Friday, April 8, 2011

"No day shall erase you from the memory of time..." the memorial inscription planned for the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, taken from Vergil's Aeneid. Bad call, says author Caroline Alexander--these words describe the death of Nisus and Euryalus, two close friends who die together after having massacred a number of Rutulians:
The central sentiment that the young men were fortunate to die together could, perhaps, at one time have been defended as a suitable commemoration of military dead who fell with their companions. To apply the same sentiment to civilians killed indiscriminately in an act of terrorism, however, is grotesque.
David Post of the Volokh Conspiracy calls it "the Snarkest NY Times Op-Ed for 2011":
Sorry, but Caroline Alexander does not get to decide for the rest of us what those words on the inscription “mean.” Neither, actually, does Virgil (though he’s got a helluva better claim on it than she does). The words mean what we decide they mean. This notion that they’re somehow frozen forever in time, attached to Virgil’s tale, is ridiculous and the worst form of elitism. “No day shall erase you from the memory of time” strikes me as a perfectly appropriate sentiment for this memorial. That Virgil used these words for a different purpose is interesting and entirely irrelevant to whether they are appropriate.
Oh, please! (As Post writes.) Count me on Alexander's side here. The sentiment, taken alone, provides an appropriate memorial, but the sentiment was not written for the occasion. Rather, it was taken out of a work that has its own clear set of implications, some of which are rather grotesque for the most important civil memorial of our lifetime. Those who chose the quotation have consciously chosen the the association with Vergil; otherwise, why not write original words? Furthermore, it is unclear to me why Post's interpretation should be considered more valid than Alexander's, especially when Alexander has the added support of context. It isn't clear to me why quoting Vergil out of context is any better than quoting a living person--say, David Post--out of context. Those who died in the Twin Towers deserve a thoughtful memorial, and this isn't it.

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