In recent days I have been engaged in discussions regarding the culture of founding myths. The idea behind such a myth has for the most part inspired great nationalism. The most dominant example we’ve discussed is that of the Aeneid by Virgil. Shortly after Rome becomes an Empire, one which has decimated Carthage and enslaved Greece, the Aeneid is produced as proof of the godly heritage from which the Empire has formed. When looking at it through this national lens we can start to make sense of the treatment of Dido, the founder of Carthage, who from the Roman vantage point must be defeated by Aeneas, after all Rome defeats Carthage thrice.
We except these myths as art today and yes many do look at the nationalistic aspects of such epics, but what interests me more is to find the examples today of such writing. One obvious example is that of Fawzi Mellah’s Elissa (Dido) which romanticizes the founding of Carthage for a post-colonial Tunisia.
In both cases Elissa and the Aeneid the intent is to create a national epic. But one approaches the story from an imperialistic point of view (that is Rome who has defeated/conquered/ and ultimately destroyed Carthage) and the other is from a truly national, post imperialism point of view (that is Tunisia redefining its founding myth). Said had it right when he described how nationalism follows imperialism and perhaps Elissa is the best example of that relationship.
But enough of the other side of the Atlantic. Sure we have our revolution but where are our founding myth. Why try and stay close to the facts? why not expand the Revolution into some large blown up lie that can unite us around what America once meant? Well I don’t mean to get political but the divisions today are just absurd and I’m starting to believe that our salvation is not in debate or politics or journalism but in art, in literature and in the founding of a national epic that can bring America behind what we were founded for.