“Rage..Sing” is how the story of The Iliad begins. It was a story of war and bravery that is still preserved after ten thousand years, written to tell the Greeks who they were supposed to admire and aspire to be.
The heroes were super human and brave.
We don’t know that much about Homer, the author. We are sure that it started as a memorized poem, and then it was written down as soon as writing became a thing.
It’s full of gods, goddesses and impossible heroism. It’s history, but then again…it couldn’t have really happened.
It was 8 thousand years later, with the images and rhythms of Homer’s epic still bright in their memory, the Romans got a version of their own history when Virgil produced The Aeneid. Virgil writes a new epic poem, taking a character Aeneas from the Iliad and inventing a story of how he escaped the fall of Troy, with his son and went on to found Rome. One the way, he stops and conquers all of Rome’s contemporary enemies to prove that from LONG AGO Rome was destined to beat them in battle.
The people who heard the poem had to know it was a new poem. But since the audience had just been given a new story about themselves, a new story about where they came from it was very popular.
It was total fiction. It was transparent propaganda.
But Caesar Augustus and his court really liked it. It made them feel good.
I could see this kind of self-deception as a problem. How foolish and vain are these people, to allow themselves to be flattered by an obvious fabrication!
I used to feel that way.
But I have learned the power of the stories we tell ourselves. Honestly, I would like to compose my own Aenied.
A story I can pull out to tell me how I have a history of being brave and strong, even it is the most flattering interpretation of event, is a really valuable thing.
The stories I tell myself are just about the most powerful motivator I have.
It’s easy and unsurprising to give in to shame and self-doubt.
It is a hero’s work to move towards our best selves. Virgil gave Caesar Augustus a semi-fictional role model. I’m all for fictional role models. Those stories can keep me going.