The Aeneid Memory and The Past Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Robert Fitzgerald's translation.
"Triply lucky, all you men
To whom death came before your fathers' eyes
Below the wall at Troy! Bravest Danaan,
Diomedes, why could I not go down
When you had wounded me, and lose my life
On Ilium's battlefield? Our Hector lies there,
Torn by Achilles' weapon; there Sarpedon,
Our giant fighter, lies; and there the river
Simoïs washes down so many shields
And helmets, with strong bodies taken under!" (1.134-143)
These are the first words that we hear Aeneas speak. Given that you can think about the Aeneid as divided into a first half, in which the hero is thinking about the past, and a second half, in which he is directed toward the future, it is significant that we are introduced to Aeneas as nostalgic for home – and even wishing he had died there instead of setting off on this quest.
"My men, who have endured still greater dangers,
God will grant us an end to these as well.
You sailed by Scylla's rage, her booming crags,
You saw the Cyclops' boulders. Now call back
Your courage, and have done with fear and sorrow.
Some day, perhaps, remembering even this
Will be a pleasure." (1.271-278)
In contrast to the first quotation under this theme, these lines, which follow relatively closely upon them, show that not all reflection on the past is nostalgic. Thinking about the past can also provide directions for how to act in the present – as, in this case, Aeneas reminds his men of how they met past challenges, thereby encouraging them to endure new ones. (In fact, he even imagines how, in the future, they will be able to look back on present challenges as also in the past – try wrapping your head around that!) How do you think this theme relates to the idea of the Aeneid as a whole, which can be read as a poem set in what for Virgil was the distant past, yet which also alludes to the events of what for him was the present day?
Mindful of his mother,
He had begun to make Sychaeus fade
From Dido's memory bit by bit, and tried
To waken with new love, a living love,
Her long settled mind and dormant heart. (1.981-985)
These lines, which depict how Amor, the god of love, prepares Dido to fall in love with Aeneas, show how the past is fragile – in that we only know about it so long as it survives in our memory. Based on this passage, and its consequences later in the story, do you think Virgil views forgetting the past as a good thing or a bad thing? (In thinking about this, don't feel as if your answer has to be completely black and white.)