Tag Archives: Aeneid

Her Soul Receded into the Winds: Dido’s Suicide in Aeneid Book 4

Henry Fusel. Dido. 1781. Oil on Canvas.

If you haven’t read  The Aeneid then I implore you to do yourself a favor and at least read Book 4.  It is one of my favorite pieces of literature to read in Latin and in English. (I recommend the Fagles translation or the new Ferry translation.)  I won’t go through all of the specific reasons for Dido’s suicide in this book because you really need to read it for yourself to understand the complexity of her situation.  But she does feel hopeless, abandoned, deceived, angry. In the culmination of this heart wrenching scene, Dido climbs on to the top of the funeral pyre on which she has placed all her gifts from Aeneas, the Trojan hero who, at this very same moment, is sailing away from Carthage and from her (these translations are my own):

After she looked down at the Trojan’s robes and the all-too-familiar couch, and with her mind hesitating in tearful recollection, she laid down on that same couch and spoke her final words: “Oh gifts that were dear to me as long as the fates and the gods were allowing, accept my spirt and release me from my sorrows.  I have lived and I have finished the course which Fortune had set out for me, but now my famous soul will go to the underworld.  I have established a famous city, I have looked upon my city’s walls, and having avenged my husband, I exacted punishment from my hateful brother.  Unlucky, oh I am too unlucky—if only those Trojans ships had never reached our shores.” When she finished her speech she pressed a kiss into the couch and said, “I will die unavenged, but let me die anyway. In this way, yes, in this way it eases my pain to approach my death.  I hope that cruel Trojan drinks in this fire with his eyes as he sails away, and I hope he carries with him the omen of my death.” As she had said these things, Dido’s loved ones saw her fall onto Aeneas’s sword while standing in the midst of all his other gifts.  Both the sword and her hands were sprayed with blood.  A shouting reaches all the parts of the palace; the report of her death quickly spreads throughout the shattered city.

Since Dido kills herself, her soul is not allowed to be accompanied to the underworld by Mercury.  Instead the goddess Juno sends Iris to release Dido’s spirit:

Therefore, dewy Iris, dragging thousands of colors against the sun and through the sky with her yellow wings, descends and stands by Dido’s head: “I, having been ordered by Juno to carry out the rituals of the dead, release you from this sword and from your body.”  After Iris said this she cut a lock of Dido’s hair: at the same time all the warmth slipped from her body and her soul receded into the winds.

That last sentence is just beautiful, it gets me every time I translate it.  Please do read it and let me know what you think about Dido’s story.

 

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A Father’s Day Review: Seamus Heaney’s Translation of Aeneid VI

Heaney Aeneid VIWhen I bought this translation of Aeneid VI and read Heaney’s introduction, I thought it would be a fitting review on the blog for Father’s Day.  In the introduction to the translation, Heaney says that he gravitated towards this book of the Aeneid when his own father who passed away shortly before he began his translation.  The Aeneid is full of father and son relationships and Heaney recognizes that Aeneid VI in particular highlights the special relationship between Vergil’s hero and his father Anchises.

As Troy is burning because of the Greek treachery of the horse, Aeneas manages to escape the city while carrying his elderly father on his back.  Aeneas could have easily left the old man behind, but he would never have considered abandoning his parent.  As Aeneas is sailing the Mediterranean in search of a new home, Anchises eventually succumbs to a peaceful and natural death.  In Book VI, Aeneas tells the priestess of Apollo that his greatest wish is to see his father and have one more conversation with him.

In these shadowy marshes the Aceron floods

To the surface, vouchsafe me one look,

One face-to-face meeting with my dear father

Point out the road, open the holy doors wide.

On these shoulders I bore him through flames

And a thousand enemy spears. In the thick of fighting

I saved him and he was at my side then

On all my sea-crossings, battling tempests and tides

A man in old age, worn out, not meant for duress.

Most men would not have dared to venture into the land of the dead to have a last conversation, but Aeneas is no ordinary man and the relationship with his father was no ordinary relationship.  Aeneas must first visit the Sibyl of Cumae, the priestess of Apollo, to get instructions on how to approach and gain access to the land of the dead.  Aeneas knows that this undertaking is dangerous and that very few men or heroes have succeeded in traveling down to the underworld and then regaining access to the land of the living.

Aeneas sees awful things on his journey to the nether regions.  He witnesses countless souls standing on the banks of the river Styx trying to gain passage on Charon’s boat to bring them across to their final, peaceful resting places.  He also witnesses the souls of men being tortured and punished in Tartarus; these men were horrible and wicked in their earthly lives and the Sybil tells him that the punishments being doled are fitting for their crimes.  But witnessing all of this sorrow and horror is worth it to Aeneas just to have that one final conversation with his father.

When Aeneas finally sees Anchises, his father is in the Elysian Fields, the place where good and kind and blessed souls wander in peace.  Anchises’ role, like that of any good father,  becomes that of mentor, of cheerleader, of counselor to his son who still has many challenges in front of him.  Anchises shows Aeneas that the result of his efforts and tribulations will be a progeny which the entire world will celebrate and revere.  It is Anchises’ encouraging words that Aeneas uses as inspiration to embark on the second half of his journey, on the part of the story to which Vergil refers as arma.

Seamus Heaney’s translation of Aeneid VI is poetic and beautiful.  It adheres to the spirit of the original Latin while rendering Vergil’s words into a graceful and elegant story in English.  For those who have wanted to read Vergil’s epic poem but find the idea of reading all twelve books too daunting, Heaney’s translation of Aeneid VI serves as the perfect introduction to this Latin classic.

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