The Aeneid Memory and The Past Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Robert Fitzgerald's translation.
Be with me, Muse of all Desire, Erato,
While I call up the kings, the early times,
How matters stood in the old land of Latium
That day when the foreign soldiers beached
Upon Ausonia's shore, and the events
That led to the first fight. Immortal one,
Bring all in memory to the singer's mind (7.47-53)
In these lines, Virgil himself prays to one of the Muses (goddesses of poetic inspiration) to help him remember what happened long before his time. Do you think it still makes sense today for an historian to think about recapturing the past as an imaginative act?
Throw wide the gates of Helicon, your mountain,
Now lift up your song, to tell what kings
Were stirred to war, what troops in each command
Filled all the lowlands, fighting men in whom
Even in those days bounteous Italy
Had come to flower, in whom her spirit blazed.
For you remember, you can bring to life
That time, immortal ones, while to ourselves
Faint wraiths of history barely transpire. (7.880-889)
This passage has the same general structure as the one quoted above: Virgil prays to the Muses to help him remember what has happened before. When Virgil talks about how we know only "faint wraiths" (i.e., ghosts) "of history," do you think he is just using a metaphor, or is he thinking of the doctrine of reincarnation as described in the sixth quotation for this theme?
There the Lord of Fire,
Knowing the prophets, knowing the age to come,
Had wrought the future story of Italy,
The triumphs of the Romans: there one found
The generations of Ascanius' heirs,
The wars they fought, each one. Vulcan had made
The mother wolf, lying in Mars' green grotto;
Made the twin boys at play about her teats,
Nursing the mother without fear, while she
Bent round her smooth neck fondling them in turn
And shaped their bodies with her tongue. (8.848-858)
Here, Virgil does another one of his sneaky time-paradox things. That's because he describes what Vulcan puts on Aeneas's shield as knowledge of the future – from the perspective of the ancient time-period in which the Aeneid takes place. But from the perspective of the time in which he was writing, these events were in the very distant past.