Whoops! Looks like someone should have consulted their local classicist before picking the quote for the 9/11 memorial. The text, taken from Virgil's Aeneid, is rendered in 15-inch letters (made of steel salvaged from the wreckage) that stretch for 60 feet across a wall of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, which opens this May. It reads: "No day shall erase you from the memory of time."
According to Helen Morales, a professor of Classics at UC Santa Barbara, the quote has been vastly dislocated from its context.
As the New York Times ' David W. Dunlap points out, Virgil's "you" actually refers to the characters, Nisus and Euryalus, two warrior-lovers who "have just slaughtered the enemy in an orgy of violence, skewering soldiers whom [they] ambushed in their sleep." And for this massacre, Nisus and Euryalus are killed, their heads impaled on spears. Of the inscription at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Helen Morales, a classicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the Times, "If we take into account its original context, the quotation is more applicable to the aggressors in the 9/11 tragedy than those honored by the memorial…So my first reaction is that the quotation is shockingly inappropriate for the U.S. victims of the 9/11 attack."
Now, as a former comp-lit and classics student myself (and a 4.0 bullshitter!), I think you could certainly talk your way around to some sort of reconciliation of this quote's original context and the memorial's intent. Like, I don't know, an honest remembrance of 9/11 is necessarily dark—the pain and outrage and confusion oughtn't be stripped from history any more than the sorrow and the love for the dead. The day itself shall not be erased.
Here's Morales again:
But what if this literary oversight was made for the better? As Morales adds, "But my second reaction is that this may be a productive irony. Which is to say that the quotation makes us remember the suicidal killers of 9/11 as well as their victims. Remember with horror, anger, disbelief, to be sure, but remember them nonetheless." Maybe the brutality and violence of implicit in Virgil's line better reflects the violence and brutality of 9/11, and of the years that have followed, than some classicists or museum officials would care to admit.
Now argue about it in comments! Also go read the Aeneid!
Image via Getty.