Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Aeneid...so far...Books I and II.

My reading is definitely slower going than I thought it would be. In fact, not since I was taking ambien in my late pregnancy has anything had such a soporific effect on me--not because it's boring, but because it's hard. I read a page or two, and think, wait a minute, "I think someone's life just came and went in those two lines back there."

So I was having a little trouble putting this into context at first. Is it to be read as a history, as myth, as politics, or as poetry? I finally decided I needed some help, and looked it up in my Reader's Encyclopedia, which says it was commissioned by Octavius Caesar in order to justify the lineage of the Roman people back to Iulus (Aeneas's son), and glorify their Trojan heritage. Not to undervalue the poetic aspect of the writing, while a lot of it reads like, "and then I did this, then this, then this," there were a few lines here and there that rang out as beautifully significant to me.

So Book I finds Aeneas fleeing Troy with a group of followers. With the help of his mother, Venus, he finds his way to Carthage where Queen Dido welcomes him and falls in love with him. We find out in Book II all that came before his arriving in Carthage, how they fall prey to the Trojan horse and Troy burns, how he carries his father and his young son out of the burning city, and how his wife mysteriously died as they were fleeing. I found it useful to read the Wiki article on The Aeneid to make sure I was following the plot. Because I think what's most challenging in the reading is the jumping back and forth between the mortal dramas and the divine dramas.

There are almost two plots going at once. The plot of the gods has Juno upset that Aeneas will eventually overthrow her cherished minions, and Venus appealing to Jupiter to make Juno leave off her dear son. I loved the familial drama of the gods: a mother's love for her son, a father's (Jupiter) love for his daughter (Venus). When Jupiter calms his daughter he lets her know that Aeneas will be fine, "Unfolding secret fated things to come--" (ll. 260). I couldn't help comparing: "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed-- ... "

Aeneas does seem to pre-figure Christ somehow, to at least be a manifestation of the longing for a Messiah, a child of the gods, intent on his mission, a man apart, who will save the good lineage, and set the foundation for a victorious people. All that said, Aeneas is a little flat. He shows familial loyalty to his father and family, and he is dedicated to carrying on his race, which I suppose is necessary for the poem to do what it was commissioned to do. But as a hero, I'm not really feeling the love for Aeneas.

The one I love is Juno with her "eternal inward wound," her frustration of having to deal with these people over and over again, ("Give up what I began? Am I defeated?" ll. 36-37), and her feeling unappreciated, ("Who adores the power of Juno after this or lays an offering with prayer upon her altar?" --ll. 49-51). Hits a little too close to home.

So actually, this is mostly book I for tonight, but I've got to go to bed. So what do you think? Of course, for me to enjoy reading this book, I have to put it into the context of Christianity and motherhood. I find it encouraging, at least, that humanity has felt these emotions since the beginning of time.

Also of note: Aeneas's frustration with his mother for appearing to him under a disguise, making sense of the actions of a hidden god.

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