The Shield of Aeneas: Narratives of WorldHistorical Mission, Ancient and Modern
As pointed out by John Taylor, both the Old Testament and Virgil’s Aeneid evoke “the grand theme of national identity linked to cosmic purposes […] the formation of a people under the superintending hand of Providence.” The many narratives of the Marxist tradition—including the Communist Manifesto, Lassalle’s idea of the Fourth Estate, Kautsky’s Erfurt Program, Lenin’s “heroic scenario,” and the “socialist realist” novels of the Stalin era—are based on the same logic. All these narratives tell of a collectivity that, by the very act of fighting for survival in a hostile world, is destined to carry out a world-historical mission. These narratives also share a particular reflexive quality: their plots center on a protagonist’s gradual realization of his role in a grander, all-encompassing historical narrative. An emblem of this feature is the Shield of Aeneas, which (in contrast to the Shield of Achilles) outlines a world-historical narrative, namely, the rise of Rome. In this way, Aeneas is the prototype of the “inspired and inspiring hero” central to Marxist narratives of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Aeneid can thus be termed “the first socialist realist novel.”
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