Meaning Behind 9/11 Memorial Quote Is Jarring

It refers to pair of Trojan soldiers who killed many

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 3, 2014 7:22 AM CDT | Updated Apr 6, 2014 12:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – The words, with no context beyond location, seem appropriate enough: "No day shall erase you from the memory of time. Virgil." So reads a 60-foot-long inscription appearing along a wall at the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum. Behind the wall sit the 8,000 human remains that could not be identified. And behind the quote sits a story that doesn't exactly jibe with the setting, the New York Times finds. The line is pulled from Book 9 of the Aeneid, and the "you" it refers to are Nisus and Euryalus—two men who happen to be Trojan soldiers, and whose story is described thusly by David Dunlap for the Times:

  • "Your deaths are not unprovoked. You have just slaughtered the enemy in an orgy of violence, skewering soldiers whom you ambushed in their sleep. For this, the enemy has killed you and impaled your heads on spears."
As Dunlap points out, Nisus and Euryalus aren't exactly a stand-in for the 9/11 victims. A classics professor calls the inscription "shockingly inappropriate" on first blush, and better suited for those who carried out the attacks, though she concedes the quote could prod visitors to consider "what drives young men to commit such atrocities." Further, Vocativ points out that, based on the devices Virgil uses to explain their relationship, scholars classify the two men as lovers. Museum officials have long been aware of the contention surrounding the line, and dropped the word "Aeneid" from it, perhaps to insert more distance between the statement and its source.

Nisus slaying Volscens, in a scene from Virgil's 'Aeneid.'   (Wenceslaus Hollar [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
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