Growing Fond of… the Aeneid

You know what, blogs aren’t supposed to be about being right. They’re supposed to be heartfelt opinions, but you can always change your mind. Like five minutes after. They’re transient expressions of a mood, and can’t be compared to definite, informed judgments about anything. Are you following me?

All that introduction to mean that… well, I was wrong to lash out against the Aeneid. But you probably knew it all along, because generations after generations of scholars (and readers) couldn’t be all wrong about such a fundamental text of Western civilization.

Aeneas did grate on my nerves, granted, but then I started to read The Lost, by Daniel Mendelsohn, and who does he allude to? Aeneas himself.

The same one I only saw with my 2012 woman eyes as a bloody, egocentric, macho man.

Mendelsohn’s quest is about finding whatever is left of the lives of his own lost relatives, of the lost Jewish neighborhoods of the little town of Bolechow, that disappeared in the Holocaust. And as a teacher of Classics, he immediately sees the parallel with Aeneas, a survivor of a massacre, of the destruction of the town and the civilization of Troy. Mendelsohn explains his vision of the famous line “sunt lacrimae rerum” (there are tears in things) by the sense of grief and loss that he felt while seeking out survivors and traces of life.

And then I find myself (finally) mellowing on Aeneas. He arrives at the shores of an unknown country, enters a temple (especially that of Juno, the goddess who has always been mean to him and his people) and he sees in pictures scenes of horror and destruction that he has witnessed first hand: his own king begging for mercy to get the body of Achilles back, his own comrades being killed in battles, his own countrywomen crying and wailing. All this has become some kind of ornament, of decoration for a foreign temple. I would imagine that this would make him angry, but instead he pours tears in shock.

Mendelsohn has managed to reconcile me with this epic, and I am growing fascinated by the fate of Troy and his survivors.

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One thought on “Growing Fond of… the Aeneid

  1. I had trouble with the Aeneid and the character of Aeneas. The political stuff offended me — all the visions of the greatness of Rome. Members of my book group pointed out that at the time the poem was written, Rome has brought peace after generations of civil war and the poet is celebrating that.

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