Pater Aeneas

Sum pius Aeneas, raptos qui ex hoste Penates classe veho mecum, fama super aethera notus. Italiam quaero patriam et genus ab Iove summo. [I am pious Aeneas, who carries my Penates, snatched from the enemy, in my fleet with me, known by my fame above the ether. I seek my fatherland, Italy, and a race from highest Jove.]

Vergil, Aeneid 1.378-80.

In my undergrad Latin class we translated Vergil’s Aeneid. If you don’t already know, the Aeneid is a propaganda piece composed by the Roman poet Vergil (70-14 BCE). It glorifies Aeneas, the legendary Trojan prince who was the supposed ancestor of Julius Caesar.

When Prof. Brian Sykes assigned nicknames to the haplogroups, he chose Gilgamesh as the nickname for the founding ancestor of haplogroup G. I’ve joked for years that he should have chosen Aeneas.

And yes, I get that this is a marketing ploy to make it easier for customers to relate to the the science. I also get that this clever little system always chooses a nickname for the ancestor that begins with the same letter as the haplogroup itself. So haplogroup G has to have an ancestor name that begins with g. And the name Gilgamesh, from the Sumerian Noah, reminds us that haplogroup G originated somewhere in the Middle East. It’s not one of the major European groups.

Still. I’d rather have Aeneas as my mythical ancestor.

That’s not as crazy as it sounds. Haplogroup G2a, my group, is heavily concentrated in Tyrol and the Alps, and that is where my paternal line originated in historic times. (Swiss, not Swedish as you might suppose from my surname.) My intuition, all those years ago, that it might be connected to the Etruscans and their Rhaetian cousins is increasingly plausible. Presumably, then, the Rhaetian speakers in the Alps originated with those Etruscans who fled a Celtic invasion of Italy in the 4th century BCE.

The Roman historian Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BCE, thought the Etruscans came from Lydia in what is now Turkey. The story he tells does not match Aeneas and his band of refugees, but it now seems clear there were other versions. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, writing 400 year later, thought the Etruscans were indigenous to Tuscany but admitted that his predecessors were “unanimous in stating that the Etruscans came from the East”. In fact, Aeneas seems to have been the founder-hero of the Etruscans perhaps from the archaic period and certainly long before he was Romanized.

Having been the mythological founder of the Etruscans, Vergil turned him into a proto-founder of the Romans, then the Habsburgs, those claimants to Rome’s legacy, made much of their own supposed descent from him.

Aeneas would be the ideal mythologized representation of the remote ancestor of haplogroup G2a. And that’s why I have him on my ancestral altar.

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Sic pater Aeneas intentis omnibus unus fata renarrabat diuum cursusque docebat. conticuit tandem factoque hic fine quieuit. [So our ancestor Aeneas, as all listened to one man, recounted divine fate, and described his journey. At last he stopped, and making an end here, rested.]

Vergil, Aeneid 3.716–18.
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