The Aeneid: Historical Destiny as Anguished Duty
Thesis of this exposition: • On the nature of a “thesis” • Examples of thesis from prior lectures • Introduction to thesis: • Aeneid as “secondary epic” about Roman Origins • Like “Abraham” it has emphasis on destiny over individual story • Unlike Abraham, a focus on main character’s feelings • Thesis: Virgil upholds rather than “deconstructs” the Roman ethic of harsh duty in his epic • Thesis as “starting” point rather than final word
Some Characters in The Aeneid • Aeneas: a Trojan hero “forced by fate” to flee Troy and become the agent of a great but shadowy destiny • Venus: mother of Aeneas and opponent of Juno: her revelation that the fall of Troy is “the harsh will of the gods, breaks her son’s heart and will to fight but sends him off to fulfill his historical destiny. • Juno: wife of Jupiter and implacable opponent of Aeneas, her opposition ironically only furthers the success of his mission. • Anchises: Aeneas’s father famously carried from Troy on Aeneas’s back….. • Cruesa: his wife who, lost and dying in the flight from Troy, reappears as a ghost to urge him on his way • Ascanius (also called Iulius): Aeneas’s son • Dido: Queen of Carthage, whose love for Aeneas leads to her death and foreshadows the future wars between Carthage and the future city of Rome • Mercury, the messenger god who, as the voice of duty, takes him away from Dido and his last real chance at normal human happiness • Turnus: Aeneas’s mortal enemy in the land of Italy, his treachery helps ensure that the Trojans’ settlement in Italy turns into bloody war instead of a peaceful migration. Our selections of the Aeneid will not discuss him.
Tragic Flight and Temporary Haven (Bks 1-3) • Invocation and Overview • Virgil outlines his heroic theme (i.1-12) • Briefly invokes the muse (i.13) specifically to help him understand Juno’s opposition • Portrays Juno’s hate and its causes and results (in the meantime underscoring what his hero is up against in performing his duties) (i.13-50) • Begins story in medias res with Juno’s sea storm (summary) • Dido’s Hospitality (i.668-1031[Nor.8th]) • Aeneas tells the story of Troy’s fall
Traumatic tale begun Wooden horse and Sinon’s lies (ii.18-266) Death of Laocoon, and Greek attack (271-358 [Nor. 8th]) Aeneas’s “stages” from warlike denial to grieving resignation A “wake-up” call from Hector’s ghost (362-400 [8th]) A fighting spirit which changes from “Maddened impulse” (420 [8th]) to “unmanned” anguish when Priam is killed (729-30 [8th]) An Interrupted vengeance A Climactic vision: (quote on right) Impulse to fight surrenders to duty of flight A boy’s omen (888-912[8th]) and a ghost’s plea drive home the lesson (1000-1024 [8th]) So I resigned myself, picked up my father/And turned my face to the mountain range (1044-5 [8th]) Bk. Two sets stage: a hero for whom no human impulse is to be allowed The harsh will of the gods it is, the gods That overthrows the splendor of this place. . . Look over hear: I’ll tear away the cloud That curtains you and films your mortal sight. . . Neptune is shaking from their beds the walls That his great trident pried up, undermining Toppling the whole city down. . . . (ii.791-2;794-5; 800-803 [8th]) Bk 2: Fall of Troy as Terrible Training
“Fatal Attraction”: Dido, Desire and Duty in Bk 4 The Birth of love in “unlucky” Dido (iv.95 [8th]) A joyous union in a cave becomes “the first cause of death” (iv. “cunningly connived” by Venus and Juno for different ends (iv. 127-180 [8th]) “Rumour” inflames the country and Iarbus prays to Jove (239-296 [8th]) Jove sends Mercury to remind a besotted Aeneas of “the harsh will of the gods” (304-373) A warning’s effect: “Shaken . . . awake,” he “burn[s] to be gone” (383-4 [8th]) The anguished dissonance of the lovers’ “duet” Her disbelief: “Do you go away from me?/ [. . . ] Put this plan by, I beg you” (429; 436 [8th])_ His plea for understanding “. . . . no more/Of these appeals that set our hearts afire,/I leave for Italy not of my own free will” (497-99 [8th]) Her rage:“Oh, I am swept away burning by furies” (519 [8th]) Her pathos: “Time is all I beg/Mere time, a respite and a breathing space” (600 [8th]) His immovability: “But no tears moved him, no one’s voice would he /Attend to . . . /God’s will blocked the man’s once kindly ears” (607, 609 [8th]) The death of desire for Aeneas “Duty-bound Aeneas. . . struggled with desire/ [ . . .] yet took the course heaven gave him” He will struggle with desire no more. Death from desire for Dido. A permanent curse for Aeneas and his descendants She wishes for a miserable life and death for Aeneas (851-863 [8th]) She wishes, “with [her] last cry” continual war between our peoples” (865-875 [8th])
“Unconscionable” Aeneas or “Unconscionable Love”: Whose Side is Virgil on? • Is sheer human cost of Aeneas’s leave-taking of Dido a critique of the hero and his mission? • I read it that the Imagery/action dramatize destructiveness of “Unconscionable Love” • Longing as “a wound/Or inward fire eating her away” (iv.2-3 [8th]) • “Hit by an arrow . .the fatal shaft clings to her side” (97, 102 [8th]) • “they reveled all the winter long/Unmindful of the realm prisoners of lust” (264-5) (Think of lotos eaters!) • Dido’s fiery death as “a fatal madness” (666-7; 693 [8th]) • Note: • imagery is that of devouring and destruction • actions characterized as irresponsible or form of “madness,” • A permanent and destructive aftermath • Conclusion: Since it is love, not Aeneas whom the poet finds unconscionable, Virgil appears to choose “The Roman’s” and not “The lover’s” part.
The Visit to Orcus: Aeneas’s Shadowy Consolations • Entrance to Orcus: “Death & Toil and Death’s own brother, sleep”—and other phantasmagoria • Order of Orcus • The buried ferried across Styx by Charon • Spirits before Minos in an order • Off in distance, the field of mourning for those destroyed by “pitiless” love • Revealing encounter with Dido • “Ethical Landscape” of rewards and punishments • Tartarus for sinners • Blessed Groves (Elysian Fields) for the virtuous.
The Visit to Orcus (2) : Aeneas’s Shadowy Consolations • In “the deep world sunk in darkness” Aeneas finds his only reward: • A shadowy reunion with Anchises • Education on afterlife and purgation • A vision of “glories” and “What famous children in your line will come” (653, 655 [8th]) • Rome’s calling: “your arts are to be these:/To pacify, to impose the ruler of law/To spare the conquered, battle down the proud” (790-3 [8th]) • 3 x attempted hug of Anchises (reminiscene of 3 x attempt to hug Cruesa) suggests “shadowy” nature of Aeneas’s consolations • Aeneas always is hugging phantoms, literally or metaphorical • Nothing he desires can be possessed—neither the past taken from him, nor the future he will not enter • It is the conflict of human desire with severe duty, both in the selections we read and those we have not which accounts for the note of “Virgilian sadness” which sounds throughout this epic.