"A Fickle Thing And Changeful Is Woman Always"
Context: A true epic is a natural, gradual evolution, about whose author little or nothing is known. So the Aeneid (i.e., a poem about Aeneas) is a literary epic, being the result of conscious artistic efforts by Publius Vergilius Maro, product of Rome's Golden Age and friend of its Emperor Augustus. Aeneas, fleeing from burning Troy spends the winter with Queen Dido of Carthage, enjoying her passionate love. Finally details of his delay reach Jove, who has destined Aeneas to found Rome, and he sends his son, Mercury, to order Aeneas to depart. When Queen Dido and her sister Anna beg the Trojan to remain, Mercury again visits him in a vision, to warn him falsely that fickle Dido and her sister are planning to play on his affections and even destroy his ships to prevent his departure. The Greeks are not the only people to have a word for the fickleness of woman. Francis I of France (1494–1547) is supposed to have written with his diamond ring on a window of the Château of Chambord: "Woman often changes; foolish the man who trusts her." The Duke in Verdi's Rigoletto sings: "La donna è mobile (Woman is changeable)." As Virgil tells the story:
. . . a vision . . . visited his dreams . . . in all things like to Mercury, voice and color, yellow locks, and the graceful limbs of youth: . . . "Madman, seest not the after-dangers that beset thee? Resolved on death, she is pondering in her heart fell villainy and treachery, and rousing the swirling tide of passion: . . . Anon, thou wilt see the brine a turmoil of shattered timbers, see torches flashing fierce and the strand fervent with fire, if the rays of dawn discover thee tarrying in the land. Up and go!–truce to delay. A fickle thing and changeful is woman always!" Thus he said, and mingled with the shadows of night.
"A Mind Conscious Of Virtue May Bring To Thee Suitable Rewards"
Context: Virgil, with great patriotism, influenced by Homer, sought to proclaim an origin suitable to the glory of Rome in his epic The Aeneid. Aeneas, son of Venus and a hero of the Trojan War, leader of a company attempting to establish a kingdom in Italy, is confronted with perils similar to those of Ulysses as he and his men sail from Troy to Italy. Shipwrecked near Carthage, Aeneas and Achates, a companion, become separated from the other voyagers, who are rescued and sustained by Dido, Queen of Carthage. Shrouded by a cloud provided by his mother Venus, Aeneas suddenly becomes visible to Dido and, to the amazement of all of the beholders, declares that he is Aeneas, whom they seek. Expressing his gratitude to Dido for the safety of his men, he states that a mind conscious of virtue may bring to thee suitable rewards, or in the translation of Davidson:
. . . I, whom you seek, am present before you; Trojan Aeneas, snatched from the Libyan waves. O thou, who alone hast commiserated Troy's unutterable calamities! who in thy town and palace dost associate us, a remnant saved from the Greeks, who have now been worn out by woes in every shape . . . to repay thee due thanks, great queen, exceeds the power not only of us, but of all the Dardan race, wherever dispersed over the world. The gods (if any powers divine regard the pious, if justice anywhere exists, and a mind conscious of its own virtue) shall yield thee a just recompence. . . .
"Arms And The Man"
Context: The epic form, which Virgil inherited from Homer and which he closely followed in the Aeneid, required that the poet should begin his work with a statement of its subject. Homer had begun the Iliad with the statement that he is writing of "the wrath of Achilles;" and the Odyssey that his subject will be the wanderings of Odysseus. So Virgil tells his audience that his subject will be the wanderings of Aeneas, who escaped from the fall of Troy and endeavored to found a new Trojan empire in Italy. He will tell of the long journey of his hero, of his sufferings caused by the anger of Juno, and of his eventual success in founding what was to become Rome. The epic begins:
I sing of arms and the man who, fated to be an exile, was the...
(The entire section is 3,043 words.)