Sunday, July 27, 2014

Heroides 7: Giving and taking (II)

The previous post offered the notion that Dido's passion for Aeneas issues in a mode of giving that is complex, implicative, and carries the power of a taking. Ovid is entirely coherent in depicting this symmetrical model of giving in his Heroides 7, which begins, Accipe, Dardanide.

What does Dido ask of Aeneas in return for her gift? At first blush, she appears to ask nothing more than what any author asks -- to be read. What she is giving in the opening lines is her carmen (song, charm), the last words, in writing, of the dying author. She has no hope of his accepting what she had offered him -- everything, basically -- though at moments she'll seem to waver. After losing all, a few words is a light thing:
Sed merita et famam corpusque animumque pudicum     
Cum male perdiderimperdere verba leve est.
But since I may have wholly lost my name for merit
and for modesty of body and soul, to lose words is little.
Within her carmen, Dido details all the things the Trojan prince has refused. And, she says,
Urorut inducto ceratae sulpure taedae,     
Ut pia fumosis addita tura focis.
I burn like waxen torches smeared with sulphur,
or pious incense cast into the smoking censer.
As she runs through her arguments, her reasonings and pleadings, Dido is also building inferential reckonings. If Aeneas leaves in midwinter on stormy seas, it is because he must hate her so much as to prefer death to staying with her. And, if his ship sinks, he'll have quite a lot on his plate:
Wicked man, you abandon both pregnant Dido
and that part of you hidden enclosed by my body.
You add the infant’s death to the unhappy mother’s,
and you’ll be author of the funeral of your unborn child. (133-ff)
The tacit perils of gift reciprocity are played out in Dido's gift of herself in the cave. Aeneas, until this moment unaware of the fruit of their amor, now knows and must reckon with the embryonic result of acceptance.


Her impetuous generosity stands in marked contrast to his refusal to even say farewell:
When the waves had thrown you on the shore, I welcomed you to my kingdom, and entrusted you with the government, scarcely knowing even your name.  (Vixque bene audito nomine regna dedi.)
Readers of the Aeneid are well aware of the source of Dido's burning and of her impetuosity: Hera and Venus and Cupid were employing all the powers of amor to ensure that Dido didn't harm Aeneas. But the rapidity of Dido's offering to share her rule with a man she's barely met again stands in contrast to the painstaking, slow labor, the work (opus) that makes something not because it is desired, but because it is necessary and right.

Amor vincit omnia - Caravaggio
Ovid is playing upon key Virgilian themes. The pastoral poet of the Eclogues has a character sing:
Omnia vincit Amor; et nos cedamus Amori. (Eclogue 10, 69)
"Love conquers all; let us all yield to love."
The more mature Virgil of the Georgics, the poem of humans working the Earth, sings another tune though he echoes the pastoral:
labor omnia uicit
improbus et duris urgens in rebus egestas.
"Work conquered all;
unrelenting toil, and need that pinches when life is hard." (Georgics I. 145-6)
Dido moves with the magical facility of love, and with her love for Aeneas come promises to remove all labor from his future. The hero is faced with a temptation familiar to Odysseus living at ease with Calypso: do I remain inert -- charmed by passion, passivity and luxury, an adjunct to the mistress of the house -- or do I claw my way back to Ithaka and Penelope?

Let's recall one more famous Virgilian line about labor. When Aeneas prepares to descend to the Underworld, the Sibyl tells him:
facilis descensus Averno;
noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est.
"The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labor lies."
The facility of eros seems to produce spectacular wonders with dreamlike ease. Returning from those dreams takes work, persistent intentional application. Dido's letter to Aeneas is rife with the tension between amor and labor, ease and drive, closure and open-ended challenge, dream and waking, shadow and substance, id and superego.

Dido has everything to offer, and willingly gives it. She doesn't even ask for marriage:
Si pudet uxorisnon nuptased hospita dicar;
Dum tua sitDido quidlibet esse feret.
If it’s shameful to marry me, call me not wife, but hostess:
so long as Dido is yours, Dido will endure anything. (167-68)
The carmen that was simply to be lost words here is still negotiating, still claiming that no claims upon Aeneas will accompany the gifts of Dido. This is rather late in the letter. She will in a moment turn to asking him just to stay tempora parva, until the season proper for sailing - a small respite:
Pro meritis et siqua tibi debebimus ultra,
Pro spe coniugii tempora parva peto
Dum freta mitescunt et amor, dum tempore et usu
Fortiter edisco tristia posse pati.
I also ask a small respite, if I have any merit with you; if you value my love, or the ties by which I am yours; that the waves and my love may assuage; that by time and use I may learn to bear my sorrows with fortitude.
 The request for respite comes with a "si minus" -- "if not."

She writes -
Si minusest animus nobis effundere vitam;     
In me crudelis non potes esse diu.
If not, I will end my misery with my life; nor shall it be long in your power to use me thus barbarously.
Why does Aeneas leave? Consider this: between Dido's center and his, no symmetry or reciprocal relation is possible. Where Dido, whose name means wandering, sees only a meandering world of chance, Aeneas is burdened with purpose that admits of virtually no deviation from the mission -- every part of his journey, even when not immediately apparent, belongs to an ineluctable line culminating in a new city, a new people, a new kind of world.

Yet the line from Troy to Rome will, if one believes the legend of Dardanus, prove to be a circle, or perhaps a spiral. A going forward that is in fact a return to an earlier, happier place. Nothing of this is in evidence for Dido or Aeneas or anyone else to witness. But potent forces are moving this along, as Virgil's poem shows in abundant detail.

Seeing no reason to believe Aeneas has a future, Dido's gift encloses one condition that eclipses all else: the requirement that Aeneas abandon the shaping hypothesis of his life, the burdensome quest. She who is building a center to anchor her spatially in a wandering world asks that he give up his center, which exists only in a clouded negation of the present. Her gift demands he exchange his future, a temporal center, so that he can orbit the axis of her rising city (a circle that has him going nowhere).

In Dido's dream of a joined house, the wars of Aeneas and Iulus's future, upon which so much will hang, are reduced to a kind of unreal pastime, indulged in for pleasure:
Si tibi mens avida est belli, si quaerit Iulus,
Unde suo partus Marte triumphus eat,
Quem superet, nequid desit,praebebimus hostem;
If you are fond of war, if Iulus is impatient to gather laurels in the field; that every thing may be to your wish, he shall find foes to conquer.
Instead of authoring their own future, Aeneas and Iulus will play in Dido's sandbox.

What makes leaving more difficult for Aeneas, as Virgil's epic makes clear, is that he as yet has no clear idea of where he's going, or why, or how.
  et magno persentit pectore curas;
mens immota manet, lacrimae volvuntur inanes. (Aeneid 4, 449-50)
in his mighty heart, he feels the thrill of grief;
steadfast stands his mind; the tears fall in vain.
 He'll understand more after his descent to the Underworld, but at this point, as he rushes to get his fractured fleet moving, he is transfixed by amor and labor.

to be concluded . . .

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