Whence Classical Zuckerberg?

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Alex Beam in the Boston Globe wonders about something I’ve been wondering about for a few weeks now:

Of course you have noticed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s uncontrollable tic — quoting from Virgil’s “Aeneid.’’ He did it twice during a long New Yorker interview and more recently in Wired magazine, where he popped — in Latin — what might be the epic’s most famous line: “A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this’’ (trans. Robert Fagles). Those are Aeneas’s consoling words to his battered, shipwrecked comrades. In the poem, various gods assure the Trojan hero that he will found “an empire without bound,’’ i.e. Rome, which is more or less what Zuckerberg has done. Facebook has more than 500 million active users and counting.

Inquiring minds want to know: Where did Zucko imbibe the foundational epic of the Roman empire? Not at Harvard, I am told. He majored in computer science and split after two years. Like many other high schools, Zuckerberg’s alma mater, Phillips Exeter Academy, teaches the “Aeneid’’ in fourth-year Latin, more or less preparing its students for the “Virgil AP,’’ which more than 4,000 students take each year.

Exeter and Facebook are closed-mouth on the subject of Zuckerberg’s classical training, but my investigation continues, sub rosa.

… so far, I’m thinking he might be a ‘closet Classicist’ although it seems very much that ‘two lines of the Aeneid thing’ has taken on a life of its own, perhaps without as much weight as we’d like it to have  … in the conclusion to a big article about Zuckerberg in the New Yorker last month we read:

In our last interview—this one over the phone—I asked Zuckerberg about “Ender’s Game,” the sci-fi book whose hero is a young computer wizard.

“Oh, it’s not a favorite book or anything like that,” Zuckerberg told me, sounding surprised. “I just added it because I liked it. I don’t think there’s any real significance to the fact that it’s listed there and other books aren’t. But there are definitely books—like the Aeneid—that I enjoyed reading a lot more.”

He first read the Aeneid while he was studying Latin in high school, and he recounted the story of Aeneas’s quest and his desire to build a city that, he said, quoting the text in English, “knows no boundaries in time and greatness.” Zuckerberg has always had a classical streak, his friends and family told me. (Sean Parker, a close friend of Zuckerberg, who served as Facebook’s president when the company was incorporated, said, “There’s a part of him that—it was present even when he was twenty, twenty-one—this kind of imperial tendency. He was really into Greek odysseys and all that stuff.”) At a product meeting a couple of years ago, Zuckerberg quoted some lines from the Aeneid.

On the phone, Zuckerberg tried to remember the Latin of particular verses. Later that night, he IM’d to tell me two phrases he remembered, giving me the Latin and then the English: “fortune favors the bold” and “a nation/empire without bound.”

Before I could point out how oddly applicable those lines might be to his current ambitions, he typed back:

again though
these are the most famous quotes in the aeneid
not anything particular that i found.

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