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296–299  (and beyond): Hell Hath no Fury Like a Woman Scorned

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Dido somehow ‘divines’ (297: praesensit) what Aeneas has in mind, loses control of her rational self (she is furens and inops animi), and rages (300: saeuit) and raves (301: bacchatur) through the city, before accosting Aeneas (from 305 onwards). What is the source of her premonition? She seems to rely on her own intuition, and Fama does the rest.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 296: At regina: the phrase introduces the middle section of the book. It echoes 4.279: At uero Aeneas, harks back to the keynote of the book (4.1: At regina) and points forward to the third occurrence of the phrase at 4.504.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 296: quis fallere possit amantem?: amantem: ‘someone in love’; possit is in the potential subjunctive.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 297–298: motusque excepit prima futuros/ omnia tuta timens: prima could be taken either as an adjective instead of an adverb (‘instantly’) or as a predicative to the subject, i.e. Dido, in the sense of ‘she found out first of all.’ There is a similar ambiguity in tuta (with a short a): it could modify either omnia (neuter accusative plural) or the subject of timens, i.e. Dido (feminine nominative singular). The former would mean ‘(already) fearing everything even while it was (still) safe’, the latter ‘(already) fearing everything even while she was (still) safe.’ Pease registers that some editors have endorsed the second possibility but notes that ‘that explanation violates all the ancient understandings of the line and lacks appropriateness in the context.’[1] All subsequent editors (Austin, Maclennan, O’Hara) concur. Austin suggests that ‘Virgil thus makes it clear that Dido in her inmost heart was never free from self-blame.’[2] Conversely, one could argue that she (quite rightly) knew never to trust Aeneas fully. The phrase harks back to 1.583 (Achates to Aeneas, commenting on how Dido is receiving his lost comrades with warm welcome): omnia tuta uides, classem sociosque receptos. See also 4.373: nusquam tuta fides. Cf. Propertius 2.12.11–21 (about Cupid and his arrows): ante ferit quoniam tuti quam cernimus hostem/ nec quisquam ex illo uulnere sanus abit (‘he strikes when we think we are safe before we even see the enemy. And no one thus struck departs in good health’).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 298–299: eadem impia Fama furenti/ detulit armari classem cursumque parari: eadem and impia both modify Fama (i.e. ‘the self-same accursed creature who had already spread the news of the liaison’). She conveys her news with some exquisite rhetorical ornamentation as if to mock the queen: note the chiasmus (a) armari (b) classem (b) cursum (a) parari, with the two nouns linked by alliteration (classem, cursum) and the two verbs by homoioteleuton (armari, parari).

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 * * *

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 NB: The set passage stops here. But the following lines set the tone for the rest of the book, which is assigned in English translation. I have therefore extended the commentary until 303:

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 300–301: saeuit inops animi totamque incensa per urbem/ bacchatur: the image of Dido in torment raging through her city collapses the boundary between wilderness and civilization: the queen exhibits the savage, out-of-control, and insane demeanour of a Maenad in the city itself. Both saeuit and bacchatur (each prominently placed at the beginning of the line) are striking: saeuio evokes the savagery and rage of beasts, natural forces, or violent passion, whereas bacchatur, which corresponds metrically to praesensit in 297: three long syllables, placed in enjambment, followed by a trithemimeral caesura, suggests that Dido behaves like a Maenad in the entourage of Bacchus, in her raving rampage through her city. The fact that the narrative proper and the simile share the verb bacchatur reinforces the assimilation. Virgil uses bacchatur again at 4.666, right after Dido has thrown herself on Aeneas’ sword, with Fama as subject: concussam bacchatur Fama per urbem (where concussam … per urbem mimics 300: totamque … per urbem).[3] A Bacchant in the thrall of divine furor is everything a Roman senator is not: his stately comportment sharply contrasts with the frenzied behaviour associated with being possessed by divine madness; and his reasoning faculty are the exact opposite of a mind in the grip of ecstatic intoxication.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 301: qualis commotis excita sacris/ Thyias: sacris refers to ‘either the “rites” in the abstract, or, more probably, the actual “symbols” or emblems of the god, brandished in ecstasy.’[4] A Thyias is a Maenad, i.e. one of the female followers of Bacchus. The designation derives from a Greek equivalent of bacchari, i.e. thuein, ‘to rush violently.’ The word seems to have been introduced into Latin by Catullus. See 64.391–92: saepe uagus Liber Parnasi uertice summo/ Thyadas effusis euantis crinibus egit (‘Often Bacchus roaming on the topmost summit of Parnassus drove his Thyiads, shouting and with their hair flowing’).

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 302–303: ubi audito stimulant trieterica Baccho/ orgia nocturnusque uocat clamore Cithaeron: stimulant and uocat lack a direct object (such as eam)—a nice touch that reinforces the numinous powers of the god. The revels and the mountain do not bother to spur on or call this particular Thyiad; rather, they constitute a force field into which the Thyiad is attracted like a magnet, losing control of her ego and rational agency.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 302: audito … Baccho: an ablative absolute.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 302–303: trieterica…/ orgia: trieterica means ‘literally “held every third year”, that is, “in alternate years” by our reckoning; the ancient system of reckoning was inclusive, so that in a given group of years ABCD the festival would be held in the years A and C, the latter being the “third year” inclusive of A.’[5]

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 303: nocturnus … Cithaeron: nocturnus(‘at night’) is an adjective used in place of an adverb. Cithaeron is a mountain range between Boeotia and Attica and the site where Pentheus met his doom, being torn limb from limb by the women of Thebes (including his mother and aunt), after they had been turned into raging followers of Dionysus. (Virgil compares Dido to Pentheus at 4.469.) We are entering the terrain of tragedy.

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19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 [3]
Also: Aeneid 6.78 and Appendix Virgiliana, Ciris 167: infelix uirgo tota bacchatur in urbe and 480. To gauge the meaning of the verb in a civic context, Cicero’s speeches offer good illustrative material. See in Catilinam 4.11: cerno animo sepulta in patria miseros atque insepultos aceruos ciuium, uersatur mihi ante oculos aspectus Cethegi et furor in uestra caede bacchantis (‘In my mind’s eye I see the pitiful heaps of citizens lying unburied upon the grave of our fatherland; there passes before my eyes the sight of Cethegus and the insanity of him as he raves like a Maenad upon your corpses’) or de Haruspicum Responso 39 (on Clodius): … tum baccharis, tum furis, tum das eas poenas quae solae sunt hominum sceleri a dis immortalibus constitutae (‘… then you are raving like a Bacchant, then you rage insanely, then you suffer the only punishment ordained by the immortal gods for human crime’).

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