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The Aeneid

The Aeneid

by Virgil

Mortality Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #4

(Aeneas):
"Must we imagine,
Father, there are souls that go from here
Aloft to upper heaven, and once more
Return to bodies' dead weight? The poor souls,
How can they crave our daylight so?" (6.965-969)

In The Birth of Tragedy, the German philosopher (and former classics professor) Friedrich Nietzsche refers to the ancient "wisdom of Silenus" (a legendary half man, half beast), according to which the best thing for mortals was never to be born – and that second best was to die soon. Aeneas's view in this line isn't quite that extreme, but it's close – something like, "Once you've lived and died, why would you bother going through all that trouble again?" (For a great twentieth century poem that asks the same question – and that gives the final voice to the desire to go do it again, check out W. B. Yeats's "A Dialogue of Self and Soul".) Aeneas's words pose a more immediate problem, however, since they could be applied to his own situation: he is currently in the underworld; shouldn't he be a bit more excited about going back to the living? In the end, Anchises's explanation of future Roman history is enough to fire Aeneas up with excitement to finish his mission.

Quote #5

(Evander):
"If only Jupiter would give me back
The past years and the man I was, when I
Cut down the front rank by Praeneste wall
And won the fight and burned the piles of shields!" (8.760-764)

By wishing for his youth back, Evander implicitly complains about mortality. Unfortunately, things are going to get even worse for Evander once he loses his son Pallas, thus also cutting off his legacy.

Quote #6

(Jupiter):
"What swerving, mother, do you ask of fate?
What privilege for these, your ships? Shall hulls
That mortal hands have made enjoy a right
That only immortals have?" (9.132-135)

If you have read Shakespeare's King Lear, these lines might remind you of the exchange at Act 4, Scene 6, lines 128-129, when the blind Gloucester says to Lear, "O, let me kiss that hand!" This prompts Lear's reply, "Let me wipe it first, it smells of mortality." As Jupiter's lines here suggest, he, too, views mortality as a form of contamination, something that has been passed on to ships built by humans. That said, he ends up giving in to his mother's demands – by allowing the ships to be transformed into sea-nymphs. Weird.

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