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Verbal Artistry in Vergil: An Echo in Aeneid 1.613

After Aeneas has been revealed to Dido and has identified himself, she is in awe of the man, dumbstruck with wonder:

Obstipuit primo aspectu Sidonia Dido,
casu deinde viri tanto, et sic ore locuta est. (1.613-14)

The first word of the line assimilates her to Aeneas, who, when he saw that many of his companions had survived, was described thus:

Obstipuit simul ipse, simul percussus Achates
laetitiaque metuque… (1.513-14)

The similarity between the two passages is enhanced by what follows: in 517ff., a series of indirect questions (quae fortuna; quo litore; quid); in 615 ff., a series of direct questions (quis; quae vis; tune ille…).

The assimilation, though, is unsettling, for that first word, obstipuit, and the further parallel of questioning make Dido and Aeneas seem much closer than they actually are: Aeneas was dumbfounded at the survival of his friends, men with whom he had been close for a long time. Dido has never seen Aeneas before, and thus has no real bond with him whatsoever, and the closeness she desires with him (signaled by the echo?) will prove to be her undoing. And indeed, it may be that Vergil alerts the reader to that very fact here. For, immediately after the echo of obstipuit, in the same line-initial position, the first words that follow in 613 are primo aspectu; Vergil reminds us that Dido has never laid eyes upon Aeneas before, and perhaps indicates that we should notice the inconcinnity of the two figures despite the verbal resemblance.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Word-Order in Aeneid 1.584

After hearing the report of their Trojan companions, Achates impresses upon (compellat, 581) Aeneas that things stand as Venus had said, presumably because he believes it is time for them to be revealed (we know from 580-1 that they both were eager to become visible again). Here is what he says:

“Nate dea, quae nunc animo sententia surgit?

Omnia tuta vides, classem sociosque receptos.

Unus abest medio in fluctu quem vidimus ipsi

summersum; dictis respondent cetera matris.” (1.582-5)

The words medio in fluctu are placed oddly: they belong in the relative clause introduced by quem, but they have been pulled out of it. Why? For one thing, it serves to draw added attention to the one man who has been lost, Orontes, as does the enjambed summersum in the next line. Both are, in a sense, displaced, as was poor Orontes. Also, the word-order allows Vergil to put the phrase for the “middle” (of the wave) in the middle of the line. The elision of medio with in is also effective to mimic aurally the drowning of the man.

A couple of other notes: there is a nice contrast between line-initial omnia and unus in consecutive lines: “all are safe, one excepted.” The contrastive parallelism is accomplished also through the double use of videre: “you see all things safe [now], except for the one man we saw drowned [then].

Finally, there is a nice contrast between the quotation and its frame. The description of the death of Orontes has to do with concealing and disappearance (summersum). The quotation comes as a transition between the concealment of Aeneas and Acestes, who were already desiring to be revealed (jamdudum erumpere nubem/ardebant, 580-1), and their bursting into appearance from behind the cloud (repente/scindit se nubes et in aethera purgat apertum, 586-7). Within the quotation itself, the opinion of Aeneas “rises” (surgit) in contrast to Orontes, who sinks.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Place-Names in Aeneid 1.549-58

In his speech to Dido, the Trojan leader Ilioneus wonders aloud whether their king Aeneas (rex erat Aeneas nobis, 544) is still alive; if not, the Trojans would like to make their way to Sicily, where a group of Trojan exiles led by Acestes have settled. Here is part of his speech:

Sunt et Siculis regionibus urbes
armaque, Troianoque a sanguine clarus Acestes.               550
Quassatam ventis liceat subducere classem,
et silvis aptare trabes et stringere remos:
si datur Italiam, sociis et rege recepto,
tendere, ut Italiam laeti Latiumque petamus;
sin absumpta salus, et te, pater optime Teucrum,               555
pontus habet Libyae, nec spes iam restat Iuli,
at freta Sicaniae saltem sedesque paratas,
unde huc advecti, regemque petamus Acesten.’

The passage begins and ends with Sicily (549, 557) and Acestes (550, 558), with material about Italy sandwiched in between. The longing for Italy, which is primary, is brought out by the emphatic repetition of Italiam in the same case and same line position in two consecutive verses. If, however, their king is dead, sunk in the Libyan sea, they will go to Sicily and Acestes. These last two place names (Libyae, Sicaniae) are in the same line-position as Italiam (with the caveat that Libyae is only trisyllabic), and that serves to contrast them with the real goal: Italiam twice (primary goal, to be sought [petamus] and realized if [si, line-initial] their old king [rege] still lives); pontus Libyae (possible cause of disaster); freta Sicaniae (secondary goal, if [sin, line-initial] Aeneas has died, in which case they will seek [petamus] a new king [regem]).


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Elision in Aeneid 1.520

While Aeneas hides in a cloud, an embassy comes from other Trojan ships that, it turns out, hadn’t been lost after all. Their entry to the temple of Juno is described as follows:

Postquam introgressi et coram data copia fandi,

maximus Ilioneus placido sic pectore coepit…. (A. 1.520-1)

The blending of the first three words (postquintrogresset) gives a sound-picture of the men crossing the threshold, and the quickened pace at the end of the line (vv-vv-x), carried through to the next line, entirely dactylic except for the fourth foot, reminds the reader of their haste. Once again, sound and rhythm reinforce sense. Note that the -eu- in Ilioneus is a diphthong.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Allusion in Aeneid 1.498-504

As Dido enters the temple of Juno in Aeneid 1 she is likened in a simile to Diana (Artemis):

Qualis in Eurotae ripis aut per iuga Cynthi
exercet Diana choros, quam mille secutae
hinc atque hinc glomerantur Oreades; illa pharetram               500
fert umero, gradiensque deas supereminet omnis:
(Latonae tacitum pertemptant gaudia pectus):
talis erat Dido, talem se laeta ferebat
per medios, instans operi regnisque futuris.

Dido is like Diana leading the hunt as she proceeds carrying her quiver (pharetram), towering above the other goddesses. One cannot help but recall here the description of Venus disguised as a Tyrian huntress earlier in Book 1; for instance, she too carried a quiver (virginibus Tyriis mos est gestare pharetram, 336). She there presents herself as one of Dido’s subjects: she dwells in the Punic realms (Punica regna, 338; cf. regnis futuris, 504). Aeneas suspects from the beginning that she is a goddess (dea certe, 328), even thinking she might be Diana (an Phoebi soror?, 329). Diana in the simile is followed by Nymphs (Oreades, 500), while Aeneas previously thought Venus might be a nymph (an nympharum sanguinis una?, 329).

The irony is rich: Venus, an immortal, is likened in appearance within the poem to a mortal; Dido, a mortal, is likened by Vergil in a simile to an immortal, the same goddess for whom Aeneas had mistaken Venus; Venus-as-mortal is on a hunt; Dido-as-immortal is on a hunt; Venus presents herself as a  subject of Dido, though we know that Dido is and will be shown to be subject to Venus. The picture of Dido as chaste maiden strikes an odd note when one remembers what happens in the poem, just as the earlier picture of Venus did. Thus Dido is drawn into a symbolic connection to Venus, only for the dark irony of the connection to be exploited later.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Sense and Word-Choice in Aeneid 1.483-7

As Aeneas inspects the pictures in Juno’s temple, he sees Hector dragged three times around the walls of Troy by Achilles:

Ter circum Iliacos raptaverat Hectora muros
exanimumque auro corpus vendebat Achilles. (483-4)

Vergil describes Aeneas’ reaction thus:

Tum vero ingentem gemitum dat pectore ab imo,
ut spolia, ut currus, utque ipsum corpus amici
tendentemque manus Priamum conspexit inermis. (485-7)

The triple repetition of ut corresponds to the triple-sensed ter in 483. Aeneas sees Hector dragged three times around the walls and gives forth a groan as he sees the (1) spoils, (2), chariots, and (3) the body of his friend and Priam’s outstretched hands (these last two being joined after the third ut). Note the expansion in the third member (tricolon crescens). The verb is delayed to the last-but-one word, and that choice is important: delaying inermis, of Priam’s hands, increases pathos.

Aeneas’ groan is reminiscent of an earlier one, discussed here.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Alliteration in Aeneid 1:479-82

In Aeneid 1.479ff. we see the Trojans approaching the temple of Athena as depicted in the temple of Juno in Carthage:

Interea ad templum non aequae Palladis ibant
crinibus Iliades passis peplumque ferebant,               480
suppliciter tristes et tunsae pectora palmis;
diva solo fixos oculos aversa tenebat.

In these lines, pathos is effectively conveyed by the consistent repetition of the pathetic labial “p” sound alternating with the harsh sound of “s.” The “s” sounds strike me as particularly apt in passis (“disheveled”), describing the hair of the suppliant Trojan women. In 481, “p” is replaced briefly by “t” with “s”: the dental “t” represents the beating of the breasts, and plays off (again) the disconcerting “s” sounds. “S” is carried over into the final line cited, where it reinforces the harshness of the unresponsive Athena. One can hear this well by reading the line aloud.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Anaphora in Aeneid 1.421-29

After Venus departs, Aeneas continues on and climbs a hill, from where he can descry the building of Carthage. Vergil writes:

Miratur molem Aeneas, magalia quondam,
miratur portas strepitumque et strata viarum.
Instant ardentes Tyrii: pars ducere muros,
molirique arcem et manibus subvolvere saxa,
pars optare locum tecto et concludere sulco.               425
Iura magistratusque legunt sanctumque senatum;
hic portus alii effodiunt; hic alta theatris
fundamenta locant alii, immanisque columnas
rupibus excidunt, scaenis decora alta futuris.

Not all of the words in bold above are examples of anaphora but should just be classed as repetition more generally. They do, however, contribute to the overall effect. One gets the sense of several (related) things all going on at once, but taken in piece by piece. In that respect the effect is rather cinematic, as Aeneas takes in the scene before him–perhaps adverted to by the references to theatra and scaenae at the close of the description?

Finally, the use of alta twice in the same line-position but with different senses is a nice touch; it takes the view from the low (alta fundamenta) to the high (and future) (decora alta).


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Elision in Aeneid 1.389

In Aeneid 1.387-9 Venus begins her third address to Aeneas with instruction for him to betake himself to the palace of Dido. In 389, she says:

Perge modo atque hinc te reginae ad limina perfer.

The use of elision is very effective here to evoke the movement necessitated by her command. First, the connection of modo, atque, and hinc, and then that between reginae and ad. Four out of the line’s first seven words are elided, finally bringing the reader to the threshold (limina) of Dido’s palace.

The pressing character of the command is furthered by Vergil’s bracketing of the line with two disyllabic imperatives, both beginning with “p” (perge, perfer) and sharing the same prefix (per-). There is perhaps an etymological play, as well. Pergo is a compound of per and rego, the latter of which is picked up later in the line by reginae: “direct your way to the house of the regal one.” Ok, that’s pretty bad, but perhaps that gets something of the effect across.


Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Word-Order in Aeneid 1.371

Aeneas’ response to Venus’ queries in Aeneid 1 is introduced as follows:

…Quaerenti talibus ille

suspirans imoque trahens a pectore vocem. (A. 1.370-1)

The word-order reflects the process of Aeneas’ deep sigh issuing in speech. First, the breathing or sighing (suspirans, a word for drawing a deep breath); next, the word for the “deepest (part of the chest)”–the motion begins at the lowest point; then, the word for “drawing” (trahens), which gives the reader the sense of an upward motion; that motion comes “from the chest” (a pectore) as its point of departure; finally, the transition from sigh to speech as the line ends with vocem, from incoherent groaning to intelligibility. Immediately after vocem direct speech begins.

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