Women and Love I
Women and Love II
Dido's Anger I
Women and Love II
Bill Long 3/27/09
Telling the Story(2)/Vowing Not to Love (3)
Once Dido is struck by the story and appearance of Aeneas, she tells her feelings to her sister Anna. Women have a knack and maybe even a need to reveal secret and confidential information to other women--even information that could be quite damaging to them. Why? You tell me....but in this case Dido does it in IV.10-30. In these 21 lines we have five dimensions of the story of self-revelation: (a) observations about Aeneas; (b) a statement of her resolve not to love; (c) a recognition of the inner turmoil that her longings provoke; (d) repeating the resolve; and (e) a telltale sign that her resolve isn't as steely as it seems.
A. Aeneas on Her Mind
She can't get the smooth and eloquent-speaking adventurer out of her mind. "Who is this new guest who comes to our place, who bears such a noble presence, a strong soul and arms?" (11). Then, as if having a need to fill in the interpretive space or gap caused by such a question, she quickly adds, "I believe, and it is not a vain belief, that he is of the race of the gods." Why? A general principle follows:
"Fear betrays degenerate souls" (13).
Aeneas showed no fear in telling his story. Her imagination is already getting the better of her. While he talks, she imagines. She dreams, entering into that wispy world of hopes and speculations, of wanting to create a picture of a noble and accomplished man, yet of longing at the same time she creates that picture. She cannot stop herself from narrating more things about him: "what wars endured did he tell!" The word exhausta ("endured") comes from the verb exhaurire, which literally means to draw down or draw out of. Thus, he is singing (or telling) of how he has drunk to the dregs the miseries of war. Dido tells all this to her sister.
B. The Resolve
Yet, she really has no problem, does she, because she is a woman resolved not to love. She says (Fagles translation):
"If my heart had not been fixed, dead set against embrancing another man in the bonds of marriage--ever since my first love deceived me, cheated me by his death--if I were not as sick as I am of the bridal bed and torch, this, perhaps, is my one lapse that might have brought me down" (IV.15-19).
Her resolve is rooted in past experiece. She was married at one time, but her beloved Sychaeus was murdered by her own brother, Pygmalion (the story is briefly told in Book I.343ff.). Any further intimate connection would betray his memory. Actually, the language is a bit more vicious than that. Her "first love" (primus amor) cheated her, deceiving her by his death. It is as if she holds her husband responsible for his own murder. But isn't that the way that love and the complex world of the emotions work? A husband might be felled by a heart attack or stroke, leaving his family in desperate straits. The wife knows in her mind that he wasn't responsible for the tremendous change of fortune experienced by the family, but she still, in her secret heart, blames him for doing this to the family. So it is with Dido. Then she gives a slightly different reason for her desire not to love again--it wearies her. The word behind this feeling is pertaesum, derived from pertaedeo. We get our word "tedious" from it, and the little prefix per is best rendered "thoroughly," so that pertaedeo means either to digust or weary thoroughly. I can just hear Dido say now, "Oh Anna, even the very thought of a marital alliance is downright tedious to me. It bores me no end." So, it is a combination of loss of husband, a confused grief at that loss, and perhaps the war in her own heart as she is unable to sort out the complex emotions attendant on her husband's murder that leads her to think that an intimate connection is just so boring.
C. The Recognition
But her emotions are playing tricks with her, because, as we learned in the previous essay, she really is smitten by the swashbuckling Trojan. So, she simply says, in line 23, "agnosco veteris vestigia flammae"--"I recognize the traces (lit. footprints) of that old flame." It is this which has "swayed my sense, my tottering heart o'er thrown" (22). The word just translated "swayed" is inflexit. We see our English word "flex" behind it, and that is the notion. Her heart is bent, swayed, "flexed" from her true resolve because meeting up with this guest has stoked the ancient flames, making them burn red hot again.
People of every age will testify that there is no force more powerful than the ancient flame of love. It causes curious stirrings in the breasts of octogenarians who have resolved never to love again after the passing of a spouse; it makes people of all ages lose their heads.
D. Resolving Again
Still, however, she won't yield to the insistent new demand on her. She would rather descend to the "pallid shadows of Erebus and the deep night" before she violates the laws and duties of Modesty (Pudor). Indeed, in this statement of her resolve, she doesn't keep things on an impersonal level--she switches to the second person singular in line 27, addressing Pudor itself, as if to say that she solemnly vows never to yield to this insistent flame of love. She wouldn't violate Modesty or wash away/cause to dissolve its commands.
E. The Telltale Sign
But she is only fooling herself, as the last line of this section shows. After finishing her speech, "she fills her bosom with gushing tears" (30). We can see her heaving breast, covered with the tears--the sign of conflicting emotions warring with each other in her soul. Old resolves are powerless, as we will see, against the onslaught of the handsome stranger with his stunning good looks and dramatic story.
In the final analysis, then, she fools herself to think that the strong flame of love can be so easily snuffed out. Conflicted feelings of loyalty to her dead husband are no match for the living, throbbing, insistent presence of Aeneas. Her tears are mute testimony to another slaying that has happened in her life--this time that of her own heart. But by following her heart she will discover that it can and will be broken twice, but this time it will be shattered so irrevocably that the only option left for her is suicide. Such is the overwhelming power and attraction of love. That is why we search for words, derived from the fiery sphere, to try to describe love's insistence and power.
Dido is almost ready to plunge back into the maelstrom of love, but first she needs some words of encouragement. The next essay discusses those words.