Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Aeneid part IV- A Tragic Loss

Aeneid II.776-784
"quid tantum insano iuvat indulgere dolori,
o dulcis coniunx? non haec sine numine divum
eveniunt; nec te comitem hinc portare Creusam
fas, aut ille sinit superi regnator Olympi.
longa tibi exsilia et vastum maris aequor arandum,
et terram Hesperiam venies, ubi Lydius arva
inter opima virum leni fluit agmine Thybris.
illic res laetae regnumque et regia coniunx
parta tibi; lacrimas dilectae pelle Creusae."

"O dear husband, why does it please you so much to indulge this mad grief? These things do not happen without the will of the gods; it was not right for you to carry your companion Creusa from here, nor does the ruler of Olympus above allow it. There is in store for you a long exile and the vast plain of the sea to be ploughed, before you come to land of Hesperia, where the Lydian Tiber flows in a gentle stream, amidst the fertile fields of men. There a happy fate awaits you, and a kingdom, and a royal bride; stop your tears for your beloved Creusa."

As Aeneas reaches the safety of the hills outside Troy with his father and young son, he suddenly notices that his wife, Creusa, is no longer with him. He rushes impetuously back to the burning city to try to find her, but to no avail. Finally her ghost appears to him in this passage, and reminds him of the destiny which awaits him in Italy (‘the land of Hesperia’). Creusa’s death at this point is a necessary plot device for Virgil. Not only does it allow him to emphasise Aeneas' destiny, but he also needs to get Creusa out of the way fairly quickly so that he can introduce the relationship between Aeneas and Dido. It is interesting that when Aeneas visits the underworld (book VI) he meets the ghost of Dido in a highly emotional scene, and is reunited with his dead father (more on this later), but nowhere is Creusa mentioned.

We also see again in this passage an important aspect of pietas. Aeneas’ desperate search for his wife amid the destruction of Troy is bravely heroic, and possibly even romantic, but that is not how Creusa describes it- she calls it an insano dolori- a mad grief. The pius thing for Aeneas to do in this situation is to recognise the will of the gods (as Creusa urges Aeneas to do), and to get on with the destiny that lies before him, not giving in to the pain he feels. This seems a little heartless, but it is a very Roman idea, and one found often in Stoic philosophy, which held that it was possible to overcome the discord of the outside world and find peace within oneself, by mastering one’s passions and emotions.

No comments: