Introduction (by Aubree Heydrick)Edit

Georgia Nugent’s interpretation of women in the Aeneid provides interesting reasoning for the strong influence of female characters throughout the epic despite their relative lack of physical presence. Her techniques (juxtaposition of key scenarios, identifying critical words for emphasis or imagery, finding patterns and motifs, and allusions to other epics) are very relevant to some of the other approaches in the other reports. For example, Denis Feeney’s article on Aeneid 10: Epic Violence also interprets the themes and motifs in Book X to demonstrate the “epic norms” consistent in the Aeneid. These “epic norms” – epic savagery, divine council, and epic cataloguing – exemplify allusions to other epics such as the Iliad, Odyssey, and Metamorphoses and helps us to better understand and interpret the Aeneid as a whole. Another similarity occurs in relation to William Anderson’s article on Aeneid 11: The Saddest Book in which his main technique shows how the usage and frequency of words (or in Nugent’s words, emphasis and patterns) sets Book XI up for being the “saddest” book in the Aeneid. With these techniques occurring as a similar method of interpretation, but each being applied to different aspects of the Aeneid, it is clear that Nugent’s insights are both strong and applicable.

However, there is one particular aspect that Nugent doesn’t consider which I think would have been very interesting in relation to women in the Aeneid, and that is whether or not there are any biographical influences from Vergil’s life in his female characters. This concept is touched upon by Susan Ford Wiltshire’s article on Aeneid 9: Aeneas and Absence, though it focuses on the Aeneid as a whole as opposed to just the female characters. Although the lack of such consideration does not make Nugent’s arguments any less effective, it incites an interesting theory that might have changed the implications of other parts of the Aeneid for some readers. Comparing this to my own report on Sara Mack’s The Birth of War: A Reading of Aeneid 7, I thought it was really interesting how different conclusions were made about the role of women in the epic. While Nugent remarks how women have a stronger voice in the Aeneid at the price of a devalued and diminished physical presence, as James said, Mack believes that the key to understanding Book VII of the epic lies in the fact that the presence of women is abundant in that section. These varying pieces of evidence, though supporting the same conclusion, are interesting to consider in relation to the Aeneid as a whole.

Georgia Nugent's Interpretation of Women in the AeneidEdit

From Seneca Falls to NOW...and Back to Antiquity? Feminism and the AeneidEdit

The spirit of women in the Aeneid, according to S. Georgia Nugent, is one devoid of physical presence but resonates with vocal remnants. One of the greatest threats to the “Roman project,” Dido in turn becomes the figure of sympathetic tragedy consuming the majority of the reader’s attention (252). Nugent argues that Dido’s rejection, yet unforgotten presence, in the Aeneid serves as a method for representing all women as elusive yet vital characters. Their frequent, aimlessly tragic sufferings are distinguished from the purposeful, bearable hardships of their male counterparts often compelling them to unleash their uncontrollable pain. Vergil’s women illustrate challenges to the dominant voice of male piety affirming the divine by refusing their traditionally passive roles in society, and instead, striving for other ones like becoming leaders or warriors. Each woman’s departure from the physical yet transient world to the metaphysical unfairly leaves nothing but words and memories to capture their true being. Presented out of focus from Aeneid’s virtues, the women necessarily create their own presence under Vergil’s voice, compelling us to sympathize with them.

Nugent's Recipe to Intelligent InterpretationEdit

Nugent’s chief insights are results of a specific method of intelligent interpretation through certain close reading techniques. These techniques are: juxtaposing key scenarios, identifying critical words for their emphasis or imagery, finding patterns or motifs, and making allusions to other epics. The combination of these techniques, though not so sophisticated, equipped Nugent with the necessary skills to carefully analyze parts of the Aeneid concerning mortal women. I think these were the ingredients to her final recipe: the argument for women having a stronger voice at the price of their devalued, and diminished, physical presence throughout the epic.

Compare & ContrastEdit

The most powerful technique Nugent used was juxtaposing certain themes between males and females in the Aeneid to make her points. For example, Nugent analyzes how both, Euryalus’ mother and Evander, father of Pallas cope with the loss of their beloved sons. Nugent first notices that Euryalus’ mother’s name is not even mentioned in Book 9, only mater misera (9.216) assigning her a sense of unworthy detachment and sorrow. Evander, unlike the mother, was aware of his son setting off to fulfill his duty in war. The mother’s ignorance of her son’s decision to fight ended at the awful sight of her son’s head dripping with blood and innards making her amens (9.478) and femineo ululatu (9.477), which if pronounced sounds like one is crying or wailing. Meanwhile Evander is greeted with a funeral procession for his deceased son. He too grieves but his knowing the possibility of his son’s death and the nature of war leads him to understand the role his son played when he claims in 11.164-66, nec vos arguerim, Teucri, nec foedera nec quas iunximus hospito dextras. Eurylas’ mother becomes deranged and blood-raged on a destructive path while Evander calmly accepts this tragedy and turns his lamentation into a rallying cry (257).


Nugent utilizes the variety of word choice in the passages contrasting men and women to aid her understanding of this “refusal” she mentions. In 4.361 Nugent notices Aeneas is admitting Italiam non sponte sequor while Dido, in 1.364, is made dux femina illustrating how Dido lives her life to be examples of rejecting the way of the gods that Aeneas humbly accepts. In similar regard to this idea of rejecting the social norm, Camilla non illa colo calathisve Minervae/ femineas adsueta manus, sed proelia virgo /dura pati (7.805). She did not accustom her girlish hands to weaving, but instead, a virgin, she endured harsh battle. Camilla, despite her girlish hands suited for weaving, took up a calling unnatural and innovative to her and she, as an innocent and untouched girl, experienced the hardships of battle. This is an example of the nontraditional female behavior resisting to predetermination, whether by the gods or social norms, that contrasts the typical male protagonist who piously fulfills his destiny (261).

Motifs & AllusionsEdit

We also see the use of motif identification and allusion in her analysis of women as “transient sojourners in the material world” (264). The reoccurring motif is women being forgotten in the backdrop of critical scenes. For example, Nugent discusses when Aeneas flees Troy with his father over his shoulder and son in his hand he abandons his wife, unsurprisingly unnamed at first, following at a distance (et longe servet vestigial conjunx 2.711). She goes from being left behind to being completely forgotten. And when he realizes she is gone he returns for her only to find her again in the city in some mysterious state where she vanishes after talking to him. Thus, Cruesa transforms from an actual being to some incorporeal entity. We see the same thing with Amata, Latinus’ queen, who mistakenly believes her champion, Turnus, has died. In response to her false belief she hangs herself and we hear nothing more of her body. In Vergil’s mind, she vanishes and the people around her hear about it as some fama 12.608. She meets a quick departure and Nugent uses allusions to complement this by mentioning the self-hangings of three women in Greek tragedy whose bodies were all embraced by their loved ones but Amata’s lifeless body has no meaning like in these other cases. Vergil giving Amata a swifter departure is something to note (267).

Our Time to Cook Up InterpretationsEdit

What then can we make of Nugent’s insight to the Aeneid as a whole? In general, we can take away a sense of alternate meaning from analyzing the cases she presents. Rather than settle on the notion that the gods have manipulated the paths of humans, a prevalent theme in the poem and Roman society, the evidence supporting the women challenging their traditional roles in the text encourages the readers down a path untilled by the gods. Is it possible that Vergil’s mentioning of the mortal women is a guide; claiming it is possible to live a life independent of divine intervention. Furthermore, does the choice of using women as a means to express this attest to the strength of the voice women have throughout the Aeneid as a whole? It very well might. We also need to ask ourselves, what does a specific scenario say about the bigger picture? Using the techniques used by Nugent, we can analyze specific cases of other women, despite their immortal trait. And if we find differences in our analysis perhaps this sheds light on the relationship between the mortals and immortals throughout the Aeneid.

Allecto's Cruel Tricks, Case-in-Point?Edit

Beginning at 7.450 we read about Allecto pursuing the task of turning the Latins and Trojans against each other. Allecto enchants Queen Amata forcing her to rage hysterically throughout the city and call upon Bacchus. Allecto also visits Turnus and instills a deep fear within him forcing him to accept the divinity’s request to call his soldiers to arms against Aeneas. This fits a theme that we have seen before in the text, Nugent’s claim of the male figure’s subordinate role to the god’s plans. Given the intense word choice, Allecto’s enchantment on Amata illustrates the same type of frenzy we saw in Nugent’s case of women who were not able to handle agonizing hardships (Eurylus’ mother). But this case is different because some external force, an enchantment, drives Amata. This case also gives some insight on the juxtaposing the independence of men and women from divine will. Perhaps Vergil includes cases like this to show women in the Aeneid are susceptible to barbaric urges from not only enduring aimless suffering, but also divine callings. Or we could look at how Turnus and Amata react to Allecto. Turnus, in fear, submits to her while Amata is taken advantage of. Perhaps Vergil has Allecto deceiving Amata because the queen would have been resistant and challenged Allecto’s divine command, thus agreeing with Nugent’s point about women in the Aeneid trying to defy their traditional and passive roles.

Remembering RomeEdit

I think another important idea Nugent offers for further examination is how women are often ‘lost but not forgotten,’ that is, they remain ingrained in the minds of the reader despite their lack of immediate participation and presence in the story. Why would Vergil deploy this strategy? It may because the purpose of the Aeneid is to retell the story of foundation and it is important to for the reader to remember all components of the Roman’s story of heritage and culture. Whether it is the voices, motifs, and themes that filled the Aeneid- they have political and cultural significance for the Romans of Vergil’s time; and the story of Rome, though many of its details are lost, cannot be forgotten. Thus, the vanished bodies and linger voices of our female characters serve as a reminder to the readers to not overlook the seemingly insignificant.

Jsedlak 08:12, February 11, 2011 (UTC)