All posts tagged Aeneid

Final paper reflections

Published December 18, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

So, I wanted to share some stuff about (and from) my final paper for my class on the fall of the Roman Republic.  The paper was about how the Aeneid was a work of Augustan propaganda as well as being an epic poem…though most of my points on that part of the subject came directly out of one of my few modern sources.  (*shame*)

Anyway, this professor asked for 25 pages, rather than a number of words.  And not “around 25 pages” or “minimum 25 pages” but just plain “25 pages.”  So I had to turn all my foot notes into endnotes, and shunted all of the information about other versions of the Aeneas myth and its relation to the Romulus and Remus myth into two tables at the back.  When the paper was finished, as a point of curiosity, I copied all my endnotes into a new file, increased the font size to 12 point from 10, and double-spaced it.  In that format, my notes were 17 pages long.  The tables, as I recall, ran about five pages.  And the bibliography clocked in at about that length, too.  (Clocked?)

During my re-writing process, I was taking advantage of the “comments” function on Word, which I’d pretty much only used once before, so for me it’s still kind of a cool thing.  On the sentence “Augustus’ propaganda was so effective that its effects are extremely visible in historians of later periods.” I left myself a comment saying “effective + effects = horrible writing!”

Of course, Word has its flaws.  Like, a ton of them.  When I ran the spell check, it suggested I had made a “Possible Word Choice Error”.  The sentence was…actually, I only jotted down the phrase, but it was “his fleet sails to Sicily.”  Word was convinced that I really meant “sales.”  Yeah, ’cause that makes sense.

Though that’s nothing.  The spell checker had no trouble with the name Romulus.  It was totally cool with that name.  But it insisted that “Remus” wasn’t a word.  Um, were they expecting a lot of Star Trek fanfic or something?

But the ultimate case of “stupid Word error” for this paper is what the school’s computer lab’s edition of Word (much more recent and infinitely less user-friendly than my version) insisted was a grammatical error.  The sentence was “the unworthy son of Magnus, he who later as an exile infested the waters of Scylla, and stained by piracy in Sicily the glory his father had gained from the sea,” which is a quote from Lucan’s Pharsalia, about Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompeius Magnus (or Pompey the Great, if you prefer), in the Loeb Classical Library translation.  (Sorry, don’t have the translator’s name handy; all 15 of my library books were returned on Wednesday.  Yeah, 15.  I had to carry all the textbooks I was selling back in a different backpack, ’cause there wasn’t room.)  So, in that sentence, Word was convinced that I was a grammatical moron who had written the wrong word, and that I actually meant to write “as and exile” because you only put “an” in front of a noun. Because OOH, NOO, “exile” can NEVER be a NOUN! Except, you know, WHEN IT’S A ****ING NOUN! OMG, please buy a ****ing clue!


Sorry about that.  That one really got to me.

Okay, so “Stupid Word Stories” are now over, and I’ll indulge myself by quoting some of my favorite bits from the paper at you.  Because.

Read the rest of this entry →

Words Crush Wednesday – Embracing the Dead

Published October 21, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

So this week’s Words Crush Wednesday is continuing last week’s trend of Halloween-appropriate epic quotes.  Last week we saw the dead, but this week we embrace them…

Once again, we’re starting with the epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Stephanie Dalley, from the book Myths from Mesopotamia:  Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh and Others, and our quote is again from Tablet XII:

And the spirit of Enkidu came out of the Earth like a gust of wind.
They hugged and kissed (?),
They discussed, they agonized.

And from there it goes right into the quote from last week.  The other half of the “they,” of course, is Gilgamesh himself.  This is one of several passages in the epic of Gilgamesh that are routinely compared to passages in the Iliad

Specifically, it’s compared to this passage:

In sleep came to him the soul of unhappy Patroclos, his very image in stature and wearing clothes like his, with his voice and those lovely eyes.  The vision stood by his head and spoke:

“You sleep, Achilles, and you have forgotten me!  When I lived you were not careless of me, but now that I am dead!

[Skipping Patroclos’ speech, in which, among other thing, he gives extensive instructions about how he wants to be buried.]

Achilles said in answer:

“Why have you come here, beloved one, with all these charges of this and that?  Of course I will do as you tell me every bit.  But come nearer; for one short moment let us lay our arms about each other and console ourselves with lamentation!”

He stretched out his arms as he spoke, but he could not touch, for the soul was gone like smoke into the earth, twittering.

That was from Book XXIII of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation.  (And I’ve actually quoted that passage before, so if you want to read Patroclos’ speech, you can do that here.)

And moving on, now, to the Odyssey, Book XI, also W.H.D. Rouse translation:

“Then came the soul of my dead mother, Anticlea daughter of the brave Autolycos; she was alive when I left Ithaca on my voyage to sacred Ilion.  My tears fell when I saw her, and I was moved with pity; but all the same, I would not let her come near the blood before I had asked my questions of Teiresias.

[Skipping the dialog with Teiresias]

“I stayed where I was until my mother came near and drank the red blood.  At once she knew me, and made her meaning clear with lamentable words:

” ‘My love, how did you come down to the cloudy gloom, and you alive?

[Skipping most of the conversation here.  Odysseus is very long-winded, and apparently he gets that from his mother…or he’s making all this up on the fly to trick the Phaiacians…]

” ‘And this is how I sickened and died.  The Archeress did not shoot me in my own house with those gentle shafts that never miss; it was no disease that made me pine away:  but I missed you so much, and your clever wit and your gay merry ways, and life was sweet no longer, so I died.’

“When I heard this, I longed to throw my arms round her neck.  Three times I tried to embrace the ghost, three times it slipt through my hands like a shadow or a dream.  A sharp pang pierced my heart, and I cried out straight from my heart to hers:

” ‘Mother dear!  Why don’t you stay with me when I long to embrace you?  Let us relieve our hearts, and have a good cry in each other’s arms.  Are you only a phantom which awful Persephoneia has sent to make me more unhappy than ever?’

My dear mother answered:

” ‘Alas, alas, my child, most luckless creature on the face of the earth!  Persephoneia is not deceiving you, she is the daughter of Zeus; but this is only what happens to mortals when one of us dies.  As soon as the spirit leaves the white bones, the sinews no longer hold flesh and bones together — the blazing fire consumes them all; but the soul flits away fluttering like a dream.

So we can add one more innocent person’s death to Odysseus’ tally, his own mother. (And yet I doubt there were any ancient Greeks who believed he’d been sent to Tartaros or anything.  In fact, I’m sure they all believed he ended up in the Elysian Fields/Island of the Blessed/White Island.  (Though you’d think he’d be unwelcome on the White Island, given his feud with Aias, and the fact that Aias is cousin and one of the best buddies of the dead demi-god running the place…))  BTW, as I was checking which (of the ten zillion) post-it notes I could remove from my copy of the Odyssey to re-use for this semester’s reading, I noticed something interesting:  in the Odyssey, Autolycos is merely favored by Hermes, not his son.  I wonder if his twin brother is still the son of Apollo in the Odyssey‘s version?

And, of course, since Odysseus has such an encounter, you know Aeneas does, too!  (Actually, he doubly has to have encounters with the dead, since Achilles has one also.  Must be hard work for poor Aeneas, trying to be two Greeks, one after the other!)  Anyway, this is from Book VI of the Aeneid, Robert Fitzgerald translation:

                                   Aeneas said:
“Your ghost,
Your sad ghost, father, often before my mind,
Impelled me to the threshold of this place.
My ships ride anchored in the Tuscan sea.
But let me have your hand, let me embrace you,
Do not draw back.”
At this his tears brimmed over
And down his cheeks.  And there he tried three times
To throw his arms around his father’s neck,
Three times the shade untouched slipped through his hands,
Weightless as wind and fugitive as dream.

[Apologies, but for some reason it won’t let me do the indentation on the quote above.  The second line should line up roughly with the end of the first line, and”At this his tears brimmed over” should line up with the end of the line before.  But for some reason it’s ignoring all the spaces I added in front of them to position them.]

Actually, I’m surprised I don’t have two Aeneid passages for you; I guess because of the compressed time (or because he hadn’t finished the poem when he died) Virgil didn’t have time for Pallas’ ghost to show up before Aeneas.  Or maybe Dido’s shade in the Underworld section is supposed to take the place of Patroclos’, but it’s more like Aias’ shade, considering how she treats him.  (There’s certainly no attempted embrace there.)

[EDIT — I so totally fail.  There are two Aeneid passages, it’s just that the one with Anchises was actually the second, not the first.  The first was way back in Book II:

Time after time I groaned and called Creusa,
Frantic, in endless quest from door to door.
Then to my vision her sad wraith appeared —
Creusa’s ghost, larger than life, before me.
Chilled to the marrow, I could feel the hair
On my head rise, the voice clot in my throat;
But she spoke out to ease me of my fear:

‘What’s to be gained by giving way to grief
So madly, my sweet husband?  Nothing here
Has come to pass except as heaven willed.
You may not take Creusa with you now;
It was not so ordained, nor does the lord
Of high Olympus give you leave.

[skipping a fair chunk of her speech here]

No: the great mother of the gods detains me
Here on these shores.  Farewell now; cherish still
Your son and mine.’

With this she left me weeping,
And faded on the tenuous air.  Three times
I tried to put my arms around her neck,
Three times enfolded nothing, as the wraith
Slipped through my fingers, bodiless as wind,
Or like a flitting dream.

Obviously, that, too, was the Robert Fitzgerald translation.  I’m able to add this in now because I’m researching a paper on the Aeneid, and one of the pieces I read happened to mention that Aeneas’ attempts to embrace both the ghost of his wife and of his father used exactly the same lines.  Funny thing, though:  the scholar in question did not mention that said lines were essentially ripped wholesale out of the Odyssey.  (Virgilian scholars always seem to overlook the places where Virgil basically just translated Homer into Latin and ran with it…)  You’ll notice the quotes are not identical, though; presumably that means Fitzgerald changed things up a bit to make it more interesting to the reader.  (Sadly, as the semester has grown more intense, I’ve fallen behind in re-learning Latin, so I can’t go to the original to look for myself at how similar they are.  Though obviously they have a certain amount of difference:  the one in Book II is in the first person, and the one in Book VI is in the third person.)

So, Aeneas does get to have two failed attempts at embracing a ghost, one for each of his Greek antecedents.  It’s telling of how Virgil interpreted the Iliad that the one to parallel Achilles is not with the innocent young boy Pallas that Aeneas is briefly enamored of, but rather with his wife.  (I guess Virgil agreed with Aischylos on that score…)  Okay, end edit.]

Anyway, next week is going to be the most Halloweeny of all!  (Technically, this week and last week have been more Day of the Dead than Halloween, really…)


Words Crush Wednesday: Seeing the Dead

Published October 14, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

In honor of Halloween, I’m going all out with Words Crush Wednesday for the rest of the month.  You’re getting three quotes for the price(?) of one!  And all of them on the suitably Halloweeny theme of “the dead.”  But — true to my own obsessions — they are, naturally, all from ancient epic poetry.  Though we’ll be going a bit further back than just ancient Greece…

…because we’re starting with the Epic of Gilgamesh!  This Akkadian poem is of unknown date, though “Mesopotamian tradition ascribed authorship of the seventh-century version found at Ninevah to one Sin-leqe-unnini, a master scribe and lamentation-priest of the Kassite period,” however parts of the epic date back to around 2150 BC.  This translation is by Stephanie Dalley, from the book Myths from Mesopotamia:  Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh and Others, and the quote above is from the introduction to the Gilgamesh epic.  The main quote is from Tablet XII, which is apparently pretty badly damaged.  The situation is that Enkidu’s spirit has risen from the Underworld to speak to Gilgamesh (on which subject you’ll hear more next week!) and he’s describing the Underworld to Gilgamesh.  (Or that seems to be what’s going on.  There are a lot of gaps and question marks in the translation, as you’ll see.) Read the rest of this entry →

Repost: Brain fail

Published September 11, 2014 by Iphis of Scyros

Original URL:

Sep 1: Brail fail

Trying to get my reading done is really killing me. It’ll be better in later weeks; this week is “the history of history”, so it’s rather dry and dull. Once we get into things like macro and micro history, it’ll be a little more interesting. (A little too 18th century for my tastes, but…still more interesting than what we’ve got right now.)

In other news, I gotta say, it’s sometimes hard to reconcile two wildly different eras when dealing with literary works.

See, I tried to read Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. I got up to Cressida’s first appearance on stage with her confusingly-named servant, Alexander. (My question there is: did he know the name Alexander was connected to Troy and didn’t know how, or did he just need a Greek name and picked that one at random?) So during the scene, they’re discussing the war, and out comes the bombshell that Shakespeare (or rather the chain of earlier writers through whom he had gotten the story of the Trojan War in the first place) had conflated Aias and his brother Teukros. And mistaken Hesione for Priam’s daughter instead of his sister. The generational thing doesn’t bother me so much as combining such different characters as Aias and Teukros, though. For cryin’ out loud, that makes Aias, the number two bad-ass among the Greek army, a half-blood bastard! It’s one thing for his brother to be half-Trojan, but for Aias himself to be half-Trojan? That’s seriously messed up. (Admittedly, in the Iliad, there’s no information about the identity or origin of Teukros’ mother, but given his name she still pretty much had to be Trojan. What with Teukros also being the name of the legendary founder of Troy and all.)

Now, admittedly, I knew going in that it was going to be messed up. I knew from the dramatis personae at the beginning that he was using all the Roman names (Ajax, Ulysses…) and that he had bizarrely conflated Calchas and Chryses. (And of course the title made it obvious that he was going with the alternate Cressida over the traditional Chryseis.) But this bit with Aias and Teukros….man, it’s gonna take me a while to get over that one!

But I have to eventually, ’cause I do want to finish reading the play. Though it’ll probably make me mad for its massive and horrifying inaccuracies. But I want to see what he did with the various characters. I want to see how the Elizabethan condemnation of Helen’s loose morals will compare to the Athenian one. I want to see if his Achilles is as flawed as the original, and if he’s flawed in the same ways. I want to see if his Odysseus is as evil as the Athenian one. And I’m curious as to what his Thersites will be like. It’s astonishing to me that Thersites is even in it. As far as anyone can tell, Thersites was invented for the Iliad, and that’s why the poet goes out of his way to describe who Thersites is and what he looks like, even though most characters are merely described with standard epithets, and visual details are rare and only to fit the meter of the line. (For example, at one point Achilles’ hair is described as being ξανθος (variously translated as yellow, tawny or auburn) but normally his appearance is taken for granted as already known.) In fact, a number of major characters (including Patroclos and Agamemnon) are first mentioned only by their patronymic! (A fact I might not have noticed if it wasn’t pointed out in Troy and Homer by Joachim Latacz, I feel obliged to admit.) Given that Shakespeare got the story from Chaucer, who got it from some French and Italian authors, who presumably got to it largely via Dictys, Dares and Virgil…the fact that Thersites is present is really surprising. I know for a fact he wasn’t in the Aeneid, and I’m pretty sure he’s not in Dictys or Dares, either. (Neither of those was written by anyone the least bit familiar with Homer. That’s clear.) Hmm, maybe the Medieval authors also had Ovid at their disposal? The Italian ones surely would have…and I’m pretty sure Chaucer knew at least some of Ovid’s works, as well. (In fact, didn’t he translate something of Ovid’s into the English of his day? Or am I totally losing my mind?) Thersites might have been mentioned in the Metamorphoses…though I’m not sure…which is alarming, considering how recently I read the sections of that that pertained to the Trojan War.

Maybe my brain has been more fried by this reading assignment than I thought. That does not bode well for the paper I have to write. I wanted to get the reading done in enough time to get at least a start on the rough draft tonight, but…that’s totally not going to happen, since I still have seven or eight pages left. As long as I can get the first draft written tomorrow morning, I should probably be okay. I hope. It’s gonna be rough, though. Especially because I feel like there’s extra pressure on for this first paper to be writing “at the graduate level,” because otherwise I feel like the professor’s going to pull me aside and say “what are you doing in this class?” and…yeah, I’m just freaking out a bit about it. Can’t help it. Hopefully, I’ll feel less freaked out after I’ve got a draft or two hammered out.

Anyway, getting back to Shakespeare, it occurs to me that he had another possible source for a few of the characters: Dante. Several of the names come up in the Inferno, which has Odysseus and Diomedes being unjustly punished for having won the war through strategy instead of just brawn. I’ve only read that small section of the Divine Comedy, admittedly, but it was totally messed up. And completely contradicted about 90% of the Odyssey. And, rather amusingly, one of the major laments that Dante insisted that the two of them had as they were being punished was for failing to guard the north gate, thus allowing the ancestors of the Latin people to escape from the conflagration. And why is that amusing, you might ask? Two reasons, actually. The first reason is that even in context, that doesn’t make sense, because there’s no inherent reason that they should want to prevent the Latin people from existing. (Especially in Odysseus’ case. Diomedes eventually settled down in Apulia, so he could have had later reasons for wishing Aeneas had died at Troy, but Odysseus has no reason to wish for the non-existence of the Romans.) The only plausible reason they could have for wanting to prevent Rome from rising is if Dante is actually saying that they wouldn’t be thus experiencing punishment without Christianity, and that Christianity wouldn’t exist without the Roman Empire. (Historically, there’s a certain amount of logic to that thought, but it seems a bit blasphemous for a thought being expressed around 1300.) The other reason is the one that’s really funny, though. And that one is that in the Greek versions, Aeneas was not the ancestor of the Latin people. Odysseus was. He fathered a son named Latinos on Circe, and that son went to Italy, and became the ancestor of the Latini. In fact, in one of the Greek versions, Aeneas himself was captured and enslaved, and awarded to Neoptolemus as part of his spoils. (Presumably, he was spared for his filial piety. Or because they were afraid of pissing off Aphrodite by killing her son.) I think I’ll probably be able to guess if Shakespeare was influenced by Dante based on how he represents Diomedes. If he seems like little more than a copycat follower of Odysseus, then he’s probably gotten that from Dante.

In any case, there’s one other thing I both want and fear to see in Troilus and Cressida, and that’s how Shakespeare portrays Patroclos. He’s probably my favorite character in the entire Trojan War cycle, so I want to see if Shakespeare got him right, but I’m going to be horrified if he’s portrayed negatively. (Especially because I like Shakespeare as a writer, so if he mutilates characters I love, it almost feels like a personal betrayal. Even though I know that’s a totally absurd statement.) It all depends on his sources. I don’t think Dictys or Dares dealt with the romantic side of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclos, so that should at least prevent any homophobic stereotypes from entering into the portrayal. (I’ve read both Dictys and Dares, but it’s been a while. Well, no, that’s not true. I actually re-read Dares pretty recently, but it’s very short. Dictys is much longer, so I’ve only re-read part of it. Because it’s not very good and frustratingly wrong. That’s the one that confused Atreus and Catreus. I mean, yeah, their names are similar, but for cryin’ out loud!)

I feel like I had more to say on the subject, but….I need to stop putting it off and get back to my homework. Bleh. I can’t wait to get this book over and done with.

Repost: Am I weird?

Published September 11, 2014 by Iphis of Scyros

Aug 26: Am I weird?
Or is it everyone else?

I went out to lunch today at a fast food place. (Which one doesn’t matter.) It was a bit past prime lunch hour, so there weren’t too many other patrons in the place. There was a guy using his laptop computer, an old man just eating, and two men sharing a table and talking to each other. (Yes, I was the only woman in there other than the one behind the counter. That, too, seems a bit odd, but isn’t my point right now.) So what was I doing? I was reading the Aeneid, Fitzgerald translation. Not reading it online, or on my Kindle or my iPad, either. I was reading a good, old-fashioned, paperback book.

So, am I the one who was being strange?

I mean, I know it would have been weirder if I was reading my hardback copy, the one that’s in the original Latin. (But I haven’t tried reading any Latin in about 15 years, so I don’t think I’d understand much of it other than “Timeo Danaos et dona ferens.“)

I’m not sure if it was the fact that I was reading a book at all that made me feel like there was something fundamentally different about me compared to everyone else in the joint, or if it was because I was reading Virgil. (Though, truth be told, I’d much rather read Homer.)

I felt like the staff were giving me weird looks. Not like “is she going to draw a gun and rob the place?” kind of looks, but more the “she’s walking around with a fishbowl on her head” looks, even though I was not wearing a fishbowl on my head, nor was there anything else odd about my outfit. As far as I know. But no one at the vet’s office was looking at me like that, and the other patrons at the fast food place didn’t so much as glance at me, so I don’t think it was anything about the way I was dressed.

I don’t really have any point about all of this. Just wondering if I’m crazy, or if it’s the rest of the world.

Also, I would like to comment that I’m very sick of it being this hot.

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