We read Book IV last week: The Passion of the Queen. I listened to Lecture 5.
Unlucky Dido, burning in her madness
Roamed through the city, like a doe
Hit by an arrow shot from far away
. . .though she runs for life through copse and glade
That fatal shaft clings to her side. ~ Book IV, lines 95-103
I was struck by the description of Dido’s desperate passion which had turned her from her duty and left her city without a leader. Yet, Aeneas, just a few lines later, seemingly oblivious of her feelings, is portrayed as all strength and manly beauty.
. . . Resplendent
Above the rest, Aeneas walked to meet her,
To join his retinue with hers. He seemed—
Think of the lord Apollo in the spring
. . . So elated and swift, Aeneas walked
With sunlit grace upon him. ~ Book IV, lines 198-209
Now in no time at all
Through African cities Rumor goes—
Nimble as quicksilver among evils . . .
An eye beneath for every body feather,
And, strange to say, as many tongues and buzzing
Mouths as eyes, as many pricked-up ears . . .
By night she flies (nocte volat!) . . .
. . . By day she broods
On the alert . . .
In those days Rumor took an evil joy
At filling countrysides with whispers, whispers . . .
~ Book IV, lines 239-260
This personification of Rumor is spot-on and scary. Can’t you just see this on the big screen?
He was to be the ruler of Italy . . .
And bring the whole world under law’s dominion.
~ Book IV, lines 312
Jupiter finally turns his eyes back to see what is happening (one cannot help but think of the One who neither sleeps nor slumbers, whose eye is ever on the sparrow) and speaks forth the fatum of Aeneas once more. He sends Mercury to rebuke the man for his furor:
Is it for you
To lay the stones for Carthage’s high walls,
Tame husband that you are, and build their city?
~Book IV, lines 361-363
and to rekindle his pietas:
As the sharp admonition and command
From heaven had shaken him awake, he now
Burned only to be gone, to leave that land . . . ~ Book IV, lines 383-385
Once back on the path of pietas, Aeneas remained steadfast:
The man by Jove’s command held fast his eyes
And fought down the emotion in his heart . . . ~ Book IV, lines 456-457
Yesterday’s lengthy Lewis quote was prompted by my reflections on Book IV. I think this is a perfect example of what Lewis was getting at. On this voyage from ancient Troy, I must not carry my “Englishry” abroad with me. The sensibilities of my native “land”—21st century America, and more particularly, Christian America—causes me to pity and empathize with Dido and to view Aeneas clumsily heedless at best and cruelly hardhearted at worst. But Vergil’s 1st century B.C. Roman audience would not see it that way. Instead, Aeneas’ pietas would have been celebrated and Dido’s agony regarded as unfortunate but necessary collateral damage. Dido was destroyed by the misguided and disordered passion of furor; Aeneas was elevated to hero status because he recovered his pietas in the nick of time. Vergil’s Dido is a sympathetic character; nevertheless, she is a hindrance to the greater good—the rise of Rome itself. If I impose my native sensibilities on Vergil, I will either miss or dismiss this.
And, as Mr. C. pointed out, the parallels to the Christian virtue of repentance are striking. Repentance is costly, sometimes bringing great pain and even desolation to the lives of others we have entangled in our sin. I am reminded of my friend Rosaria’s description of her conversion as a train wreck. In her book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, she speaks eloquently of the devastation which extended to others whom she loved. Further, I am reminded that the grace of repentance was purchased for me at the price of unfathomable agonies by the One who never sinned. As is so often the case with great literature, the “admirable light of truth” in this ancient epic points me to the “fountain of truth.”
God’s will blocked the man’s once kindly ears.
And just as when the north winds from the Alps
This way and that contend among themselves
To tear away an oaktree hale with age,
The wind and tree cry, and the buffeted trunk
Showers high foliage to earth, but holds
On bedrock, for the roots go down as far
Into the underworld as cresting boughs
Go up in heaven’s air: just so this captain
Buffeted by a gale of pleas
This way and that way dinned all the day long
Felt their moving power in his great heart,
And yet his will stood fast; tears fell in vain. ~ Book IV, lines 610-621