December 4: Woman On The Virge Of A Nervous Breakdown

From an Inferno paper doll set. Readers may remember that, after dying, Virgil found a job in the tourism industry.

(Am I really ruining things with a pun title this close to the end? Damn right I am.) The woman in question is poor Dido, who had the bad luck of falling in love with Aeneas, only to find that he was really married to his work. Wasn't that a big dilemma on "Sex and the City"? In fact, Dido even takes counsel with her best girl friend while they drink cosmos (or "κοσμοπολίτικος," as they might have been called back in those Hellenistic days):
“My dearest Anna, what new dreams affright
My lab’ring soul! what visions of the night
Disturb my quiet, and distract my breast
With strange ideas of our Trojan guest!
His worth, his actions, and majestic air,
A man descended from the gods declare...
Such were his looks, so gracefully he spoke,
That, were I not resolv’d against the yoke
Of hapless marriage, never to be curst
With second love, so fatal was my first,
To this one error I might yield again...
Note that Dido even has a Complication regarding marriage, nice plotting on the part of the ancients -- or it would have been, if this particular stumbling block ever came up again in the rest of the story. It's like they told us she had some huge allergy to cheese and then sent her off on a fast.

Now, regular readers (I flatter myself by using the plural) will remember that not two weeks ago we were given the ending to this sad tale. Perhaps the compiler of the Daily Reading Guide was trying to get us to see the text in a new way; I think it's far more likely, however, that he never expected anyone to take these his list seriously. I believe I have put far more effort into following his selections than he did compiling them.

Some other observations about this reading:

• I noticed this in the other reading, too -- Virgil is a great one for describing ritual sacrifices:
The beauteous queen before her altar stands,
And holds the golden goblet in her hands.
A milk-white heifer she with flow’rs adorns,
And pours the ruddy wine betwixt her horns;
It seems skippable, but then I was wondering if it wasn't Virgil's idea of a cinematic touchstone -- whatever her trouble, Dido is always coming back to her temple and anointing and/or stabbing cows. Think David Lynch. It might work better in the original -- hexameters roll, apparently, and maybe the longer line lets you linger on the scenes. I find heroic couplets to be kind of noodges -- the first rhyme sort of requires the other rhyme, so you speed up to see what that second rhyme will be. The poem even looks, on the page, to be made entirely of pairs that snap together like Legos.

• Dido is crazy in love ("raving," says Dryden, and also "Still on his face she feeds her famish’d sight"), but even though it's a little pathetic it's not her fault, she's been set up. And by whom has she been set up? Other women. Goddesses, to be sure, but then it's always the popular girls you have to be careful of:
Mine,” said imperial Juno, “be the care;
Time urges, now, to perfect this affair:
...
I will myself the bridal bed prepare,
If you, to bless the nuptials, will be there:
So shall their loves be crown’d with due delights,
And Hymen shall be present at the rites.”
The Queen of Love consents, and closely smiles
At her vain project, and discover’d wiles.
Note that the goddesses are setting each other up, too. Maybe this passage is more like "Gossip Girl."

• Finally, if we are heading for more puritanical times (which I suspect; they put the Hays code in during the last depression), this passage might be a good epitaph for the TMZ era:
Fame, the great ill, from small beginnings grows:
...
As many plumes as raise her lofty flight,
So many piercing eyes inlarge her sight;
Millions of opening mouths to Fame belong,
And ev’ry mouth is furnish’d with a tongue,
And round with list’ning ears the flying plague is hung.
She fills the peaceful universe with cries;
No slumbers ever close her wakeful eyes;
By day, from lofty tow’rs her head she shews,
And spreads thro’ trembling crowds disastrous news;
With court informers haunts, and royal spies;
Things done relates, not done she feigns, and mingles truth with lies.

I should also note that Aeneas, once the gods kick him in the ass and tell him to get going, decides upon a plan of sneaking out. Some things really never change.

1 comments:

Lisa Simeone said...

Looove your title!

(also love Dave Claudon's paper dolls!)