November 22: The Break-Up

So in this Guardian article Jeanette Winerson is saying
So when people say that poetry is merely a luxury for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn't be read much at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language - and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers - a language powerful enough to say how it is.
(Via, incidentally, The Page, indispensable for the poetry-inclined). This gives us a test -- does Dryden's account of the unpleasantness between Dido and Aeneas measure up, toughness-wise?
What have I said? where am I? Fury turns
My brain; and my distemper’d bosom burns. ...
I should have torn him piecemeal; strow’d in floods
His scatter’d limbs, or left expos’d in woods;
Destroy’d his friends and son; and, from the fire,
Have set the reeking boy before the sire.
That's pretty good. I had to make some cuts for optimal pissed-off-ness, but no question that Dido's drift is gotten.

It's good of Virgil to let Dido make her case that Aeneas is the biggest loser ever, considering that the whole point of the poem is to make the case that Aeneas is the founder of the #1 res publica. You don't see Toby Keith allowing the opposition to make its case in his national epics. On the other hand it's probably easier for Virgil because the Romans had already sown Carthage with salt, and we haven't done that to the Middle East (yet).

The other thing I liked is actually in the argument -- that synopsis at the start of the chapter. I needed to turn to it because I got a little lost (not Dryden's fault). Dido's rage and bargaining is termed thusly: Dido finds out his design, and, to put a stop to it, makes use of her own and her sister’s entreaties, and discovers all the variety of passions that are incident to a neglected lover. I love that. You can make a long list of the advantages our age has, starting with and working your way down, but we don't have the knack for circumlocution that they did in wordier days. The last good one I can think of is when Hirohito, after Hiroshima, told the Japanese that "the situation has developed not necessarily to our advantage." The situation was the same for poor Dido. Tough language didn't help her any.

UPDATE: Robert Going of The Judge Report couldn't post in comments, but he reminded me of how our high school Latin teacher, Sister Anna Roberta, used to teach it in Latin IV, although I didn't have her in Latin IV; she retired around III, I think. She actually taught very little Latin by my time, but I did learn a lot of rhetorical terms like chiasmus and hendiadys (a wonderful word to say, by the way).

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