This essay attempts to develop some ideas about national identity as envisioned in the "Aeneid", with two foci: the lack of clarity concerning Aeneas' own nationality, and the inaccuracies in the descriptions of the foreigners portrayed on Aeneas' Vulcanian shield. I aim to undermine the notion that Vergil's own generation and Augustus' regime should be assumed to be the "climax," "culmination," or "fulfillment" of the historical process as the "Aeneid" imagines it, and to present reasons for thinking that Vergil's audience was being invited, instead, to imagine a very long-range future-to expand for themselves the scope of the poem and meet its challenge. I discuss the possibility that Vergil himself was not born either Roman or technically Italian and mention also the probable high proportion of his original audience born without the Roman franchise and admitted to it in the 80s or in 49. I argue that the extended historical range-finder through which the poem requires its readers to view themselves and their inheritors is designed to impose upon them the task of seeking a version of mos (civilized traditional customs) that can be made universal, and the task also of regarding present opponents as destined future fellow-Romans.
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