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238–258: Mercury Descending

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Mercury’s departure is closely modelled on those of his Homeric counterpart Hermes at Iliad 24.339-48 and Odyssey 5.43-54. This allusive engagement has attracted critical comment since antiquity: see Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.6.11-12. In the Iliad, Zeus sends Hermes to make sure that Priam will arrive safely at the tent of Achilles to ransom the body of his son Hector (Iliad 24.339–48):

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Ὣς ἔφατ’, οὐδ’ ἀπίθησε διάκτορος Ἀργειφόντης.
αὐτίκ’ ἔπειθ’ ὑπὸ ποσσὶν ἐδήσατο καλὰ πέδιλα 340
ἀµβρόσια χρύσεια, τά µιν φέρον ἠµὲν ἐφ’ ὑγρὴν
ἠδ’ ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν ἅµα πνοιῇς ἀνέµοιο•
εἵλετο δὲ ῥάβδον, τῇ τ’ ἀνδρῶν ὄµµατα θέλγει
ὧν ἐθέλει, τοὺς δ’ αὖτε καὶ ὑπνώοντας ἐγείρει•
τὴν µετὰ χερσὶν ἔχων πέτετο κρατὺς Ἀργειφόντης. 345
αἶψα δ’ ἄρα Τροίην τε καὶ Ἑλλήσποντον ἵκανε.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 [So he spoke, and the messenger, the slayer of Argus, did not disobey. Straightway he bound beneath his feet his beautiful sandals, immortal, golden, which were wont to bear him over the waters of the sea and over the boundless earth together with the blasts of the wind. And he took the wand wherewith he lulls to sleep the eyes of whom he wishes, while others again he awakens out of slumber. With this in his hand the strong slayer of Argus flew, and quickly came to Troy and the Hellespont.]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The first time we meet Odysseus in the Odyssey, he lives the life of a castaway on the island of Ogygia, the dwelling place of the nymph Calypso, who is madly in love with the hero and wishes to make him her husband (a proposition that includes the offer of immortality). However, Odysseus, far from jumping at this opportunity, just wants to go home. Sure, he sleeps with the nymph; but for the rest of the time, he just sits forlorn on the shore, gazing out upon the waves, and weeps. Zeus sends down Hermes to let Calypso know that she has to let Odysseus go (Odyssey 5.43–54; the speech that precedes the following passage is cited above, on Aeneid 4.219–37):

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 ὣς ἔφατ’, οὐδ’ ἀπίθησε διάκτορος Ἀργεϊφόντης.
αὐτίκ’ ἔπειθ’ ὑπὸ ποσσὶν ἐδήσατο καλὰ πέδιλα,
ἀµβρόσια χρύσεια, τά µιν φέρον ἠµὲν ἐφ’ ὑγρὴν 45
ἠδ’ ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν ἅµα πνοιῇσ’ ἀνέµοιο.
εἵλετο δὲ ῥάβδον, τῇ τ’ ἀνδρῶν ὄµµατα θέλγει,
ὧν ἐθέλει, τοὺς δ’ αὖτε καὶ ὑπνώοντας ἐγείρει•
τὴν µετὰ χερσὶν ἔχων πέτετο κρατὺς Ἀργεϊφόντης.
Πιερίην δ’ ἐπιβὰς ἐξ αἰθέρος ἔµπεσε πόντῳ• 50
σεύατ’ ἔπειτ’ ἐπὶ κῦµα λάρῳ ὄρνιθι ἐοικώς,
ὅς τε κατὰ δεινοὺς κόλπους ἁλὸς ἀτρυγέτοιο
ἰχθῦς ἀγρώσσων πυκινὰ πτερὰ δεύεται ἅλµῃ•
τῷ ἴκελος πολέεσσιν ὀχήσατο κύµασιν Ἑρµῆς.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 [So he spoke, and the messenger, the slayer of Argus, did not disobey. Straightway he bound beneath his feet his beautiful sandals, immortal, golden, which were wont to bear him over the waters of the sea and over the boundless earth together with the breeze of the wind. And he took the wand wherewith he lulls to sleep the eyes of whom he wishes, while others again he awakens out of slumber. With this in hand the strong slayer of Argus flew. On to Pieria he stepped from the upper air, and swooped down upon the sea, and then sped over the wave like a bird, the cormorant, which in quest of fish over the dread gulfs of the unresting sea wets its thick plumage in the brine. In such fashion did Hermes ride over the multitudinous waves.]

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The final passage that ought to be compared with Mercury’s departure is Aen. 1.297-304, which describes his first mission:

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Haec ait, et Maia genitum demittit ab alto,
ut terrae, utque nouae pateant Karthaginis arces
hospitio Teucris, ne fati nescia Dido
finibus arceret: uolat ille per aëra magnum 300
remigio alarum, ac Libyae citus adstitit oris.
Et iam iussa facit, ponuntque ferocia Poeni
corda uolente deo; in primis regina quietum
accipit in Teucros animum mentemque benignam.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 [This he says and sends the son of Maia down from the sky that the lands and towers of newly-built Carthage may open in welcome to the Teucrians and Dido, ignorant of fate, may not keep them away from her realm. He flies through the wide air on the oarage of his wings and quickly stands on the shores of Libya. At once he carries out the orders and, with the god willing it, the Punic people lay aside their savage hearts; above all the queen receives a gentle soul and friendly mind towards the Teucrians.]

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Several features are worth noting. To begin with, in Aeneid 1 Virgil covers the plot elements very briskly: we neither get Jupiter’s order to Mercury in direct speech nor Mercury’s preparation for departure. Details of the voyage are likewise skipped over, and the god carries out his orders unseen: unlike Aeneas, Dido does not become the beneficiary of a theophany as Mercury simply ensures that the disposition of the Carthaginians (and especially their queen) corresponds to Jupiter’s will, without the recipients of divine attention being any the wiser that a god has manipulated their outlook.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 [Extra information: As Hardie points out, Mercury is ‘Fama’s good double’.[1] He elaborates: ‘Fama and Mercury are related as two divinities of the word: both fly freely through the air on the horizontal and vertical axes, both easily span the gap between heaven and earth, and reach still further into the underworld (Mercury as psychopomp, Fama through her chthonic origin). There is a strong polarization between Fama as a divinity of the perverted word, and Mercury as the embodiment of the rational logos of Jupiter, but this is a dichotomy that is not in the end maintained. Mercury’s final message to Aeneas is a defamation of Dido as tendentious as Fama’s initial report of her and Aeneas’ behaviour, 4.569–70 uarium et mutabile semper | femina “woman is always an unstable and changeable thing”.’[2]]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 238: Dixerat: the Latin equivalent, also metrically, of the Homeric ὣς ἔφατ’ (‘thus he spoke’).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 238–239: ille patris magni parere parabat/ imperio: the hyperbaton of the possessive genitive patris magni and the noun on which it depends, i.e. imperio (in enjambment no less), emphasizes the weight an order by Jupiter carries. (Though, as we shall see, it is not that Mercury jumps into action.) patris is both specific (Jupiter sired Mercury with Maia) and generic (he is called father of gods and humans). The insistent p-alliteration, which frequently conveys a sense of movement, here also contains a hint of retardation: by far the most prominently placed item in the sequence patris, parere, parabat, which continues with primum and pedibus in 239, is the one in the middle, i.e. parabat. (Note also the assonance in imperio, which integrates this key term into the sequence of words connected via alliteration.) parere parabat is a witty paronomasia, combining paro, parere ~ to obey with paro, parare ~ to prepare, get ready. Teenagers faced with a parental request are particularly well placed to appreciate the joke in parabat. The tense (imperfect) adds to the humour: is it durative (meaning that Mercury is taking his time to get ready)? Or is it iterative (after Iliad 24, Odyssey 5, and Aeneid 1, this is already the fourth time he is heading off on such a mission in high literature)? Or is it both (faced with yet another such request, who could blame Mercury for dragging his feet a bit)? Comparison with the Homeric models reinforces the sense that the Virgilian divinity dallies just a little: οὐδ’ ἀπίθησε διάκτορος Ἀργειφόντης./ αὐτίκ.’… (‘the messenger, the slayer of Argos, did not disobey. Straightaway…’). In contrast, Mercury here proceeds very deliberately. In both Homer and Virgil, we get a detailed appreciation of Mercury’s special attributes, especially his winged shoes and his magic wand, and his functions. He is a god who operates at interfaces, acting as messenger between mortals and immortals and negotiating the boundary between life and death, the upper and the underworld, and, relatedly, being awake and being asleep.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 239–241: et primum pedibus talaria nectit/ aurea, quae sublimem alis siue aequora supra/ seu terram rapido pariter cum flamine portant: these lines are very closely modelled on Homer, Odyssey 5.44–46, which makes the departures and additions particularly marked (strike-through indicates words left out by Virgil):

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 (1) pedibus talaria nectit/ aurea ~ ὑπὸ ποσσὶν ἐδήσατο καλὰ πέδιλα,/ ἀµβρόσια χρύσεια:

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 pedibus (‘on his feet’): ὑπὸ ποσσὶν
talaria (‘the winged sandals’): πέδιλα
nectit (‘he binds’): ἐδήσατο
aurea (‘golden’, modifying the sandals): χρύσεια

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 The translation is almost verbatim, with some minor tweaks: Virgil inverts the order of verb (nectit/ ἐδήσατο) and accusative object (talaria/ πέδιλα) and economizes on the number of attributes of Hermes’/ Mercury’s sandals, only taking over one out of three: he retains ‘golden’ (aurea/ χρύσεια), placed in enjambment, but does without an equivalent for καλὰ (‘beautiful’) and ἀµβρόσια (‘divinely excellent’).

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 (2) quae sublimem alis siue aequora supra/ seu terram rapido pariter cum flamine portant ~ τά µιν φέρον ἠµὲν ἐφ’ ὑγρὴν/ ἠδ’ ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν ἅµα πνοιῇς ἀνέµοιο•(‘which were wont to bear him both over the sea and over the boundless earth together with the breeze of the wind’):

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 quae (‘which’): τά.
sublimem alis (‘him high on wings’): µιν [= him] siue…seu… (‘either…or…’): ἠµὲν … ἠδ’… (‘both… and…’)
aequora supra (‘over the sea’): ἐφ’ ὑγρὴν
terram (‘earth’): ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν
rapido…cum flamine
(‘with the swift breeze’): ἅµα πνοιῇς ἀνέµοιο (‘with the breeze of the wind’)
pariter (‘as’): no equivalent
portant (‘bear’): φέρον

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Virgil here follows Homer in minute detail, to the point of imitating the variation in the correlating particles: siue ~ seu: ἠµὲν ~ ἠδ.’ But as with the sandals, he suppresses a Homeric epithet: his Mercury flies over the earth (terram) plain and simple, whereas Homer’s earth (gaian) is ἀπείρονα (‘boundless’). Conversely, he adds two components: in place of the plain Homeric µιν (‘him’, i.e. Hermes), Virgil uses the predicative attribute sublimem, which he further qualifies and explains via an ablative of means: alis (‘on his wings’). There is, then, an added emphasis on Mercury’s sky-high altitude in Virgil: the god is soaring in an awe-inspiring, ‘sublime’ sort of way.[3] Likewise, Virgil adds the adjective rapido as an attribute to flamine and changes the construction slightly by means of pariter: in Homer, Hermes flies ‘with the breeze of the wind’ (ἅµα πνοιῇς ἀνέµοιο), which could be taken to mean that it is the breeze that carries him and his winged-sandals only keep him in the air, rather than providing significant forward-motion. Virgil eliminates this ambiguity: in his epic, Mercury’s flying equipment operates at a speed equal to (pariter) a powerful (cf. rapido) gust of wind (flamine). Overall, then, we here have the Olympic motto citius, altius, fortius (‘faster, higher, stronger’) applied to the realm of intertextual poetics: Roman-Virgilian Mercury surpasses his Greek-Homeric counterpart Hermes in speed, height, and flying ability: imitatio et aemulatio, the two principles by which authors situate their works vis-à-vis their predecessors, at their finest!

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 242–244: tum uirgam capit: hac animas ille euocat Orco/ pallentis, alias sub Tartara tristia mittit,/ dat somnos adimitque, et lumina morte resignat: the three lines of Virgil rework two formulaic lines from Homer (see Iliad 24.344–345; Odyssey 5.47–48; Odyssey 24.1–5):

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 εἵλετο δὲ ῥάβδον, τῇ τ’ ἀνδρῶν ὄµµατα θέλγει,
ὧν ἐθέλει, τοὺς δ’ αὖτε καὶ ὑπνώοντας ἐγείρει•

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 [And he took the wand wherewith he lulls to sleep the eyes of whom he wishes, while others again he awakens out of slumber.]

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Again, the parallels are striking—as are the differences:

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 tum uirgam capit (‘Then he takes his wand’): εἵλετο δὲ ῥάβδον (‘And he took the wand’)
hac (‘with this’): τῇ (‘wherewith’)
animas ille euocat Orco/ pallentis (‘he calls pale ghosts from Orcus’): no Homeric equivalent
alias sub Tartara tristia mittit (‘and sends others down to gloomy Tartarus’): no Homeric equivalent
dat somnos adimitque (‘gives and takes away sleep’): ἀνδρῶν ὄµµατα θέλγει,/ ὧν ἐθέλει, τοὺς δ’ αὖτε καὶ ὑπνώοντας ἐγείρει (‘he lulls to sleep the eyes of whom he wishes, while others again he awakens out of slumber’)
et lumina morte resignat (‘and unseals the eyes in/ from death’): no Homeric equivalent.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Following Homer, Virgil opts for a parenthetical elaboration of Mercury’s wand (uirgam/ ῥάβδον). But he alters his model in two ways: he streamlines presentation of the one area of Hermes’ responsibility that Homer foregrounds, i.e. the two states of consciousness ‘asleep’ and ‘awake’; and he adds an elaborate description of a second function associated with his wand, i.e. patrolling the crossings between the living and the dead.[4] Hermes in his role as psychopompos, i.e. as guide (-pompos) for souls (psycho-) of the dead, is a frequent presence in Greek literature, in particular Greek tragedy and Orphic writing, but also in Homer. At Odyssey 24.1–5 Hermes acts in his role as guide to the Underworld for the shades of the recently murdered suitors. Yet whereas the Homeric Hermes summons the souls of the suitors to lead them down into the Underworld, Virgil’s Mercury also calls souls up from out of the Underworld. This part is truly difficult to comprehend. To begin with, the emphasis Virgil places on Mercury as a god who calls shades up from out of the Underworld (Orco is an ablative of separation) baffles: there tends to be rather little traffic in this direction. So what does Virgil refer to? Are those the shades of the deceased that visit the living during dreams or visions? Are we dealing with a reference to necromancy, as Pease supposes?[5] Or is Virgil thinking of reincarnation along Orphic-Pythagorean lines? (This doctrine, of course, plays an important role in Aeneid 6, where Aeneas encounters the souls of great Romans about to re-enter life on earth.) And secondly, it is unclear what the phrase et lumina morte resignat means. There are three options: (i) ‘and he unseals eyes in death’; this would imply a reference to the Roman custom of opening the eyes of the dead on the funeral pyre: see Pliny, Natural History 11.150. (ii) Conversely, Servius believes that resignat here has the same meaning as claudit, i.e. that it refers to the custom of closing the eye-lids of the deceased. (iii) ‘and he unseals eyes from death,’ taking morte as an ablative of separation. As O’Hara notes, ‘the rendering “unseals from death” would return to the idea of 242 animas ille euocat Orco, or refer mysteriously to some aspect of existence in the underworld.’[6] Recent translators and commentators show a marked preference for (i), but I think (iii) deserves serious consideration, not in least in the light of Aeneid 6.748–51 (the end of Anchises’ account of reincarnation):

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 has omnis [sc. animas], ubi mille rotam uoluere per annos,
Lethaeum ad fluuium deus euocat agmine magno,
scilicet immemores supera ut conuexa reuisant 750
rursus, et incipiant in corpora uelle reuerti.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 [All these souls, when they have rolled the wheel of time through a thousand years, the god summons to the river Lethe in a vast throng, so that, without recall, they may revisit the vault above again, and conceive of the wish to return into bodies.]

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 242–243: animas … pallentis: cf. 4.25–26: ad umbras/ pallentis umbras Erebo, where pallentis figures in the same metrical position and thematic context as here.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 243: alias sub Tartara tristia mittit: the design suggests the unconditional speed with which Mercury dispatches the dead into Tartarus: note the dactylic Tartara tristia mittit, reinforced by alliteration and assonance (tar-, –tar-, tris-, tia, mit-, –tit). The fact that the last three words only contain the vowels a and i enhances the effect. One may usefully compare the demythologizing account of death (and the subsequent dismissal of any descent into the Underworld) in Lucretius, De Rerum Natura. See especially 3.966: nec quisquam in barathrum nec Tartara deditur atra (‘no one ever falls into the deep pit or black Tartarus’) and 1012: Tartarus horriferos eructans faucibus aestus (‘Tartarus belching horrible flames from its throat’), where ‘hell (its monsters) is (just) a horrible belching noise’ (Henderson, per litteras).

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 245–246: illa fretus agit uentos et turbida tranat/ nubila: illa, which is in the ablative dependent on fretus, is still the wand (virgam, 242). With agit uentos Virgil reinforces the point that his Mercury does not drift in the winds—he drives them. The design of turbida tranat/ nubila, enacts the idea of Mercury passing, or, literally, swimming, through the clouds.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 246–251: iamque uolans apicem et latera ardua cernit/ Atlantis duri caelum qui uertice fulcit,/ Atlantis, cinctum adsidue cui nubibus atris/ piniferum caput et uento pulsatur et imbri,/ nix umeros infusa tegit, tum flumina mento/ praecipitant senis, et glacie riget horrida barba: the main verb of the sentence is cernit (with Mercury as subject). There are two accusative objects: apicem et latera ardua; they come with a possessive genitive, i.e. Atlantis duri (247), reiterated without attribute in the following line: Atlantis. Each of the genitives serves as the antecedent of a relative clause (with the relative pronoun in postpositive position): caelum qui uertice fulcit; cinctum adsidue cui nubibus atris etc. The first is straightforward. The second causes the same sort of problem as the relative clause Virgil uses to describe Fama at 181–183 (also introduced by cui): the construction seems to change after imbri: what follows could be taken as a tricolon of main clauses in anakoluthon. (This parallel in extraordinary syntax is not a coincidence: it further helps to correlate Fama and Atlas as two complementary monsters.) Virgil at any rate only loosely connects the different elements of the enumeration:

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 (a) caput pulsatur

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 (b) nix tegit

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 (c) flumina praecipitant (linked to the preceding by tum)

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 (d) riget barba (linked to the preceding by et; the sequence ‘verb—subject’ inverts the order in the previous three clauses)

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Overall, Virgil has created an anthropomorphic landscape that plays on correspondences between Atlas the man, and Atlas the mountain. While Atlas certainly is a geological formation to begin with, it is possible to identify humanoid parts, which come gradually into focus, without Atlas ever ceasing to be also a mountain: vertex, caput, umeri, mentum, and barba. Virgil also calls Atlas a senex. Austin notes the progressive personification: ‘from using vertex and caput, which suit the mountain as well as the human figure, Virgil passes to purely human features in umeros, mento, barba, while the mountain has become a senex.’[7] For the wider significance of Atlas in the set passage see Hardie:[8]

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Mercury’s descent is interrupted by the striking picture of the man-mountain Atlas. This apparent digression may also be integrated into the wider context. Atlas is the measure of the vertical distance between heaven and earth that Mercury has to cover; he occupies the space which Fama threatened to infect. He, like Fama, is a giant, and, like Fama, he has his head in the clouds, but, unlike Fama, he reaches beyond the clouds to touch and support the heavens themselves. Atlas is a giant who has been immobilized and rendered safe; from hubristic sky-reacher he has been transformed into a stable prop of the established order, a guarantee of cosmic cohesion. … The descent of Mercury thus represents a reversal of the ascent of Fama, the reimposition of Olympian order in a space which has been threatened by an evil chthonic power.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 247–248: Atlantis duri – Atlantis: a gemination as with Fama at 173–174: Extemplo Libyae magnas it Fama per urbes,/ Fama, malum qua non aliud uelocius ullum. Atlas, one of the first of the Titans (see e.g. Hesiod, Theogony 507–511), just as Fama was the last (179: extremam) of the Giants, belonged to the generation of primordial, and often monstrous, divinities that preceded the Olympian order. After the so-called Titanomachy (the battle between Titans and Olympians), Atlas was forced as punishment to support the vaults of heaven on his shoulders, stationed in Northwestern Africa. In certain versions, he was said to have been petrified into the mountain range, which Virgil here (re-)personifies. Titanic and Olympian lineages of course intersected in complex ways, and Aeneas himself happens to be a distant descendant of Atlas—as we learn in Book 8, where Aeneas draws on this ancestral connection to plead kinship bonds with Euander, a settler on the future site of Rome, to whom he appeals for help (8.134–41):

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Dardanus, Iliacae primus pater urbis et auctor,
Electra, ut Grai perhibent, Atlantide cretus, 135
aduehitur Teucros; Electram maximus Atlas
edidit, aetherios umero qui sustinet orbis.
uobis Mercurius pater est, quem candida Maia
Cyllenae gelido conceptum uertice fudit;
at Maiam, auditis si quicquam credimus, Atlas, 140
idem Atlas generat caeli qui sidera tollit.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 [Dardanus, the first father and founder of the city of Ilium, born (as Greeks recount) of Electra, daughter of Atlas, came to the Teucrians. The mightiest Atlas who sustains the heavenly spheres on his shoulder, sired Electra. Your ancestor is Mercury, whom fair Maia once conceived and gave birth to on the icy peak of Mt. Cyllene. But Maia, if we believe at all in what we have heard, Atlas brought forth, the same Atlas, who holds up the stars of heaven.]

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 247: caelum qui uertice fulcit: caelum belongs into the relative clause introduced by qui: it is the accusative object of fulcit.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 248–249: cinctum adsidue cui nubibus atris/ piniferum caput et uento pulsatur et imbri: the relative pronoun cui is in the dative of reference (‘for whom’); the subject of the relative clause is caput, which is modified by the participle cinctum and by the adjective piniferum. nubibus atris is an ablative of agency with cinctum (as often in poetry without the preposition a/ab); et uento et imbri are also ablatives of agency (again without preposition) with pulsatur. adsidue is an adverb (with cinctum), meaning ‘constantly’.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 250–251: flumina mento/ praecipitant senis: Virgil seems to be referring to glaciers, i.e. ‘frozen rivers’ that hang down from Atlas’ chin: senis is genitive singular of senex, dependent on mento.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 252–253: hic primum paribus nitens Cyllenius alis/ constitit: a nice image: Mercury first poises himself on his wings paribus nitens … alis, before touching down, if only for a moment (or a metrical foot: after the diaeresis after constitit he is instantly on his way again).

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 252: Cyllenius: the e scans long since it represents an ‘êta’ in Greek (which is naturally long): see e.g. Odyssey 24.1: Ἑρµῆς … Κυλλήνιος. Again below 258: Cyllenia proles. The name derives from his place of birth, i.e. on top of Mt. Cyllene in Arcadia. In the Aeneid, Virgil uses it only in this passage here, though three times (see also 258 and 276), in what is a learned (‘Alexandrian’) joke, as Aeneid 8.138–141 (cited above) makes clear: Maia, daughter of Atlas, who got turned into an icy mountain, gave birth to her son on an icy mountain, and Mercury in Aeneid 4 pays a brief visit to his grandfather, with a brief touch-down on top of him. Grandfather and grandson thereby enact a nice contrast between (Olympian) mobility and (Titanic) fixity. For those not up on their mythological geography, Virgil kindly offers a pointer in 258: materno ueniens ab auo Cyllenia proles.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 253–255: hinc toto praeceps se corpore ad undas/ misit aui similis, quae circum litora, circum/ piscosos scopulos humilis uolat aequora iuxta: The lines rework Odyssey 5.50–53:

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Πιερίην δ’ ἐπιβὰς ἐξ αἰθέρος ἔµπεσε πόντῳ•
σεύατ’ ἔπειτ’ ἐπὶ κῦµα λάρῳ ὄρνιθι ἐοικώς,
ὅς τε κατὰ δεινοὺς κόλπους ἁλὸς ἀτρυγέτοιο
ἰχθῦς ἀγρώσσων πυκινὰ πτερὰ δεύεται ἅλµῃ•
τῷ ἴκελος πολέεσσιν ὀχήσατο κύµασιν Ἑρµῆς.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 [On to Pieria he stepped from the upper air, and swooped down upon the sea, and then sped over the wave like a bird, the cormorant, which hunting fish over the dread gulfs of the unresting sea wets its thick plumage in the brine. In such wise did Hermes ride upon the multitudinous waves.]

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 hinc (‘hence [sc. from Atlas]’): Πιερίην δ’ ἐπιβὰς (‘stepping on Pieria’)
toto … corpore (‘with his whole body’): no equivalent
praeceps (‘sheer down’): no equivalent
se…misit (‘he sent himself’): ἔµπεσε (‘he swooped down’)
ad undas (‘to the waves’): πόντῳ (‘upon the sea’) and σεύατ’ ἔπειτ’ ἐπὶ κῦµα (‘he then sped over the wave’)
aui similis (‘like a bird’): λάρῳ ὄρνιθι ἐοικώς (‘like a bird, the cormorant’)
quae (‘which’): ὅς (‘which’)
circum litora, circum piscosos scopulos (‘round the shores, round the fish-haunted cliffs’): τε κατὰ δεινοὺς κόλπους ἁλὸς ἀτρυγέτοιο ἰχθῦς ἀγρώσσων (‘hunting fish over the dread gulfs of the unresting sea’)
humilis uolat aequora iuxta (‘flies low near the water’): πυκινὰ πτερὰ δεύεται ἅλµῃ (‘wets its thick plumage in the brine’)
haud aliter (‘even thus’): τῷ ἴκελος (‘in such wise’)

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Which image is the more successful? Homer gives the kind of bird; the reference to hunting fish introduces purpose into its flight; and the wetting of the wings with brine adds a bracing note of excitement. In contrast, Virgil’s unidentified fowl seems to circulate pretty aimlessly, and one does not quite understand why it is skirting the waves, though the attribute of the cliffs, i.e. piscosos, at least hints at hunting: these are good grounds for fishing. For etymological reasons, humilis (from humus) strikes an odd note with aequora iuxta, even though it correlates well and antithetically with sublimem in 240. Where Virgil arguably has the edge is the bold image of Hermes plunging himself headlong down towards the sea praeceps se … misit, though ἔµπεσε πόντῳ (‘…he swooped down upon the sea’) is full of drama as well. In terms of ornamentation, Virgil’s lines for once are pretty flat: there is the repetition of circum, conveying a sense of the ceaseless circling, but overall that isn’t a patch on Homer’s deft handling of alliteration—see in particular κατὰ δεινοὺς κόλπους λὸς τρυγέτοιο (‘over the dread gulfs of the unresting sea,’ where the depth of the sea is further emphasized by the rhyhm δεινοὺς κόλπους) and πυκινὰ πτερὰ (‘thick plumage’)—as well as the beautiful chiastic design that concludes the simile: (a) τῷ [‘to it’] ἴκελος [‘equal,’ modifying Hermes] (b) πολέεσσιν [‘many,’ modifying waves] (c) ὀχήσατο [‘went over,’ the verb taking Hermes as subject] (b) κύµασιν [‘the waves’] (a) Ἑρµῆς [‘Hermes’].

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 256: terras inter caelumque: inter again does its meaning proud, sitting snugly between the two nouns it governs.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 257: litus harenosum ad Libyae: the preposition ad, which governs the accusative phrase litus harenosum, is in striking postpositive position, perhaps enacting the helter-skelter speed with which Mercury arrives at his destination.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 258: materno ueniens ab auo Cyllenia proles: Virgil, like Homer, concludes his description with the god in the nominative, but he uses a learned paraphrase. Cyllenia proles, i.e. Mercury, corresponds to Ἑρµῆς (‘Hermes’) at Odyssey 5.53, also at line-end. As pointed out above, the materno…auo is Atlas, the father of Maia, mother of Mercury. For Cyllenia, see above 252: Cyllenius.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 [Extra information: It is neat and tidy to think of Aeneid 1–6 as ‘Virgil’s Odyssey’ and of Aeneid 7–12 as ‘Virgil’s Iliad’, developing, in chiastic sequence, the two opening words of the poem: arma = war = Iliad; uirum = the man and his travels = Odyssey. But as Knauer has shown, matters are much more complex: the Aeneid sustains a parallel with the Odyssey all the way through.[9] It is easy to forget, in the excitement over Odysseus’ travel adventures, which are narrated in Books 9–13, that the poem ends in mass-slaughter on Ithaca and the outbreak of civil strife: in the last scene of the poem Athena borrows the thunderbolt of Zeus to break up civil war between the families of the murdered suitors and Odysseus and his family. Put differently, at the end the Odyssey stages an Iliad at home, turning external warfare into civil conflict—a constellation of particular relevance to Virgil and his readers. The simultaneous presence of Iliad and Odyssey in the second half of the Aeneidunderscores the ambiguous status of Aeneas, as both a foreign arrival in Italy and a proto-Roman returnee.]

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0  


52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 [3]
See Hardie (2009), pp. 78–79 on the ‘sublimity of Mercury’s flight’: ‘As often in the Augustan poets it is difficult to judge whether sublimis has a purely spatial meaning, or whether it connotes “sublimity”… Mercury’s rangings are the mythological equivalent of the sublime flight of the mind of Lucretius’ Epicurus, who reaches from earth to heaven in the proem to Book 1 [sc. of the De Rerum Natura] …’ The fact that Virgil deliberately added the word to his Homeric model would seem to support the ‘strong’ reading Hardie argues for.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0  

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 [4]
Again, Virgil’s departure from Homer, which enables him to associate Mercury with the pits of Hell as well as with the heights of heaven supports Hardie’s argument that Virgil is striving for a sense of the ‘cosmic sublime’ in this passage, with a figure who measures out the entire universe (cf. Longinus, On the Sublime) over and above his (suddenly seemingly banal) Greek model—were it not for the fact that ‘Virgil’s Homer had been consecrated through centuries of cosmological allegorizing interpretation’ (John Henderson, per litteras). From this point of view, Virgil reinforces through a strategic lexical choice a specific dimension of meaning in—or a way of reading—Homer that turns him into the archegete of the cosmological sublime.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0  

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 [9]
See Knauer (1964) (in German) and (1965) (in English). His studies mark a watershed in our appreciation of the literary relationship between Virgil and Homer. For the Odyssean plot of the Aeneid, see more recently Cairns (1989).

 

Source: http://aeneid4.theclassicslibrary.com/2012/11/30/238-258%E2%80%82mercury-descending-2/