Saturday, July 19, 2014

Aeneas and Dardanus as fore-founders

A different account by Virgil in his Aeneid (3.163f), has Aeneas in a dream learn from his ancestral Penates that "Dardanus and Father Iasius" and the Penates themselves originally came from Hesperia, afterwards renamed as Italy. This tradition holds that Dardanus was a Tyrrhenian prince, and that his mother Electra was married to Corythus, king of Tarquinia. Dardanus
When Dido addresses Aeneas as "Dardanian" (Accipe, Dardanide, Ovid's Heroides 7), she is pointing unawares to the Aeneid's account of the pre-history of Troy and the Trojan race. Dardanus, according to Virgil, was not Phrygian, but Hesperian, i.e., of Italy. That is, the native soil of Aeneas's race lies not behind in the East, but ahead to the West. While to all appearances Dido's argument makes sense -- that he is leaving her for an unknown land, hostile and perhaps never to be found -- Aeneas is in fact enacting a giant fore-ordained circular return. Not the circle (with many tangents) of the single hero Odysseus, but a new Odyssey of a people that believe they are being uprooted from their homeland, but ultimately return to an anterior, more original, native ground.

Part of the irony of Dido's carmen is that it foresees for Aeneas mere meandering, error; Ovid's reader, thanks to the Virgilian frame, can find perfect, i.e. sacred geometry. At least, this is one way of reading Ovid's use of the Aeneid in Dido's letter. In other ways the letter is unfaithful to its Roman source, complicating our sense of the relationship between Ovid and his epic Augustan predecessor.

Ovid plays on the rich store of myth and epic as if it were a vast instrument. If we stay with Dardanus for a moment, we find that he is to Troy what Aeneas will be to Rome. Neither hero actually founded the city whose glory immortalizes their names. The city of Rome was founded by descendants of Dido's lover, many years after he reached Italy. Troy was founded, again according to legend, by Ilus, the brother of Ganymede and son of Tros, grandson of Dardanus (see genealogy chart here, and more about Troy here).

Aeneas and Dardanus are both fore-founders, reminding us that even in legend it can take many generations for a great and sacred city to come to be. This historical duration stands in contrast to the astonishing speed with which Dido has brought Carthage to life. Here's Aeneas's first view of Troy, culminating in the epic simile of the bees, a potent image for Virgil and for Rome:
They climb the next ascent, and, looking down,
Now at a nearer distance view the town.
The prince [Aeneas]with wonder sees the stately tow'rs,
Which late were huts and shepherds' homely bow'rs,
The gates and streets; and hears, from ev'ry part,
The noise and busy concourse of the mart.
The toiling Tyrians on each other call
To ply their labor: some extend the wall;
Some build the citadel; the brawny throng
Or dig, or push unwieldly stones along.
Some for their dwellings choose a spot of ground,
Which, first design'd, with ditches they surround.
Some laws ordain; and some attend the choice
Of holy senates, and elect by voice.
Here some design a mole, while others there
Lay deep foundations for a theater;
From marble quarries mighty columns hew,
For ornaments of scenes, and future view.
Such is their toil, and such their busy pains,
As exercise the bees in flow'ry plains,
When winter past, and summer scarce begun,
Invites them forth to labor in the sun;
Some lead their youth abroad, while some condense
Their liquid store, and some in cells dispense;
Some at the gate stand ready to receive
The golden burthen, and their friends relieve;
All with united force, combine to drive
The lazy drones from the laborious hive:
With envy stung, they view each other's deeds;
The fragrant work with diligence proceeds.
“Thrice happy you, whose walls already rise!”
Aeneas said, and view'd, with lifted eyes,
Their lofty tow'rs; then, entiring at the gate,
Conceal'd in clouds (prodigious to relate)
He mix'd, unmark'd, among the busy throng,
Borne by the tide, and pass'd unseen along.

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