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Religion

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The Aeneid is chockfull of religious images and ideas. In the course of the epic, we encounter the anthropomorphic divinities of Greek and Roman myth as well as deified concepts; reflections on the ethics (or lack thereof) of divine behaviour; various types of religious practices or speech-acts (rituals, sacrifices, modes of divination; prayers, curses, oaths); priests, prophets, and other religious functionaries like entrail-inspectors; numinous spaces, buildings, or objects (landscapes, sites, temples, altars); concepts to do with the supernatural organization of history and time (fatum, fortuna); and glimpses of the beyond, in particular the otherworldly topography that dominates the central Book 6, which features Aeneas’ descent into the Underworld. Yet arguably in no other book, with the possible exception of Aeneid 6, does religion play such a prominent and complex role as in Aeneid 4. Religious subject matter is ubiquitous here, both in the passage assigned in Latin (4.1–299) and the rest of the book (which is to be read in English). But to come to critical terms with this aspect of Virgil’s text is not easy. At first sight, the religious dimension of Aeneid 4 may well seem to resemble a dog’s breakfast. Virgil brings into play ideas from different spheres of thought and experience, both Greek and Roman, some with a primarily literary pedigree, some firmly grounded in cult practice and the civic religion of the Roman commonwealth. Each of these spheres operates according to its specific cultural logic. And frequently the logic of one sphere is incommensurate with, or even contradicts, that of another. It is hence not instantly obvious how the different elements cohere (if they do so at all).

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 1.Taking stock

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 A first step towards trying to make sense of the text is to identify (and differentiate between) the diverse spheres of religious thought and practice on which Virgil draws and to take stock of where and how religion—here loosely defined as any figure of thought that implies the existence of supernatural beings or forces—surfaces in the narrative. Roughly, and with due awareness of inevitable overlap, we could distinguish the following:

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 A: The divine machinery of the literary imagination (especially Greek epic and tragedy):

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 A1: Gods appearing as agents in the narrative

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 A2: Reference to their mortal offspring (heroes)

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 A3: Allusions to Olympian divinities on the part of the poet (e.g. in similes or allusions)[1]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 A4: Personifications of natural phenomena or concepts; references to mythic cosmology

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 B: Religious beliefs, modes of worship, and other forms of religious communication entertained or practiced by humans

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 B1: References to household gods or shades of the deceased

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 B2: References to religious functionaries, temples, ritual occasions or speech-acts that involve the supernatural sphere (sacrifices, wedding ceremonies, funerary rites; prayers, curses, oaths)

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 B3: Belief in the divine guardianship of justice

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 B4: Commitment to pietas (and be it via the epithet pius)

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 C: Idiom that alludes to the civic religion of Roman republican/ early imperial society

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 D: Anticipation of the future: practices of divination, figures endowed with knowledge of things to come, unsolicited signs that forebode future events

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 E: Theological figures of thought that organize historical time (fatum, fortuna)

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 F: Philosophical theology (e.g. Epicureanism)

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 G: Magic

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Re-reading Aeneid 4 with this rough-and-ready grid in mind, we can pick out the following verses as involving or implying a supernatural sphere:

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 6–7: The appearance of Aurora signals daybreak. [A4]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 12: Dido believes in Aeneas’ divine lineage. [A2]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 14:
Dido sympathizes with the travails imposed upon Aeneas by the fata. [E]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 21:
Reference to the household gods (Penates) that resided in the home Dido shared with Sychaeus. [B1]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 24–29:
Dido calls down divine punishment upon her should she violate her oath of loyalty to Sychaeus (this includes being swallowed up by the earth and being struck by Jupiter with lightning). [B2]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 34:
Anna dismisses the notion that Sychaeus’ shades (manes) take any interest in what Dido is doing. [B1/F]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 45–46:
Anna proclaims that Aeneas arrived at Carthage owing to divine favour and Juno’s aid (dis auspicibus, Iunone secunda). [C]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 56–59:
Anna and Dido perform prayers and sacrifices to solicit the favour of the gods. [C]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 60–64:
Dido performs further rites and engages in extispicy to divine the future. [B2/C/D]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 65–66:
Virgil, in an authorial exclamation, refers to prophets (uates) and follows this up with two rhetorical questions about the futility of uota and delubra. [B2/C/D]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 90–128:
Interlude in Heaven: Juno accosts Venus to arrange a marriage between Aeneas and Dido. [A1]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 129: Aurora appears. [A4]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 143–149:
Simile comparing Aeneas to Apollo with oblique allusions to Dionysus. [A3]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 166–168:
The encounter in the cave, witnessed by Tellus, Juno Pronuba, Aether, and Nymphs. [A1/ A4/ B2]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 173–197:
Fama, her nature, genealogy (offspring of Terra), and intervention in the case at hand. [A4]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 198: Iarbas’ parents (Jupiter and a Garamantian nymph) [A2]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 198–218:
Description of Iarbas’ 100 altars dedicated to his father Ammon (a.k.a. Jupiter) and prayer to Jupiter, which ends in a quasi-Epicurean questioning of divine efficaciousness. [B2/F]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 219–237: Jupiter’s reaction to Iarbas’ prayer and his order to Mercury. [A1]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 238–258:
Mercury gets himself ready and flies to Carthage, via the man-mountain Atlas. [A1/ A4]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 259–278:
Theophany of Mercury before Aeneas and delivery of the message from Jupiter. [A1]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 282: Aeneas is stricken by the imperium deorum. [A]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 298–299:
Fama brings Dido the news of the Trojans’ preparation to leave. [A4]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 301–304:
A simile compares Dido’s raging through Carthage to a Maenad on Mt. Cithaeron under the influence of Bacchus. [A3]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 331:
Under the impact of Jupiter’s commands (Iouis monitis), Aeneas remains committed to his plan to depart despite Dido’s desperate appeal. [A/ B]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 340:
Aeneas refers to the fata as the force that drives him against his will. [E]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 345:
Aeneas recalls Grynean Apollo and the Lycian oracles (of Apollo) bidding him to seek Italy. [D]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 350: Aeneas appeals to fas (divine law). [C]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 351–53:
Aeneas claims to be haunted at night by the troubled ghost of his father Anchises. [B1]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 355:
Aeneas refers to Italy as fatalia arua. [E]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 356–59:
Aeneas recounts the theophany of Mercury and the orders of Jupiter. [A]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 365:
Dido denies Aeneas’ divine lineage (nec tibi diua parens). [A2]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 371–72:
Dido denies that maxima Iuno or Jupiter could possibly approve of Aeneas’ demeanor. [B3]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 376–80:
Dido scornfully quotes Aeneas’ religious justification for leaving Carthage back at him: with reference to augur Apollo, Lyciae sortes, and Jupiter’s messenger Mercury, she mockingly dismisses the idea that gods get involved in human affairs, in proto-Epicurean fashion. [C/D/ F]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 382:
Dido articulates the wish that Aeneas will suffer shipwreck—si quid pia numina possunt. [B2/ B3]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 385–87:
Dido threatens Aeneas that after her death, her shade will haunt him wherever he goes to avenge the injustice [dabis, improbe, poenas]; she will take delight in hearing of Aeneas’ punishment when the report reaches the Underworld. [B1/ B2/ B3]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 393: Aeneas is called pius. [B4]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 396:
Despite his wish to linger with Dido, Aeneas is mindful of the iussa diuum and returns to his fleet. [A/ B]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 412:
The narrator addresses Amor in an authorial comment on Dido’s disturbed frame of mind when she watches the preparations of the Trojans to leave (improbe Amor, quid non mortalia pectora cogis!). [A1]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 427:
Dido, speaking to Anna, denies that she ever unsettled the Shades of Anchises or committed any other hostile act towards Aeneas, in the context of wondering why he proves so intractable. [B1]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 440:
Aeneas remains unmoved by the pleading of Anna on behalf of her sister because of the fates and a god: fata obstant, placidasque uiri deus obstruit auris. [E/ A]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 446:
Simile of the oak tree, the roots of which reach down into Tartarus. [A4]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 447: Virgil refers to Aeneas as heros. [A2]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 450: Dido begins to pray for death fatis exterrita. [E]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 452–54:
During sacrifice some dreadful omens occur: as Dido puts her offerings on the altar, the holy water darkens and the poured wine changes into loathsome gore. [C/ D]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 460–68:
Dido has dreadful visions: at night, she hears her husband calling; an ill-boding owl settles on the housetops; many old prophesies of uates terrify her; while asleep, Aeneas appears in her nightmares. [B1/ D]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 469–73:
Simile that compares Dido to Pentheus in the thralls of Bacchus-induced insanity and Orestes, after the matricide, who is hounded by the Furies and the ghost of his mother, while avenging fiends (Dirae) crouch on the threshold. [A3]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 483–98:
Dido tells Anna of an encounter with a priestess (sacerdos) who guards the garden of the Hesperides, who is skilled in magic, above all in how to rid oneself of, or induce, erotic attraction, but also in meddling with nature and ghostly or unnatural phenomena more generally; as if following the priestess’ instructions she asks Anna to construct a pyre. [B2/ G]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 499–521:
Once the pyre is in place, surrounded by altars, Dido, whom Virgil now also designates as ‘priestess’ (sacerdos), calls in a thundering voice upon three hundred gods, specifically Erebus, Chaos, threefold Hecate, and triple-faced Diana; she also wields the paraphernalia of magic rites: water, venomous herbs collected by moonlight with brazen sickles, and a love charm from the brow of a newly born colt. The passage ends with her again calling on the gods and the stars as witnesses of her doom and praying ‘to whatever power, righteous and mindful, watches over lovers unjustly allied’ (tum, si quod non aequo foedere amantis/ curae numen habet iustumque memorque, precatur). [A/ B2/ B3/ C/ G]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 554–70:
While Aeneas slumbers on his ships (which are ready to depart), he has a vision of a god who resembles Mercury in every respect; the divinity calls him mad to put off his departure while the winds are favourable and warns him of Dido (his speech contains the memorable sexist phrase uarium et mutabile semper/ femina; ‘A fickle and changeful thing ever is—woman’). [A1]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 574–75:
Aeneas exhorts his men with reference to his vision of deus aethere missus ab alto (‘a god sent from high heaven’) adding sequimur te, sancte deorum,/ quisquis es, imperioque iterum paremus ouantes (‘We follow you, holy among gods, whoever you are, and again joyfully obey your command’) and asking him for succour during the voyage. [A1/ B2]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 584–85: Dawn (Aurora) rises again, leaving the bed of Tithonus. [A4]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 590:
Dido becomes aware of the fact that Aeneas has left and exclaims ‘pro Iuppiter!’ [B2]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 596:
Dido asks herself whether her impious deeds (facta impia) are catching up with her. [B3]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 598:
A scornful reference to the trustworthiness of Aeneas and his alleged transport of patrios Penates. [B1]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 605–29:
Dido utters a horrific curse that begins with the invocation of various divinities: Sol, Juno, Hecate, the Avenging Furies (Dirae ultrices), and the gods of Elissa dying (di morientis Elissae). She asks them to turn their divine power and attention (numen) to the evils she has suffered and to visit as much ill-luck upon the accursed head of Aeneas (infandum caput) as the ordinances of Jupiter (fata Iouis) allow. Dido then invokes eternal hatred between the people of Carthage and of Aeneas (i.e. the Romans) and prays for an avenger to rise from her ashes (a prophetic anticipation of Hannibal). (From the point of view of efficacious communication with supernatural powers, it is important to note that both parts of her curse—that concerning the destiny of Aeneas in the rest of Virgil’s poem as well as that concerning Roman history—are fulfilled.) [B2/ B3/ E]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 634–40:
Dido proceeds with her scheme of suicide; in her address to Barce, the nurse of Sychaeus, she asks her to tell Anna to purify herself ritually with river water and to bring sacrificial victims and offerings ordained for atonement. Barce, too, is asked to veil her temples with a pure chaplet (pia uitta) since Dido is now minded to carry out the rites of Stygian Jupiter. [B2/B4]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 651–53:
At the opening of her suicide speech Dido recalls happier times dum fata deusque sinebat (‘while the fates and god allowed’). She then calls her life over—having finished the course granted by Fortune, the goddess of happenstance (quem dederat cursum Fortuna, peregi)—and anticipates her majestic shade to travel beneath the earth (et nunc magna mei sub terras ibit imago). [E/ B1]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 662:
At the conclusion of her suicide speech, Dido refers to the light of her funeral pyre, which Aeneas will behold from the sea, as omina (omens) of her death. [C/ D]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 666:
After Dido has stabbed herself, Fama rages through the stricken city (concussam bacchatur Fama per urbem). [A4]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 671:
The raving of Fama is compared to an army that is sacking a city and setting it afire so that the flames engulf the houses of men and the temples of the gods (culmina … deorum). [A/ B2]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 678:
Anna exclaims that Dido should have shared her suicide plans with her, so she could have joined her sister in death (eadem me ad fata uocasses). [B1]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 680–81:
Anna recalls how she herself has built the pyre and called upon the paternal divinities (patriosque uocaui/ uoce deos). [B2]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 693–705:
Despite being mortally wounded, Dido is unable to die owing to a religious law: since she is perishing neither by fate nor by a death she had earned (nec fato, merita nec morte peribat), but rather prematurely in a sudden fit of furor, Proserpina, the queen of the Underworld, refuses to take a golden lock off her, as a ritual prerequisite of consigning her head to the Stygian Orcus. Accordingly, Dido’s struggling soul is unable to free itself from her body. Eventually, Juno takes pity on her protégé and sends down Iris, who cuts the lock and consecrates it to Dis, the god of the Underworld. This sets Dido’s soul free from her body, and her life vanishes into the winds.[2] [A/B1/E]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 2.The supernatural coordinates of Virgil’s literary cosmos

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 One popular move in religious studies is to differentiate between various discursive spheres or systems of thought. Virgil’s contemporary Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BC), for instance, used the notion of a theologia tripartita (‘tripartite theology’) to distinguish the mythical theology of the poets from the natural theology of the philosophers and the civil theology of the people. Each, he claimed, had its own protocols of how to conceive of (and represent) the supernatural sphere and its divine inhabitants. This approach may be useful at times. But it does not really help us here. For Virgil clearly combines elements from all of these systems of thought or belief, as well as several others besides. What Varro, for one, tried to keep tidily distinct, Virgil cheerfully commingles. What we need is a perspective that enables us to come to critical terms with a literary world in which logically frequently incompatible ideas about the divine co-exist side by side.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Now the purpose of much religious effort concerns the position of the individual or the civic community in time and space. Human beings have only limited (if any) control over the future and their environment more generally—though we like to think that we can make provisions for the future, even while we remain acutely aware of the fact that ‘tomorrow’ may turn out to be ghastly, whatever our precautions. The next accident, the next human-made disaster, the next defeat in war, the next natural catastrophe is sure to happen—we just do not know when. To deal with this condition of uncertainty, which is a human universal, many cultures in history have posited the existence of supernatural agents or forces to whom they ascribe some control over the future. If such agents are willing to engage with mortals meaningfully (listening to their prayers, paying attention to their sacrifices), the future becomes open to a certain amount of purposeful planning and management. Even if the supernatural agents are taken to be disinterested in interaction with mortals (or as actively causing havoc in the human sphere), their existence imposes some kind of form upon an otherwise amorphous domain of risk and uncertainty, rendering it more intelligible if not more manageable.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 The possibility of destructive divinities, who are driven by spiteful emotions or pursue their own selfish agendas, already points to the fact that the degree to which religious systems (are thought to) succeed in reducing contingency may differ significantly: it very much depends on the conception of the world and of the divine that they presuppose. Very schematically, we can posit the following spectrum of possibilities, which ranges from chaos at one extreme to the complete elimination of contingency on the other—with various stages in between:

Conception of the world/ the gods Degree of predictability Degree of efficaciousness of religious efforts on the part of humans
A realm of chaos Zero Zero
A domain governed byFortuna 1 (whimsical)/ by willful divinities pursuing their own agenda Low Low
A domain governed byFortuna 2 (meritocratic) Medium Medium
A domain that offers the possibility to enter into quasi-contractual relationships with supernatural beings High High
A domain of predetermination in which everything is always already fixed Absolute (with the requisite insight/ hindsight) Zero

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 At one extreme, there is chaos—which is tantamount to a world without any pattern whatsoever, a world, in which anything may happen to you at any time. (It is a world, in other words, one cannot really live in.)

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 The second possibility—a world under the reign of fortuna (conceived as whimsical) or populated by divinities who do what they like and are liable to experience (and act on) unpredictable bouts of emotions (such as envy or hatred)—has some affinities with chaos. It is almost impossible for mortals to get whimsical fortune or egocentric divinities to enter into reliable relationships according to laws of reciprocity (worship, sacrifice, or obedience to divine law in return for supernatural support).

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Matters improve if we conceive of fortuna not in terms of happenstance and luck, as a force, in other words, that distributes her gifts according to her whim and will, without any regard to merit, but as a divine agent who dispenses her favours to those who have earned them according to some criterion of merit. Consider, for instance, the adage fortuna fortes adiuuat—‘fortune favours the brave.’ It implies a willingness on the part of fortuna to enter into a ‘cause-and-effect’ economy that gives us purchase on the future. If the condition applies that if one is brave, then fortune will lend her support, we are able to shape our destiny at least to some extent.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Then again, some cultures developed belief-systems that posit the existence of divinities willing to enter into quasi-contractual relationships. The gods of Rome’s civic religion are a good example. In return for certain forms of religious observance, they lent their support to the civic community as it marched forward in time. The Romans invested a significant amount of effort in maintaining good relations with their divinities, keeping them benevolently prediposed towards their res publica—a condition they called pax deorum, i.e. ‘peace with the gods.’ It signified a state in which the divinities would not cause wilful havoc and disaster. This peace needed careful attention and cultivation and could of course break down at any time (through an involuntary slip in a ritual procedure, for instance), at which point the Roman gods tended to send warning signs that a potential disaster was afoot since the peace was broken. Rome’s civic religion thus enabled a certain amount of planning security for those involved in managing the affairs of the commonwealth.[3]

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Intriguingly, Rome’s ritual repertory included ceremonies, which, once properly performed and executed, were thought to ensure divine support. A notable example is the deuotio, in which a Roman magistrate turned himself or a fellow-citizen into a sacrificial victim of sorts before going out to meet his death in battle: if the ritual was flawlessly executed and if the dedicatee actually got himself killed, then the assumption was that the gods would grant victory to the Roman army. It is useful to think of this ritual in economic terms. In return for what is a truly remarkable degree of divine support in as unpredictable a situation as a battle, (someone in) the civic community had to pay the ultimate price. (And nothing is more costly than a human life.) Divine support, and in particular predictable divine support, does not come cheap.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Finally, there is complete predetermination—a world in which everything is already fixed before it actually happens, without any freedom or contingency. (It is also a world impossible to live in since any meaningful concept of agency—or moral choice—would disappear on both the divine and the human level.) Since nothing can be altered in such a world, endeavours to enter into communication with the gods in an effort to shape the future are pointless. The degree of efficaciousness of religious efforts on the part of humans plummets back to zero. For in such a system, the gods too have become disenfranchised: they no longer are meaningful agents with the power to impact on how history unfolds.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Remarkably, the Aeneid explores the entire spectrum of possibilities sketched out in the table and several others besides. The epic features its fair share of whimsical divinities, in particular Juno, who pursues Aeneas with her wrath out of selfish motives, to the point of collapsing the cosmos back into chaos.[4] At the same time, Virgil endorses a notion of predetermination. fatum (or, in the plural, fata), looked after by Jupiter, are at the heart of his theology of history. Large portions of the story that the Aeneid tells are already prescripted before they unfold. Virgil’s literary world thus combines chaotic unpredictability with predetermination, utimately subsuming the former under the latter. Juno and Jupiter complement each other: the plot of the Aeneid requires Juno’s futile struggles against what has been preordained, and the story not coincidentally ends when Jupiter manages to reconcile Juno with the impositions of fate. The inexorable unfolding of fate also aligns Virgil’s epic history with the reality of the Augustan principate, which is the ultimate historical telos of the narrative. The poet’s investment in destiny, it may be worth pointing out, is fundamentally alien to the civic religion and political culture of the Roman republic, which conceived of the future as contingent and of history as open-ended.[5]

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 In addition to operating with the notional extremes of utter chaos and absolute order, Virgil validates an intermediary domain of controlled contingency. Not everything in the history he tells has already been fixed in stone (or on the scrolls of fate). The moment in Aeneid 4 when this becomes most apparent is at the very end of the book, when Virgil explains why Dido suffered such a drawn-out death: Proserpina refused to welcome her in the Underworld since her suicide was not in accord with her destiny, apart from being unearned (696: nam quia nec fato, merita nec morte peribat…). It took pity on Juno’s part to end her struggles, as she sends down Iris to perform euthanasia. Dido’s relationship with Aeneas never had a future: it violated fate. But the death-scene suggests that the affair did not have to end in suicide. Virgil thereby validates the principles of independent agency and (moral) accountability at both the human and the divine level—within the severe restrictions imposed by historical necessity.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 What has a fairly circumscribed presence in Virgil’s narrative is the conception of history as a realm of contingency over which divine beings exercise control—and which human beings have the power to shape at least to some extent by entering into efficacious interaction with the gods. But this conception of the world, which underwrote Rome’s civic religion and the political culture of the Roman republic, is not entirely absent either. Ironically, it informs the religious efforts of Anna and Dido at the beginning of Aeneid 4. Their visit to the temples, their investment in prayers and sacrifices, their attempt to solicit divine approval for their course of action and, more generally, Dido’s desire to divine what the future holds (and her endeavours to persuade the gods with lavish gifts to shape the future to her liking) match quite closely the actions that a magistrate of the Roman republic would have performed before a major decision (such as when to engage in battle). And Virgil seems to imply that the divinities with whom Dido interacts respond honestly to her enquiry, though they are (of course?) forced to give a negative answer.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Willful divinities, the inexorable unfolding of destiny, a precious margin of contingency in divine and human affairs, a brief recognition of the principle and protocols of the civic religion of the Roman republic (which just manages to underscore that this system of religious thought and practice has little relevance in Virgil’s epic world)—these, then, are the supernatural coordinates within which Virgil’s human characters are forced to operate.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 3.Religious agency

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 They do so on very different terms and with varying degrees of insight and success. Take Aeneas, for example. Despite his pronounced pietas, he is the victim of divine persecution: Juno pursues him with her wrath. Paradoxically, he is also the carrier of fate. This has its advantages. When he loses the plot, Jupiter tends to sort matters out, to get him (and destiny) back on track. Aeneas is far from perfect as a religious agent, not least since at times (as in Carthage) he becomes oblivious to his preordained historical mission. Yet he is a privileged character nevertheless: whereas Dido has to browse through bloody entrails to figure out the will of the gods, Aeneas receives instructions of what to do straight from the boss, by special delivery. (Mercury provides the ancient equivalent of an airmail service.) Also elsewhere in the poem, Aeneas is the privileged beneficiary of divine insight and information, notably in Book 6.[6] His understanding of fate and the divine remains partial and compromised; for instance, he does not comprehend the scenes from Roman history that Vulcan has fashioned on his shield: rerumque ignarus imagine gaudet (8.730). But it is still far superior to that of other characters.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Take Anna, for example. Her speech of advice to Dido at 4.31–53 evinces a shocking ignorance of the divine realities that apply in Virgil’s epic. Thus, in line 34, she dismisses the notion of a conscious afterlife in proto-Epicurean fashion, in an attempt to convince Dido to stop caring about her deceased husband Sychaeus and embrace life and love with Aeneas. And she follows this gaffe by proposing that Aeneas arrived in Africa dis auspicibus et Iunone secunda (45: ‘with the gods’ favour and Juno’s aid’). The phrases drip with unintended irony. Anna clearly hasn’t a clue what she is talking about. Juno had no intention whatsoever to blast Aeneas to Africa. She set out to sink his fleet. Aeneas’ arrival at Carthage is thus not at all the result of purposeful divine planning—unless we image that the fates had a hand in this. But Juno, at any rate, is here the exact opposite of auspex or secunda, and the tempest that brought Aeneas Dido’s way was not a favourable (in Latin: secundus, implied by Juno’s attribute) breeze, but a destructive storm—an ill wind that blew nobody any good.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Another example of a character with precious little insights into the workings of the divine is Iarbas. In his prayer to Jupiter at 4.206–28, he intends to bully his divine father into taking action. He posits that either Jupiter sees what is going on with Dido and Aeneas—or there is no point in worshipping him. But if Jupiter is aware of what is going on, so the implication, his inaction is disgracefully negligent given the dutiful veneration he receives from his son. Jupiter is thus placed in an impossible position: the way Iarbas frames his argument, the supreme divinity cannot plead ignorance and hence is undoubtedly guilty of negligence. That Jupiter has so far tolerated the love affair at Carthage without any sign of disapproval or intervention means for Iarbas that the economy of religious communication, which requires some divine support in return for dutiful human worship, has broken down. He suggests to Jupiter that it is in the god’s own interest to restore it. Jupiter’s reaction to Iarbas’ prayer is instructive. While his son’s pleading has alerted the god to the situation at Carthage, he pays no attention whatsoever to the complainant and his concerns. True, Iarbas gets what he prays for—a break up of the union between Dido and Aeneas—but perhaps also more than he bargained for, insofar as Dido proceeds to commit suicide. And Jupiter interferes not out of any consideration for his son and his hundred altars, but because he is committed to the fated plot. Put differently, Iarbas may well think that his prayer has been efficacious. But the reader realizes that the perceived efficaciousness of the religious speech-act is accidental. Iarbas gets his way not because Jupiter felt the urge to answer his prayer, but because he fortuitously happened to wish for something to which Jupiter was anyway already committed.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Then there is Dido. She is by far the most interesting and complex religious agent in Aeneid 4, in part since her religious outlook undergoes a development over the course of the book. This development involves three basic stages, which correspond roughly to the three sections of Aeneid 4 that Virgil marks with the opening phrase at regina (1–295, 296–503, 504–705).

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 As we already had occasion to note, at the beginning Dido, fuelled by misguided hope, pursues lines of communication with the gods reminiscent of Rome’s civic religion. Lines 54–64 show her visiting altars to beseech the gods, investing in repeated (and expensive) sacrifice to render them benevolent, and vetting the entrails of her victims for signs of divine approval. This approval appears not to be forthcoming; but that also means that the gods in charge of the signs prove reliable and honest partners in communication. What Dido asks for is in violation of fate, and she fatefully disregards the lack of divine sanction in how she proceeds. By calling Anna and Dido ignorant of the seers (65: heu, uatum ignarae mentes!), Virgil situates the religious endeavours of the two sisters within a universe, in which the efficaciousness of traditional religion (as practiced in Rome’s civic sphere during republican times) is sharply curtailed, owing to the fact that history is by and large predestined—and foretold as such by prophet-figures (uates). If the two sisters had had knowledge of what the uates were saying, they would have realized that all their efforts to solicit divine support for their plan would be to no avail. But they don’t—and pay the price: their hope is foolish, their actions are doomed to failure, and their lack of insight results in tragedy. The practices and institutions of civic religion (captured by the terms uota and delubra) have a strictly limited remit in Virgil’s literary universe.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 The second stage kicks in after Dido finds out that Aeneas plans to leave her. It is marked by denial, confusion, and bouts of angst that gradually develop into genuine insight. Dido oscillates between a quasi-Epicurean attitude towards supernatural interferences in human affairs (i.e. dismissing them as figments of the imagination or outright lies) and terror at divine signs of her impending doom. Thus at Aeneid 4.376–80, she doubts the veracity of Aeneas’ claim that he was visited by Mercury in a theophany:

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 (heu furiis incensa feror!): nunc augur Apollo,

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 nunc Lyciae sortes, nunc et Ioue missus ab ipso

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 interpres diuum fert horrida iussa per auras.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 scilicet is superis labor est, ea cura quietos

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 sollicitat!

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 [Alas! I am whirled on the fires of frenzy. Now prophetic Apollo, now the Lycian oracles, now the messenger of the gods sent from Jove himself, brings through the air this dread command. For sure, this is work for gods, this is care to vex their peace!]

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Dido here adopts a proto-Epicurean position, mocking the notion that gods would get involved in human affairs—as opposed to enjoying an existence free of all worries (as they do in Epicurean philosophy). The implication is that Aeneas is a liar when he ascribes his desire to depart to the need to follow a divine command. Conversely, slightly later on Dido sees and hears portents of her looming death that are of supernatural (or infernal) provenance after Aeneas has refused to slacken his resolve (Aeneid 4.450–55):

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 Tum uero infelix fatis exterrita Dido

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 mortem orat; taedet caeli conuexa tueri.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 quo magis inceptum peragat lucemque relinquat,

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 uidit, turicremis cum dona imponeret aris,

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 (horrendum dictu) latices nigrescere sacros

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 fusaque in obscenum se uertere uina cruorem.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 [Then, indeed, awed by her doom, luckless Dido prays for death; she is weary of gazing on the arch of heaven. And to make her more surely fulfil her purpose and leave the light, she saw, as she laid her gifts on the altars ablaze with incense—fearful to tell—the holy water darken and the outpoured wine change into loathsome gore.]

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 In addition to these ghastly prodigies and unsolicited omens of doom that adumbrate a dire future, Dido now also recalls the many sayings of seers of old (multa…uatum praedicta priorum) which terrify her with fearful foreboding (4.464–65). This stretch of religious terror results in the decision to commit suicide, which sets up the final stage in her development.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 From the outset, stage 3 is marked by insightful determination (Aeneid 4.504–10):

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 At regina, pyra penetrali in sede sub auras

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 erecta ingenti taedis atque ilice secta, 505

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 intenditque locum sertis et fronde coronat

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 funerea; super exuuias ensemque relictum

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 effigiemque toro locat, haud ignara futuri.

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 stant arae circum et crinis effusa sacerdos

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 ter centum tonat ore deos… 510

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 [But the queen, when in the heart of her home the pyre rose heavenward, piled high with pine logs and hewn ilex, hangs the place with garlands and crowns it with funeral boughs. On top, upon the couch, she lays the dress he wore, the sword he left, and an image of him, knowing what was to come. Round about stand altars, and with streaming hair the priestess calls in thunder tones on thrice a hundred gods…]

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 Now Dido has sorted through her religious confusion. Now she is back in charge. Now she knows what the future holds. Now Virgil calls her priestess. Now she has gained insight into the constraints that the existence of historical destiny imposes upon conventional religious efforts. This insight empowers. In stage 2, she wished Aeneas to die in a shipwreck—a futile desire since it is contrary to fate.[7] Now she utters a curse that operates within the parameters set by historical necessity (Aeneid 4.612–18):

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 ‘…si tangere portus

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 infandum caput ac terris adnare necesse est,

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 et sic fata Iouis poscunt, hic terminus haeret,

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 at bello audacis populi uexatus et armis, 615

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 finibus extorris, complexu auulsus Iuli

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 auxilium imploret uideatque indigna suorum

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 funera…’

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 [… If that accursed wretch must needs reach harbour and come to shore, if Jupiter’s ordinances so demand and this is the outcome fixed: yet even so, harassed in war by the arms of a fearless nation, expelled from his territory and torn from Iulus embrace, let him plead for aid and see his friends cruelly slaughtered! …]

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 Dido has now even cottoned on to the fact that her earlier hope of Aeneas’ dying in a shipwreck was misplaced. She has acquired a good sense of what the fata entail. She realizes that she cannot prevent Aeneas from reaching Italy and fulfilling his destiny. But outside these basic plot patterns she can contribute her share towards making his life and the lives of some of his descendants truly wretched. Her curse comes true.

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 The acuity of Dido’s theological reflection remains remarkably high right up to her suicide. At Aeneid 4.651–53, in an address to the clothing Aeneas left behind, she even recognizes herself as a figure of fortuna and Aeneas as a figure of fate:[8]

72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 dulces exuuiae, dum fata deusque sinebat,

73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 accipite hanc animam meque his exsoluite curis.

74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 uixi et quem dederat cursum Fortuna peregi,

75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 et nunc magna mei sub terras ibit imago.

76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 [‘O relics once dear, while God and Fate allowed, take my spirit, and release me from my woes! My life is done and I have finished the course that Fortune gave; and now in majesty my shade shall pass beneath the earth.’]

76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 In the context of her curse, which includes an invocation of the Underworld divinities, her suicide doubles as a literal self-sacrifice along the lines of the Roman deuotio, one of the most striking religious rituals of the Roman republic.[9] The scene harks back to Virgil’s comments on Dido’s efforts to receive divine approval for a union with Aeneas in line 65–67. There the poet noted that, rather than seeking succour in conventional religious institutions and practices (delubra, uota) or tearing open the breasts of victims and inspecting animal entrails in order to figure out the future, Dido ought to consider what is eating away under her own breast, in her own innards. She herself, so Virgil intimates, is a sacrificial victim of sorts that contains within divine signs of events to come. In a perverse re-enactment of an animal sacrifice for the purpose of divination that also resembles the Roman deuotio-ritual, Dido finally opens herself up. Her suicide, which is preceded by a powerful invocation of the gods (not least those of the Underworld), countersigns her curse, and in and through her death she writes herself into the destiny of Aeneas and of Rome. Dido in and through her suicidal wrath thereby manages to shape the future in more powerful ways than she was ever able to accomplish with conventional prayers or sacrifices. In the end, then, she has come to understand, and accepts, the religious realities of Virgil’s brave new world as they are and becomes a frightfully efficacious agent within them.


77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 [1]
In Aeneid 4, some Olympian gods feature as agents in the narrative (notably Iris, Juno, Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus), some appear in other capacities. Apollo (at 4.143–49) and Bacchus (at 4.301–03) are the subjects of similes. Anna and Dido sacrifice to Juno (of course), but also Ceres, Apollo, and Dionysus (4.58–9). Dionysus/ Bacchus also receives allusive acknowledgement elsewhere and has anyway a pervasive, subliminal presence in the narrative. The Apollo-simile at 4.143–49, for instance, features many an incongruous touch that recalls Bacchus (see commentary ad loc.), and at 4.469 Virgil compares Dido’s deranged state of mind to that of ‘raving Pentheus’ as he sees the bands of the Bacchants (Euiadum ueluti demens uidet agmina Pentheus)—a line that gestures to tragedies, in the tradition of Euripides’ Bacchae, about the encounter between Dionysus and Pentheus, the king of Thebes, who fatally tries to thwart the triumphant homecoming of his divine cousin. (The allusion may be to a Roman adaptation, as opposed to the Greek original—or indeed to several plays, Greek and Latin, at once.) Book 4 is tragic terrain, after all, and it is therefore fitting that the patron deity of the genre should hover in the background of the action. Other aspects of Dionysus, in particular his association with Eastern luxury and Marc Antony, add further nuances of meaning, explored in more detail in the commentary.

78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 0 [2]
See the note in Goold’s Loeb edition (vol. 1, p. 471): ‘Before sacrifice a few hairs were plucked from the forehead of the victim, and as the dying were regarded as offerings to the nether gods, a similar custom was observed in their case. Proserpine evidently being unwilling to perform this service for the suicide Dido, Juno takes pity on her and sends Iris to do it.’

79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 [3]
For a brief survey of Rome’s civic religion, with much further bibliography, see Gildenhard (2011), pp. 246–54.

80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 [4]
See Essay 1: Content and Form on the destructive winds she unleashes in Book 1.

81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 [5]
See Gildenhard (2007), pp. 84–86 (for Ennius and his ‘republican’ conception of epic history in the Annals) and pp. 98–102 (for Virgil’s ‘Augustan’ conception of epic history in the Aeneid).

82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 [6]
See Essay 1: Content and Form.

83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 [7]
See 4.381–84: i, sequere Italiam uentis, pete regna per undas./ spero equidem mediis, si quid pia numina possunt,/ supplicia hausurum scopulis et nomine Dido/ saepe uocaturum (‘Go, make for Italy with the winds; seek your kingdom over the waves. Yet I trust, if the righteous gods have any power, that on the rocks midway you will drain the cup of vengeance and often call on Dido’s name’).

84 Leave a comment on paragraph 84 0 [8]
Cf. already 1.628–29, with its striking reminiscences of the proem: me quoque per multos similis fortuna labores/ iactatam hac demum uoluit consistere terra (‘Me, too, has a like fortune driven through many toils, and wanted that in this land I should at last find rest’).

85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 0 [9]
For a brief discussion see Gildenhard (2007), pp. 82–84. My argument is based on Flaig (1991). See in detail Panoussi (2009).

Source: http://aeneid4.theclassicslibrary.com/2012/11/30/religion/