Comparing Sir Thomas More's Utopia and Virgil's Aeneid Essay

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Identity and Power in Sir Thomas More's Utopia and Virgil's Aeneid


In Utopia and the Aeneid, Sir Thomas More and Virgil describe the construction and perpetuation of a national identity. In the former, the Utopian state operates on the “inside” by enforcing, through methods of surveillance, a normalized identity on its citizens under the guise of bettering their lives. In the latter, the depleted national identity of the future Romans in the wake of the Trojan War must reformulate itself from the “outside” by focusing on defining what it is not. In both instances, the lines between the “inside” and the “outside” are clearly drawn and redrawn. The two methodologies are in actuality the flipsides of one another: in clearly defining the
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The inhabitants of Utopia become docile bodies, whose mere acquiescence to the system is precisely what perpetuates and gives power to the state’s commanding gaze. In effect, More’s description of the Utopian society foreshadows the shift of the modern day nation-state from juridical to disciplinary powers. Laws are not needed because the code for living is already so naturalized that they are considered to be obvious and unchangeable.

This ability of the state to enforce a normalized identity simultaneously gives it the power to eliminate all that falls outside this narrow category. For example, Raphael describes the game of vices versus virtues that the people play for leisure, “a pitched battle between virtues and vices, which illustrates [. . .] how much strength vices can muster for a direct assault, what indirect tactics they employ, what help virtues need to overcome vices, what are the best methods of evading their attacks, and what ultimately determines the victory [. . .]” (76). The “game” takes on warlike qualities legitimating militant ways of enforcing values. Additionally, practices such as euthanasia are justified on the basis of efficiency. Priests can “officially sanction” suicides when the ill cannot work with the rest any longer(102). Although death is supposed to be “strictly voluntary,” it is widely accepted that “[i]t’s also an act of piety to…

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