The Greeks shape bronze statues so real they seem to breathe,
And carve cold marble until it almost comes to life.
The Greeks compose great orations, and measure
The heavens so well they can predict the rising of the stars.
But you, Romans, remember your great arts;
To govern the peoples with authority,
To establish peace under the rule of law,
To conquer the mighty, and show them mercy once they are conquered.
From Book VI of Virgil’s The Aeneid.
Throughout the day, as a break from studying for exams, I’ve been flipping through the middle third of Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of The Aeneid. Other versions of the full text are available online, but from what I can tell, Fitzgerald’s is the best modern English translation.
As students of American politics, we can perhaps map this two-thousand-year-old passage on to some of the United States’ more altruistic (but shrewd) modern, interventionist foreign policy — Marshall Aid, the Berlin airlift, applying soft power in containing the Soviet Union, even our restraint during the Boxer Rebellion in China.
It’s a standard we should continually keep in mind.