduces the dissertation’s thesis and place in current scholarship on Vergil, and examines the Aeneas myth in the Republican and Augustan periods as a case study of cultural memory’s role in politics and propaganda. Turning to the epic itself, Chapter 2 elaborates the evidence for cultural memory and identity among the Aeneid’s four major ethnic groups (the Trojans, Carthaginians, Latins, and Arcadians), and analyzes the ways in which cultural memory and ethnicity are expressed and employed in their political activity. Chapter 3 reads the Trojans’ journey to Italy as a narrative of exile and collective trauma, and argues that the most intimate concern of Aeneas and his refugee people in founding a new community is securing the continuity of their Trojan identity in the wake of Troy’s collapse. Chapter 4 addresses the poem’s depiction of Italian identity in Books 7-12, interpreting the rhetoric of Italian solidarity and anti-Trojan polemic voiced by Turnus and his allies as an effort to construct a new sense of unity and collective identity among the diverse peoples opposing Aeneas.