Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers.pdf - Virgil Aeneid 4.1–299 4 Commentary Open Book Publishers 11'41 AM Open Book

Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers.pdf

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Unformatted text preview: Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers 9/16/19, 11'41 AM Open Book Publishers Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 | Virgil 4. Commentary p. 39-228 Full text Avant Propos: The Set Text and the Aeneid 1 For the most part, Aeneid 1–4, a third part of the epic overall, is set in Carthage. In the larger scheme of things, this detour via Africa appears to be an accident. After the extended proem (1.1– 33), Virgil begins his narrative proper medias in res with Aeneas and his crew on their way from Sicily to the Italian mainland. Yet the sight of the Trojan refugees about to reach their final Page 1 of 240 Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers 2 9/16/19, 11'41 AM destination stirs the hero’s divine arch-enemy Juno, who already figured prominently in the extended proem, into action. The violent storm she unleashes with the help of the wind-god Aeolus does not end in the desired outcome (wrecking of the ships and mass drowning). But the Trojan fleet is blown well off course. When Neptune finally calms the cosmic commotion at 1.142, Aeneas and his men find themselves not in Italy, but near the recently founded city of Carthage in Northern Africa, ruled by Queen Dido, herself a recent exile from her native Tyre in Phoenicia. (In terms of geopolitics, the drift in the Aeneid tends to be from East to West.) There is irony to savour in the fact that Juno, who, in the proem, is presented as deeply worried about the future of her city Carthage (destined to be destroyed by Aeneas’ people, the Romans), sets up the enmity between the two cities by causing Aeneas’ tragic sojourn in Africa: thus are the inscrutable twists and turns of fate!20 The tragedy of Dido unfolds over the course of the rest of Book 1 as well as Book 4. In between, Aeneas takes on the role of ‘internal narrator’ at the welcome banquet laid on by Dido. He recounts the fall of Troy and his flight from the burning city (Aeneid 2) and tells of his subsequent travels and travails until his arrival at Carthage (Aeneid 3).21 One of the interpretative challenges involved in reading an excerpt from Aeneid 4 is to see it in the context of what came before, especially in Book 1, and what follows after, especially in the remainder of Book 4. But you may also wish to ponder what the flashback in Aeneid 2 and 3, as well as explicit and implicit resonances of the Dido-episode in subsequent books of the epic, may have to contribute to our understanding of the set portion of text. For instance, Aeneas, in his account of the fall of Troy in Aeneid 2, makes much of the figure of Sinon, a treacherous Greek who persuades the gullible Trojans to breach their city walls to pull in the Wooden Horse; and in a sense, unbeknownst to him, Aeneas does something very similar in Carthage, employing his persuasive skills to gain Page 2 of 240 Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers 3 4 9/16/19, 11'41 AM entry into the heart of his hostess.22 The outcome is in each case the same: Troy and Carthage end up in flames, and Aeneas leaves a conflagration behind him at the end of both Aeneid 2 and Aeneid 4. Is he another Trojan horse? Likewise, the ghost of Dido and her tragic suicide haunt subsequent books. A particular poignant instance is the meeting of Dido and Aeneas in the Underworld at Aeneid 6.440–76. Just as the shadow of Ajax at Odyssey 11.541–67, who sulks speechless when his mortal enemy, still alive, appears in the world of the dead and tries to engage him in conversation, Dido refuses to respond to our hero and moves away in fraught and dignified silence, joining the shade of her former husband Sychaeus. Another moment of similar emotive power comes in Aeneid 11, when Aeneas covers the dead body of Pallas, the only son of his guest friend Euander, who got killed by Turnus, with magnificent pieces of garment made by Dido (11.72–5) — not unlike the one, perhaps even the same, he is wearing at Aeneid 4.262–64 (which is part of the set passage and discussed in detail below). The death of Pallas is by far the worst catastrophe that Aeneas suffers in the course of the poem. It turns him into a beast of sorts, leads to his performance of human sacrifice during the funeral of his fallen charge, and motivates the final scene of the epic: Aeneas kills Turnus in a fit of rage upon seeing Pallas’sword-belt on his prostrate enemy, which instantly wipes away any thought of mercy. By evoking Dido as Aeneas bends over the dead body of Pallas, Virgil, among other things, subtly reminds us that the curse with which Dido sends Aeneas on his way at 4.590–629 is hitting home.23 But the most crucial part of the poem for appreciating the set text is of course Book 1. It sets the stage. To recapitulate briefly what happened after Aeneas’ unplanned arrival in Africa, in the understanding that the following is no substitute for giving Aeneid 1 a quick (re-)read: Aeneas’ divine mother Venus, none too pleased at seeing her son tossed all over the Mediterranean Page 3 of 240 Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers 9/16/19, 11'41 AM by a vindictive Juno, seeks out Jupiter to protest. The father of the gods reassures his daughter and unrolls a bit of the scrolls of destiny for her benefit, revealing the impressive future that lies in store for her city of Rome. He also sends down Mercury to ensure that the Trojans will receive a friendly welcome (a passage discussed in more detail below: also our set text features a Mercurial descent from Mt. Olympus at the bidding of Jupiter, at 4.238–78). But Venus, whether still worried or, on the contrary, reassured and hence keen on some vindictive mischief, also decides to meddle. She devises a scheme to have Dido fall madly in love with Aeneas, which involves her son Cupid (Aeneas’ divine half-brother) impersonate Aeneas’ son (and Cupid’s nephew) Ascanius and, thus disguised, poison the queen during her welcoming cuddle with passionate desire for the Trojan hero. At the end of the Book, Carthaginians and Trojans settle down to a magnificent banquet, during which Aeneas tells the spellbound audience of their labours so far — an account Virgil reproduces in Books 2 and 3, where the narrative focus is thus inevitably squarely on Aeneas. But with the opening line of Book 4, the attention of the author switches decisively to Dido. Aeneid 4 is her book. And she owns her book like no other ‘secondary’ character. Even Turnus, the other principal adversary of Aeneas, does not dominate the narrative stretch granted to him in quite the same way. Dido truly is Aeneas’ most significant other — a subversive figure with the potential to derail his destiny, the foundation of Rome, and the history of the world. As Alessandro Schiesaro puts it: Dido’s challenge to the ostensible ideology of the Aeneid is more radical than the specific alternative she posits to Aeneas’ itinerary: she stands in Virgil’s poem as the most powerful incarnation of a radically alternative world-view. Thrown on the shores of a potentially hostile land, welcomed (not without divine intervention) by a generous and attractive queen whose fate is in many respects parallel to his own, Aeneas is faced — for the first time — with a real alternative to his life’s business, the search of a Page 4 of 240 Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers 9/16/19, 11'41 AM new homeland for his displaced people. The false foundations which dotted his earlier wanderings , even the emotional encounter with Andromache’s pathetic (and pathological) solution to a similar problem — how can the defeated Trojans construct a new Troy? —, were temporary, limited, and patently unviable detours. Carthage is different. There he can become the co-regent, effectively the king, of a prosperous new land; his people can merge with the locals; royal succession would be guaranteed by Ascanius, or, down the line, by the child he will eventually conceive with Dido, the queen he has fallen in love with: we can glimpse, tantalizingly, a totally different worldhistory. The text is ready to acknowledge how much Aeneas is tempted by this unexpected scenario: coming to Carthage on Jupiter’s orders, Mercury finds him fundantem arces ac tecta novantem (260), forgetful (oblitus) of his reign and his mission (267).24 5 The overall structure of Aeneid 4 is tripartite. Virgil marks the beginning of each section with the quasi-formulaic phrase at regina, which draws programmatic attention to the protagonist of the book (Dido, queen of Carthage) and the adversative (cf. at) role she plays in the narrative: 1 (At regina graui iamdudum saucia cura/ uulnus alit uenis...) –295. 296 (At regina dolos (quis fallere possit amantem?)/ praesensit...) –503. 504 (At regina, pyra penetrali in sede sub auras/ erecta ingenti taedis atque ilice secta/ intenditque locum sertis et fronde coronat/ funerea... (‘But the queen, when in the deepest recess of her home the pyre had been built skywards, enormous in size with pine logs and cut oak, hangs the place with garlands and crowns it with funeral boughs...’) –705. 6 As Quinn notes: ‘The book is the shortest of the twelve and the most dramatic in form. A tripartite structure is more clearly discernible than in the other books: lines 1–295 recount the beginning of the affair; lines 296–503, the alienation; lines 504– 705, the end of the affair — Aeneas’ departure and Dido’s Page 5 of 240 Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers 9/16/19, 11'41 AM suicide.’25 He also notes that for each section the word following the phrase at regina (i.e. graui, dolos, pyra) ‘strikes the keynote of the ensuing action.’ Lines 1–8: Sleepless in Carthage 7 1–2: At regina graui iamdudum saucia cura/ uulnus alit uenis et caeco carpitur igni: the ‘at’ at the beginning startles. Rather than announcing a fresh start, the adversative force of the particle sets up a contrast to what immediately came before.26 To appreciate its full force, it is therefore necessary to recall how Book 3 ended (3.716–18): Sic pater Aeneas intentis omnibus unus fata renarrabat diuum cursusque docebat. conticuit tandem factoque hic fine quieuit. [Thus father Aeneas, with everyone listening eagerly, was alone recounting the destinies ordained by the gods and was teaching of his travels. At last he fell silent and, having come to a stop here, rested.] 8 This marks the end of Aeneas’ narrative of the fall of Troy and his subsequent odyssey, which covered two full books (Aeneid 2 and 3). There can be few more apposite uses of tandem (‘finally’, ‘at last’). Virgil gives the finish triple emphasis: conticuit, facto hic fine, quieuit.27 The silence that settles in has a funerary finality: the last event Aeneas has recounted before ceasing to speak is the death of his beloved father Anchises (3.708–11): hic pelagi tot tempestatibus actus heu! genitorem, omnis curae casusque leuamen, amitto Anchisen; hic me, pater optime, fessum deseris, heu! tantis nequiquam erepte periclis! [Here I, who have been driven by so many storms of the ocean, lose, alas! my father Anchises, solace of every care and contingency; here, best of fathers, you desert me in my weariness, snatched, alas! from such great dangers all in vain.] The pathos is palpable — and chimes well with Dido’s own sense Page 6 of 240 Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers 9 9/16/19, 11'41 AM of abandonment and grief at the murder of her husband Sychaeus, which she voices at 4.15–29. Both characters are coping with traumatic bereavement when they meet, yet are forced to move on, driven by divine forces. Aeneas continues on his way to Italy; and Dido is compelled to re-experience erotic desire. At the end of Book 1, she had requested of her host a comprehensive account of his labours (1.753: a prima dic, hospes, origine nobis...; ‘Tell us, guest, from the first beginning....’), forcing Aeneas to relive his grief (2.3: ‘infandum, regina, iubes renouare dolorem...; ‘Unspeakable is the grief you bid me renew, o queen...’). He does so for two full books. But now, at the beginning of Book 4, it is Dido who is suffering from something that she cannot well put into speech, something infandum (see explicitly 4.85: ... infandum si fallere possit amorem, with note below). And thus the ‘at’, a pointed antithetical gesture across book boundaries, fittingly cancels any premature sense of closure. Whereas Aeneas has finally come to a momentary rest, the opposite is true of Dido: we encounter her in a permanent state of restlessness. Contrast, especially, 3.718: ... quieuit and 4.5: nec placidam membris dat cura quietem. The ‘at’ thus underscores the sense that Aeneas and Dido constitute a complementary couple. As Austin notes, ‘the strongly contrasting particle at not only shows that the story now turns from Aeneas and the Trojans to Dido, but also points the antithesis between Aeneas’ sufferings that are now past, a mere tale that is told (conticuit tandem, iii. 718), and Dido’s sufferings that are already beginning, between his composed silence and her agitation’28 — though one may debate in what sense the trials and tribulations of Aeneas ‘are now past.’ A more ambivalent reading of at, which takes into account that the moment of closure Aeneas experiences at this stage is ephemeral, could start by considering to what extent Dido’s mental unrest highlights Aeneas’ failure to understand and communicate with the Carthaginian queen. Presumably, the last thing he wished to do is to mentally unsettle Page 7 of 240 Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers 10 11 9/16/19, 11'41 AM his gracious hostess. [Extra information: especially for the history buffs among you, the end of Aeneid 3 is worth a closer look. In his account of how they sailed along the shore of Sicily, Aeneas mentions as the final two spots Lilybaeum (706) and Drepanum (707). They are situated on the western-most point of Sicily — virtually midway between Carthage and Rome. Intriguingly, Lilybaeum was founded by Phoenician settlers in the 8th century (under the name Motya); and, even more intriguingly, Lilybaeum and Drepanum were both sites of major military actions in the First Punic War (when this part of Sicily was a stronghold of the Carthaginians). In 250 BC a Roman Consular army led by Gaius Atilius Regulus Serranus and Lucius Manlius Vulso Longus put Lilybaeum under siege, which was, however, lifted after the battle of Drepanum, in which the Romans suffered their one major naval defeat in the First Punic War (249 BC). Once Lilybaeum had fallen under Roman domination, it served Scipio Africanus Maior as boot camp and launching pad for the invasion of Africa towards the end of the Second Punic War (from 205 BC onwards). Add to this the etymological affinity of Lilybaeum and Libya (where Aeneas has now ended up on his Juno-triggered detour: cf. 3.715: hinc me digressum uestris deus appulit oris; ‘departing from there a god drove me to your shores’), the end of Book 3 obliquely prepares not just for the African setting of Book 4 but also prefigures the historical consequences of Aeneas’ legendary stay with Dido: the lethal enmity between Rome and Carthage and the series of Punic Wars.]29 1: regina: After referring to the anonymous, ‘eager crowd’ that listened to Aeneas’ account at the end of Book 3 (cf. 716: intentis omnibus), Virgil, in the first line of Book 4, singles out the queen for exclusive attention. This is Dido’s book and with At regina Virgil uses an appropriate keynote. Significantly, he chooses to return our attention to Dido not by mentioning her name but her Page 8 of 240 Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers 9/16/19, 11'41 AM social role: she is a queen. The noun regina recalls Dido’s royal entry into the epic at 1.496–97: regina ad templum, forma pulcherrima Dido,/ incessit (‘the queen Dido, of surpassing beauty, approached the temple’). But the contrast between her first appearance and the state she is in when Book 4 opens is pointed and poignant: whereas she is ‘surrounded by a large throng of followers’ in Book 1 (1.497: magna iuuenum stipante caterua), at the beginning of Book 4 we encounter Dido all alone. And whereas Virgil invited us to observe Dido discharging her civic responsibilities when we first set eyes on the queen, we now see a helpless victim of uncontrollable desire, tossing about sleeplessly: the focus has shifted from her impressive public persona to her tormented inner self. Yet Virgil’s programmatic use of ‘regina’ at a moment when she is, above all, a woman madly in love serves as encouragement to appraise her not just as a desiring individual, but as a queen, that is, as someone who has a key social role to perform and may do so well or badly. The question of what makes a good king (or, more generally, leader) was a topic of hot debate in antiquity (it still is now), to which literary genres made important contributions. Reflections on excellence or shortcomings in leadership constitute an important facet of the political discourse of epic poetry in particular, from Homer onwards.30 Virgil’s handling of the topic is characteristically complex, insofar as he invites his readers to assess his royal personnel against various and often conflicting benchmarks of excellence, deriving from literary predecessors (both Greek and Roman), philosophical discourse (in particular Stoicism), and lived experience, both republican and imperial. In the case of Dido, it is worth paying particular attention to her gender (and the difficulties this causes not least for male observers such as king Iarbas: see 4.206–18, discussed in detail below) and the potential conflict between her feelings for Aeneas and the role-expectations that come with being the royal leader of a young city and civic community in a hostile environment.31 Page 9 of 240 Virgil, Aeneid, 4.1–299 - 4. Commentary - Open Book Publishers 12 13 9/16/19, 11'41 AM 1: regina graui iamdudum saucia cura: regina (a1) agrees with saucia (a2), graui (b1) with cura (b2). We thus have the following pattern: noun (a1)–adjective (b1)–adverb: iamdudum (c)–adjective (a2)–noun (b2). The arrangement artfully combines a parallel patterning in the way the two phrases regina saucia and graui cura interweave (a1 b1 c a2 b2) with a chiastic design in terms of grammatical categories (noun, adjective; adjective, noun). The set-up helps to foreground the adverbial modification of time at its centre (iamdudum), which reminds the reader of what happened before Aeneas started speaking: Dido has been burning with love ever since Cupid’s stealth attack on the unsuspecting queen in the guise of Aeneas’ son Ascanius in Book 1. See esp. 1.719–22: at memor ille [sc. Cupido]/ matris Acidaliae paulatim abolere Sychaeum/ incipit et uiuo temptat praeuertere amore/ iam pridem resides animos desuetaque corda (‘But he [sc. Cupid], mindful of his Acidalian mother [sc. Venus], little by little begins to efface Sychaeus [i.e. Dido’s deceased former husband], and attempts to incite with live passion her long-inactive soul and her heart that had unlearned to love’). The adverb, which means ‘some while ago now’, thus serves as bridge between Books 1 and 4 and, like tandem at the end of Book 3, mischievously underscores the length of Aeneas’ narration. 1: cura: the meaning of cura ranges from ‘anxiety’ to a (public) ‘task’ or ‘responsibility’, to be carried out with diligence and care. Here the former sense is of course paramount, but in signifying love pangs the term also evokes negatively its public-political meaning: Dido’s real cura ought to be the prudent governance of her city’s affairs. Some interesting passages to consider for the semantics of cura in the Aeneid include 1.227 (the first occurrence of the word in the epic, referring to the cosmic administrative responsibilities of Jupiter), 1.562 (Dido replying to Aeneas’ impassioned plea for sup...
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