It’s Day 5 of the 12 Days of Reading the Aeneid. I’m on schedule.
You can find the recipes in The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger.
The last few days I have fit my Aeneid into a dominant bicycling program because of the lovely spring-like temperatures. It led to some odd attempts to translate while sauteing kale or putting away laundry at night. So today I stayed home, and it’s wonderful to focus on Virgil , and after years of being an under-priestess to the sanctity of traditional interpretations in classrooms, I have read this sophisticated, immensely entertaining, slightly subversive epic poem with fresh, albeit middle-aged, eyes, and true delight.
The language is less rich in Book 3, but the plot is fast-paced and spellbinding, and Virgil heightens our emotions by his descriptions of the Trojans’ diaspora. I found myself grieving and increasingly distressed as Aeneas and his people attempted to find a new home in foreign countries, only to be routed again and again.
In Thrace Aeneas prepares to sacrifice to the gods–ironicically pious–when dark blood drips from a tree as he tries to cut greenery for a roof for an altar. Virgil says, horrendum et dictu video mirablile monstrum (and horrendous to say I see a fearful monster [omen] ).
nam quae prima solo ruptis radicibus arbos
uellitur, huic atro liquuntur sanguine guttae
et terram tabo maculant.
When the first stalk came torn/out of the earth, and the root network burst/Dark blood dripped down to soak and foul the soil.” (Fitzgerald translation, p. 66)
It is Polydorus, a Trojan betrayed and killed by a king who took gold then buried Polydorus under a hedge of spears which took root.
Obviously the omen is bad and the Trojans cannot remain.
After holding a funeral for Polydorus, they sail to Delos and consult the oracle. Aeneas, still unwilling to assume leadership, refers the portent to his father Anchises. They must go their ancestors came. Anchises says they should go to Crete (they are supposed to go to Italy). So in Crete they begin to build a city, Pergamum (Little Troy), and are content and secure when the plague strikes.
It’s too much. I kept picturing them fleeing from the smoke and fire of Troy, losing people in the flames, Aeneas losing his wife Creusa, having to build a fleet, then not knowing where to go, and there were so few of them that they did not dare go to populated areas where there might be war, and then to have to leave Thrace and Crete…
Their wanderings in Book III continue, and Anchises dies in Sicily. Then in Book V, after leaving Dido in Carthage, they return to Sicily (the gods send the ships in that direction), where their friend Acestes (a Trojan) welcomes them. It is a year since Anchises died, and Aeneas celebrates with games.
But while the men are participating in ship races, foot races, and archery contests, the Trojan women rebel, stirred up by Juno, who sends Iris to persuade them to burn the fleet. (Juno later also agitates the women in Italy , through Amata, the mother of the Italian woman whom Aeneas is fated to marry.)
Iris flies down from heaven and appears as Beroe, an old woman of noble birth. She makes a long speech, and says to them (my rough and fast literal translation of part of it, so I don’t have to copy another translation):
O wretched women, whom the Achaeans did not drag to death under the walls of our country! O unhappy people, for what death is Fortune keeping you? Already it is the seventh year after the destruction of Troy, having traversed waters, lands, wild rocks and stars (weather) through the great sea in the pursuit of Italy, fleeing: we have been rolled (tumbled) in the waves. Here is the country of Eryx, Aeneas’ half-brother, and the host Acestes; who keeps us from building walls and giving our citizens a city ?”
And Virgil seems slightly sympathetic, as I am, though I know it’s the wrong side. Yes, Aeneas is fated to go to Italy–and fight another war–and the women, incited by Iris, don’t want to go. They wildly decide to burn the ships : it makes no sense to keep sailing. They are working against Aeneas’s heroic morale-building games. Peace. Home.
Aeneas and his men save the ships.
But staying is not a foolish idea. Aeneas learns from Anchises’ ghost that it would be best to allow some to stay and go on with those who want to travel.
So Virgil has some sympathy for the women.
Aeneas leaves with a smaller number of mainly young men who want to fight.
Oh,poor, poor Aeneas. But everything will become clear in Book VI when he meets his father in the underworld.