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Introduction by Thao NguyenEdit

In Susan Ford Wiltshire’s article on “Aeneas and Absence”, of the Aeneid: Book IX, there is a strong emphasis on the previous traditional literatures from which Vergil’s Aeneid have been influenced by. What sets Wiltshire apart from the other authors is her focus on Vergil’s personal background as an influential source for the Aeneid as well. For example, Wiltshire’s analysis on the more gruesome aspects of the Aeneid is based on Vergil’s great depiction of such violence despite his known humanity and having studied the peaceful ways of Epicureanism. Most of the other authors tend not to incorporate Vergil’s personal life into their analysis of the Aeneid. By basing one’s analysis of the Aeneid on parts of Vergil’s life, the analysis itself can become quite linear as it detracts from comprehending the text to focusing more on Vergil himself. However, Wiltshire is able to successfully connect both Vergil’s life to his work in a way that enhances not only the work itself, but also offers a glimpse of the author behind the epic poem.

Wiltshire’s focus on the allusions found in the Aeneid based on previous classical literatures is common to the works of authors such as Ralph Hexter, Sara Mach, Charles Rowan Beye, and Denis Feeney. Wiltshire, along with these other authors, emphasize that Vergil’s epic poem cannot be truly appreciated and comprehended without recognizing these allusions. Aspects from the Aeneid, such as certain phrases, words, and images, are found other epic poems, such as the Odyssey and the Iliad, as well as works from Catullus himself. However, unlike Wiltshire, Charles Rowan Beye takes this comparison between the Aeneid and other works beyond its face value as he emphasizes that Vergil’s work is not an attempt at mimicking other great works. Rather, Vergil’s own poetry almost serves as a contemporary homage to the success of these works.

Part I: SummaryEdit

In her article, Susan Ford Wiltshire focuses her attention on three “Vergilian themes that interweave the epic”, and examines each of these themes in great detail. The three themes are “1) Vergil’s legacy from Homer; 2) the poet’s awareness of the power of sexual, possibly homoerotic, possessiveness; and finally, 3) his prescient and unheroic compassion for mothers.” About each of these themes, Wiltshire applies her particular method of interpretation to glean insight. Her most arresting interpretive commitments are her assertion that “battle-lust is closely akin to sexuality”; and that Vergil is ambivalent about conventional forms of heroism, which Wiltshire believes because “Vergil rarely fails to register his awareness that there are consequences to violence and, further, that it is mothers by whom these consequences are commonly borne.”

Part II: The "Wiltshirian" MethodEdit

Wiltshire often draws on her knowledge of Vergil’s biography and persona to arrive at her conclusions. In the opening line of her paper, she even states outright, “I have long suspected that the Aeneid is not “about” Aeneas but rather about Vergil.” For example, when examining why Vergil includes so many gruesome details in his narration of the war, Wiltshire claims the passages are included to present an accurate depiction of Aeneas’ humanity, not simply to shock readers: “It is difficult to see how the Vergil who is said to have studied the peaceful ways of Epicureanism in Siro’s school at Naples could bring himself to write in such grisly detail about body parts.” In another instance, Wiltshire cites Vergil’s reputation as an “’imaginary’ poet” as one possible explanation for the ship-nymph metamorphosis in Book 9. Various aspects of Vergil’s education and personal beliefs inform other insights. Citing the poet’s alleged homosexuality, Wiltshire writes that Vergil’s telling of the Nisus-Euryalus episode is imbued with homoerotic undertones, although it “is not a misplaced set-piece by a probably homosexual poet, but is thoroughly interwoven into the emotional and narrative fabric of the Aeneid.” Vergil’s roots recur again and again as reason for Wiltshire’s resolutions. Additionally, Wiltshire’s published works -- among them a paper entitled Hospitality in the Classroom: Speaking of Homosexuality and a book on her brother’s struggle with AIDS -- indicate that her view of the Nisus-Euryalus episode is colored by her predisposition to take note of homoeroticism. (Another commentator even published an essay called Nisus and Euryalus: A Platonic Relationship.) So we can surmise that Wiltshire not only relies on Vergil’s personal philosophy, but her own as well.

Wiltshire uses the works of Homer, Catullus, and other ancient authors to support her reading of Book 9. She claims, “One cannot read the Aeneid without Homer at hand and, in the case of the Nisus-Euryalus episode, without Euripides, Plato, and Catullus as well.” In particular, she references Homer, and often places events from the Aeneid into a Homeric context. The first example of this is observed with her interpretation of the ship-nymph metamorphosis at the beginning of Book 9. Briefly, this episode consists of Turnus and the Rutulians laying fire to the ships anchored outside the Trojans’ camp, and Jupiter intervening by turning the ships into sea-nymphs just as they are about to be burned. Wiltshire is quick to turn to Philip R. Hardie’s claim that the episode recalls Odyssey 13.125-64, in which Homer tells of Poseidon’s turning the Phaeacians’ ship into stone. Wiltshire also presents the view of Elaine Fantham, who places the incident into “what she shows to be a long tradition in Greek and Roman literature of supernaturally endowed ships.” Further examples of Wiltshire’s repeated references to Homer and other writers are seen in the Nisus-Euryalus episode. “Scholars”, writes Wiltshire, “have long made the connection between this episode and the similarly dangerous nighttime mission in the Iliad.” In this instance, Diomedes and Odysseus venture into the night for a secret expedition into Troy. Wiltshire also notes Euripides’ tragedy Rhesus as a model for the Nisus-Euryalus episode. In both Rhesus and the Aeneid, says Wiltshire, “human actors are all but puppets, not independent agents as were Diomedes and Odysseus in the Iliad.” Later, Wiltshire mentions Iliad 8.306-7 as a model for Vergil’s use of simile in describing the death of Euryalus. The Aeneid reads, “…even as a purple flower, severed by the plow, falls slack in death; or poppies as, with weary necks, they bow their heads when weighted down by sudden reign.” (M 578-81) Wiltshire claims this recalls the simile in the Iliad, attached to the death of one of Priam’s sons: “He bent drooping his head to one side, as a garden poppy bends beneath the weight of its yield and the rains of springtime.” Wiltshire asserts that this simile in the Iliad was also the model for the ending lines of Catullus’ poem 11, in which “the context of Catullus’ simile is different from Vergil’s, but the erotic tone is unmistakable”: “…nor does she have any regard for my love, as before-she who through her guilt killed it, just as a flower at the edge of a meadow after it’s nicked by a passing plow.” (translation is Wiltshire’s own) She proceeds to note the reversal of traditional gender roles implied by both Catullus and Vergil’s passages: “…Catullus has reversed traditional gender codes and made himself the fragile flower rather than the plow, just as Vergil makes Euryalus the delicate victim rather than the dauntless spearman.” So we see that Wiltshire makes ample use of the works of antiquity when proving her points about the Aeneid.

Throughout her paper, Wiltshire cites the opinions if other commentators to support her arguments. In doing so, she effectively builds on others’ analyses, and clearly shows the reader how she used their work to inform her insight. She presents several interpretations before asserting her own conclusion. For example, Wiltshire includes four vastly different interpretations of the Nisus-Euryalus episode from Barbara Pavlock, Anthony J. Boyle, John F. Makowski, and Michael C. J. Putnam, before giving her take on it. Wiltshire’s other technique in analyzing Book 9 of the Aeneid is to place it into a structure. She observes that the Aeneid is broken down into two Homeric halves, with Books 1-6 modeled on the Odyssey and 7-12 on the Iliad. She examines the book on three levels: at face value, on a narrative level, and metaphorically. Furthermore, Wiltshire notes that within the book there are three parts: “lines 1-167, the attack of the Rutulians on the Trojan camp and the burning of the ships, lines 168-502, the story of Nisus and Euryalus; and lines 503-818, the first full-scale battle of the war.” The Aeneid can also be read as a triptych of four books each: “Books 1-4 recounting the wanderings of Aeneas; 5-8, his entry to Italy and the future site of Rome; and 9-12, the war with Turnus and the Latins.” Wiltshire also notes the “wave structure” of the Aeneid, in which “the odd-numbered books alternate with the more emotionally intense even-numbered ones.” She proves this by touching on the significant events in the books that bracket Book 9, Books 8 and 10. Additionally, Wiltshire notes the repeated occurrence of forms of the term absens, “absent”, that “appear more frequently in Book 9 than in any other book of the Aeneid.” Wiltshire claims that this verbally underscores the absence of Aeneas. Later, Wiltshire notes the significance of ego and te being placed next to each other in the lament of Euryalus’ mother. The adjacency occurs two other times in the Aeneid, and Wiltshire says that the “proximity of the pronouns in each case makes more emphatic the break in the relationship.” So we see that a “Wiltshirian” reading of the Aeneid makes careful note of the structure of both the work as a whole and even the poignancy of word placement therein.

Part III: Applying Wiltshire's method to gain insight into passion and piety in Aeneid 4Edit

Applying Wiltshire’s method of interpretation, I examined Book 4. Drawing from my knowledge of Vergil’s biography, perhaps his detachment from passion is either the result of a frustration with his own love life or simply an adherence to the Epicurean philosophy that shaped him in his youth. Life of Vergil by Servius tells us that Vergil was shy and modest, called at Naples Parthenias, "the Little Maiden, the Virgin", and furthermore that V., although "having a good reputation throughout his life, labored with just one disease (morbo), which was that he was intolerant of sexual feelings ("impatiens libidinis" are the exact words)". As Dido considers whether or not she should enter into a relationship with Aeneas, some of the things that she says and feels may have been Vergil's own thoughts. Perhaps Dido's disgust with sex was in fact the mirror of the poet's feeling. William Harris’ commentary on Book 4 tells us that even as Dido knows on one level that she should refrain from violating the laws of shame, she is unable to control her lust and returns to Aeneas; “Just so Vergil's shamefastness may have been a sickness he couldn't deal with on an intellectual level, yet he had relations with his two slave boyfriends, despite his sexual antipathies. Without belaboring a point which nobody can prove, it seems fair to assume that a poet's basic attitudes toward life and love are likely to be in some ways parallel to that of characters he is developing in his work and that poets write out of their own lives and experience to some degree.” In Wiltshire’s style, Vergil’s personal development once again informs the interpretation, as do the opinions of other scholars. In 4.90, Vergil uses the word peste or disease, plague, for love, which again is in line with Servius’ reading of Vergil’s sexual “morbus”. So Book 4 has allowed an opportunity to in which to apply the “Wiltshirian” technique of using biography, commentary, and structure (in this case, word choice) to support an argument. MaryGrace 19:05, February 11, 2011 (UTC)

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