Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Giving and taking: Heroides 7 (III)

Mortal action in the ancient epic world is shrouded in murk. Even chosen sons of goddesses like Aeneas have very little notion of what they are doing, or why.

After the Juno-sent rain that brought Aeneas and Dido into the cave, and into what Dido called "coniugium," Jupiter sends Mercury to prompt the Trojan, clarifying his task:
Not such the man
his beauteous mother promised; not for this
twice did she [Venus] shield him from the Greeks in arms:
but that he might rule Italy, a land
pregnant with thrones and echoing with war;
that he of Teucer's seed a race should sire,
and bring beneath its law the whole wide world.
If such a glory and event supreme
enkindle not his bosom; if such task
to his own honor speak not; can the sire
begrudge Ascanius the heritage
of the proud name of Rome?
Non illum nobis genetrix pulcherrima talem
promisit, Graiumque ideo bis vindicat armis;
sed fore, qui gravidam imperiis belloque frementem
Italiam regeret, genus alto a sanguine Teucri
proderet, ac totum sub leges mitteret orbem.
Si nulla accendit tantarum gloria rerum,
nec super ipse sua molitur laude laborem,
Ascanione pater Romanas invidet arces?
Mercury arrives, and:
                                   he saw
Aeneas building at a citadel,
and founding walls and towers; at his side
was girt a blade a-glitter with yellow jaspers

A decorative blade. Virgil's word, stellatus, suggests something studded or bejeweled, in which decor exceeds utility. Clearly not the warrior's. Neither Virgil nor Ovid depict the lovers' exchange of swords, but we need not look far in Heroides 7 for Aeneas's: his sword lies naked, as they say, in Dido's lap:
Adspicias utinamquae sit scribentis imago!     
Scribimuset gremio Troicus ensis adest 
O that you could represent me to yourself as writing this letter!
I write, and on my lap lies a drawn sword.
"How well" -- the irony is palpable -- "are your gifts fitted to my destiny!"
Quam bene conveniunt fato tua munera nostro!
The sword is indeed fitted to the destiny of a queen who, as powerful precursor of Aeneas, has accomplished that which he has yet to do. Bestowing her achievement and her pretty sword upon him, giving him Lordship of her world, un-Aeneases him.

When it becomes clear that Aeneas is leaving ("duty calls"), Dido turns his sword against herself. She takes his gift -- a symbol of his power and willingness to protect her -- and uses it not symbolically, but materially -- as a knife. If the symbolic aura of the gift doesn't apply, then its actual heft can, and will.

Readers of Ovid are familiar with this sort of metamorphosis: a symbolic gift suddenly loses its aura (exchange value, meaning) and "fits" (convenio) another use. The gift takes her life (use value, force), and that of their child. In this case, the sword un-Didos Dido when her Aeneas-annihilating gift is not accepted. There's no middle ground with double-edged gifts.

Of course Dido doesn't perish before leaving Aeneas a gift in turn -- a carmen. We'll turn to it in a coda to this overlong analysis.

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.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Heroides 7: Giving and taking (I)

Wherever Odysseus went, the people he visited believed themselves the very center of the world. But all these lands are on the margins of his world. When he does return to Ithaka, it is with tongue in cheek that Athena greets him, pretending to be a young man who, were there an Ithakan Chamber of Commerce, would be its biggest booster.
“A fool art thou, stranger, or art come from far, if indeed thou askest of this land. Surely it is no wise so nameless, but full many know it." More here.
Yet the isle is in fact the center of Odysseus's world.

Ovid invokes the figure of Odysseus and his wanderings in Heroides 7:
I was wafted to an unknown coast; and, having thus escaped from the cruelty of my brother and the dangers of the sea, I purchased the lands which I have made over to you. I built a city, and marked out my walls to such an extent, as to raise the envy of the neighbouring states. 
Wars threaten me, though a helpless woman. I prepare to carry on a war with strangers, and with difficulty fortify my new city, and arm my troops. A thousand rivals make pretensions to my love, who all join in complaining, that they are slighted for the sake of this stranger.
In this brief passage, Dido is both a latter-day Odysseus and Penelope. In her similarity to Odysseus, she is, of course, also a prototype of Aeneas. She has already been Aeneas, and has accomplished what he has yet to begin, and in that moment of what has already been done, she turns into the besieged, waiting wife, fighting off suitors, awaiting (perhaps gratuitiously) the return of her man to maintain control. Dido encompasses the whole of epic wandering and resolution, offering Aeneas the gift of simply accepting the fruits of her labor, the world she has already made.
Facta fugisfacienda petis;
You flee what’s done, you seek what is to do
 This doesn't leave an epic hero much room for action. Dido is, in all, a giver; all she asks of Aeneas is "Accipe."

She runs through a litany of gifts, and of reasons for Aeneas to accept them: the safety of his people, his son, his Penates and an unborn child; the love Dido and he shared; her need for help ruling and building her new kingdom; the elimination of risk at sea and avoidance of future wars in Italy; the promise of a throne shared and raised to eminence and empire by two lovers; the prospect of a long line of descendant kings; the reality of present security versus future uncertainty. In short, she offers him a complete solution, a vast abbreviation of the epic quest, and the love of a queen as well.

As anyone who has dealt with gifts (even when borne by people other than Greeks) knows, a gift often comes with any number of concatenated conditions, provisos, expectations and ultimatums. The finer the gift, the more of these implicated eventualities one can expect to find. In this way, a gift is not so much an outright thing being transferred, like a piece of property. Rather it's more like a species of contract: "I promise to give you this IF you in turn give me that." To accept a gift is not simply a passive fact. It can be less a matter of simply and graciously saying "Thanks," and more a matter of actively entering into an implicit agreement whose fine print is likely to be neither brief nor entirely legible. Giving, in other words, has deep symmetries with taking.

-- to be continued . . .

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Turns of Troy

Motifs associated with Troy lingered in the lore of Europe well into the middle ages.  The meander above might have little to do with Heroides 7, but it's interesting in its own right:
Many turf mazes in England were named Troy Town, Troy-town or variations on that theme (such as Troy, The City of Troy, Troy's Walls, Troy's Hoy, or The Walls of Troy) presumably because, in popular legend, the walls of the city of Troy were constructed in such a confusing and complex way that any enemy who entered them would be unable to find his way out. Welsh hilltop turf mazes (none of which now exist) were called "Caerdroia", which can be translated as "City of Troy" (or perhaps "castle of turns"). More.

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.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Contrast: Models of vengeance for Virgil's Dido

It can be illuminating to see how different Virgil's Dido is from Ovid's heroine.

The Carthaginian queen's last speech in Aeneid 4 draws upon some of the most violent myths and scenes of tragedy for a few of its purple patches.

Procne avenging Tereus's rape of Philmela; Agave tearing apart her son Pentheus; Medea killing her baby brother to help Jason escape her father's wrath; Medea killing her children by Jason to avenge herself him; Hecuba avenging the deaths of her children upon Polymestor -- all stories told or alluded to in Ovid's Metamorphoses.

...Why dared I not seize on him, rend his body limb from limb, and hurl him piecemeal on the rolling sea?
Or put his troop of followers to the sword,
Ascanius too, and set his flesh before
that father for a feast?

 ... Would I had attacked their camp with torches, kindled flame from ship to ship, until that son and sire, with that whole tribe, were unto ashes burned in one huge holocaust—myself its crown!

Dido evokes these horrific tales, but acts on none. Her prayer culminates in that final curse calling for everlasting enmity between her people and the descendants of Aeneas:

....This dying word is flowing from my heart
with my spilt blood. And—O ye Tyrians! I
sting with your hatred all his seed and tribe
forevermore. This is the offering
my ashes ask. Betwixt our nations twain,
No love! No truce or amity! Arise,
Out of my dust, unknown Avenger, rise!
To harry and lay waste with sword and flame
those Dardan settlers, and to vex them sore,
to-day, to-morrow, and as long as power
is thine to use! My dying curse arrays
shore against shore and the opposing seas
in shock of arms with arms. May living foes
pass down from sire to son insatiate war!”

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Dido's swan and Zeus's eagle

[A few changes and additions come toward the end of this.]

The last time I looked, Perseus's bi-lingual edition of the Heroides was not accessible, but it now is.

The English translations (by R. Ehwald from 1907) begin here with Penelope, with notes and Latin to the right. If you wish to have the Latin on the left, start here. Dido's letter to Aeneas is in English here on Perseus, and Margaret has found another translation of the letter by Prof. Miceal F. Vaughan.

The Perseus edition (as well as the Loeb) reject the first two lines because, as the notes indicate, they do not appear in the "best editions:"
Accipe, Dardanide, moriturae carmen Elissae;
quae legis a nobis ultima verba legis.
Dardanian, receive this song of dying Elissa:
what you read are the last words written by me. 

Without the first couplet, this would be the first of the Heroides not to identify either the sender or the addressee at the outset. The letter might seem to open abruptly:
Sic ubi fata vocant, udis abiectus in herbis
ad vada Maeandri concinit albus olor.
At fate’s call, the white swan, despondent on the grass,
sings, like this, to the waters of Maeander.
In either case, what we can say is that Dido invokes the swan and the river Maeander. (Interestingly, Dido means "to wander," as does Maeander). A little Googling makes it clear that this will be an elegy, a song of a dying singer, and that the swan of the Maeander, by tradition, was none other than Homer. The poet of epic song is here invoked by a character who, in seeking to persuade Aeneas to end his epic quest, would, if successful, put an end to the epic of Rome.

It is consistent with other key moments in Ovid's work that the course of history is determined by words, persuasion, a speech act. The fate of Augustus' empire hinges on which death Dido/Elissa's song ends in: that of the singer, or of the Aenead.

We can contrast Dido's bird with the eagle of Pythian I:
And the eagle sleeps on the scepter of Zeus, relaxing his swift wings on either side, the king of birds; and you pour down a dark mist over his curved head, a sweet seal on his eyelids. Slumbering, he ripples his liquid back under the spell of your pulsing notes.[10]
The eagle is charmed thanks to the persuasion [πείθονται] of the notes of the golden lyre.

If Dido's song will end in her death due to its failure to persuade Aeneas to remain in Carthage, Pindar's eagle, normally vigilant on Zeus's scepter, is lulled to sweet sleep thanks to music. The poet of grand feats of mortal excellence attributes a power to music that lulls even the god of war:
Even powerful Ares, setting aside the rough spear-point, warms his heart in repose;
The power of the Muses to overcome all is Pindar's claim. The failure of compelling arguments -- the promise of her love, of royal power, of the end of questing -- is the matter of Dido's song.
Nec nova Carthago, nec te crescentia tangunt
Moenia nec sceptro tradita summa tuo?
Neither my new-built Carthage and her rising walls have power to detain you; nor the supreme rule, which you are in vain urged to accept.
With Ovidian concision, she summarizes the boundless futurity of the quest in four words:
Facta fugis, facienda petis;

You flee what’s done, you seek what is to do:
Dido contends with the faint, far-off promise of Rome, which she counters with the much more richly realized promise of Carthage. The domus, the enclosed domestic world, is already here, she tells the man looking to the open sea.

Ultimately -- beyond the distant birth of Rome -- the failure of Dido's song awakens a martial conflict that ends -- can only end -- in the annihilation of an empire.

Some background on Dido here and here might be helpful.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Songs and Letters: Pindar and Ovid

I've come away from our reading of Pindar's Olympian I and Ovid's Heroides I with a stronger and clearer sense of major differences between the Greek ode and the Latin elegiac verse.

The differences run the gamut from choice of theme and tone to formal features such as meter and the level of diction. 

The Ode addresses a god, hero, or man (or all three) in heightened speech, language under the pressure of the Muse. It concerns high exploits, great achievements, along with matters of public conduct, statecraft, and ethics, all couched within a kind of explosion of mythological reference, shifts of thought, time and place so highly charged one sort of has to hang on to the poet's speeding chariot for dear life, and hope to enjoy the ride. 

Pindar never used the same meter twice; he mixed dialects and brought past and present into his Odes -- and though they seem not to obey any rule, they are in fact intricate mirroring tripartite structures of strophes, antistrophes and epodes. And whatever else an ode deals with, it performs the power of voice: poetic creation, rhythm, and utterance:
Golden lyre, rightful joint possession of Apollo and the violet-haired Muses, to which the dance-step listens, the beginning of splendid festivity; and singers obey your notes, whenever, with your quivering strings, you prepare to strike up chorus-leading preludes. [5] You quench even the warlike thunderbolt of everlasting fire. And the eagle sleeps on the scepter of Zeus, relaxing his swift wings on either side, the king of birds; and you pour down a dark mist over his curved head, a sweet seal on his eyelids. Slumbering, he ripples his liquid back, [10] under the spell of your pulsing notes. Even powerful Ares, setting aside the rough spear-point, warms his heart in repose; your shafts charm the minds even of the gods, by virtue of the skill of Leto's son and the deep-bosomed Muses. Pythian I.

Muse playing

In contrast to this high athleticism of the voice in the ode, Ovid's Heroides are letters -- composed, subtle arguments from one who loves to one who is loved. The meter of choice is the elegiac couplet.

Each couplet consist of a hexameter verse followed by a pentameter verse. The following is a graphic representation of its scansion. Note that - is a long syllable, u a short syllable, and U is either one long syllable or two short syllables:
- U | - U | - U | - U | - u u | - -
- U | - U | - || - u u | - u u | -
The form was felt by the ancients to contrast the rising action of the first verse with a falling quality in the second. The sentiment is summarized in a line from Ovid's Amores I.1.27: 
"Let my work rise in six steps, fall back in five."
Sex mihi surgat opus numeris, in quinque residat 
The effect is illustrated by Coleridge as:
In the hexameter rises the fountain's silvery column
In the pentameter aye falling in melody back.

Dido and Aeneas - Thomas Jones

So Dido in the seventh of Ovid's Heroides opens her letter to Aeneas:
Accipe, Dardanide, moriturae carmen Elissae;
     quae legis a nobis ultima verba legi.
Sic ubi fata vocant, udis abiectus in herbis
     ad vada Maeandri concinit albus olor.
Dardanian, receive this song of dying Elissa:
what you read are the last words written by me.
At fate’s call, the white swan, despondent on the grass,
sings, like this, to the waters of Maeander.

Though a queen is writing, this is not public oratory or song, but personal speech imprinted with one woman's emotion, personal history, passionate temperament, and pride of place.

We will want to explore in more detail how each of these forms - ode and epistle - use myth and prior poetry to build meaning. As Penelope used the Iliad, Odyssey and Pindar for her letter, what better text for Dido/Elissa than the epic of Rome?  How does the heroic world of the Greeks and Romans, Trojans and Carthaginians fare when viewed through the lens of Ovid's Heroides?

A few links:
Complete Virgil in English, translated by the irrepressible Tony Kline.
Aeneid - English and Latin (Perseus)
Aeneid Book IV in English (Kline)