Originally Posted by rkomar
I think I read this in the Introduction to my translation (or maybe it was in Alberto Manguel's Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey), that Virgil pretty much put all the responsibility for the major actions on the deities, whereas the humans still had some responsibility in Homer's works. I've read the first five books in The Aeneid, and this really stands out to me so far. The humans are pretty low in initiative (except where the negative traits like greed or pride are involved), and seem to be nothing more than pawns, whether dutiful or roguish. I wonder if this was a prevailing view of the time, or if Virgil just uses it to bolster the idea of Rome's divine inception?
That's very interesting; I hadn't noticed but now that you mention it I can see it. Well, except for Dido's suicide, which "wasn't what the Fates had intended" even though the gods did cause her all-consuming passion. But for Aeneas, yes, certainly, especially his willingness to stick around Carthage for so long and then dump Dido and leave the moment he's told to.
Originally Posted by HarryT
...The story of Laocoon is a much older story than Virgil; Virgil certainly didn't make it up - he simply incorporates this old myth (as he did so many others) as an episode in the Aeneid. The best account we have of the original story is in the epic poem the "Posthomerica", by the 4th century Roman poet Quintus Smyrnaeus. In that original version, the serpents are sent by Athena who, as you'll remember from our reading of the Iliad, was supporting the Greek side in the Trojan war...
Ah, thanks; I should've known that it was yet another older myth added in.
Originally Posted by Bookpossum
I wondered about the artwork, though I don't think the actual fall of Troy was depicted was it? - just some scenes of parts of the story. My feeling is that the telescoping of time was just artistic licence on Virgil's part, in order to give an historic reason for the enmity between Rome and Carthage.
What did startle me on reading Book Four was that Dido came across as positively unhinged. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" I know, but for someone who supposedly loved Aeneas, she is extraordinarily vengeful. As soon as Mercury tells Aeneas that he must go, he knows Dido will be enraged, rather than distressed:
"... What can he dare say now
to the queen in all her fury and win her over?" (349-350)
And then when he is asleep on his ship, he dreams that someone like Mercury warns him:
"... That woman spawns her plots,
mulling over some desperate outrage in her heart" (702-3)
It seems to me that Virgil is excusing Aeneas' treatment of Dido by portraying her as someone positively dangerous from whom he needs to get away. However, given that he was ordered to go by Jupiter, the only reason for her portrayal has to be to explain the enmity between Carthage and Rome.
It's a long way from the beautiful, grief-filled lament "When I am laid in earth" from Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas".
I think I tend towards agreeing with you that the "time traveling" was more artistic license, though the writer of these annotations is certainly trying to convince me otherwise! He does give some other good evidence, such as, when Dido first starts wandering around madly after learning Aeneas will leave, Virgil describes Carthage as disappearing around her for a moment, which the annotation writer equates to Dido herself traveling through time and seeing the eventual fall of Carthage in her madness. It is interesting though to think how Virgil used Dido herself to represent the entire history of Carthage, with her death foreshadowing the death of Carthage itself.
I also think it's interesting how sympathetic Virgil is to Dido. He wants to use this whole section to foreshadow why the Romans and Carthage fought yet he seems taken in by Dido's story himself and can't help making her tragic and sympathetic to the point that it makes his argument for why Rome eventually fights against Carthage less convincing; one comes away more with the sense that Carthage itself has a tragic and undeserved fate. Perhaps that's what Virgil really felt anyway but couldn't write explicitly.
Dido is a fascinating character though. To survive all of what she did prior, to escape and found a city in a foreign hostile land and be its leader, and then to go mad over this and commit suicide. Really quite a life.