Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nymphae, Laurentes Nymphae

Question 2

“nymphae, Laurentes nymphae, genus amnibus unde est,
tuque, o Thybri tuo genitor cum flumine sancto,
accipite Aenean et tandem arcete periclis.
quo te cumque lacus miserantem incommoda nostra
fonte tenet, quocumque solo pulcherrimus exis,
semper honore meo, semper celebrabere donis
corniger Hesperidum fluvius regnator aquarum.
adsis o tantum et propius tua numina firmes.”

How has Virgil infused these lines with a sense of religious awe and reverence? (5 marks)


One of the most striking features of this speech of Aeneas is its structure. Virgil has carefully designed the speech to reflect the traditional Roman prayer formula, giving the whole passage a decidedly religious flavour. The extended address to the gods in lines 71-72 is followed by a request, another address guaranteeing the attention of the gods accompanied by a promise of Aeneas’ devotion, and a final request. This structure makes the religious nature of Aeneas’ speech clear to Virgil’s Roman readers, and imbues the whole passage with a strong sense of awe and reverence for the gods.

However the structure is not the only way in which Virgil has created this tone. Many language techniques have been used to strengthen and reinforce the sense of awe in Aeneas’ speech. One of the most notable techniques is Virgil’s inclusion of unusual or archaic words, to heighten the gravitas of Aeneas’ speech, and to lend the passage a solemn and dignified air. There are many examples throughout this passage, including the archaic o, used only in formal situations, in lines 72 and 78, the exotic place names such as Laurentes, Thybri and Hesperidum (instead of the more prosaic Latini, Tiberis, Italorum), and the use of celebrabere for celebraberis. Less obvious perhaps is the unusual construction of arcete periclis (‘keep me from danger’ rather than the more usual ‘keep danger from me’), the rare tmesis of quo te cumque, and the epic-compound corniger. The proliferation of these unusual words and phrases clearly lifts the register of Aeneas’ prayer, and contributes to the sense of religious awe and reverence of these lines.

Repetition also plays an important part in establishing a religious tone in this passage. We have already noted the repetition of o in lines 72 and 78 – in line 71 we also see the word nymphae repeated, highlighting Aeneas’ respect for the gods, and in lines 74-76 both quocumque and semper are repeated with similar effect.

Finally, the imperatives and iussive subjunctives used by Aeneas lend his speech a solemn, authoritative tone. In line 73 we have accipite and arcete, while the closing line of the prayer is framed by the iussive subjunctives adsis and firmes once again adding gravitas to the lines and increasing the overall sense of religious awe and reverence felt in these lines.

Question 1

2 comments:

Mike Salter said...

Once again JM, many thanks for this, it's terrific resource material!

A couple of other points which occurred to me:

- the "quo...cumque" formula is very common in addresses to deities (cf., for instance, Catullus 34: "sis quocumque tibi placet sancta nomine"), perhaps to express the multiplicity of their forms and powers. I think it certainly adds a sense of reverence here.

- the emphatically-placed "tu(que)" in the second line is again quite common in prayer (cf. Horace Odes 1.10, the prayer to Mercury).

And if you'll permit a small quibble, I'm not sure whether the alternative form "celebrabere" is all that significant here, given that (a) it is needed in this case to fit the metre, (b) in the future passive 2 sing., -re is generally even more common than -ris.

Keep 'em coming, they're brilliant.

jm said...

thanks for your feedback, always welcome, especially your quibble. i didn't actually know that the -re ending was the more common one. one more to come...