279–295: The Great Escape

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 As Hardie notes, ‘the effect of Mercury’s first message on Aeneas had been similar in its incendiary emotional effects to the effect of Fama’s words on Iarbas’[1]as well as, one may add, to the effect of Fama’s words on Dido (see below 298–301). Aeneas now too has lost his mind (he is amens: 279) and he is on fire (ardet: 281): two pathological conditions that also characterize ‘Dido in love.’ The section falls into unequal parts:

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 279–282: First reactions (4 lines)

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 283–287: Aeneas ponders possibilities (5 lines)

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 288–294a: Aeneas calls his men and instructs them of his intentions (6+ lines)

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 294b–295: His men gladly obey (1+ line)

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Some stylistic features go across section divisions, such as the striking a-alliteration that runs throughout Aeneas’ reaction (all words come at the beginning of the line):

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 279: At (followed by Aeneas, aspectu, and amens, to set the tone)

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 280: arrectaeque

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 281: ardet abire

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 282: attonitus

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 283: heu quid agat? (as well as ambire)

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 284: audeat adfatu?

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 285: atque animum

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 For a full seven lines Virgil maintains the image of Aeneas’ hair standing on ends and his mouth and eyes open in shock and astonishment, silently screaming Ahhhhh!, while various thoughts rush through his head (summed up in 285–86, i.e. when the sequence of verses starting with a– comes to an end). The one exception, 283: heu quid agat?, is a nice break in the pattern that signals the gradual transition from shock to thought. There is a touch of closure to the pattern in the rhyming line endings sumat (284) and uersat (286).

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 279–280: At uero Aeneas aspectu obmutuit amens,/ arrectaeque horrore comae et uox faucibus haesit: Virgil uses a tricolon to describe Aeneas’ reaction to the theophany: he is speechless (obmutuit), his hair stands on end (arrectae [sc. sunt] comae), and his tongue is stuck in his throat (haesit). It is a very vivid image, worth visualizing, though also fairly formulaic: cf. 2.774 (= 3.48): obstipui steteruntque comae et uox faucibus haesit and 12.868, which is identical to 4.280.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 279: amens: commentators play down the full force of the attribute (‘bewildered rather than frenzied, as noted by Conington.’[2] I am inclined to disagree: there is a striking sequence from Iarbas (203: amens animi) via Aeneas here to Dido just below (300: saeuit inops animi) that emphasizes loss of rational faculties in response to news from Fama (Iarbas, Dido) or Mercury (Aeneas). Aeneas’ is clearly the most muted response, but ‘bewildered’ does not quite capture his state of holy horror (cf. horrore in the following line) that overpowers the reasoning part (mens) of his brain.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 281–282: ardet abire fuga dulcisque relinquere terras,/ attonitus tanto monitu imperioque deorum: dulcis (= dulces) … terras, as a periphrasis of Carthage, makes it clear that Aeneas enjoyed himself in Carthage, and there is a striking contrast between his pleasurable experience and his desire to abscond (cf. fuga): he is torn in two. The design of the massive and momentous tanto monitu imperioque deorum is chiastic and climactic: Aeneas is left in no doubt, this admonition (monitu) amounts to an order (imperio). Note also the assonance attonitus tanto monitu. The awkward notion of receiving an ‘order to flee’, which amounts to a contradiction in terms (obeying an imperium deorum has positive connotations; absconding in flight is shameful), revisits the paradox that defines Aeneas from the outset: he is fato profugus, exiled by fate (1.2). What looks like running away is actually an imposition to move history forward. The problem of a hero turning his heel is particularly acute in Book 2, where Aeneas does his excruciating best to explain and justify why he left his native Troy in a moment of dire need. He is far less eloquent with Didoand much more eager to flee (a.k.a. ‘to follow fate’) once more.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 283–284: heu quid agat? quo nunc reginam ambire furentem/ audeat adfatu? quae prima exordia sumat?: agat, audeat, and sumat are ‘indirect deliberative subjunctives’: the poethence indirect (direct deliberative subjunctives would be in the first person: quid agam? etc.)is describing the deliberations that pass through the mind of his character. The hyperbaton quo … adfatu is as gigantic as Aeneas’ aporia and embarrassment are excruciating. Aeneas already knows exactly what the outcome of the encounter will be: Dido will ‘make a scene’, ‘fly off the handle’ or, indeed, ‘go crazy’ (furentem). He is not far off the mark: primed by Fama, Dido becomes furens (298).

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 283: ambire: ambire means, literally, ‘to go around, to surround’, ‘to approach’, but is also a technical term for ‘going around and canvassing (or, indeed, buying) support before elections.’ The Romans had laws de ambitu, designed to punish excessive use of this practice. From early on, some readers have therefore felt that Virgil’s use of the term here is meant to present his hero in an unfavourable light. Others disagree. See e.g. Austin: ‘literally, “to canvass”, a good word here, but Page is wrong in thinking that it “hints at cunning and treachery”; the sense of pleading or persuading is uppermost.’[3] In turn, O’Hara reverts to Page’s view, taking it for granted that ambire ‘hints at cunning and treachery.’[4] Etc. Whatever the precise semantic chargeand this is a great topic for debate!Aeneas is thinking of ways to get Dido to see matters from his point of view, knowing full way that he is embarking upon a mission impossible.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 285–286: atque animum nunc huc celerem nunc diuidit illuc/ in partisque rapit uarias perque omnia uersat: the word order in the tricolon diuidit, rapit, uersat mimics the frantic thoughts that rush through Aeneas’ mind: nunc huc ‘separates’ animum from its attribute celerem (here used instead of the adverb) just as diuidit splits nunc and illuc. As opposed to the very specific nunc huc – nunc illuc in 285, 286 contains two more comprehensive expressions: in partis (= partes) uarias and per omnia. Note that the –que after partis links diuidit and rapit, though the in goes with partis; the –que after per links rapit and uersat.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 287: haec alternanti potior sententia uisa est: alternanti: present active participle of alternare (‘to oscillate’) in the dative, modifying an implied ei, dependent on uisa est: ‘to him, as he was oscillating [one could imagine mentally supplying an accusative object: sententias, i.e. between ‘two alternatives’], this seemed the better course of action.’ What are the two alternatives? His subsequent instructions to his men make it clear that Aeneas ponders whether he should (a) just approach Dido, come clean, and try to reason with her (cf. ambire); or (b) do this, but not before telling his men to get everything ready for an immediate departure. He opts for the latter course of action, though as it turns out he never gets the chance to break the news to Dido first: she cottons on to what is afoot and, enraged, goes for him.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 288–294: Virgil devotes 13.5 feet to the orders Aeneas gives to his men, but 20.5 feet to his ruminations of how best to break the news to Dido: preparing to be off is straightforward; telling Dido about it is not.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 288: Mnesthea Sergestumque uocat fortemque Serestum: Mnesthea is a Greek accusative form (Latin would be Mnestheum). Austin draws attention to the ‘internal or “leonine” rhyme’ Sergestum ~ Serestum.[5] Here are some prosopographical details on the names:

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Mnestheus: ‘Mnestheus is the most frequently mentioned of Aeneas’s lieutenants (23 times as compared with 21 for Achates), but has the rather shadowy personality of all such satellites.’[6] He was the legendary/ alleged Trojan ancestor of the gens of the Memmii.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Sergestus: ‘a member of the deputation to Dido (1, 510), commander in the regatta [in Aeneid 5] of the ship Centaurus (5, 121–122), which ran aground (5, 204; 5, 221–222).’[7] At 5.121, Virgil reminds his readers that Sergestus was the legendary/ alleged Trojan ancestor of the gens Sergia (domus tenet a quo Sergia nomen): her most notorious member was none other than L. Sergius Catilina, i.e. the conspirator Catiline, but the gens also produced illustrious members. See Pliny, Natural History 7.104, on M. Sergius in particular: he was twice captured by Hannibal and was twice able to flee, lost his right hand on campaign, but kept fighting with his left hand four times until he had equipped himself with an iron-replacement, and was all in all wounded twenty-three times. (I owe the reference to John Henderson.)

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Serestus: ‘thrice (9. 171 = 9, 779 = 12, 549) described as acer and coupled with Mnestheus (with whom he is also linked here and in 12, 561). He participated in the deputation to Dido (1, 611), commanded a ship (5, 487), set up a trophy (10, 541), and occasionally appeared in other connections.’[8]

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 For the significance of this verse (and its catalogue of names) within the Aeneid as a whole see Henderson (per litteras): ‘“Mnestheus” presumably “comes to mind” when Aeneas is “mindful” of his men—given the connection with Greek mnaomai [‘to remember’]. Saying the name out loud makes him and us “recall” the flowery [a Greek word for flower is anthos] Aeneid 1.510: Anthea Sergestumque uidet fortemque Cloanthum AND its repetitious rhyme 1.611–12, … Serestum |, … fortemque Gyan fortemque Cloanthum. And this gets him and us back to where we were before winter off-duty “up the nile with cleo” [sc. Cleopatra, as the contemporary typological equivalent to Dido], and all those nights of talk and heat. The names here stand as a synecdochic recall of both those roll calls, as well as prequels for all their later exploits, all the way to the repeat line(-up) of 12.561: Mnesthea Sergestumque uocat fortemque Serestum (where we are called to remember back to Aeneid 4 where they came in, in readiness to wipe out another city, not Dido’s Carthage but the civilian population of an Italian town, along with even its name…).’

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 289-291: classem aptent taciti sociosque ad litora cogant,/ arma parent et quae rebus sit causa nouandis/ dissimulent: Aeneas’ order to his comrades includes four parts: aptent, cogant (linked by the –que attached to socios), parent (in asyndetic sequence), and dissimulent (linked to parent by et in 290). They are all in the (indirect) jussive subjunctive (matching the indirect deliberative subjunctives in 283–84), dependent on an implied verb of command. The four aspects of Aeneas’ order operate at two different levels: the first three (aptent, cogant, parent) enumerate the practical things that the men should get underway. Aeneas covers this aspect with three straightforward di-syllabic words, without particular emphasis. The fourth is different: dissimulent concerns the way in which they should go about their business and implies deceit. The verb has twice as many syllables as the other three and stands in an emphatic position in emjambement, reinforced by the choriambic shape and the caesura that follows. ‘Do this, this, and this. But, above all, be sly about it and tell no one why you are doing it!’

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 289: taciti: an adjective in place of an adverb. It anticipates dissimulent.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 290: arma parent: arma has the double meaning of ‘gear’ and ‘weapons’. Aeneas refers to the former, but the latter may resonate as well.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 290: quae rebus sit causa nouandis/ dissimulent: quae introduces an indirect question (hence the subjunctive sit) dependent on dissimulent. The formulation res nouare, ‘to alter circumstances radically’ recalls the phrase res nouae, which in the conservative society of ancient Rome did not possess a positive ring. It meant ‘revolution’, i.e. the destruction of the traditional socio-political order. The radical touch is appropriate in the situation: Aeneas’ about-face could not be sharper and causes Dido’s world to collapse. As 292 (tantos rumpi non speret amores) makes clear, nothing in his behaviour towards Dido hinted at the threat of departure, much less a headlong flight; everything pointed to a permanent union. What Aeneas plans, in other words, is a 180º turnaround, out of the blue—and he knows it. The lines have given rise to different readings, more or less favourable to Aeneas. Here, for instance, is Horsfall: ‘the balance of 291 shows that this secrecy is not so much aimed at Dido as (unsuccessfully) at town gossip (cf. 296f.). Aeneas himself, since optima Dido … has no idea of what is up, will try to find the right moment to break the news (293–94).’[9] This interpretation brings out well how Aeneas presents his plans to his men. But we may wonder whether Virgil’s ethopoiea is as innocuous as all that—does use of a verb that implies dissimulation not also capture an inherent ambiguity in his actions towards Dido? Sure, he tells his men that he will approach her when the moment is right; but what would a right moment look like? And would Aeneas have found it? His plan anyway goes awry: Dido, so Fama ensures, gets wind of events, quite apart from the fact that Aeneas turns out to be stunningly naive in his assumption that Dido harbours no suspicion (see below on 296–98). Moreover, the dolos in line 296 is most naturally taken as an authorial comment on Aeneas’ plans for the departure, so irrespective of his intention of breaking the news gently at an opportune moment, he is tainted with treachery. As one would expect, Dido, in her address, begins by charging him with, precisely, dissimulation (4.305–06):

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0dissimulare etiam sperasti, perfide, tantum
posse nefas tacitusque mea decedere terra?

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 [Did you really hope to be able to cover up such an outrage, treacherous one, and depart from my land in silence?]

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 to which Aeneas responds briefly, denying the charge, at 4.337–38: neque ego hanc abscondere furto/ speraui (ne finge) fugam (‘I did not hope—don’t imagine it!—to conceal this flight in stealth’). Aeneas here is disarmingly—or callously—honest, conceding that his departure is a flight (a frank assessment of the situation and his own perception of it as 281 makes clear: ardet abire fuga), but denying that he wanted to depart in secret (also true, in the light of a literal reading of 291–94). The scenario he clearly had in mind was to get everything secretly ready for an immediate departure, break the news to Dido as gently as possible, and then get out of dodge, in a peculiar mixture of strategic dissimulation (and careful planning) and genuine integrity of character. (In contemporary terms, Aeneas is not someone who would have broken up with his girlfriend by sending a text-message; he would have dropped by at an opportune moment to end the relationship in person, though with a mate waiting outside in a car, with the engine running.)

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 291–294: sese interea, quando optima Dido/ nesciat et tantos rumpi non speret amores,/ temptaturum aditus et quae mollissima fandi/ tempora, quis rebus dexter modus: Virgil continues in indirect speech (which explains the subjunctives nesciat and speret in the quando-clause), but the implied verb switches from one of command to one of plain speech as Aeneas tells his men what he plans to do while they get the fleet ready: sese is subjective accusative and temptaturum [sc. esse] the corresponding infinitive, separated from each other by a massive hyperbaton. temptaturum takes a direct object (aditus: in the accusative plural) as well as two indirect questions, enumerated asyndetically: quae mollissima fandi tempora [sc. sint], quis rebus dexter modus [sc. sit]. The hyperbaton and the elisions arguably underscore Aeneas’ sense of unease. Ironically, his thoughts are reflected in Dido’s plea to Anna to seek out Aeneas again to see whether anything can be done to change his mind at 4.421–423: solam nam perfidus ille/ te colere, arcanos etiam tibi credere sensus;/ sola uiri mollis aditus et tempora noras (‘For that treacherous man befriended you alone, to you he confided even his secret thoughts; you alone know how to mooch up to the big guy at schmooze time’).[10]

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 291–292: quando optima Dido/ nesciat et tantos rumpi non speret amores: as the following lines make clear, Aeneas is, of course, utterly mistaken—and hence emerges as potentially naïve, or self-deceived. To begin with, he underestimates the powers of love in general (see 296: quis fallere possit amantem?) and Dido’s sense of foreboding and suspicion in particular (see 298: omnia tuta timens). Secondly, he underestimates the talent of Fama to pick up and disseminate sensational news (see 298–299: eadem impia Fama furenti/ detulit armari classem cursumque parari). And thirdly and conversely, he vastly overestimates the ability of himself and his men to disguise their preparation for departure. What is Virgil telling us about his hero by thus emphasizing his lack of shrewdness?

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 291–292: quando optima Dido/ nesciat: it is only now that Aeneas comes clean with his mates: he has not yet told Dido, their host and his lover, that he is going to ditch her. Not that they care: as 295 makes clear (cf. laeti), they are only too glad to be off.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 291: optima Dido: ‘Optima is heart-breaking in its context; … It means what it says, that Dido was all the world to him; it is one of the tiny revelations of Aeneas’ true feelings, like dulcis terras, 281.’[11] True, but we here also get a hint of the line he will take later on, the timeless ‘look, it’s me, not you—you are optima and all, and I love you dearly, but I got to find my own fatum, indeed am compelled to do so by the gods.’ The choice of the epithet thus focalizes not just Aeneas’ ‘true feelings’ and his genuine dilemma, but also issues of sincerity (or dishonesty). We may also wonder about Virgil’s authorial strategy: Aeneas has been strangely absent from the narrative so far: we have seen him resplendent during the hunt, obliquely active in the cave, mentioned by Fama and Iarbas, but ‘Aeneas the man’ has remained elusive. We get no insight into the mind of the hero while the affair is on; Aeneas only re-enters the narrative when, for him, the affair is over. There is, then, a narrative gap that could presumably be filled with volumes.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 292: tantos rumpi non speret amores: the design emphasizes tantos by means of the hyperbaton, but ironically underscores that the love, however great, is shattered by way of the words that keep tantos and amores apart: rumpi non speret.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 294–295: ocius omnes/ imperio laeti parent et iussa facessunt: everyone instantly (ocius omnes, linked by alliteration) hustles to carry out the orders. There is no retarding parere parabat (see above 238) here. On the contrary: everyone seems overjoyed that Aeneas has finally come to his senses. As Austin puts it: ‘Note how uneasy Aeneas’ men have plainly been in Carthage, and compare their simple alacrity with his worried indecision: they have no problems like his to complicate their little world.’[12]The contrast between the leader and the led pervades the entire epic, and often involves a related contrast between complexity and simplicity. Virgil constantly emphasizes how difficult it is to be a leader. It involves cares and requires skills in decision-making (and decisiveness). The verses here at any rate portray reaching a decision as vastly more difficult than carrying out an order. In Virgil’s conception of leadership dissimulation also plays a role: a good leader does not share every worry he has with his troops.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0  

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 [10]
These lines offer surprising, retrospective insight into some of the complex comings and goings at Dido’s palace while the relationship was in full swing: Anna apparently played a key role as confidant and go-between, somehow getting to know Aeneas better than Dido. In some mythic variants, Anna even follows Aeneas to Italy.

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0  

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 [12]
Austin (1963), p. 95.

Source: https://aeneid4.theclassicslibrary.com/2012/11/30/279-295%E2%80%82the-great-escape-2/