While the story of Aeneas feels suitably epic and romantic, the story of his descendant Romulus is decidedly less so. The mythical founder and first king of Rome was a bastard born of rape who murdered his own brother. Even if this had actually happened, it seems strange that the Romans would continue to tell what appears (to a modern eye, at least) to be such an unflattering story about their founding.
This is a brief answer, and I hope that one of our flairs who focus more deeply on the topic can respond as well
The short of it is that founding myths generally are not meant to be glamorous or bestowing glory. Many of the founding myths of Taiwanese aboriginal groups are built on incest stories. The foundational stories of many Naga groups in India/Myanmar involve being duped into matricide. Most of the stories that explain the origin of how they came to practice human sacrifice are equally unflattering to an outsider’s eye.
One aspect of my work is collecting oral histories from remote communities that I work with, and I often have to remind myself that the stories aren’t going to always make sense to me. To go in with my biases and worldview are not going to get me anywhere in understanding the significance of the stories. To ask “but _why_?” won’t go anywhere. Regarding the matricide stories, I’ve asked people “wait so your reason that you still give today for doing this thing that you today think is bad and have stopped doing is that your older brother tricked you into killing your mom?” but it’s not really taken as a matter of what makes them look good or bad; it’s simply a matter of this is the story that we know of our history, this is how it happened.
If you want a modern Western (Anglophone) parallel, look at Australia. For many (not all), it has become a point of pride to have an ancestor who came as a convict. This has been written about a number of times in the past decade as this shift has continued.
Just to tack on to that, other founding myths have been absolutely changed by bits of information from the outside, or from things like folk etymologies. Group A has a founding story. Group B thinks their name sounds like some phrase an so someone comes up with a different story about them. Group B has more prestige than group A, so B’s story replaces A’s. This absolutely happens, and I’ve seen it first hand. Oral traditions are powerful and not to be discounted by people coming from a rich written tradition, but just like the written record, oral traditions can be corrupted over time. It is thus not unthinkable that a positive founding story could be replaced by one a little less flattering.
As an aside, I would also be wary of the “modern eye” phrasing, only because “primitive people’s” today are not at all primitive and “modern” generally is means as “like us” whoever “us” happens to be at the time.
You are looking at two separate foundation myths which were later merged together, which explains why the whole story seems a bit odd.
>Are you asking about the legendary origins? In this case, the Romans were descended from both the Latins and the Trojans. According to this popular variant of the foundation myth, Aeneas the Trojan flees to central Italy. There he marries the daughter of local king Latinus. Other Trojans also marry the locals, and their progeny are called the Latins. Romulus and Remus are direct descendants and found the city of Rome. Therefore, the Romans were descendants of these Latins, who were themselves descended from Trojans.
>That is the simple, established version. But we are probably dealing with two separate mythical traditions here which were joined together at a later time. One involves Aeneas the Trojan, and one involves Romulus the Latin. The popular version I gave above is the final result of a long process.
>The idea that the Romans were descended from the Trojans was very old and originated with the Greeks. The earliest references we know of are from the end of the fifth century, when both Hellanicus of Lesbos and Damastes of Sigeum claim Rome was founded by Aeneas of Troy. However, it is possible the legend was already established in central Italy a century prior to this.
>Another, separate myth had Romulus as the founder of Rome. This is the popular Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf story everyone knows. This was probably an indigenous legend and did not come from the Greeks or Etruscans or anyone else. It was a homegrown foundation story. This was at least as old as the Aeneas story, because the famous she-wolf bronze statue has been dated to the mid-sixth century.
>Over time the Aeneas version of the myth became more and more popular around the Mediterranean, particularly when Rome grew in size and influence and had more dealings with the Greek world. One idea is that Aeneas really exploded in popularity in Rome by the time of the war with Pyrrhus around 280 BC. Pyrrhus claimed descent from Achilles and portrayed his attack on Italy as a new Trojan War. This meant the Romans were the Trojans, which the Romans happily accepted.
>But there was a problem. If the Romans wanted to believe they were Trojans, what were they to do with their local myth about Romulus? Simple. Romulus became Aeneas’ son or grandson.
>But there was another problem. According to calculations from Greek scholars, the Trojan War probably took place around 1200 BCE in our reckoning. But the Romans already had established a timeline with Romulus being alive in the eighth century. How to fix this? Simple. Insert a long line of Kings of Alba Longa between Aeneas and Romulus.
>And with these little tweaks, the Romans could be descended from both Aeneas and Romulus. So in the end, the Romans counted both the Trojans and the ancient Latins as their ancestors.
>My favourite source for this is T.J. Cornell’s The Beginnings of Rome.