Basic Themes by Viktor Poschl from Victor Poschl. The Art of Vergil: Image and Symbol in the Aeneid. Trans. Gerda Seligson. Ann Arbor 1970

Download 45.04 Kb.
Size45.04 Kb.

Basic Themes
by Viktor Poschl

from Victor Poschl. The Art of Vergil: Image and Symbol in the Aeneid. Trans. Gerda Seligson. Ann Arbor 1970.

The First Sequence of Scenes (1.8-296) as Symbolic Anticipation of the Whole Poem

The first climactic point in the Aeneid -- the event that sets the tone, arousing and preparing the reader's mind for the extraordinary actions about to take place -- is the storm which drives Aeneas to the shores of Carthage. Its introductory position in the poem indicates that it is more than just another episode in the destiny of the homeless Trojans. The pulsating breath of tragedy and the atmosphere of wild pathos embody with the greatest compression the nature of the emotion which permeates the whole poem. It is, as it were, the "musical" motif that from the start marks the events with passionate grandeur and the demonic power of fate. Only the image of the strongest, wildest movement in Nature which had, of course, been transmitted through Homer, where it was first raised to the level of art -- seemed to Virgil sufficiently grave and imposing for the opening of his Roman epic.

This kind of beginning was not borrowed from the Odyssey, certainly, for that epic opens much more peacefully. If there is any parallel in Homer, it is in the plague which opens the Iliad. Indeed, the entire Aeneid in its dramatic impetus is more to be compared with the Iliad than with the Odyssey. But even in the Iliad Homer swiftly progresses to the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon as the starting point of the real action, without utilizing the mood established by the plague motif. As for Apollonius Rhodius of Hellenistic times, who in the casual manner of a storyteller began his epic with an almost comical anecdote -- the oracle of the man with one shoe -- he achieves nothing of the Aeneid's symbolic power. Contrary to common assumption, he is much farther from Virgil's artistic conception than is Homer.

The scene sequence dominated by the storm at sea (1.8-296) anticipates the whole poem in thought as well as mood. It is the prelude of the work, announcing the basic motifs after the manner of an overture. Let us examine it.

As for the motif of Juno's hatred, the poet, after the proem, expounds upon her counterplan for Carthage's control of the world. The opposition of the two world powers is announced immediately upon the introduction of Rome's historic rival: Carthago Italiam contra (1-13), in which "contra" is meant much more symbolically than geographically. With a slight change it returns in Dido's curse:

Let your shores oppose their shores, your waves their waves,

your arms their arms. That is my imprecation.

Litora litoribus contraria, fluctibus undas

Imprecor, arma armis, pugnent ipsique nepotesque...

Thus, the contest between Rome and Carthage for world dominion appears as a main theme from the very beginning, and Juno's stubborn fight against the hero's fata symbolically anticipates it, as do the battles in the last half of the poem-as stated in Jupiter's speech (X.11).

This historically decisive contest is itself only a representative symbol of all the hard wars in Roman history. The last half of the poem is symbolic also of the Italo-Roman struggle and the civil wars. Moreover, it contains a searching examination of the nature and uncanny duality of politics; the image of the dark demon of passion in Turnus confronts the shining spiritual and moral power in Aeneas. Roman history is presented as a struggle between two principles, and Rome's victory is seen is the victory of the higher one. Thus, the first and the last halves of the Aeneid are symbolic in different ways. (Here I remind the reader how important to our subject it is to realize that a symbol by its very nature admits of -- and demands - more than one interpretation. The essence of a symbolic relation is that the correspondence between the symbol and the thing symbolized is not precise, but flexible, opening up an infinite perspective.)

In a letter to Schiller (August 17, 1797) Goethe wrote: "Symbolic objects are outstanding cases representing in their variety many others. They are characterized by a certain inclusiveness; they demand a certain sequence. They evoke in my mind pertinent and similar as well as foreign ideas. Consequently, from within as well as from without, they claim a certain oneness and universality." And in Maximen und Reflexionen: "The symbol transforms the visible into an idea and the idea into an image in such manner that the idea in the image stays infinitely potent and unattainable, remaining unutterable even if spoken of in all languages." Similarly, in his Tagebucher (ed. Bamberger, 1, 236), Hebbel says: "Every genuine work of art is a mysterious symbol with many meanings, to a certain degree incomprehensible." Juno, then, is first the mythical personification of the historical power of Carthage, and in this role she causes the storm at sea and the shipwrecked landing on Carthaginian soil. It is most significant that her passionate hatred really stems from love. The Aeneid has been called the "epic of grief." It could as well be called the "epic of love," for its deepest tragedy is that its people "loved too much." This is true of Euryalus, of whom the poet says (9-43o): "Infelicem nimium dilexit amicum" (He loved too much his wretched friend); it is just as true of Juno, Venus, Turnus, Dido, and Latinus (XII.29: Victus amore tui . . . vincla omnia rupi: conquered by love of you . . . I burst all bonds), and of Amata, Laocoon, and Evander. Love is the motivating force in all that Aeneas does. Even the fall of the monster Mezentius is transfigured by grief over the death of his son Lausus in what is basically a suicide for love.

On the human level Aeneas, as the personification of things Roman, meets this very real blow of fate with the firm resolve to strive on through all dangers (I.204ff.), while on the divine level Jupiter reveals the solution of the conflict to Venus:

She (Juno) will change her plans for the better and to-

gether with me she will protect the Romans, the masters
of the world, the people in the toga . . .
Consilia in melius referet mecumque fovebit
Romanos rerum dominos gentemque togatam.

As the action is in the highest sense carried out between Jupiter and Juno, the first unit of the Aeneid is framed by the appearances of the two major divinities. The composition is expression of a fact, the balance of scenes is image and symbol of an equivalence of forces. Human action is embedded in divine action, not only as an artistic means but also as a statement of fact. To understand this is to hold one of the keys to the secret of classical composition. Besides being subject to the autonomous law of beauty, the form is founded on the subject itself, which through its organization in clear antitheses appears in its very essence. "Formal perfection is just another aspect of mental penetration" (Ernst Robert Curtius).

The contrast between Jupiter's quiet serenity (I.255) and Juno's angry passion underscores the inner tension of the poem. The passion-consumed goddess is confronted by Virgil's sublime Jupiter, the majestic master of the world, enthroned above suffering and passion. This aspect of highest divinity becomes even more evident in the verses preceding Jupiter's decision in the quarrel between the two goddesses:

But then the Father Almighty, who holds first authority over
the world, began to speak; and as he spoke, the gods' high
hall fell silent, the earth deep down was set trembling, the
steep sky -was soundless, and then too the west winds sank
and the ocean hushed its surface.
Tum pater omnipotens, rerum cui prima potestas,
Infit, eo dicente deum domus alta silescit
Et tremefacta solo tellus, arduus aether,
Tum Zephyri posuere, premit placida aequora. pontus.

Heaven and earth, the winds, and the sea are silent; the wild forces of nature, all elements bow to him. Compared to the other gods he represents not only a higher power but a higher level of existence. And in this he differs from the Homeric Zeus. Zeus is stronger than the other gods, Jupiter more sublime. We do not see Jupiter shaking the universe with his scowl as Zeus does, but as imposing reverence on it. (Only at the close of the scene is the famous verse from the Iliad imitated: 10.115; also 9.106.)

In Jupiter is most clearly manifest the divine power that binds the demonic forces and the basic strength of Latinity, serenitas - which includes in one untranslatable word, mental clarity, cheerfulness of soul, and the light of the southern sky. From the image of the Virgilian Jupiter the concept of serenitas has remained alive in the intellectual history of the successor states of the Roman Empire into our own time; for example, in the words with which Romain Rolland late in life described the human task: "la liberte de 1'esprit qui sereine l'anarchie chaotique du coeur."
Virgil's Jupiter is the symbol of what Rome as an idea embodied. While Juno as the divine symbol of the demonic forces of violence and destruction does not hesitate to call up the spirits of the nether world: "Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo," Jupiter is the organizing power that restrains those forces. Thus, on a deeper level, the contrast between the two highest divinities is symbolic of the ambivalence in history and human nature. It is a symbol, too, of the struggle between light and darkness, mind and emotion, order and chaos, which incessantly pervades the cosmos, the soul, and politics. A spiritual path leads from this level of contrast directly to the historical concepts of the Christian Middle Ages as stated by St. Augustine.

The struggle and final victory of order-this subduing of the demonic which is the basic theme of the poem, appears and reappears in many variations. The demonic appears in history as civil or foreign war, in the soul as passion, and in nature as death and destruction. Jupiter, Aeneas, and Augustus are its conquerors, while Juno, Dido, Turnus, and Antony are its conquered representatives. The contrast between Jupiter's powerful composure and Juno's confused passion reappears in the contrast between Aeneas and Dido and between Aeneas and Turnus. The Roman god, the Roman hero, and the Roman emperor are incarnations of the same idea.

Therefore, as the result of inner necessity, Jupiter, in the concluding speech of the initial sequence of scenes, announces that the idea of Augustus' pax Romana rests upon the conquest of furor impius. At this strongly emphatic place the basic idea of the whole poem becomes visible in a symbolic picture:

And the terrible iron-constricted Gates of War shall

shut; and safe within them shall stay the godless and
ghastly Lust of Blood, propped on his pitiless piled ar-
mory, and still roaring from gory mouth, but held fast
by a hundred chains of bronze knotted behind his back.
Claudentur Belli portae. Furor impius intus
Saeva sedens super arma et centum vinctus aenis
Post tergum nodis fremit horridus ore cruento.

This is the best example in the Aeneid of a symbol which condenses a historic event into a single image. This image, still trembling with the bloody events of the civil wars, climaxes and ends the speech of the god, thus channeling the wild motions of human life into the quiet order of the divine fata. After the "altae moenia Romae" which significantly concludes the proem and the "tantae molis erat Romanam, condere gentem" which ends the section beginning with "musa mihi causas memora," a view opens for the third time on the real object of the poem -- the destiny of Rome. Moreover, the symbolic meaning of Roman history reveals itself here as a divinely inspired order -- the result of hard fighting and bitter suffering.

Jupiter and Juno surround the storm at sea and into this larger frame is fitted the smaller one of Aeolus and Neptune. The contrast between Aeolus' ominous calm and Neptune's buoyant ocean voyage corresponds to that of Juno's uncontrolled temper and Jupiter's serenity. The wind-king reins his wild forces with the hand of a Roman master-a gesture without parallel in Homer:

But Aeolus, the king who rules them, confines them in

their prison, disciplined and curbed. They race from
door to bolted door, and all the mountain reverberates
with the noise of their resentment. But Aeolus, throned
securely above them, scepter in hand tempers their ar-
rogance and controls their fury.

Hic vasto res Aeolus antro

Luctantis ventos tempestatesque sonoras
Imperio premit ac vinclis et carcere frenat.
Illi indignantes magno cum murmure montis
Circum claustra fremunt, celsa sedet Aeolus arce
Sceptra tenens mollitque animos et temperat iras.

Here, political history may be sensed in the nature myth. The relation of Aeolus' mastery of the winds to Augustus' conquest of furor impius is easily seen. And it becomes even clearer in the Neptune scene.

The sea god, great Neptune, both in his actions and appearance of contained power, in allaying the raging storm is like Jupiter, a contradiction of brute force. Moreover, the taming itself, in a simile emphasized by being the first in the poem and not taken from Homer, is compared to a political act:

It had been like a sudden riot in some great assembly,

when, as they will, the meaner folk forget themselves and
grow violent, so that firebrands and stones are soon flying,
for savage passion quickly finds weapons. But then they
may chance to see some man whose character and record
command their respect. If so, they will wait in silence,
listening keenly. He will speak to them, calming their pas-
sions and guiding their energies. So, now, all the uproar
of the ocean subsided.


Ac veluti magno in populo cum saepe coorta est
Seditio saevitque animis ignobile volgus
Iamque faces et saxa volant, furor arma ministrat,
Tum pietate gravem ac meritis si forte virum quem
Conspexere, silent arrectisque auribus adstant,
Ille regit dictis animos et pectora mulcet:
Sic cunctus pelagi cedidit fragor.

The above has been interpreted as alluding to a political event of the year 54 B.C., when in a similar manner Cato calmed the raging populace (Plutarch, Cato Minor). Such an allusion is not impossible. The republican Cato was the ideal Roman in Virgil's eyes and appears as such on Aeneas' shield in contrast to Catiline, who is shown doing penance for his crime (8-760).

Sallust had already idealized Cato by introducing him in his Coniuratio Catilinae as the incarnation of the principles of Roman grandeur and probably had conceived of the Cato-Catiline contrast as a simile of the conflict (seen in the Aeneid) between Octavian and Antony. There is also an ideal image of Cato in Horace's Roman ode, Iustum et tenacem propositi virum. The heralds of the Augustan renaissance, Sallust and Cicero (especially in his lost Cato), and the poets of the renaissance, Virgil and Horace, each in his own way pays homage to the most uncompromising representative of the Roman mind and attitude. For the Augustan Age, too, Cato embodied the ideal of a true Roman-which is indicative of the spirit of reconciliation toward Caesar's opponents and of the seriousness of the intent to restore the Republic.

However, for the very reason that I am willing to accept the possibility of a connection between an event in the political career of Cato Uticensis and the first simile of the Aeneid, I must emphatically declare that it means very little. Even to Sallust, disciple of Thucydides, Cato was no more than an ideal type of Roman statesman, just as the conspiracy of Catiline was no more than a symptom of Rome's decay. The poet's mind, then, is not intent upon Cato nor on any historical individual, but definitely on the idea that the individual personifies-in this case, the idea of the statesman whose authority dominates the crowd. He gives to the idea the form of a poetic symbol-of transfigured reality.

The champions of the allegorical interpretation of the Aeneid obscure the fact that equations purporting to balance historic and poetic personalities are not only unverifiable but are a priori false at least as postulated. The mistake is in confusing symbol and Allegorie: a symbol may exist even without reference to what takes shape within it, while the Allegorie exists only through that reference. The symbol permits, even demands, more than one interpretation, the Allegorie allows only one. The nobility and style of the Aeneid exclude the Allegorie that can be completely unlocked with a political or historical key. To resolve the heroic epic into Allegorie, then, is to misunderstand both its validity as an ideal and its artistic character. Its scenes may from time to time recall or point symbolically to real events and persons, as with Cato or the monster Cacus (8.185ff-), whose actions, as Conway believes, perhaps unveil the atrocities of Antony's proscriptions.

The true relation between these scenes and historic fact is more mysterious and less simple. The metamorphosis takes place on a higher plane. Historic events and the poet's inner experience are stripped of everything accidental and actual. They are removed from time and transported into the large and distant land of Myth. There, on a higher plane of life, they are developed in symbolic and poetic shapes having a right to an existence of their own. The fact, therefore, that the subjection of the storm is described in a simile for a moment highlighting a very important sphere of the poem (namely that of the historical world) is more decisive than a possible allusion to the younger Cato. In the princeps rei publicae, where Cato calms the riotous populace, we meet political reality in a situation representing the defeated antithesis of Augustan order. Then, the historical background of the mythical events becomes momentarily visible.

The idea of regulation is expressed five times in the first sequences of scenes in the Aeneid: where Aeolus holds the winds in subjection, where Neptune calms them, in Aeneas' reaction to fortune's blow, where Augustus chains Furor impius in Jupiter's prophecy, and finally in the power of the god himself, who firmly controls the fata. To find no more than commonplace Roman metaphors in the Roman gesture of Aeolus and in the simile of Neptune and the princeps rei publicae is to destroy the poem's unity of form and content as well as to fail to understand that it has a deeper unity than is commonly assumed. In the Neptune episode, for example, a natural event explained by means of a political event serves to show that nature is a symbol of political organization. Tile connecting simile becomes an expression of the symbolic relation between nature and politics, myth and history, which is at the heart of the Aeneid. As in the Georgics the relation between the two orders is not only a matter of poetical metaphors but of ontological realities. Jupiter, the master of the world, controls them both. Their unity finds its most sublime expression in the religious and philosophic revelation in the sixth Book.

It is more, then, than hyperbolic expression that Augustus sets the limits of empire with the ocean and those of his glory with the stars. Cosmic infinity is united with the majesty of imperium Romanum. The conviction that Roman order is founded in the same divine whole from which it derives its grandeur is important to the Augustan view of the world. It is also basic to the interpretation of the Roman res publica in Cicero's de Republica. Virgil adheres to Cicero's philosophical views. He accepts the Platonic idea of the unity of Cosmos and Politeia from which came the Ciceronian idea of the unity of world order and true res Romana. He combined this with the Homeric belief that the unity of nature is incorporated in the human world. He thus created a new synthesis -- the Augustan idea of Rome.

Even where it involves natural phenomena, the myth of Aeneas is a metaphor of Roman history and its Augustan fulfillment. But it does not stop there. The Aeneid is a poem of humanity, not a political manifesto. In it, myth and history acquire meaning and grandeur as expression of a higher level, the realization of a divine order, the symbol of the cosmic law of destiny revealed in the existence of the world of man. There are three levels of reality: (1) Cosmos, the sphere of divine order, the world of ideas and law; (2) Myth, the heroic world of poetic persons and destiny; (3) History, the world of historical and political phenomena. These are inlaid, one with another, and at the same time they are stratified. Myth, as the poetic intersymbol, partakes of both the upper and lower strata. In one direction it incorporates Roman history, and in the other, the eternally valid laws of the universe. Likewise, the tragedy in the Aeneid is a symbol not only of the tragedy in Roman history, but in human life as well. Indeed, it is a symbol of the tragedy in all nature and is found in its most sublime expression in the Georgics. Alone, neither of these interpretations would do justice to the poetic depth of the Aeneid. Virgil's epic must always be approached with both references, cosmic and Roman, human and historical, in mind. Each is justified and necessary, but only together do they make possible an understanding of the whole.

Here, then, is our result: the initial sequences of scenes in the Aeneid contain in essence all forces which constitute the whole. The opening storm is a wave breaking against Roman destiny. Many waves will follow and Augustus will subdue them all, thus limiting the Imperium with the ocean and its glory with the stars. The demand made by Goethe upon the drama, that each scene must symbolically represent the whole, is fulfilled in the exposition of the Virgilian epic in an ideal manner.

The Storm at Sea (1.8-296)
and the Allecto Scenes (7.286-640)
as Initial Symbols of the "Odyssey"
and "Iliad" Halves of the Aeneid

In the two parts of the Aeneid, the Odyssey and the Iliad are fused to create a higher unity. As early in the work as the proem, a reference to the recreation of the Odyssey is made: "Multum ille terris iactatus et alto," while "multa quoque et bello passus" refers to the Iliad. Possibly, as Servius believed, arma in the very first line refers to the Iliad and virumque to the Odyssey. The storm sequence (1.8-296) is significant, therefore, not only as an introduction to the whole but as the first great trial of Aeneas. It is the frontispiece, as it were, of the "Odyssey," half of the poem. The storm is followed by further trials: the Odysseus-like wanderings of Aeneas (3), his Dido adventure (4), the Iliupersis (2) and the games (5) (The Iliupersis probably stems from the Trojan War memoirs in the Odyssey, especially as contained in Nestor's and Menelaos' speeches in the Telemachy and Demodokos' song of the destruction of Troy.)

The storm at sea, the first motif from the Odyssey, and the other Homeric passages in the first Book adhere more closely to the model than do those of the following Books. This fact has been already recognized by Sainte-Beuve in Etude sur Virgile (2nd ed., p. 107): "This first eclogue, I mean the first chronologically, is scattered with Theocritus' most graceful images, just as the first book of the Aeneid is decked with Homer's most famous and conspicuous similes. He (Virgil) displays and presents them at the beginning and in the most obvious places. Far from being embarrassed by this, he takes pride in it."

Moreover, in the first Book it is not a question of appropriating individual motifs and using them in situations of different character, but rather of transposing situations of vital significance to the story. The following come from the Odyssey: the hostile divinity's planning of the catastrophe, the catastrophe itself, the hero's monologue of despair, the "Phorcys harbor," the exhortation 0 socii (1.198), Aeneas' encounter with Venus-transposed from that of Odysseus with Athena in Ithaca, invisible Aeneas' walk through Carthage-Odysseus' unseen arrival in the Phaeacian city, the meeting with Dido-the Nausicaa simile, Aeneas' appearance before Dido in the goddess-given guise of a dazzlingly beautiful godlike stranger, the conversation between Jupiter and Venus-after that of Zeus and Athene in the first Book-and the cantus firmus of Jupiter's speech -- the theme of the poem.

The idea of giving the whole poem a higher meaning at the very beginning of the divine father's speech comes from the Odyssey, where Zeus, in referring to Orestes' destiny, points to the murder of the suitors as the climax of the story and establishes punishment of guilty mortals as the primary theme. Although Virgil in Aeneas' first two speeches (1.94 and 1.198) consciously emphasizes his debt to Homer through verbatim appropriation of the beginning words (1.94/Ody. 5.306; 1.198/Ody. 12.208), he subsequently develops his theme independently, going beyond Homer. Likewise, the drama of the Carthaginian queen begins with Homer's Nausicaa simile, but develops in the Aeneid into the tragedy of Dido-not another Nausicaa episode. The scene sequence at the beginning of the poem is simultaneously an indication of Virgil's deep respect for Homer and an example of his competition with him. The more openly he attests his dependence upon Homer, the more ambitiously he strives to surpass him in the perfection of the form and the interpretation and connection of motifs. For this reason the first Book offers the most favorable conditions for comparing the two poets and for understanding Virgil's artistic principles.

In contrast, the Odyssean motifs in the remaining books are handled much more independently. As concerns the Iliupersis (2), this is well known. In the Wanderings (1), where a close conformity to Homer might certainly be expected, Virgil is more concerned with the melancholy echoes of the past (Polydorus, Helenus, Andromache) and the gradual revelation of the future than with the adventures themselves. The main interest is not in the physical terrors of the journey, but rather in Aeneas' deepening spiritual sorrow as more and more he realizes the importance and greatness of his mission. Echoes of the Odyssey are scarce. The theme of feminine attraction, only hinted at in Homer's Calypso, Circe, and Nausicaa, is elevated into tragedy in the figure of the deserted woman, Dido, and Aeneas' concomitant trial (1). The games differ widely from those of Homer in the manner of the contests (5). Finally, Aeneas' journey to the underworld is much more than just one adventure among many. Like the encounter with Dido, it has become a trial of the hero, a test of his pietas, and a revelation of the symbolic meaning of the whole poem (6). Surpassing Jupiter's speech in the first Book, this contains the most comprehensive interpretation of the poem. Here the connection of the legend with the two spheres of which the poetical partakes-universal order and the Roman order of the world-is most patently visible. In the mythical form of a visit to the underworld from where it is singularly possible to observe the world and its otherwise mysterious machinations from a distance, Aeneas realizes the connection of mortal life with world order and that of his own destiny with the history of Rome. Again, the existence of a firm relation between divine and Roman order is shown. The former is announced by Phlegyas: "Discite iustitiam moniti et non temnere divos" ("Take this warning, and learn justice, and not to neglect the gods"), and the latter is revealed by Anchises at the end of the book: "Tu regere Imperio populos Romane memento" ("You, Roman, remember to rule peoples under your sway"). Justice is the foundation of both and is also the first principle of the Platonic-Ciceronian concept of res Romana. It is brought about in the underworld as in ours through the subjugation of demonic forces, great criminals, and lawbreakers.

Violators of world order-those who rebel against the rule of Jupiter (6.583ff.)-are confined behind a triple wall in Tartarus to pay forever for their crimes. There, too, are the instigators of ruthless war ("qui arma secuti impia": 6.612f.). The inner connection of motifs is betrayed in the affinity of the triple wall (6.548ff.) with the mountain of winds and that of the gate of Tartarus with the gate of Janus. In the "Roman" Tartarus on Aeneas' shield, Catiline, chained to the rock, represents the enemies of the Roman state (8.668ff. this was excluded from Book 6 for "chronological reasons"). Thus, Dante's idea of having great political criminals do penance in purgatory is founded on Virgil.

Inasmuch as the first Book clings comparatively closely to the motifs of the Odyssey, and the other books stray farther from this model, it is noteworthy (and I believe it to be the result of conscious intention) that of all the books of the "Iliad" half of the Aeneid, the last contains the greatest number of transferred situations. Conversely, the seventh and eighth Books are the least Iliad-engendered, while the sixth Book may be considered the most Virgilian of the first or "Odyssey" half. (Book 6 shows the influence of Apollonius rather than of Homer.) Virgil with his wonderful sense of balance permeating the whole poem thus achieves perfection: he rises from the narrowly Homeric to his own zenith and returns again to Homer. Within the Homeric shell lies the Virgilian kernel.

The Allecto scenes symbolizing the tragic mood of the last half of the poem (7-12) correspond to the dramatic tempest introducing the disastrously fateful atmosphere of Aeneas' "Odyssey" in the first half (1-6). Heinze has shown that these two groups of scenes balance each other perfectly, particularly in both beginning with Juno. This correspondence proves that the interpretation of the storm as a beginning symbol represents the poet's intention and is not an arbitrary assumption. As this symbolization is the obvious function of the Allecto scenes which have no Homeric model, the same must be true of the storm (according to the law of strict symmetry for classical composition). Therefore, the parallel function of the scenes as "symbolic" overture to both parts of the epic may be added to the correspondences noted by Heinze.

The demonic force of nature in the first Book, then, is paralleled by the demonic force of the historical world in the seventh. And inasmuch as the Iliad is more majestic than the Odyssey, the "Iliad," or second, half of the Aeneid is greater than the first:

A greater sequence of events opens before me, and
I now begin a grander enterprise.
Maior rerum mihi nascitur ordo,
Maius opus moveo.

Accordingly, in the last half, the power of the hostile fate that rises against the Trojans has grown considerably: Allecto's acts are incomparably wilder and more demoniac than those of Aeolus' winds. And while the storm at sea develops an Addison motif, Virgil has become independent of Homer. He dares, as Homer did not, to introduce the powers of Hell into the action of the story. It appears to me highly improbable that Ennuis would have had a comparable sequence of scenes, although (as Norden has shown) he contributed some details and refashioned some important traits of Allecto in his Discordia. There is, however, a considerable difference between Ennius' war demon, Discordia, and Virgil's fury, Allecto.

Allecto's hellish nature is revealed in three scenes: the increasing delusion of Amata, the dramatic violence of Turnus' dream, and the fast-moving hunt for Silvia's stag. She first appears as a snake to invest Amata with her serpent's spirit (VII.351), then as the torch thrust into Turnus' heart (456), and then as the sudden madness of Ascanius' dogs (479).

The first of these scenes, particularly, serves to translate tile demonic character of Allecto into impassioned movement and thus contributes to the heightened action. Heinze, the first to inquire into its meaning, concluded that the motif was not fully utilized owing to a "lack of clarity in the treatment." There is, however, no lack of clarity and the poet is not, as Heinze suggested, primarily interested in finding a new reason for the outbreak of war. Friedrich has noted correctly that the "impotentia" of the Trojans' adversaries is symbolically expressed here. The object was to symbolize unleashed passion as well as the insanity of civil war. The war is a "civil war" because the Trojans and Italians, from the very beginning conceived of as belonging together, are destined for peace through assimilation. But the scene has a formal reason too: Virgil found it necessary to prepare the war events with a sequence of wildly moving scenes. High pathos and the spirit of tragedy fills tile first of these. The Bacchic ecstasy of the Maenads, treated as tragic motif in several of Euripides' plays, may have seemed especially suitable for this purpose. The Dido tragedy is similarly constructed. In both places the image of furious movement in the form of the nocturnal thiasos marks a tragic development. The deeper justification and artistic sense of the scene are to be found, therefore, in the inner emotional sequence of the poem. Here at the start of a tragic development it demands the elan terrible of a furiously pressing movement, because the poet wished to create an introductory symbol for the "Iliad" half in the form of an allegro furioso e appassionato leading to war. At the same time he wanted to give symbolic expression to his concept of war as a creation of Hell, a godless crime and sinful mania. For such a presentation he could borrow nothing of value from Homer to whom this concept was alien.

The three scenes are composed with a rising pitch, swelling mightily toward tempestuous movement. The first scene spins toward the whirling frenzy of the Maenads in the lonely woods, the second plunges toward Turnus' madness which is then compared to a cauldron boiling over (an image of growing movement in itself), and the third mounts to the uncontrollable commotion of war-to the tidal wave of the Italian army as it gathers in response to Allecto's call:

Now they sought decisions by their two-edged blades.

War's standing crop stretched afar, iron-gray with the
shudder of drawn steel. Bronze gleamed under the sun's
reflection, and flashed light upwards against dark clouds;
as when at a wind's first breath waves begin to whiten,
and gradually the sea rises and builds them higher, until
at last it leaps from all its depths to the sky.

Sed ferro ancipiti decernunt atraque late

Horrescit strictis seges ensibus aeraque fulgent
Sole lacessita et lucem sub nubila iactant,
Fluctus uti primo coepit cum albescere ponto,
Paulatim sese tollit mare et altius undas
Erigit, inde imo consurgit ad aethera fundo.

The above is based on the Homeric simile (Iliad 7.63):

The ranks were set close, and bristled with shields and
helmets and spears, as the waves of the sea ripple and
crinkle when the west wind blows it black.

Inspired by other parts of the Iliad (2.457 and 13.338; cf. 4.422ff.; 13.795ff.; 14.394ff.; 15.381ff.) and perhaps by Ennius, Virgil added the brilliantly glancing reflection of the weapons, which, in an intensification based on Homer, he compares to the white crests on a dark sea (Iliad 14.696ff.). However, he was so caught up in the accelerating movement and the crescendo of the outbreak of war that he augmented the whole effect with the simile of the storm becoming a hurricane. This simile embodies the strong pressure and excitement of Juno's presence. It is part of the rhythm of the whole poem. Here, one of the most important principles of Virgil's art becomes effective-the striving for unity, or as Woelfflin called it in a lecture entitled "The Classical," "the principle of assimilation" (the forms assimilate each other): "the work of art is organized into self-supporting parts, unified by homogeneous imagery and a moving rhythm common to every detail." The tendency to compose whole scene sequences aimed at one goal serves the same purpose --dramatic development. A goal-directed movement is dramatic, while one seemingly without a goal is epic. Virgil's art would be inconceivable without the Greek drama, for that is where tire idea of unity first found a perfect poetic form by bringing all parts under the law of the whole. Although this idea is present in the Homeric epic, as emphasized by Goethe in his letter to Schiller of April 28, 1797 (in contrast to Schlegel and Wolf), it is not completely executed. In the Aeneid, the unity is complete. It is symptomatic of the ignorance of Virgil among Germans that he does not play a role in the discussion between Goethe and Schiller concerning the nature of the epic, even though the epic "fulfills its nature" only in the Aeneid. Virgil was the first to give the epic that closed form for which, contrary to Schlegel's opinion, it had been destined from the beginning. He was the first to give it its "classic form."

Besides rising independently toward an image of increasing movement, the Allecto scenes combine into a larger unit. If the images climaxing each scene are compared, it is evident that they are suitably attuned to each other. Amata's orgiastic frenzy, the surge of boiling water, the whirling black steam of Turnus' cauldron, and the developing hurricane of the war host are increasingly emphatic symbols of uncontrollable elementary forces. And the last of these, the storm at sea, the most powerful manifestation of Nature in action-is the strongest symbol imaginable. Points of comparable function in the framework of composition are accentuated by related symbols and so we see that such a storm occurs at the beginning of both the "Iliad" and "Odyssey" halves of the Aeneid. When Latinus, broken and full of disastrous foreboding, finally yields to fate, and when Juno breaks open tire iron gates of the temple of Janus, the feeling of unleashed movement is so vivid, the principle of harmonious forms so efficient, and the rhythm, carrying and sweeping away the events like a swollen torrent, so strong, that Latinus is compared to a rock amid the breakers (7.586ff.; cf. Iliad i5.618ff.). He perceives the fatal outbreak as a hurricane, in the face of which human power cannot prevail (7.594: "Frangimur heu fatis, inquit, ferimurque procella": " 'We are wrecked, alas, by the fates,' he said, 'and driven by the storm' "). Once again the image of the storm and shipwreck serves as the symbol of destiny.
As a unit, the Allecto scenes clearly show the poet's artistic skill in creating ascending, accelerating movement. From the measured gesture of the hopeful line, "Sublimes in equis redeunt pacemque reportant": "High on their horses' backs they return, and bring back news of peace"), which inaugurates Juno's interference, the story becomes increasingly dark and tense as it heightens for the outbreak of war. Yet to appreciate fully this gradual intensification of plot, it is necessary to return to the book's beginning, for the story grows from the blessed morning peace of the Tiber landscape to the tempestuous movement of the resplendent, armored host. The poet strives for external contrast throughout the Book. In order to enhance the power of the movement, he begins with a tranquil and distant scene. Thus, we see that the inner development of the seventh Book is the reverse of that of the first; the latter develops out of storm and tension through the quasi-serious meeting with Venus to the pleasantly joyful Dido audience and the solemn banquet at the end. Conversely, as we have seen, the seventh Book opens in tranquillity which is subsequently replaced by increasingly turbulent movement rising toward the roaring finale of the Italian war hosts, a pageant crammed with violent elan and wild power, like a triumphant glorification of all the tribes of Italy.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page