(With apologies for the unexpected break in postings to my regular readers; frankly I’ve been a bit depressed lately and needed to take a break. Anyway let’s get back into the swing of things with a bumper edition ‘Virgil’s Aeneid’ which takes off from where the last episode leaves off… and I hope to have another episode of ‘Hell Hospital’ by the end of next week; wish me luck!)
Hermes obeys, and, with the golden wings of his flying feet, mounts the western winds; and whether flying over the seas or the earth, they bear him down the skies with rapid force. But first he grasps within his hands the mark of his sovereign power, the caduceus. With this he draws the ghosts from hollow graves; with this he drives them down the waters of the Styx; with this he seals the wakeful eyesight in sleep and eyes though closed in death, he restores to the light. Thus armed the god begins his airy race, driving the racking clouds along before him; now he sees the tops of Atlas, whose brawny back supports the skies; Atlas, whose head is crowned with piny forests, is beaten by the winds and bound with foggy vapors. Snows hide his shoulders and from beneath his chin the founts of rolling streams begin their downward race and a beard of ice hangs down his large breast. Here, poised upon his wings, the god descends: Then, thus rested, he plunged downward with precipitous flight, lighting on the seas and skimming along their flood like a waterfowl who seeks their fishy food, by turns dancing aloft and then diving below; like these he plies the steerage of his wings, flying near the surface of the water, ’til, having passed the seas and crossed the sands, he closed his wings and stooped on Libya, where once were shepherds housed in homely sheds, now were towers, rising up to the very clouds above their heads.
Arriving there he found the Trojan prince raising new ramparts for the town’s defense. He wore about his waist a purple scarf, embroidered over with gold, a gift from Queen Dido, from which depended a sword, glittering with various gems – for ornament, not for use – which hung idly by his side. Then the god resumed his own shape and with winged words, began:
“Degenerate man, thou woman’s property! What are you doing here, helping to rear these Tyrian towers and forgetting about your own? All-powerful Jove, who moves the world below and the heavens above, has sent me down with this severe command: Why are you lingering here in Libya? If glory cannot move a mind so mean, nor wean it from fleeting pleasure, think about the fate of your son and rising heir… Let young Ascanius wear the promised crown, for to him is owed by Fate the Ausonian scepter and the state of Rome’s imperial name…”
So spoke the god and, having spoken, he took to flight, vanishing swiftly among the clouds. The pious prince was seized with sudden fear; he was dumbstruck and his hair stood on end, turning the stern command over in his mind, now loathing this charming land and longing to fly; knowing what must be done but doubtful of the means. What should he say? And where should he begin?
After long thought, he calls his three chiefs and commands them to repair the fleet and have the men silently board ship upon some plausible pretext or other; meanwhile, he would try to find the gentlest moment and means to tell his love-sick lady and move her tender mind gently to accept what Zeus had ordained.
But alas, what course should he steer between the offended lover and the powerful monarch? Finally deciding that Jove would inspire him with the words, he gives his orders as his chiefs listened with pleasure then hurried to obey.
But the queen quickly sees through the thin disguise, for who could blind the eyes of a jealous woman? She was the first to discover the secret, before the fatal news was blazed abroad, for Love hears the first motions of the lover; it is quick to presage and fears even when safe. But the Trojans could not hide the fact that the ships were being repaired, nor the men boarding them, evidently planning to forsake the Tyrian court.
Frantic with fear, impatient of the wound yet impotent of mind, Dido roves round the city; the Bacchanalian dames, when they hear from afar their nightly god and howl about the hills, shaking their wreathed spears, appear less wild than she. At length she finds the dear perfidious man; preventing his rehearsed excuse before he even had a chance to begin it, she interrupted him thus, “Base and ungrateful wretch! Did you think you could plan to leave here without me knowing it? Could neither my kindness, nor our plighted vows nor the deeper bands of love, move your compassion? I’ll kill myself if you leave; is it not my death worth preventing? Then stay! Even the wintry winds command you to stay, for if you put to sea you will dare the tempests and defy Neptune. False as you are, suppose you were not bound to unknown lands to explore foreign coasts, if Troy were restored and Priam still its king, would you dare risk the raging main, even for Troy? Look at what you’re fleeing from… am I the enemy to be thus shunned?
Now, by these holy vows, so recently sworn, by this right hand, since all I have to challenge you with is the faith you gave earlier, I beg you by these tears, and by the pleasures of our nuptial bed, if ever Dido, when you were kindest to me, was pleasing in your eyes? Or if she ever touched your mind? By these my prayers, if there is still room enough for prayer, have pity on our falling race… For you I have provoked the hatred of a tyrant and incensed both the Tyrian and the Libyan states! For you alone my reputation suffers, I am bereft of honor and exposed to shame. Whom have I now to trust, ungrateful guest? What have I left? Where can I go? Must I wait for Pygmalion’s cruelty or till Hyarba shall lead in triumph, a queen who proudly scorned his proffered bed? Had you deferred your hasty flight, at least, and left behind some pledge of our love, some babe to bless the mother’s mournful sight.. a young Aeneas, to take your place so I may at least be reminded of his father’s features in his face; then I would not complain about living bereft of my husband and living all alone…”
Here the queen paused, but unmoved, Aeneas holds her eyes, refusing to allow love to rise though it heaved in his heart. At length he replies: “Fair queen you can never repeat enough your boundless favors; nor I the debt I owe you; nor while I still live and breath can my mind forget your name, but let me say just this in my defense: I never wanted a secret flight from hence, much less pretended to the lawful claim of sacred nuptials, nor the title of husband. For, if it were not for Fate’s decree, my choice would be to return to Troy to gaze upon her relics and adore their dust, to restore the ruined palace of Priam. But now the Delphian oracle commands me and Fate invites me to the Latian lands. That is the promised place to which I steer, and where all my vows will be terminated. You Tyrians have already found your place on a foreign shore and now adorn Libya’s plains with your towers and city walls. Why may we not accomplish the same? Every night after dark, when the twinkling stars arise, Anchises angry ghost appears to me in dreams, chides my delay and fills my soul with fears; and young Ascanius may justly complain of being deprived of the crown he was destined to wear. Just now the herald of the gods appeared; even awake I saw him and heard his message, commissioned by Jove himself. He entered these walls and expressed those words… Fair queen do not oppose what the gods command; it is because I am forced by Fate that I must leave your happy land.”
Dido could no longer tolerate these outrageous threats; with sparkling eyes she surveyed Aeneas’ guilty person from head to foot as she interrupted him, “You are false! And more than false, foresworn! Not sprung from noble blood, nor born of any goddess, but hewn from the hardened entrails of a rock! You were suckled by Hyrcanian tigers! Why should fawn on you? What worse fate can happen to me? Did you ever look kindly on me? Or lend listen to my sighs and sobs? Or shed a single kindly tear? All symptoms of a base and ungrateful mind, a mind so foul it would be hard to imagine a worse one. But why should I complain of man’s injustice? The gods, even Jove himself can clearly see this triumphant treason, yet no thunder flies; nor will Juno look on my ‘wrongs’ any differently: the Earth and the Skies are both faithless and justice is fled! Truth is now no more! I have saved the shipwrecked sailor who was cast upon my shore as an exile, fed him and his needy Trojans… I even took him to my bed and offered him a throne; fool that I was! Little point in repeating the rest… I restored and rigged his ruined fleet… but I rave! I rave! He pleads a god’s command? And makes heaven accessory to his deeds! He has employed Lycian gods, the Delian god and even Hermes in his guise as messenger of Jove to warn him to leave this land; as if the peace of the heavens is the least bit disturbed by any human fate! But go! I can detain your flight no longer. Go and seek your promised land across the sea; yet if the heavens will hear my pious vow, the waves, themselves faithless, but not half so much as you, covering the sands of some far-off seabed shall prove to be the final resting place of your proud vessels… and their perjured lord! Then shall you call on Dido’s name and Dido shall come… in a black and sulphurous fire! After death has once dissolved her mortal frame, she shall smile to see the traitor weep in vain; her angry ghost, arising from the deep shall haunt you by day and not let you rest at night. At least my shade shall know your punishment, when Fame spreads the pleasant news even into the Underworld.”
She stopped here and turned away abruptly. With loathing in her eyes, she shuns the light of day. Aeneas stood amazed, turning over in his mind how to frame his speech… how to find some excuse, as Dido’s maids, fearful for their mistress, who was on the point of fainting, laid her softly on her ivory bed. But good Aeneas, though he was much moved to give her the pity which her grief required, and much though he mourned the love he was losing, resolves at length to obey the will of Jove and leaves to review his forces as they unmoor their vessels and prepare to put to sea.
***** ******* *****