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"Cum femina primum ...": Venus, Vulcan, and the politics of male mollitia in Aeneid 8.

In the most persistently enduring scholarly interpretation, Aeneid 8 is hailed as the 'Augustan" heart of Vergil's epic, the book where the poet's skill has immortalized the foundation legend of the Augustan era, Octavian's victory at Actium against Antony and Cleopatra. Embossed by Vergil's verse on Aeneas's divinely fabricated shield, Octavian's achievement stands out in the middle of the shiny weapon, focusing the eye of the beholder/reader on this supreme moment of Roman triumph against the effeminacy and depravity of the East. But, whereas the shield and its "indescribable" (non enarrabile, 8.625) artistry have caused much scholarly ink to be spilt, relatively little attention has been paid to the scenes that precede this elaborate Vergilian ekphrasis. The present article, conversely, looks back to an earlier part of Book 8, before the narrative reaches its emotional and historical climax, and discusses the playfully lighthearted scene (8.370-415) in which Venus, the alma mater of the Roman race and divine ancestress of the Julia gens, supplicates her husband Vulcan in their golden bedchamber (8.372) in order to obtain weapons worthy of her son: 'ergo eadem supplex venio et sanctum mihi numen / arma rogo, genetrix nato' ("and so now I come to you as a suppliant, and the godhead I revere I entreat for arms, a mother for her son," 8.382-83). Vulcan hesitates (cunctantem, 8.388), but soon finds himself "on fire" and finally yields to the overpowering embrace of the goddess of love:
  'quidquid in arte mea possum promittere curae,
  quod fieri ferro liquidove potest electro,
  quantum ignes animaeque valent, absiste precando
  viribus indubitare tuis.' ea verba locutus
  optatos dedit amplexus placidumque petivit
  coniugis infusus gremio per membra soporem. (8.401-6)

  "Whatever care I can promise in the exercise of my art, whatever can
  be done with iron or molten electrum, whatever fire and bellows have
  the strength to achieve, stop casting a doubt on your power by your
  entreaties." Having spoken these words, he gave her the embraces she
  desired and, poured out on his wife's lap, he sought quiet sleep for
  all his limbs.


Long before the break of dawn, Vulcan rises to go to his forge, attracting in the process a curious description of time that rounds off as a simile:
  inde ubi prima quies medio iam noctis abactae
  curriculo expulerat somnum, cum femina primum,
  cui tolerare colo vitam tenuique Minerva
  impositum, cinerem et sopitos suscitat ignis
  noctem addens operi, famulasque ad lumina longo
  exercet penso, castum ut servare cubile
  coniugis et possit parvos educere natos:
  haud secus ignipotens nec tempore segnior illo
  mollibus e stratis opera ad fabrilia surgit. (8.407-15)

  Then, when repose had banished sleep, in the mid career of now waning
  night, at the time when a housewife, whose task it is to eke out life
  with her distaff and Minerva's humble toil, awakes the embers and
  slumbering fire, adding night to her day's work, and keeps her
  handmaids toiling by lamplight at the long task, so that she can keep
  her husband's bed chaste and rear her little sons: just so, and not
  more slothful at that hour, the Lord of Fire rises from his soft couch
  to the work of his smithy. (Trans. Fairclouth; rev. G. P. Goold)


How are we to understand the scene's almost comic interruption of the serious epic flow? How are we to interpret its puzzling content? The female temptress, who overpowers her consort through her sexual allure but nevertheless enlists his forces in the furthering of the masculine plot of history, and the malleable, submissive male, ready to fulfill his beloved's every wish, are peculiar epic gendering that calls for more attention than it has so far received in scholarly discussions. And if the male/female polarity, "whether transgressed, problematised, or upheld" is central to the definition of the epic vir in the Aeneid (Keith 2000, 29), a passage so entangled in gender issues as Aeneid 8.370-415 affords most interesting insights. My aim, therefore, is to read the "Venus and Vulcan" interlude in ways capable of shedding light on the Vergilian "technologies of gender" in his great epic: How is the category woman constructed in this text and by this text, and how does the epic as a whole negotiate the boundary between "male" and "female"? Could our scene perhaps suggest a novel way for femininity to intersect with a heroic narrative and the imperial mission? Could it be sanctioning a place for the deliciae of elegy in the programmatically unalloyed duritia of the epic genre? (1)

Section 1 reconsiders the nature of the strange "simile" that sends Vulcan off to his opera ... fabrilia (8.415); it argues for its open-endedness as a creator of meaning, but also advocates a reading of the problematic "cum femina ..." inset (8.408ff.) in close conjunction with its framing narrative. Section 2 embarks on a selective unpacking of the scene's intertextual as well as intratextual layering, with a view to drawing attention to its richness and neglected density of meaning(s). Section 3 argues for an elegiac interference with this text and toys with the possibility of a reading not supportive, but subversive, of the panegyric, Augustan tone of the book. Section 4, conversely, has recourse to Hellenistic poetics in order to suggest an "orthodox," decidedly "Augustan" appropriation of the scene. Section 5 concludes by looking at the interlude in light of the Aeneid's androcentric plot.

The purpose of my reading(s) is to demonstrate the stubborn resistance of this scene to any kind of interpretational straitjacketing. On its own, no single avenue can offer a full, definitive answer to the manifold problems the interlude poses; put together, on the other hand, all perspectives are likely to open up more questions than they can solve securely. Aeneid 8.370-415 is arguably one of the most "open" scenes of the poem, a true specimen of the "openness" of the entire epic.

1. Aeneid 8.407-15: Decoding the "Simile"

I begin with 8.407-15, the most peculiarly gendered part of the interlude. There is no shortage of Vergilian critics who treat these verses as an unambiguous "simile," (2) but any unqualified application of this particular literary term to this section of Vergil's narrative runs the risk of cloaking the intentional--and, in my view, suggestive--irregularity of its construction.

Lines 407-15 do not constitute a straightforward comparison that transfers features from the "relatum" to the "referent" (see Miller 1979, 221) in an unmistakably transparent way. Rather than being easily reducible to the familiar analogy of "this is like that," this "simile" starts as a particularly lengthy periphrasis of time (after the night had passed the middle of its course, when the first feeling of rest had driven sleep away, at the time when a woman ...), which gradually builds up into a string of seemingly superfluous details. It is only in its penultimate line (8.414) that haud secus (just so, not at all different, in the very same way) and nec ... segnior (no more sluggish, no more slothful) indicate that a comparison statement has actually occurred. Even then, in fact, the grounds on which similarity is based are not explicitly stated. Are we dealing with a comparison with "a single point of contact or correspondence with the narrative and a single illustrative function in relation to it," (3) indicated by the comparative nec segnior? Or are we meant to understand haud secus--even though further qualified by a particular comparative adjective--as flexible enough to open up the range of correspondences between the subordinate clauses and the "Vulcan" clause (haud secus ignipotens ... surgit) toward a larger nexus of interrelated possibilities?

In the first case, the "simile" would simply be making a statement regarding Vulcan's readiness to accomplish the task set on him, a keenness that spurs him to an early morning rise and can only be matched by a chaste woman's moving industry, zeal, and devotion to family duty. (4) In terms of promptness and enthusiasm to execute a task, Vulcan does not fall short of the standards set by what could be aptly characterized as the epitome of female decorum, chastity, faithfulness, and laboriousness. (5)

Restricting the points of correspondence between Vulcan and the chaste matron to the functions of time (the crack of dawn) and manner (without a streak of laziness), however, is only one way of reading Vergil's "simile." As the first link between two irreconcilable spheres of activity--female spinning and male fashioning of arms (6)--the semantically broad "just so" (haud secus) lures the reader with the tantalizing possibility of pressing the similarity much further. Vulcan can be seen to embark on the male task of arms-manufacture on the forge (opera ad fabrilia, 8.415) after having been placed in an "open-ended," loosely defined analogical relation to the space, status, task, and, above all, gender of a woman. As Putnam (1965, 139) writes, "In putting his slaves to the forging of Aeneas' armor, Vulcan ... is essentially doing the same thing, on a far grander scale, as the good wife weaving her web."

To overlook or obfuscate the text's reluctance to encode an explicit, unequivocal comparison of Vulcan to a spinning woman is just as insensitive as to deny that the "female-gendered" narrative contained in the subordinate clauses has the potential to spill over and infect the statement that follows, namely Vulcan's passage from bedroom to forge for the fashioning of Aeneas's proto-Roman arms. My first contention, therefore, is that the force and overall effect of this peculiar "simile," which lacks an introductory comparative marker (e.g., "like," "as," "as when") and is only belatedly defined as such, resides precisely in its open-endedness and ambiguity, its lack of a strictly defined illustrative function.

A second stumbling block in the interpretation of 8.407-15 is the tendency to read Vergil's miniature domestic drama introduced by the "cum femina ..." clause in vacuo, as a self-contained unit. The most recent Cambridge commentary on Aeneid 8 best exemplifies this approach. In a note, Gransden, totally oblivious to the difficulties of reading the "simile," extols the Roman and Augustan values of lines 408-13:
  Although this simile goes back to Homer (Il. 12.433-5, and cf. also
  Apollonius 3.291ff., 4.1062ff.) nothing could be more Roman than
  Virgil's picture of the chaste Roman matron or widow, an univira and
  the anti-type of Dido and Cleopatra in her devotion to home and
  family. The passage comes at the "still centre" of the most Augustan
  book of the Aeneid ... and perhaps reflects the importance attached by
  Augustus to his moral and matrimonial legislation. (Gransden 1976, ad
  408-13)


Roman? Augustan? Yes, by all means, if the domestic picture of female loyalty and pious labor is viewed in abstract terms, wrenched off its immediate context and gazed at as an isolated tableau; the chaste matron courageously providing for her absent (or dead) husband's family. Indeed, the "sign" of the industrious female spinner can mobilize associations with the legendary heroine of Rome's distant past, Lucretia, whose preeminence in womanly virtue became unquestionably established when late one night she was found in the hall, surrounded by her busy maidservants, hard at work by lamplight with her spinning (Livy 1.57.9; see Joshel 1992). Moreover, the combination of a late night with an early morning start would bring to mind the Roman construct of the perfect wife, commemorated, for example, in the well-known epitaph for Allia Potestas, where it is said the deceased deserves her husband's praise because, among other things, "she was always first out of bed, and the last to go to bed and rest, and she went only after her things were put away in the proper order." (7)

Yet, such selective focalization--and this is the second point I wish to stress--is the least sensitive way of reading 8.407-13. The way the "cum femina ..." picture functions within the Vergilian narrative cannot be profitably discussed without due recognition of the fact that, interpretative choices aside, it is not a detached and detachable tableau; it does connect with the main plot line at seams clearly indicated by the temporal markers ubi (8.407) and cum ... primum (8.408) and the comparative haud secus (8.414). In fact, this vivid and extended image of the laborious univira is only woven into the discourse because it has been chosen as the real-life model most apt for illustrating aspects (whether one or many more) of Vulcan's behavior at the moment he sets out to forge the epic hero's proto-Roman weapons. (8) To take my argument one step further, the string of subordinate clauses in 8.407-13 can be treated as a narrative "inset," a miniature "embedded" story (9) possessing at least one essential plot ingredient: an acting agent (the woman), not only endowed with character traits (devoted to her husband, laborious (10)) and motivation (castum ut servare ... parvos educere natos), but also placed in a clearly defined spatio-temporal context (domus/nox) and situation (she is in charge of several housemaids' spinning). Rather than being expendable, then, the univira "inset" can be understood as sharing one of the key functions of an "embedded" fabula, that is, working in conjunction with its frame and acquiring meaning through the dynamics of its interaction with the primary narrative, a text it modifies as well as qualifies. (11) Nevertheless, it is precisely this possibility of interaction or collusion between "frame" and "inset" that creates a profoundly unsettling overall effect.

Vergil's poetry forms part of a conceptual universe where gender transgressions do not simply signal moral, social, and political disruption but constitute in themselves the deepest and most threatening scars on the body politic. While social stability depends on the maintenance of the natural hierarchy of gender (the innate inferiority of woman to man), both the abominable breed of the manly woman and the reprehensible species of the mollis vir (12) blur sexual difference and thus pave the way for the return of chaos and the undoing of all structures. (13) It is in view of such a cultural context that Vergil's "simile," introducing a potential leakage from an emblematically "female" inset onto the male subject of the main narrative line, cannot be readily assumed as innocuous or insignificant. (14) Besides, a male subject's association, however remote or oblique, with the gender-defined and gender-defining act of spinning results in the construction of an oddly gendered role: when lanificium, that fixed prerogative of the good matron throughout Greco-Roman antiquity, (15) finds its way into masculine territory, it functions either as a powerful marker of the "world-upside-down" motif (16) or as an emblem of gender adulteration (e.g., Aristophanes, Av. 831; Ovid, Ars am. 1.691-96). The implicit straddling of established male/female gender lines at this narrative juncture strikes a discordant note that is potentially as jarring as the combination of femininity and manlike heroism in the figure of Camilla, a conflation of gender signs marked out for the reader through intense focalization of the act of spinning. The warrior-maiden Camilla, an intruder not only into the manly epic discourse but also into the male-gendered territory of war, sets the seal on her disturbing role as a bellatrix with her repudiation of Minerva's wool-work: "a warrior maiden [bellatrix], with her female hands unused to the distaff and the wool basket of Minerva [non illa colo calathisve Minervae / femineas adsueta manus], but accustomed to enduring harsh battles" (Aen. 7.805-7). (17) What the transgressive militant woman casts away in Book 7 is reappropriated in the narrative of Book 8 and placed in an open-ended, problematic association with the male god who arms the proto-Roman exponent of heroic virilitas. (18)

Now, no Vergilian reader steeped in the Greco-Roman mythical and literary tradition could expect to encounter a Hephaestus/Vulcan fashioned as a prototype of virility. In accordance with his intermediary and marginal position among the Olympian gods, Hephaestus/Vulcan has always been ambiguously equipped and ambivalently gendered. Physically imperfect (ugly, disabled and deformed, lame in both legs), the only working god among the Olympians (not only as the sweaty smith but also as a cupbearer in divine feasts, as in Iliad 1.597-98, a grotesque substitute for the graceful Ganymedes), Hephaestus is nevertheless endowed with a surplus of metis, "even more mobile and polymorphic" than the shifting, fluid powers of fire, winds, and minerals he is called upon to dominate. (19) An almost comic figure, whose twisted limbs arouse "uncontrollable laughter" when exposed to the gaze of "the blessed immortals" (Il. 1.599-600), the blacksmith is also an unparalleled demiurge whose metalwork elicits wonder. Male in sex and mothered by the queen of gods, he is brutally cast out of Olympus because of his deformity and raised for nine years ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Il. 18.400) by Thetis and Eurynome, the female nymphs who took him to their bosom ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 18.398); unbeknownst to either mortals or immortals (18.403-4), he is kept protected in the womblike enclosure of an underwater hollow cave ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 18.402) encircled by the stream of Oceanus. There, rather than being initiated into the various manly arts, he spends his infancy in an apprenticeship in (feminine) passivity and pacifism: under the supervision of female eyes, he learns the art of metalworking, fashioning "intricate things" destined either for domestic use or for female adornment (pins, clasps, cups, necklaces: Il. 18.400-1; see Cooper et al. 1989, 9). Even in adulthood, not only does he not possess the unblemished figure of male arete but he is a total stranger to heroic, manly skills and exploits: surrounded by female attendants and withdrawn in his forge, the crippled artisan spends his life servicing his more powerful divine relatives with his craftsmanship and cunning (Il. 1.607-8). (20) In fact, Aeneid 8.409-10 is not the first literary instance where Hephaestus/Vulcan becomes entangled in feminine imagery and subverts the culturally dominant relation of gender to domestic tasks. Demodocus's song in Odyssey 8 attributes to him the fashioning of chains as thin ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) as spider-webs ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 8.280), so that the divine artist, exquisitely delicate in his craftsmanship, can naturally attract comparison to that most subtle of female weavers, arachne (the spider) or, in Roman "neoteric" language, the spinner of a thin-spun thread (cf. section [section] below). As for the female attendants who work around the Vergilian femina in Aeneid 8.411-12, they have the power to evoke the golden, nimble-footed young women who move "in support of their master" to welcome Thetis in Hephaestus's forge in Iliad 18.417-21.

Yet even for this "less than a man" that Hephaestus/Vulcan traditionally seems to be, rubbing shoulders with a femina in such congested narrative space (nine lines in total) strikes a potentially disturbing note. However openly or restrictively one may choose to interpret the "cum femina ..." inset, it does conjure the kind of picture that befits a Roman matron--or, more accurately, the cultural construct of the ideal matron--but that should be kept well apart both from a Roman male citizen and from the male agent called upon to arm the epic's emblematic vir, the archetypal figure of Roman manliness. In a genre fixated on the forging of masculine identities and in a poem celebrating the unbroken continuity of virtus from Rome's legendary origins to Augustus's male victory over a feminized East, the finest exemplum virtutis of the historical present, disturbances in the traditionally accepted gender coding, however subtle they may seem to be, invite further exploration. And given that arma (weapons) is one of the two central themes of Vergil's poem (arma virumque cano, Aen. 1.1), no detail in the process of arms-manufacture can be treated as otiose, as narratively or thematically redundant. The question inexorably arising at this point, then, is the very question that Gransden's commentary frustratingly bypasses: Why does this particular section of Vergil's text privilege the diegetic mode of "narrative through imagery" (21) over a linear, straightforward description of Vulcan's spatial movement? If Venus's husband has to go to his forge, why does his transition from bedroom to workplace take such a convoluted narrative route? The association of Venus with arma and Vulcan with activities that Roman gender structures mark as feminine is by no means fortuitous: it plays out cultural anxieties about gender and gendering in a most sophisticated way and is closely tangled with the poem's dominant concern with the nature of heroic manliness and victorious warfare. Vulcan's transgressive narrative journey through gendered space in particular opens up a host of interpretative options for the careful reader and, as part of the larger narrative of the celestial golden bedroom scene, raises important questions about the categories of "male" and "female" in this epic as well as their respective roles in the promotion of the Roman mission.

But let us now look at the "Vulcan and Venus" interlude in its entirety.

2. Intertextual and Intratextual Readings

An important entrance into our scene is provided by intertextuality. Vergilian scholarship has not been slow in identifying Homeric intertextual models for the "Venus and Vulcan" interlude. Although Aphrodite's deceitful erotic conquest of Anchises in the fifth Homeric Hymn (esp. 76-190) (22) is only infrequently exploited as a Vergilian intertext, both Thetis's arrival at Hephaestus's forge in Iliad 18.369ff. to plead for arms for her ill-starred son and Hera's beguiling of Zeus in Iliad 14.153ff. have been discussed repeatedly (e.g., Knauer 1964, 259-62, 404-6; Leach 1997; Putnam 1998, 167-80). But such intertextual readings of the interlude have done little more than comment on its "Homeric" lightness (see, e.g., Reckford 1995, 31) or praise the Roman poet's artful dialogue with his Hellenic subject matter. Both the degree of sophistication that underpins the passage's intertextual layering, as well as the idiosyncratic nature of Vergil's choices, are still underexplored, while traces of other parts of the Aeneid in the textual fabric are largely undetected.

Within the structure of Book 8, the "Vulcan and Venus" interlude cannot be examined in isolation from its framing narrative, most importantly its immediate sequel in the epic's narrative flow: the reader is led through the golden bedroom to Vulcan's forge and ultimately to the grove of Silvanus (8.597ff.), where a rapt Aeneas contemplates the future greatness of Rome engraved on his shield. But, just as Aeneas's shield replicates (and modifies) the Homeric Achilles' shield, Venus's visit to Vulcan is structurally and functionally analogous to the Homeric Thetis's visit to Hephaestus on behalf of her own offspring.

The most prominently signaled allusion offered by the text itself to a potential intertext is Venus's argument, "You the daughter of Nereus, you the wife of Tithonus [Eos] was able to bend with tears" (te filia Nerei,/ te potuit lacrimis Tithonia flectere coniunx, 8.383-84). In her attempt to persuade Vulcan, Venus self-consciously marks out her present supplication as yet another episode, a link in the long pre-Vergilian epic tradition of militant mothers "bending" Hephaestus's will in order to engender arms for their heroic sons: the Aethiopis and Homer's Iliad 18.369ff. (23) are therefore instantly foregrounded as narratives conversing intertextually with Vergil's scene. Moreover, if Venus's plea (8.383-84) endows her with startling narrative self-consciousness, locating her Vergilian persona in the literary tradition of the supplicating mother motif, her very entrance in the scene casts her into the role of a Roman Thetis: as the episode starts abruptly with "but Venus ... the terrified mother" (at Venus ... exterrita mater, 8.370), the qualifier exterrita instantly focalizes Venus as an intertextual descendant of the Homeric mater dolorosa, (24) the mourning mother of Achilles. Yet, no sooner does the text highlight its descent from the Homeric subtext than it sets out to challenge its very similarity to it and to call its affiliation into question.

A note blatantly out of tune with Iliad 18 is struck as early as line 373, where Venus's eroticism (dictis divinum aspirat amorem [infuses her words with divine love]) subverts the mater dolorosa model and begins to channel the reader's expectations towards a Vergilian replay of a different kind of "type-scene" traditionally incorporated in archaic hexameter poetry, namely the "seduction" scene (see Sowa 1984, 67-94; Janko 1992, 170). As the narrative progresses, the narrator's comment--"his wife understood [that is, that Vulcan was 'on fire'], pleased with her wiles [laeta dolis] and conscious of her beauty [et formae conscia]" (8.393)--challenges even further the claims of Iliad 18 as an overarching intertext. The calculated wile of a woman fully aware of her charms acts as a strong marker of allusion to stories of erotic deceit, that is to say, to stories diametrically opposed to the model of motherly supplication embodied by the Homeric Thetis. Overcoming male reason through the fatal combination of enchanting speech and bodily attraction that conjures up the image of a loving wife, Vergil's Venus seems to conform to one of the most persistent configurations of femininity as shaped by the male gaze: the duplicitous female, Woman in possession of the quintessentially histrionic power to play a part, to conceal and falsify rather than denote unambiguously and fully. My discussion in this section, then, aims to throw light on Vergil's scene as a text self-consciously enacting its own failure to reproduce its self-announced model: the plea of a prototypical bereaved mother with its entire set of connotations. Failure to repeat the intertext, however, does not debilitate the text itself, for enjoyment arises precisely from the reader's recognition of the seams, the traces of contamination. I will therefore show (1) that the "non-Thetis" narratives remolded here have significantly enriched the text and have brought it into line with other parts of the Vergilian epic, and (2) that it is nevertheless misleading to brand the interlude as a "seduction" scene without further qualification. The poet has altered his erotic literary models in very important ways, often in direct contrast to the expectations raised by and the implications associated with tales/contexts of female seductiveness, that is, primarily, the challenging of patriarchal lines of thought. After careful probing, Venus's ensnaring of Vulcan may prove to be qualitatively different from the apate that Hera played on her consort Zeus.

In what has become a classic piece on intertextuality, Don Fowler (1997, 17) writes: "Whether the features of past texts are repeated, varied, or denied, they cannot be ignored: even features of source texts which are omitted entirely will be noticeable by their absence or present under erasure." Such an "erased," as it were, element, felt precisely because of its absence and, in Fowler's words, "ready to be 'flipped into prominence' by a strong reader" (ibid., 19) underpins the intertextual dynamics of our scene, for Vergil has suppressed a standard element in epic representations of female seductiveness, namely the narrator's almost voyeuristic description of the step-by-step adornment or beautification of the female body, prior to its capacity to arouse erotic desire. While the archaic poet's narrative incorporates Hera's and Aphrodite's retreat to private space for their exquisite bodily appareling (Il. 14.166-86; Hymn. Hom. Ven. 5.58-66) or lingers on Athena's beautification of Penelope before she may set aflutter the hearts of the suitors (Od. 18.187-96), in Vergil's scene the deceptive power of verbal endearments takes precedence over the raw impact of female bodily charm. While Anchises and Zeus are first seduced through the medium of sight, which reveals to them the stunning vision ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of female flesh alluringly embellished, (25) the Vergilian Venus's sexual appeal is first mediated by a speech (adloquitur, 8.372) that carries her eroticism: breathing divine love into her words (8.373), she starts laying siege to her husband through the sweet amorous conversation that is traditionally her own special province (see Il. 14.216-17; Hymn. Hom. Ven. 249; cf. Hesiod, Theog. 205-6). It is only when words fail to seduce by their own power (in 8.388 Vulcan is still presented as cunctantem) that Venus has recourse to bodily tactics, throwing her snowy arms around her husband (8.387) and fondling him in soft embraces (8.388). (26) But if Vergil's suppression of a traditional adornment scene (see Sowa 1984, 74-79; Janko 1992, 170, 173) molds Venus as a less pernicious "trap" (27) for her erotic partner, there is a sense in which both narrative discourse and "character" become, to use Barthes' famous phrase (1975, 178), "each other's accomplices" in tricking us, the audience of the Vergilian tale, by arousing misleading expectations.

Venus bursts into the scene (Vulcan's aureus thalamus) emphatically focalized as a mater. Yet our anticipation of a Thetis-like entreaty is very quickly thwarted, as the fleetingly dignified Venus relapses into her own intratextual pedigree of the erotically tinged mother of Aeneid l, (28) and hence betrays the spirit of the suppliant-mother scene of the Homeric intertext. Simultaneously, however, it is the very subversion of the "Thetis" model that forges a closer intertextual link between the Roman Venus and her Greek counterpart of the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, for the Vergilian Venus's supplication for the sake of her bastard son by Anchises appropriates and reenacts the patterns and linguistic tropes of seduction by which the Homeric Aphrodite deceived Aeneas's father, Anchises. The Aeneiadic mater and her histrionic plea to Vulcan to avert the "demise of her loved ones" (excidium meorum), the very ones whose illustrious destiny Jupiter himself has guaranteed as "unchanged" (Aen. 1.257-60), recall Aphrodite's feigned position of extreme powerlessness and vulnerability when she throws herself at Anchises' knees as a dejected suppliant pleading for safety and marriage in the Homeric Hymn. Moreover, Venus's melodramatic tone rings even more falsely when heard against the background of Thetis's maternal agony in the Iliad: Venus knows (or at least has had every opportunity to learn) that her son will enjoy a glorious future, whereas Thetis, the unhappy mother of illustrious offspring (dusaristotokeia, Il. 18.54), is tormented by the grim knowledge of Achilles' impending fate (Il. 1.415-18, 18.59-60). Venus can rejoice in promises of future greatness for her descendants, while Thetis, "the epitome of sorrow and vulnerability in the face of her son's mortality" (Slatkin 1991, 17), is powerless in her anticipation of Achilles' death, decreed to happen immediately after the death of Hector (Il. 18.96). (29)

Hera, Aphrodite, and Venus share not only a potentially dangerous degree of control over their own bodily discourse but also a well-grounded confidence in the power of female sensuality to assault the male faculty of rational perception. In both the Greek and Roman narratives, Aphrodite/Venus is inscribed as the superlative mistress of sweet pleasure and gracious affection (see, e.g., Hesiod, Theog. 206) and as the unequalled manipulator of that erotic peitho and apate (30) that can "steal away" (kleptein) even the most prudent minds. (31) The "enchantments" (thelkteria) wrought on the Iliadic Aphrodite's embroidered girdle (Il. 14.214-17) are philotes (love), himeros (longing, erotic desire), and oaristus parphasis (alluring whisper), the very tools through which Aphrodite/Venus and Hera seduce their male lovers/consorts. But to what extent do the three intertextually linked figures share the most lethal tool of femininity--"false lying purpose," the quality of dolophroneein?

Not only is Vergil's Venus undisguised, that is, explicitly refraining from presenting herself as "other" than she really is, but most importantly she does not trick her consort, as Hera does in Homer, in order to promote her own agenda against his wish. Venus's performance foregoes the element of the "false tale" that seems to be a fixture in seduction scenes and straightforwardly announces her request: "I ask for weapons, a mother for my son" (arma rogo, genetrix nato, 8.383). (32) However, even though the gap between appearance and reality, alluring facade and scheming mind, is not as wide as in the archaic intertexts, Venus still falls short of Thetis. Indeed, Venus's pose of conjugal love (carissime coniunx, 8.377), past concern (8.377-78), and deference (sanctum mihi numen [the deity I revere], 8.382) sounds hollow, implausible, and disingenuous when heard against the notoriety of her erotic mismatch with Vulcan, the maimed, limping god, whose best counterpart on the human level of the Iliadic world can only be the ugly, lowly, and deformed Thersites. Any possibility of genuineness has been already nullified in Odyssey 8.308-11, when Hephaestus complains of "how Aphrodite daughter of Zeus forever / holds me in little favor, but she loves ruinous Ares / because he is handsome, and goes sound on his feet, while I am / misshapen from birth" (trans. R. Lattimore).

If we read the same scene with the focus shifted on the male side, correspondingly, we easily see that Vulcan's erotic conquest follows the typical pattern of instant male reaction to the stimulus provided by the sexually alluring female. (33) In addition, the gendered dynamics of the Latin scene replicates both Anchises' inability to see through his expert seducer's pose as a virgin girl, as well as Zeus's failure to read his own wife's duplicitous mind: the one who mixed water and earth (Hesiod, Op. 60-61) to mold female dissemblance in the shape of Pandora is now himself caught in her trap. As for Zeus's peaceful slumber in Iliad 14.353, this is reenacted in Vulcan's sleep and repose on Venus's lap (8.405-6). The seduction of Anchises completed, the Homeric Aphrodite chooses to reveal herself (Hymn. Hom. Ven. 177-79), reducing the stunned male to the need of supplicating in beseeching, humble tones (184-90). Although Anchises' supplication of his own seducer is not replayed in Vergil's narrative, the Hymn's gender reversal has certainly been reinscribed in the Latin text: by refusing to accept the necessity of Venus's role as a suppliant, Vulcan implicitly confirms her superior position in the hierarchy of power (a point to which I return in section [section]3 below). Just as the Homeric Anchises is reduced to accepting the terms dictated by the false-suppliant Aphrodite in the Hymn, Vulcan, the supplicated god, proclaims himself eager to fulfill all (and more than!) the entreating goddess's desires. (34)

I have limited my discussion so far to Greek archaic intertexts for Vergil's scene, since my purpose is not exhaustiveness but suggestiveness. Thus, I have not branched out into any discussion of the well-known Lucretian intertext of Venus's erotic overpowering of Mars (1.32-40) or the many parallels with Apollonius of Rhodes that Nelis has recently examined. (35) Most importantly, I have not sought clear-cut answers but, on the contrary, I have tried to show that in such a densely packaged scene like the Vergilian interlude, an intertextual perspective can make us aware of more problems than it may actually solve. Such a perspective, therefore, should not be treated as a magic lens for the uncovering of solid truths but as a dynamic tool for the unpacking of layers of signification that can all coexist, even if they seem to clash with one another. Thus, reading with Hera and Aphrodite of the Iliad and the Homeric Hymn is crucial for our placing of Venus's seduction within the discursive space of female speech, cumulatively constructed through a multifarious tradition of Greco-Roman literary and cultural representations as alluring and beguiling, full of blandishments and soft, wily words. Yet, as intertexts may also be self-consciously subverted, modified, or negated, a reading against the grain of this scene's archaic models reveals that Venus does not, after all, fall squarely in the mold of the "dissembling female," if dissemblance means the endangering and sapping of male positions of authority. Venus's eroticism, which in itself subverts the overarching Thetis model, has a good share in the deceptiveness of Hera and the Hymn's Aphrodite; but rather than inhibiting the masculine plot of history, her passion is enlisted in the honorable business of safeguarding and promoting it. Because of Venus's erotic conquest of the male, Jupiter's militarist plan and the dream of Roman imperium can be consolidated. And while Venus's blandishments, in tandem with Hera's and Aphrodite's soft words and sexual allure, raise momentarily the twin specters of female unbridled sexuality and female visibility in public affairs, the archaic intertext is not replayed in full. In the Vergilian text, female speech is harnessed in the service of patriarchal imperialistic dreams and paves the way for the male domination of the descendants of Aeneas and the gendered victory of Augustus over the female Cleopatra on Aeneas's shield. In other words, it would appear that Vergil's divine interlude proposes a compromise unique in the gender economy of the Aeneid: the female protagonist does transgress patriarchal gender codes by being so overtly in control of her body's sexual language, but her dolus is functionally analogous to the good, praiseworthy metis of a woman like Penelope, the versatile female cleverness that, rather than usurping male privileges, is instrumental to the male's regaining of his authority and status.

Let us now look at this scene by turning the spotlight on its intratextual antecedents, for Venus's supplication of Vulcan in Aeneid 8 looks back to and reworks an intratextual pedigree--her supplication of Cupid in Aeneid 1. Venus's eadem supplex venio et sanctum mihi numen / arma rogo (8.382-83) recalls her plea to Cupid in 1.666: "To you I have recourse and, as a suppliant, I call on your divine power" (ad te confugio et supplex tua numina posco). (36) In Book 1, Venus had invoked Cupid's vires (nate, meae vires, mea magna potentia, 664) to "set the queen on fire and wind a flame around her bones" (660). In our scene, Venus relies on her own strength (confirmed by Vulcan himself in 8.403-4: "desist ... from being doubtful about your own powers" [absiste ... viribus indubitare tuis]) in order to inflame not Dido but her very ignipotens (8.414) husband (casting in the process a playful doubt over who is really potens over fire in the poem!). The reader is thus offered the tantalizing option of comparing with Vulcan not only the frivolous Cupid (through the analogy provided by the supplication motif) but also the Carthaginian queen herself (through the analogy of flammae, dolus, and erotic fondling). (37)

The Dido of Book 1, who burns with secret fire (occultum ... ignem, 688) and is captured by deceit (capere ... dolis, 673), (38) is now recontextualized in the easily excitable Vulcan who, thanks to his wife's doli (8.393), experiences the solitam flammam (8.389) of erotic passion. But intratextual repetition has also brought about a reversal: in Book 1 it is the deceived Dido who clings (haeret, 718) to Cupid/Ascanius and caresses him on her lap (gremio fovet, 718; cf. 685: cum te gremio accipiet), without knowing how great a god (quantus ... deus, 719) is laying siege on her (insideat, 719). While Dido is the one actively doing the kissing and fondling, in reality it is the boy dandled on her gremium, the passive recipient of her strokes, who wields power, marking her out for misery (719) and for "the plague that is to come" (712). Vulcan, on the other hand, is not the instigator of amorous exchanges but the object (to an extent unwilling) of his wife's erotic aggressiveness. (39) The well-known heat of passion (notus ... calor, 8.389-90) generated by Venus's soft embraces (8.388) enters (intravit, 8.390) the marrow of his bones, and a cosmic simile links his erotic piercing to the piercing of thunderstruck clouds by a fast-running flash of light (8.391-92). (40) Devinctus amore (8.394) and "poured out" on his wife's lap (coniugis infusus gremio, 8.406), the fondled ignipotens "becomes, after lovemaking, almost a helpless child in his mother's arms." (41) Not even replicating the smothered Cupid's muffled act of power, (42) Vulcan only reenacts the love-struck Dido's capacity for being deceived in matters of the heart. Finally, it is the participle labefacta, qualifying Vulcan's ossa (8.390), which deserves special attention. Labefacio means "to make unsteady, cause to totter, loosen, shake" (OLD, s.h.v.). Given that in Vergil's epic its cognate labo designates, inter alia, the tottering of the besieged door of Priam's palace under the repeated battering of the attacking Pyrrhus (labat ariete crebro / ianua, Aen. 2.492-93), Vulcan's shaking limbs may be taken to reactivate the "siege" imagery that, persistently associated with Dido from Book 1 onwards, culminates in the great simile comparing the demise of the queen to the fall of her entire city (non aliter, quam si immissis ruat hostibus omnis / Karthago aut antiqua Tyros, Aen. 4.669-70). (43) Succumbing to the siege of love is not an act exclusively reserved for the emotionally vulnerable female: on the gender map of the Aeneid, male ossa can also be besieged (and, if unable to resist, by implication feminized). (44)

Space does not allow for any major probing into the intratextual dialogue between the "Venus and Vulcan" interlude and the full array of Aeneadic scenes it contrasts to or modifies, echoes, or anticipates. I will therefore offer only one further specimen of an internally contextualized reading, one inspired largely by Debra Hershkowitz's brilliant discussion of a series of intratextually linked scenes in Statius's Thebaid. Hershkowitz refers to these scenes as "parce metu," for their common element is the consolation offered to a weak, distressed female by a powerful male to whom she has recourse. They all look back to (and through intertextual repetition modify) the memorable scene in Aeneid 1.227-96, where a hysterical Venus implores Jupiter to put an end to her son's tortuous suffering and to secure for him a safe settlement in Italy. Statius's scenes are engaged in self-conscious reenactment of the Aeneadic intertext but, as Hershkowitz (1997, 52) argues, their repetition is a failure on several levels, purposely "setting up the situation found in the Aeneid in contexts and in ways in which it does not and cannot work."

I would like to suggest that the "Venus and Vulcan" interlude can also be read as a link in a series of "parce metu" scenes, albeit all Aeneadic and therefore intratextually related, for, besides the Venus/Jupiter "original" of Aeneid 1, Book 5 too stages the comforting of Venus by a male divinity, Neptune. "Distressed by worries" (exercita curis, 5.779), Aeneas's mother pours her heart out to Neptune and begs him to allow her son a safe crossing to the Laurentine Thybris (5.781-98). Neptune vaunts his credentials as a helper of Aeneas in past adversity and so convinces Venus that he should be trusted to accomplish what she asks:
  'nunc quoque mens eadem perstat mihi; pelle timores.
  tutus, quos optas, portus accedet Averni.' (5.812-13)

  "Even now, my resolution remains unchanged; banish your fears.
  Safe, he will arrive at the desired harbor of Avernus."


Now, our scene in Book 8 is an imitatio cum variatione of both previous instances, variatio residing first in the erotic spicing of Venus's plea and second in the entire episode's strange gendering that, as we shall see in more detail in section [section]3, invests Venus with the masculine authority that the object of her supplication seems to lack. Besides, were the interlude to be considered in isolation from its narrative sequel in Book 8, a clear instance of a failed repetition of the "parce metu" formula would instantly emerge. For, while Neptune can prove to Venus he deserves her trust by flagging his previous success in rescuing her son from mortal danger, Vulcan can only offer a vacuous rhetorical hypothesis, an empty verbal trope whose veracity cannot be tested, as its only point of reference is located in the past: "If your care [for Aeneas] had been similar then / at that time too it would have been right for me to arm the Trojans" (similis si cura fuisset,/ tum quoque fas nobis Teucros armare fuisset, 8.396-97). And where Jupiter proceeds to reassure his daughter by unrolling for her sake the secrets of the Fates, a first insight into the "historical" time of the epic (Aen. 1.261ff.), Vulcan resorts to clumsy verbiage:
  'nec pater omnipotens Troiam nec fata vetabant
  stare decemque alios Priamum superesse per annos.' (8.398-99)

  "Neither the all powerful Father nor the Fates were forbidding Troy
  To stand and Priam to survive for ten more years."


First of all, from a practical point of view, such rhetoric is ineffective, as it futilely looks backwards to a past that can never be undone. But there is also something else at stake at this point: Vulcan's words to Venus contradict the apocalyptic vision Venus herself had offered her son on the very night of Troy's fall.

The reader of Aeneid 8 recalls that, according to Aeneas's narrative to Dido in Book 2, Venus had lifted the clouds that obscure a mortal's vision (Aen. 2.604-6) and treated him to a panoramic vista of Ilium's death pangs (2.608-20): it was the gods themselves who had a heavy hand in Troy's demolition from its topmost towers. Far from wishing to prolong the city's life, as Vulcan now claims, Jupiter himself (ipse pater) had then supplied the invaders with the "strength to win" (virisque secundas) and roused the other gods to action against the armies of Dardanus (ipse deos in Dardana suscitat arma, 2.617-18). True, this grim and undiluted picture of divine inclementia (2.602) is not imparted through the "omniscient" narrator's voice, but mediated instead by Aeneas's narrative perspective, a viewpoint rendered even more suspect by the existence of an "internal" audience of the tale, the queen of Carthage, who has to be seduced before her disbelief can be suspended. But even so, the blatant clash of "voices" at this particular narrative juncture creates the disturbing possibility that Vulcan's own understanding of the past is confused (under the influence of the "eternal love," perhaps?), inaccurate, and incomplete. In any case, Vulcan is incapable of offering his suppliant the rational calm that Jupiter was able to provide in Book 1: given over to that relentless flame of passion that consumes the bones, it is he who ends up seeking sleep and repose on his agitated wife's lap.

As soon as the reader starts following the narrative thread beyond the interlude toward the grand revelation of the shield, however, the casting of Vulcan as an imperfect replica of Jupiter or Neptune in a "parce metu" scene is turned on its head. Focalized by the omniscient narrator as "not unacquainted with prophecies and ignorant of the coming times" (haud vatum ignarus venturique inscius aevi, 8.627), the ignipotens (8.628) Vulcan is implicitly paired up with Jupiter as far as knowledge of the Roman race's fata is concerned. Moreover, to Jupiter's torrent of words (1.257-96), Vulcan juxtaposes the work of his forge. The supreme god's verbal unrolling of the future is now superseded by the staunchest reassurance the entire epic can provide to its hero's exterrita mater: Rome's future glory is not just promised but "realized" by way of being embossed on Vulcan's opera fabrilia, the shiny metal of Aeneas's shield.

3. Contextual Readings

Intertextuality aside, another possible "entrance" to the "Vulcan and Venus" scene is through the Roman contextualization of its prominent thematic elements of "love" and "gender."

The Roman ideal of virilitas is closely bound up with reasoned restraint. Mastery over the self, with all its appetites and passions, is an indispensable ingredient in the elite Roman male's lifelong struggle to enact, and hence preserve and safeguard, his claim on masculinity. Overindulgence in sensual pleasure (voluptas), on the other hand, renders one subservient and unfit for rule, (45) as it "flows in" (influat) through the body's every opening (per omnis vias) and "softens the mind up with its charms" (animumque blandimentis suis leniat: Seneca, Vit. Beat. 5.4). And as in Renaissance England, so in Rome overexcessive lust even for one's wife was thought to be a road of no return towards effeminacy, sapping a man's strength and imperiling one's stake in public prestige, authority, and status. (46) In a Roman perspective, therefore, even before the peculiarly gendered simile of 8.407-15, Vulcan's "heated" response to Venus's sensual delights functions as a disturbing sign of "femininity," especially as our text implies that erotic consummation is more or less a fixture in the god's agenda: the heat that enters his bones is notus calor and the flame that engulfs him is solita flamma:
  dixerat et niveis hinc atque hinc diva lacertis
  cunctantem amplexu molli fovet. ille repente
  accepit solitam flammam, notusque medullas
  intravit calor et labefacta per ossa cucurrit. (Aen. 8.387-90) (47)

  She had finished speaking and, with snowy arms on this side and on
  that, the goddess fondled him in a soft embrace, while he was (still)
  hesitating. As usual, he suddenly caught fire, and the well-known heat
  entered his marrow and coursed through his bones that were giving way.


There is much more to these lines, however, than Vulcan's implicit inability to harness his libidinous desires. For love as fire and love as slow-moving heat warming up the innermost bones are not only well-known vestiges of amor on a lover's body but also textual markers that Vergil's Roman readers were well equipped to decipher as signifiers of an elegiac thematic intrusion into the poem's epic flow. (48) Devinctus amore (shackled by the bonds of love, 8.394), Vulcan becomes a vivid illustration of the servitium amoris motif, (49) the versatile elegiac trope (50) that can even construe the lover as claiming to have been indoctrinated in love by Venus herself, tying her magic knot around his arms (Tibullus 1.8.5-6). By employing anticomformist tropes such as the "slavery of love," the elegiac genre could be thought of as "destabilizing" socially established categories of gender (see primarily Gold 1993), by investing the "woman" with manly roles while reserving for the "male" a submissive and servile stance, the trademark of femininity. In fact, Vulcan's love bondage in our scene culminates precisely in such a typically elegiac reversal of gender idiolects. It is her role to be in command; it is his duty--and pleasure!--to accomplish any task at her behest:
  'quidquid in arte mea possum promittere curae,
  quod fieri ferro liquidove potest electro,
  quantum ignes animaeque valent, absiste precando
  viribus (51) indubitare tuis.' (Aen. 8.401-4)

  "Whatever care I can promise in the exercise of my art, whatever can
  be done with iron or molten electrum, whatever fire and bellows have
  the strength to achieve, stop casting a doubt on your power by your
  entreaties."


We are not very far from the elegiac puella who "gives orders" (imperat: Propertius 1.9.4) or from the elegiac poet/lover who assures his puella that no task carried out on her behalf would be too onerous or too humiliating (e.g., Propertius 2.24B.39-40). Vulcan therefore experiences not just the symptoms of any lover but, more specifically, the pathology that often indicates the elegiac lover. An additional consideration in support of this contention centers on the adjective mollis that is applied to Vulcan's bed in the verse closing the bedchamber scene: "From his soft bed he rises to go to work at his forge" (mollibus e stratis opera ad fabrilia surgit, 8.415). I will return to this important line in section [section]4, but for the moment I would like to argue that the very notion of mollitia can be taken to embroil the god in elegiac as well as feminine discourse.

In the literary "encyclopedia" of educated Roman citizens, mollis and mollitia were, apart from gender attributes, (52) prominent and potent markers of poetic genres. (53) When the narrative focuses on Venus's throwing her white arms around her hesitant husband and fondling him in a "soft [molli] embrace" (8.388), Vergil is not merely constructing a realistic description of an erotic scene but, more importantly, alerting his educated, sophisticated, discerning listener or reader that the "interlude" s/he is witnessing is made of a different weave: it is a fold of elegiac discourse (even if only in its imagery and themes rather than its rhythm). Besides, one might also want to heed to the metaphorical potential of compounds of -plectere (plait, interweave) in passages referring to literary style or composition: in a variety of genres, both complecti (entwine around a person or thing) and amplecti (take or hold lovingly in one's arms, enfold, enwrap) can refer not only to a physical embrace but also to the combination of words in a group, that is, to literary composition. (54) Thus, Vergil in the Georgics does not aspire to "embrace" (amplecti) everything with his verse (Georg. 2.42), while Silius Italicus refers to Homer as having "embraced with his song" (carmine complexus) the earth, the sea, the stars, and the spirits of the dead (Pun. 13.788) and Propertius, fixed in elegiac composition, is restrained by the words of his girl "twined, wrapped all around him" (sed me complexae remorantur verba puellae, 1.6.5). (55) As for the tender female embrace per se, it can also signify in itself the unrelenting hold that the elegiac girl and, therefore, by implication, elegiac poetry can have upon its male creator, the poet/lover. In Amores 2.18, for example, Ovid presents his persistent clinging to elegiac verse as the inescapable result of his puella's arms "entwined" around his neck (implicuitque suos circum mea colla lacertos, 9), (56) while in two Propertian elegies that have as much to do with erotics as with poetics, the elegist Gallus swoons and languishes in his girl's/poetry's tight embrace. (57) On such a reading, then, Venus enwraps Vulcan into an elegiac fold, (58) casting him into a role well known to Vergil's Roman audience, the persona of the elegiac lover (the very role Aeneas himself had been forced to abandon in Aeneid 4).

Detecting a partial and transient elegiac tinge in the epic poet's composition, though, is arguably the very last step that can be taken on relatively safe ground. The elegiac shade itself is a far cry from the brightness of obvious coloring: eyes need to be strained and ears well attuned to glimpse and listen to what Oliver Lyne would deem to be a "further voice" in the epic text. In fact, I would happily concede that, for many an educated Roman, the overall impact of the celestial bedchamber scene would not have been substantially different from the effect of a group of Homeric similes that Helene Foley famously labels reverse similes, on the grounds that they initiate a reversal of social roles or social themes, including sexual inversion. In other words, even upon detecting elegiac imagery interlaced with Vergil's epic verse, many a Roman reader might be disinclined to probe any further. Love elegy as a genre may well be in the business of redefining (playfully or programmatically, according to readerly tastes) traditional gender roles, but this is of no import to Vergil's scene, as neither Venus nor Vulcan needs much redefinition in order to assume the positions of female power and male powerlessness that they respectively possess in Vergil's text. For, even with the aid of elegiac hues, Vergil has created not a provocatively radical but a fully recognizable traditional tableau.

Ever since Sappho's famous prayer to Aphrodite, this goddess is the female with the "male" power of damnan (frag. 1, 1-4 Page), and as early as the Homeric Hymn that records her seduction of Anchises, it is she who enjoys the characteristically "male" privilege of owning and activating the erotic gaze. (59) Vulcan, for his part, is traditionally submissive, obedient, and compliant--the nonaristocratic, working god who creates at the beck and call of others.

Even though this may well be the most likely "contextual" reading of the text, however, Vergil's audience was not a monolith, any more than the Roman body politic was a monolith in its attitudes to the Augustan regime. Roman elegy in particular can hardly be considered an apolitical genre; indeed, the elegiac lover's emphatically advertised social irresponsibility stands at the diametrically opposite extreme of the ideals embodied in Augustus's large-scale program of moral reform. If Vulcan is "read" as an elegiac lover in this part of Vergil's text, the scene may well become--or, depending on one's viewpoint, be appreciated as--a blot on the Augustan political landscape. In the first place, the sense of inappropriateness can be encapsulated in the ironies arising from the application of the univira simile to Vulcan: the laborious matron of the simile is touchingly striving to preserve as chaste her husband's bed (8.412-13), but everybody knows that Vulcan's own bed has been defiled by the infidelity of his wife, the one who is now sending him off to toil on the forge for the sake of a son from her union to another man. The emphasized chastity of the "simile's" matron then brings sharply to the fore Vulcan's own embarrassing domestic situation. (60) And while the Emperor is deep in preparation of his ambitious program of moral reform (culminating in the Lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis, passed after Vergil's death in 18 B.C.E.), readers should not forget that the divine ancestress of the Julia gens herself is an adulteress, attempting to secure her cuckolded husband's favor with allurements and false caresses. The matter is not trivial, for it cannot be stressed too strongly that references to sex or adultery could not be easily glossed over as innocent "jokes" or matters of no import in Rome (see Sharrock 1994a). In the reign of Augustus par excellence, "sex" becomes a heavily "politicized" issue: the way you talk about sexual relationships betrays something, or it can be taken, or mis-taken, as betraying something about the way you think of matters more overtly "political" as well--"political," that is, "if we understand the term not merely in the narrow sense of having to do with the state, with human government, and other institutional structures of behavioral control, but as of wider import, pertaining to the distribution of rights and power in all human interactions" (Hallett 1993, 344). As Alison Sharrock (1994a, 120) puts it, adultery acts "as a metaphor for opposition to Augustus." In fact, it would seem that Vulcan and Venus's erotic affairs in particular were "good to think with" subversively in the Roman world: in Ovid's Ars amatoria, the scandalous episode of Venus's adultery (narrated in 2.561-92) provides the anticonformist poet with what he claims to be the "climax" of his art (2.542): the advice to his "students" to be amenable lovers, that is, to tolerate their rivals, rather than trying to catch them out in the act.

Venus's traditionally domineering role notwithstanding, the "reverse simile" effect of the entire scene can be taken as disquieting in a society permeated with the fear of transgressive women moving out of their place to become politically visible and of men yielding up the prerogatives of masculinity. Venus's intrusion in the male business of fashioning arms and her preparation for war (si bellare paras, 8.400) (61) can be deciphered as a danger signal, especially in a world so recently threatened by the bellicosity of a disruptive, militant woman: Cleopatra.

Recognition of an elegiac tinge in the divine bedchamber scene may also entail the focusing of the reader's attention on the spinning motif's occupying center stage in the "simile's" "inset narrative." Of course, it is not Vulcan himself who spins, but, as expected, his analogue in the "simile," the laborious univira. But if we were to choose the "open-ended" reading of the "simile" (cf. section [section]1 above), that is to say, the reading acknowledging a possible leakage between "inset" and "frame" in 8.407-15, Vulcan himself may ultimately emerge as tainted by the spinning image. The significance of such a smear is twofold. Firstly, male spinning is an important ingredient of the servitium amoris motif that informs the entire "Venus and Vulcan" scene. Secondly, and most intriguingly, male spinning combined with the general effect of "gender reversal" that permeates the scene may bring to mind, even by remote implication, the most famous mythical example of spinning in the "servitude of love," namely Hercules' spinning while in literal and emotional servitude to his mistress and erotic domina, Omphale. As Ovid advises the aspiring lover in his Ars amatoria,
  ille, fatigata praebendo monstra noverca,
    qui meruit caelum quod prior ipse tulit,
  inter Ioniadas calathum tenuisse puellas
    creditur et lanas excoluisse rudes.
  paruit imperio dominae Tirynthius heros:
    i nunc et dubita ferre quod ille tulit. (2.217-22)

  He who won the heaven which first he bore himself, when his stepmother
  was wearied of sending monsters, is believed to have held a basket
  among Ionian maidens, and to have spun fine the unworked wool. The
  Tirynthian hero obeyed a mistress' command: go, shrink from enduring
  what he endured. (Trans. J.-H. Mozley; rev. G. P. Goold)


There is, I think, reason to suspect that Hercules and Omphale may have more to do with the ideological mapping of our scene than it would at first appear and, consequently, that this particular mythological couple of "woman on top" (Omphale) and transiently unmanned man (Hercules) might have been "activated" by some contemporary Roman readings of the "Venus and Vulcan" interlude.

The story of Heracles/Hercules and Omphale is known at least as early as the fifth century B.C.E., but the full array of colorful details associated with it does not always go back to classical sources, for it was primarily the imagination of Hellenistic and Roman artists, poets, and playwrights which turned the hero's period of servitude to the Eastern queen into a time of erotic subordination and gender role-reversal: Hercules hands over to his mistress his lion-skin and club, the emblems of his masculinity, (62) and while "she" becomes the "man" (vir illa fuit: Ovid, Her. 9.106) by virtue of the hero's spoils, Hercules himself becomes mollis (molli ... viro, Her. 9.72), by adorning his male body with the prime tokens of her femininity (gown, headdress, girdle, bracelets, necklace, and parasol), and by performing feminine tasks, like spinning wool:
  inter Ioniacas calathum tenuisse puellas
    diceris et dominae pertimuisse minas.
  non fugis, Alcide, victricem mille laborum
    rasilibus calathis inposuisse manum,
  crassaque robusto deducis pollice fila,
    aequaque famosae pensa rependis erae? (Her. 9.73-78)

  They say that you have held the wool-basket among the girls of Ionia,
  and been frightened at your mistress' threats. Do you not shrink,
  Alcides, from laying to the polished wool-basket the hand that
  triumphed over a thousand toils; do you draw off with stalwart thumb
  the coarsely spun strands, and give back to the hand of an ill-famed
  mistress the just portion she weighed out? (Trans. G. Showerman; rev.
  G. P. Goold)


But if I am right in suggesting that the simile's wool-spinning motif, brought in such close proximity to Vulcan as he rises to do his wife's bidding, can evoke Hercules, the archetypal male spinner in his slavery to Omphale, the next step is to acknowledge that mythical figures like the Lydian queen and Hercules were not "innocent" (so to speak) signifiers, but politically charged images, invested with deep symbolical power, especially in the climate of intense political propaganda that preceded the battle of Actium, the ekphrastic centerpiece on Aeneas's shield.

To begin with, mythological figures and imagery were highly influential in the shaping of some Roman political leaders' own views of themselves as well as of their patterns of behavior (see Zanker 1988, 44). A well-known "political" appropriation of a mythical persona was Mark Antony's self-identification with Hercules (ibid., 45ff., 57ff.), which, nevertheless, turned out to be an unfortunate choice of model, not least because the erotic slavery of Hercules to Omphale was seized upon by Octavian's supporters as a damning paradigm for Antony's own bewitchment by Cleopatra: let him be Hercules, all right, but not Hercules the pacifier of the earth, not Hercules "the macho-soldier fraternizing with his men" (ibid., 45), only Hercules the effeminate man, the slave of Omphale/Cleopatra, the slave of love: (63)
  [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (Plutarch, Comp. Ant. Dem. 3.4)

  Just as in the paintings we see Omphale stealing Heracles' club and
  stripping him of his lion-skin, so Cleopatra, having disarmed Antony
  and totally subdued him with her spells, persuaded him many a time to
  drop from his hands great exploits and necessary expeditions and roam
  about and play with her in the sea-shores by Canopus and Taphosiris.


It is certainly significant that in Augustan poetry Omphale and Cleopatra (both as exempla of the "enslaving" elegiac puella) are very naturally joined as two faces of the same coin--configurations of abnormally transgressive female behavior, dangerously encroaching upon the privileges of the dominant sex (see, e.g., Propertius 3.11). Moreover, it seems that as part of the general fascination with mythological role playing, Cleopatra chose to be seen in the position of Aphrodite/Venus:
  She herself [Cleopatra] reclined beneath a canopy spangled with gold,
  adorned like Venus in a painting [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]],
  while boys like Loves in paintings stood on either side and fanned
  her. Likewise also the fairest of her serving-maidens, attired like
  Nereids and Graces, were stationed, some at the rudder-sweeps, and
  others at the reefing-ropes. Wondrous odours from countless incense-
  offerings diffused themselves along the river-banks.... The throng in
  the market-place gradually streamed away, until at last Antony
  himself, seated on his tribunal, was left alone. And a rumour spread
  on every hand that Venus was come to revel with Bacchus for the good
  of Asia [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]. (Plutarch, Ant. 26.2-5;
  trans. B. Perrin; see Pelling 1988, 186-89)


To put it succinctly, the casting of Vulcan in an elegiac frame and in the role of the "slave of love"--a genre and a trope that could be taken to challenge or voice criticism of established Roman/Augustan cultural values--combined with the possible reconstruction of the spinning motif as assigning Vulcan and Venus to the respective positions of Hercules and Omphale, political metaphors for Antony and Cleopatra, suggest the possibility of an altogether non-Augustan (or even anti-Augustan) reading of Vergil's lighthearted interlude, especially its concluding "simile." In the perspective of those Roman readers or listeners of Vergil who were not fervent supporters of the Emperor (64) or at least were somewhat ambivalent about the regime, the entire scene could be constructed as culminating in a troubling political analogy, ill at ease with the panegyric tone of the book: love-bound to the command of his sexually charming wife, the divine artificer of the Emperor's triumph embossed on the epic hero's shield could be perceived as "qualitatively" similar to the vanquished opponent of Augustus on the shield, that is, Mark Antony, the Roman soldier "softened" by the dangerous allurements of his seductive Eastern wife.

Let us return for the last time to Vergil's calculated presentation of Vulcan as initially "hesitant" in his response to his wife's impassioned entreaty. The participle cunctantem (8.388) does not merely refer either to reasoned reluctance to be overpowered by the sensual delights of female persuasion or to a husband's justified disinclination to service all too promptly the needs of illegitimate offspring (cf. Macrobius, Sat. 1.24.7). Together with Dido's hesitation in her chamber (cunctantem, 4.133), Aeneas's frozen response to Dido's emotional turmoil (cunctantem, 4.390), the obstinacy of the Golden Bough (cunctantem, 6.211), Turnus's all too brief resistance to Allecto (cunctantem, 7.449), and Aeneas's fleeting impulse to mercy in the face of Turnus's supplication (cunctantem, 12.940), Vulcan's wavering belongs to that immensely charged nexus of "pauses" that "regularly occur throughout the Aeneid at moments of liminality where one of the epic's protagonists debates between two possible causes of action and the decision is crucial not only for its immediate results in the poem's action but also for the effect it has in helping form our judgments of the poem as a whole" (Putnam 1998, 173). Haud vatum ignarus venturique inscius aevi (8.627), Vulcan knows full well that Aeneas's preordained supremacy signals the dawn of an era culminating in Augustus's Actian triumph. For the anti-Augustan sympathizer, then, Vulcan's moment of uncertainty speaks volumes, with a voice that punctures and deflates the victory narrated by the shield. As Putnam (1998, 177) writes, "In the case of the shield, to conceptualize in art is to institute as fact"; but Vulcan does not appear to be impulsively prepared to sanction the bloody progeny his artifacts will spawn for generations of Romans as a result of the success they will ensure for Venus's indomitable son. Vulcan's hesitation resonates with a pacifist's reluctance to assist in the making of war, to collude with the carnage, violence, and suffering that war entails. And if the poem's elegiac weave aligns Vulcan, the divine lover, to the erotically overpowered Mark Antony, the same text may also be aligning his almost human sensibility with the ill-starred Egyptian queen and the Egyptian river that offers to protect the slaughtered into a watery embrace of undisturbed peace:
  illam inter caedes pallentem morte futura
  fecerat ignipotens undis et Iapyge ferri,
  contra autem magno maerentem corpore Nilum
  pandentemque sinus et tota veste vocantem
  caeruleum in gremium latebrosaque flumina victos. (Aen. 8.709-13)

  Her [Cleopatra] the Lord who holds power over Fire had fashioned amid
  the carnage pale with the anticipation of coming death, borne on by
  the waves and Iapyx's wind. Opposite her, he had fashioned the massive
  body of the Nile, mourning and opening up his bosom and with every
  fold of his garment welcoming the vanquished into his dark blue lap
  and sheltering currents.


4. Hellenistic Readings

In sections [section]2 and [section]3 we have read the "Venus and Vulcan" scene in a variety of ways: intertextually, in the light of similar scenes in the Greek Homeric tradition; intratextually, in the light of the "parce metu" type of scenes in the Aeneid; and finally, contextually, both exploiting the scene's elegiac coloring as well as exploring the possibility of subversive readings within the range of what could be defined as historically plausible in terms of the Aeneid's cultural context. I have little doubt, however, that the "subversive" voice in Vergil's epic, though irresistible and sonorous, had to be the "dominated" one. (65) For the majority of Vergil's public, a decidedly "Augustan" appropriation of the epic as a whole and Aeneid 8.370-415 in particular would have been the only legitimate or even conceivable "entrance" to Vergil's text. In this section then, I turn my previous contextual approach on its head: I will attempt to read the erotic interlude in conformity with, rather than as discordant from, the Augustan panegyric tone of the ekphrasis on the shield. This last inroad of mine into the text will be predicated on Hellenistic poetics.

If Vulcan can be seen as filling the space "elegiac lover" in Vergil's text, (66) it has to be conceded that he does not, after all, live up to the elegiac ideal. Whereas the Propertian or Ovidian lover abandons real militia for the sake of the "soldiery of love" (militia amoris) and declares "from blood of mine there shall be no soldier" (nullus de nostro sanguine miles erit: Propertius 2.7.14), Vulcan abandons his soft elegiac bed in order to forge a proto-Roman soldier's arms. Whereas the elegiac lover prays for dawn never to come so that he can linger a little while longer in his mistress's soft embrace (see, e.g., Anth. Pal. 5.172, 223, 283; Ovid, Am. 1.13), Vulcan springs up from his "soft" bed "just after his first sleep was over," when the night had passed only the middle of its course. And while, to quote Catharine Edwards (1993, 85), "erotic distraction [and] dependence on a woman (even one's wife) were felt to divert a man from his public responsibilities (an idea persistently played on in Latin love elegy)," Vulcan's erotic dalliance does not make him less eager to construct the arms that will enable Augustus's illustrious ancestor to lay the foundations of the Roman Empire. (67) While Antony (compared to the mythical Paris) "ran away from the battle and sank in Cleopatra's bosom," (68) Vulcan rushes to construct the proto-Roman fighter's arms. These differences are undoubtedly crucial and can be taken to construct an important--and for some the "dominant"--voice in the text (cf. Kennedy 1992, 36). Moreover, the poetics of the Augustan era point to the possibility of an "orthodox," "Augustan" reading of the "Venus and Vulcan" scene. In the first place, Vulcan, the creator of the shield, can be seen as an analogue of the poet, a creator of verse (see Gransden 1976, 162, and especially Hardie 1985), in the light of a convention evidenced from late antiquity onwards, whereby the creative power of the poet was aligned to that of the mundi fabricator (see Lieberg 1982). Even before the reader reaches the point of mentally envisaging Vulcan as a "poet" in his forge, however, a constellation of signs studded about Vergil's text can orient the receptive addressee toward viewing the artist as a poet from the very beginning of the "simile" in Aeneid 8.407ff.

For the Vergilian doctus lector with his aesthetic sensibilities finely attuned to neoteric principles of poetic composition, the spinning woman's (and, implicitly, Vulcan's) night vigil and the smith-god's early rise could also have a metaphorical significance, namely as pointers to a particular style of poetic creation. It could have been possible to decode the wakefulness prominently emphasized in Vergil's text as a drastic and witty variatio of the Hellenistic topos of agrupnia, (69) originally an erotic topos to which Callimachus gave a new twist, so that it could henceforth signify the poet's agonizing gestation of the polished, refined (lepton) verse of Alexandrian aesthetics. (70) Exploited by Catullus and the Neoterics as well as by the elegists, Callimachus's metaphor became (in its strictest application) "a means of exclusive acknowledgment between contemporary writers of Alexandrian, neoteric, and Augustan verse" (Thomas 1979, 205). Vulcan the wakeful artist, then, invites comparison to the wakeful neoteric poet, and this prima facie precarious equivalence is reinforced by the tableau of Aeneid 8.408-12, which casts Vulcan by analogy in the position of a spinning woman. For not only can weaving as metaphor for song-making be traced back to Indo-European linguistic patterns, song being visualized as a web or fabric, (71) but it also acquires particular programmatic significance within the context of Hellenistic/neoteric poetics, where a pivotal cluster of metaphors encoding the "new" perception of the task of poetic composition centers around a verb of spinning: deducere (spin, draw out a thread in spinning). "Just as the spinner spins a thin thread from the wool on the distaff, so the Callimachean poet forms something thin and fine from a mass of formless material" (Hinds 1987a, 18). Thus, the Roman "Callimachean" poet, producing finely wrought work, deducit his song, and his poem is elegant, subtle, and refined: deductum. (72) Probably the best-known image of literal spinning as a signifier of Callimachean poetics can be sought in the Ovidian archetypal spinner, Arachne. A figure for the neoteric poet, Arachne's weaving attracts the term deducitur (Met. 6.69; see Hofmann 1985, 232ff.), while her woven "border is graced with the programmatic tenui" (Feeney 1991, 191-93 on Met. 6.127-28). And this brings me to the last but most obvious poetic/Alexandrian signifier encoded in Vergil's tableau, to that catchwork of neoteric poetics, tenui in line 409: tenuique Minerva. Tenuis does not merely mean "humble," "low," "insignificant," (73) but can also be a heavily loaded, programmatic term in the Roman literary vocabulary, admirably rendering in Latin the Callimachean leptos/leptaleos and signifying the slim, elegant, delicate, finely crafted, exquisitely polished, and stylistically refined poetic construction (see, e.g., Vergil, Eel. 6.8, Georg. 4.6; Propertius 3.1.5, 3.1.8). The entire image evoked in Aeneid 8.407-15 may therefore act as a metaphor for Alexandrian/neoteric poetic construction. (74) Besides, the idea of Vulcan as a "Callimachean" artist should not come as a surprise, (75) for although the shield, with its ordered, sequential description of deeds and battles of legendary kings and heroes of old, the reges et proelia (Vergil, Ecl. 6.1) of non-Callimachean poetry, can be seen as "a visual metaphor for epic narrative," (76) it also partakes of Callimachean spirit (77) and technique through its subtle and sophisticated allusiveness, its affiliations (along with the rest of Book 8) to Hellenistic etiology, its indebtedness to Hellenistic allegorization of the Iliadic Shield of Achilles (see Hardie 1985), and, above all, its learned exploitation of the Alexandrian/neoteric figure of ekphrasis.

On this alternative reading, then, Vulcan emerges from the potentially disparaging "simile" as a metaphor or alter ego of the poet Vergil himself, in a similar way that Silenus in Eclogue 6 is a persona of the creative poet at work. The "simile" warns the doctus lector that his artifact will be at once epic and "Callimachean," stylistically but not generically affiliated to the Master's precepts and chosen form, (78) in the same way that the Aeneid as a whole (and Book 8 in particular) (79) is a unique and classic blend of epic grandeur and Callimachean precision. (80) Having reached this conclusion, I bring this paper to a close by returning to my earlier discussion of the programmatic literary connotations of mollis.

At the opposite extreme of elegiac softness lies literary "hardness" (duritia), the epic/manly quality of being durus. Now, it is interesting to note that duritia rubs shoulders with mollitia in our scene. Although the world of "hardiness" lies outside the golden bedchamber of Venus and Vulcan, Vergil's text does bring it sharply to the fore nevertheless: it is the "harsh fighting" (duro ... tumultu, 8.371) that prompts Venus to approach her husband; it is her pain and sorrow for Aeneas's "arduous ... task" (durum ... laborem, 8.380) that brings her as a suppliant at his knees; (81) it is towards this "hardness" of the epic/heroic world that Vulcan as a poet directs his creativity. Enwrapped though he has been amplexu molli, he does break loose from the elegiac mantle thrown around him, and he gets out of his mollia strata to confront the duritia not of the loved woman or her closed door, as in Roman love elegy, (82) but of the world around him: in Vergil's poem Vulcan ultimately confronts the epic world's duritia by creating its primary symbols--epic arma and armed heroes--and immortalizes it by depicting it in the form of battles on the epic hero's shield. After all, the verb surgere at the end of line 415, in a position strikingly antithetical to mollibus at its beginning, may well be programmatic. As Duncan Kennedy and Alison Sharrock have emphasized, surgere in the texts of Augustan poets can be a good signifier for epic poetry. (83) Vulcan, the spinner/poet, a metaphor for the Augustan artist, moves away from the "soft," unmanly themes of the elegiac genre to something more sublime and elevated, and rises up to the epic fashioning of epic deeds. This anti-elegiac direction that nonsubversive Roman readings of the "Venus and Vulcan" interlude could follow becomes more evident if read in comparison to an elegiac text that enacts the reverse procedure, the poet/lover's shrinking from the epic world in order to be bound by the pleasures and the verse of Love:
  Carmen ad iratum dum tu perducis Achillen
    primaque iuratis induis arma viris,
  nos, Macer, ignava Veneris cessamus in umbra,
    et tener ausuros grandia frangit Amor.
  saepe meae 'tandem' dixi 'discede' puellae:
    in gremio sedit protinus illa meo;
  saepe 'pudet' dixi: lacrimis vix illa retentis
    'me miseram! iam te' dixit 'amare pudet?'
  implicuitque suos circum mea colla lacertos
    et, quae me perdunt, oscula mille dedit.
  vincor, et ingenium sumptis revocatur ab armis,
    resque domi gestas et mea bella cano. (Ovid, Am. 2.18.1-12)

  While you are taking your poem up to the wrath of Achilles
    And arming your oath-bound heroes for the fray,
  Love-in-idleness, Macer, and the shades of dalliance
    Preoccupy me. That tender erotic urge
  Shatters my high-flown intentions. The times I've ejected
    My mistress, only to have her nestle back
  In my lap. I'm ashamed, I told her. Weeping, she whispered:
    'Ashamed of loving poor me?' and wound her arms
  Tight round my neck, sabotaged me with unending
    Kisses. So, I'm surrendering, have recalled
  My imagination from military active service, to cope with
    A sex-war on the domestic front. (Trans. P. Green)


5. The Interlude and the Epic

What I hope to have shown so far is that despite its apparent playfulness, frivolity, and general lightheartedness, the "Venus and Vulcan" interlude is crucially important in the gender economy of the Aeneid. Its paramount significance may be taken to lie in the new role that it proposes for the female voice, a role in conformity with, and not in opposition to, the patriarchal order.

Recent studies, culminating in Alison Keith's insightful look at the pivotal role of gender in Roman epic narratives, have promoted awareness of the peculiar epic gendering of war. In the case of the Aeneid, "the men who wage war ... emerge as the proponents of peace, while the advocacy of war is displaced onto a series of militant women" (Keith 2000, 77). Viewed in such a light, Venus's intrusion into the male territory of warfare is not severely disruptive of the epic's gender coding. Yet, if the voice of warmongering and the flame of war itself are displaced on female characters, one distinction is vitally important: Venus's incursion into war is for the sake of ultimate peace, the permanent closing of the Gates of War promised in Jupiter's grand prophecy of Book 1, when the secrets of the scroll of Fate were unrolled for her sake (Aen. 1.293-94). As for Venus's call for the fashioning of arms, it is not the anarchic call of "woman as a troublemaker" (a role ascribed to Venus herself as she summons the Lemnian women to manslaughter in the second book of Valerius Flaccus's Argonautica), but is uttered in the hope of protecting the male victim of an irrational, female instigation of armed conflict (without Juno and Allecto the pact between Aeneas and Latinus would not have been disrupted). And, although the flame brandished by an irrational or militant female (e.g., Helen in Book 2, Iris in Book 5, Allecto in Book 7) is baleful (see Keith 2000, 73-74), the flame internalized and instigated by Venus is the regenerating flame of love, a flame that, far from crippling its male recipient, inspires and instills in him the desire for creative work.

The transgressive femina as dux has made her first appearance in the figure of Sidonian Dido (the legendary counterpart of Cleopatra), but Dido's femininity has put the Roman mission in danger. With Venus genetrix of Book 8, on the other hand, the Roman mission is secure. Leadership and bellicosity are still disturbingly coupled with feminine allure and the ability to bend the male's will through amor, but gender-bending is effected in the right direction: Vulcan is only momentarily inclined towards elegiac otium and is quick to "rise" to put his cura (8.401) in the service of the male cause. Under the influence of Venus, Vulcan can experience the kind of erotic flame that does not paralyze or mortify but acts as an incitement to social responsibility. In other words, the epic reinscribes the peculiar double-gendering of Dido (a sexually appealing woman taking on board masculine duties) in the shape of the belligerent yet erotically tempting Venus (after all, Venus had entered the human part of the narrative as a prefiguration of Dido), except that now the male-authored plan of history is not endangered by female influence upon the epic narrative: rather than canceling war, Venus's love-making helps to foster and promote it further. In fact, the female has a crucial role to play in the fashioning of that prophetic androcentric shield on which femininity appears to be vanquished.

Love and war, the irreconcilable polarity that led to Dido's death, are reunited in Book 8 in a constructive, positive way--a thematic move already prepared in Apollonius's Argonautica, where love proves to be an indispensable ingredient for the success of the heroic mission. Venus does appropriate the characteristically female viewpoint of dwelling on pain, danger, and loss (Aen. 8.385-86), but her role nevertheless is diametrically opposite to the typical role reserved for a mater in Vergil's epic: in sheer contrast to the emotional, irrational, and unwarlike female element left behind in the Sicilian kingdom of Acestes in the shape of the Trojan mothers (see Nugent 1992), the Venus of Aeneid 8 succeeds in relocating femininity to the epicenter of the making of war. And while the mothers of Pallanteum shudder at the approaching war clamor (8.556ff.) and Euryalus's mother "breaks" the soldiers' will and strength for combat (infractae ad proelia vires, 9.499) with her mourning, Venus genetrix is the mother who, despite her terror, does not withhold her son from battle.

A legitimate way of viewing the entire "Venus and Vulcan" interlude, then, amounts to the recognition that it opens up new alternatives for the female voice, new avenues for the female's integration into the course of Roman destiny. Despite appropriating feminine discourse with all the usual disturbing markers of female subjectivity, the text forges a positive role for the female gender and suggests that a heroic mission may still have room for femininity, provided femininity distances itself from the traditional antimasculine positions assigned to women in patriarchal cultures. On the literary level, our scene may even be pointing toward an epic refashioning of the elegiac militia amoris motif: if love-making as war is in elegy a more pleasurable alternative to war itself, the quasi-elegiac union of Venus and Vulcan showcases love not as an alternative to, but as a necessary prelude and prerequisite for, the business of war.

No reading of this text can be free from ambiguities, however. The transgressiveness of Venus's act cannot be neatly eliminated and, qualifying statements aside, the interlude's female protagonist is featured in a position of masculine power, in possession of the vires of a man. The dividing line between helping and obstructing the male in war is precariously thin. Just as in the gender economy of the Odyssey every woman, even a faithful Penelope, is, by virtue of her gender, a Clytemnestra in the waiting, any woman who abandons her subordinate position is a potential man-destroying Cleopatra. The "Venus and Vulcan" interlude can equally well ring out as a warning: so long as the female, with her mind set on war (si bellare paras, 8.400), succeeds in overpowering the male, the sovereignty of proud Augustus, "standing on the lofty stern" (8.680) in the middle of that glittering Vulcanic shield, can never be secure. (84)

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Notes

(1) Cf. Ovid, Rem. am. 372-74; on the broader theoretical issues involved, see Hinds 2000.

(2) See, e.g., Putnam 1965, 139: "[A] comparison of Vulcan to a housewife already at her loom deep in the night"; Gransden 1976, ad 408-13; G. Williams 1983, 128: "Vulcan is like the hard-working woman"; Lyne 1987, 43: "[W]e now find Vulcan explicitly compared to a woman ('cum femina ... haud secus')"; Leach 1997, 358: "[H]er husband, as he prepares to execute the commission, is cast, by means of a simile, into a feminine role. He is like a chaste housewife ..."; Putnam 1998, 171: "an astonishing simile." At the other end of the scale, Nelis (2001, 342) denies categorically the appropriateness of the "simile" label: "The Vergilian lines are not a simile, of course, but a time fix (ubi ... cum, 8.407f)."

(3) See Lyne 1989, 63 (summarizing old views on the function of Homeric similes).

(4) So, e.g., G. Williams 1983, 127-28: "The similarities with Vulcan reside in the early hour of rising and the urgency to be at work, and the simile also anticipates in its mention of the woman's maidservants the spectacular helpers that figure in the subsequent description of Vulcan's forge."

(5) See esp. 8.412-13: castum ut servare cubile / coniugis, epitomizing the patriarchal ideal of the wife as guardian of the house's material possessions and sexual chastity. On the idea of domum servare as an indispensable credential of the good wife, see Pearce 1974. A common funerary eulogium for good wives is univira conservatrix, which also presupposes the ideal of "undeflected commitment" to one man; see Stehle 1989, 148; Pearce 1974; and cf. Lattimore 1962, 295. The famous funerary eulogies for the upper-class matrons Turia (CIL 6. 1527, 30) and Murdia (CIL 6. 10230) also emphasize maternal devotion to child upbringing, industry, loyalty (fides), upright character (probitas), and chastity (pudicitia), that is, the matrona's virtues in the "simile"; see Wistrand 1976, 36-37; Kierdorf 1980, 112-16. The social esteem (laus) attached to the mother who not only guards the house (tueri domum) but also devotes herself to her children (inservire liberis) is also stressed in Tacitus, Dial. 28.4.

(6) On a broader, theoretical basis, dissimilarity between the items of comparison lies in the very nature of a simile as a figure of speech. As Feeney (1992, 36, 37) writes in a masterful paper on the strange and pervasive use of similes in Catullus 68, "The enquiries of modern critics have revealed the paradox (which is only initially so) that the fundamental nature of simile is itself rooted in the unlike.... The slippage between tenor and vehicle is, then, often more to the point than the match."

(7) CE 1988, 12-13: prima toro delapsa fuit, eadem ultima lecto / se tulit ad quietem positis ex ordine rebus; see Lattimore 1962, 298. However, Vulcan's implicit nightlong work in the simile, as well as his nightshift in his forge, has its literary antecedent in Homer's Hephaestus, forger of Achilles' arms, who does not stop his manual work even at night (see Heraclitus, Allegorica 43.4: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; quoted in Hardie 1985, 92).

(8) Cf. Putnam 1998, 172, reading the "simile" as making implicit statements about Vulcan: "[T]he implication still inheres that Vulcan is the faithful spouse, who cares for her and her husband's children while her mate is absent, unchaste, careless ... It is Vulcan who adheres to the Roman rules of marriage, remaining, as it were, univira ..."

(9) Narrative embedding, however, does not require the presence of a full-fledged story. As Mieke Bal (1997, 60) writes, "By far the majority of embedded texts are non-narrative. No story is related in them. The content of an embedded text may be anything: assertions about things in general, discussions between actors, descriptions, confidences, etc."

(10) In this case, character traits are not given directly in the form of adjectives linked to the subject's name, but suggested indirectly through the narrative itself; see Cohan and Shires 1988, 72-73.

(11) Understanding the embedded text as merely explaining or actively influencing the framing text rests with the individual reader, but in the majority of cases the dependence of the embedded story on the primary narrative "should be seen as the dependence of a subordinate clause to a main clause" (Bal 1997, 52).

(12) Cf. section [section]3 below. Imputation of effeminacy is a common rhetorical trope of Roman invective; see, e.g., Richlin 1983, chap. 4; Edwards 1993; Gleason 1990 and 1995; Corbeill 1996, chap. 4. In the Aeneid itself, effeminacy on the grounds of dress and behavior crowns the package of calumnies hurled by the Rutulian Numanus Remulus against the Trojans (Aen. 9.598-620); see Horsfall 1971; Dickie 1985; Keith 2000, 19-22.

(13) On the threat presented by masculinized women, see, e.g., Boyd 1987; Skinner 1983; Wyke 1992; Hillard 1989; Joshel 1997.

(14) Feeney likewise argues that the "dense and bizarre barrage" of similes in Catullus 68 is not superfluous but intrinsic to the poem's meaning, as it "leaves one with the sensation that similes are no added ornament to the poem, something additional to what the poem is saying. They are the poem, they are what the poem is saying ..." (1992, 35 et passim; original emphases).

(15) The archetypal female weaver is, of course, the Odyssean Penelope; cf. Il. 6.490-92 (Andromache sent back to her loom and distaff); Xenophon, Oec. 7.36; Vergil, Georg. 1.293-94. See Keuls 1985, 233, 244-48. A much-loved form of Roman epitaph for deceased matrons was domum servavit, lanam fecit, or even merely the adjective lanifica; see, e.g., CE 237: lanifica pia pudica frugi casta domiseda; for further examples, Lattimore 1962, 297. Lanificium holds pride of place among Turia's and Murdia's domestic virtues (note 5 above). A spindle and a distaff were carried either by the bride or by an attendant in the Roman marriage ceremony; see Treggiari 1991, 166 with her note 62. More importantly still, the matronly ideal of lanificium became a powerfully evocative metaphor of good social order in Augustan political discourse, through the Emperor's symbolically charged practice of wearing clothes spun at home by his female kin: Suetonius, Aug. 64.2, 73.

(16) See, e.g., Euripides, Meleager, frag. 522 Nauck; Herodotus 2.35.2 (Egypt). For female shunning of weaving as an indicator of aberrant female behavior, cf. Pindar, Pyth. 9.17-18; Euripides, Bacch. 116-19, 1236-37; Diogenes Laertius 6.98. Plutarch (Ant. 10.5) conveniently epitomizes the masculinized Fulvia's unfeminine manners by just highlighting her repudiation of "spinning and housekeeping," a rejection perfectly in accord with her wish "to rule a ruler and command a commander."

(17) On the transgressive role of Camilla in the gender economy of the Aeneid, see Keith 2000, 27-31.

(18) The text becomes even more problematic if we bear in mind that in epigrams of the Greek Anthology, the young girls' poorly paid spinning is set up as the epitome of a chaste way of life (under Athena/Minerva's protection; cf. tenuique Minerva, Aen. 8.409) that clashes with the opulence provided by the courtesan's life style in the name of Cypris/Venus; see esp. Anth. Pal. 6.283 and 6.285. (I owe these references to the Helios reviewer.) Vulcan is therefore associated with Minerva's works, the emblem of a hard-won chastity in which Venus has no part, just after having slept in Venus's embrace and as he is setting off to do her bidding.

(19) Detienne and Vernant 1978, 272-73; for adjectives describing Hephaestus's metis, see Holmberg 1997, 12 n. 43.

(20) Hephaestus has fashioned every other god's doma (Il. 1.607-8), the scepter of Zeus (Il. 2.100-2), and even Pandora (Hesiod, Op. 60-63, 70-71, Theog. 571-72).

(21) See Lyne 1989, chap. 4 passim, esp. 68: "The main function of a simile is not to illustrate something already mentioned in the narrative, but to add things which are not mentioned, in a different medium: imagery. The poet is switching modes, switching from direct narrative to 'narrative' in the suggestive medium of imagery" (original emphasis). "By substituting 'narrative through imagery,' the poet can achieve a more suggestive if less patent narrative" (ibid., 76).

(22) Reckford (1995) offers the most extensive (and greatly illuminating) treatment of the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite as an Aeneadic intertext, without, however, discussing the possible modeling of the "Venus and Vulcan" scene upon Aphrodite's seduction of Anchises in the Hymn.

(23) The fashioning of Memnon's armor by Hephaestus was related in the Aethiopis, according to Proclus's summary (Allen 1908, 5: 106); on Thetis, Eos, and Aphrodite as inheriting aspects of the mythology surrounding a proto-Indo-European Dawn goddess, see Boedeker 1974, esp. 64-84; Slatkin 1991, 28-30.

(24) Though she has much less right to this title than the Homeric Thetis does.

(25) Il. 14.293-94: "Zeus the cloud-gatherer saw [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] her. / And as soon as he saw her [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] desire enfolded his wise mind [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]"; Hymn. Hom. Ven. 84-85: "Looking at [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] her, Anchises pondered and marveled [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] / at her form and stature and her splendid clothes"; and 90-91: "a marvel to behold [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]. / Anchises was overcome by desire [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]." Cf. the sight of the divinely embellished Penelope arousing instant eros in the suitors' heart in Od. 18.206-13. Similarly, Pandora's kosmos is a "wonder to behold" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: Hesiod, Theog. 575), and when the woman herself is brought out to the sight of gods and men, "amazement [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] held both immortal gods and mortals / as they saw [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] ..." (Theog. 588-89).

(26) In fact, Venus's white arms, which give soft embraces, and her lap on which Vulcan rests are the only parts of her female body that are exposed to the reader's view.

(27) As a descendant of Pandora, woman is "a trap of finery ... a trap of simple appearances" (Loraux 1993, 81); for the fashioning of Pandora as "a sheer treachery [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]], against which humans can do nothing [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]," see Hesiod, Theog. 589; cf. Hesiod, Op. 83.

(28) For the (incestuous) erotic coloring of Venus's appearance (in disguise) to her son in Aen. 1.314ff., see Reckford 1995, who very aptly notes (22): "It is as if Aeneas, in this first book of his epic ... were re-experiencing the divine seduction with which his life began."

(29) Venus's terror appears equally hollow when compared to the justified terror of so many mothers in the Aeneid, mourning the real death of their sons or imminent great danger (e.g., the mothers of Pallanteum in Book 8, Euryalus's mother in Book 9, and the mothers of Latium in Book 11).

(30) See Hesiod, Theog. 205, on Aphrodite's share in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the negative assertion in the Homeric Hymn that there are only three goddesses whom Aphrodite "can neither persuade nor deceive [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" (7); cf. Sappho, frag. 1 Page, invoking Aphrodite as "child of Zeus, weaver of wiles [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" (2).

(31) See esp. Il. 14.217: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Il. 14.294, where the desire instilled in Zeus by Hera with the help of Aphrodite enwraps ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) his "wise" mind ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]); cf. Hymn. Hom. Ven. 36, 38-39.

(32) See, e.g., Il. 14.300-11; Hymn. Hom. Ven. 107-42. "The seducer's false tale" is a typical element in epic seduction scenes: see Janko 1992, 170; Sowa 1984, 83.

(33) See, e.g., note 25 above, and cf. Od. 18.212-14 (the suitors at the sight of Penelope); see Janko 1992, 170.

(34) Vulcan's exaggerated promise does strike a false note, however, when compared to Hephaestus's nonerotic, genuine, and justified gratitude to Thetis in the Iliad.

(35) Nelis 2001, 339-45, who concludes: "The vital model for Venus' attempt to help Aeneas in Latium is Hera's determination to protect Jason in Colchis, and Argonautica 3 is just as important as Iliad 14 and 18 to Vergil's imitative narrative structure at this point in the Aeneid" (344). I am not convinced by Nelis's proposed hierarchy of inter-texts, but, be that as it may, Nelis focuses exclusively on Hera's visit to Aphrodite and Hephaestus's thalamos to secure help for Jason and ignores the equally important scene in Argonautica 4 where Arete, King Alcinous's wife, overcome with pity for Medea's situation, supplicates her husband on behalf of the young girl (4.1068-95). Like Venus, she too chooses the secret hour of the night to reach out to her husband's heart but, unlike the goddess, who blatantly relies on her sexual allure and charm and tries to deceive through passion, Arete speaks honestly and straightforwardly, even if "with warm words" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ... [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 4.1072). Venus's feigned, calculating approach is thrown more sharply into relief through the learned reader's activation of this Hellenistic model, where a faithful, longstanding wife formulates a rational plea, and where the human Alcinous shows much greater masculine control than the divine Vulcan, as he manages to hold on to his judgment, even if with a "warmed" heart (Arg. 4.1096-97: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] / [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), instead of being overwhelmed by passion and led to succumb. One of the Apollonian sources of Vergil's simile in Aen. 8.407-15 is applied to Medea (Arg. 4.1060-67) immediately before Arete's supplication of her husband/king.

(36) Austin (1971, ad loc.) compares the construction of 1.666 and 8.382ff. without further comment. Nelis (2001, 341) highlights the middle link in the motif of Venus as a suppliant, i.e., Aphrodite's supplication of Eros in Arg. 3.27ff.

(37) Vulcan is also (and much more darkly) associated with Dido through their common attraction of the participle cunctantem (hesitating), whose calculated use in the Aeneid signifies, as Putnam has so eloquently argued, an ominous pause, pregnant with implications for the entire epic plot. As Vulcan is unsure about yielding to his wife's embrace (8.388), so Dido lingers in her bedchamber (reginam thalamo cunctantem, 4.133) before joining Aeneas in the fateful hunt that sets a seal on what she calls their "marriage" (coniugium vocat, 4.172); see Putnam 1998, 173-80.

(38) The deception of Dido is the sine qua non element in Venus's plan; see Aen. 1.673, 682, 684, 688.

(39) Cf. Cooper et al. 1989, 10: "Virgil imagines the sexual scene of arms making, but he reverses the conventional gender configuration by making the woman the aggressor to a passive man."

(40) In a symbolic mapping of Roman sexual relations, Vulcan's erotic penetration by the heat of love would place him on the side of femininity, as one of the clearest defining features of the Roman vir is the impenetrability and inviolability of his own body; see Walters 1997.

(41) Reckford 1995, 28. Offering a brief reading of Aen. 8.404-6 in the light of the Venus/Cupid scene in Aeneid 1, Reckford (ibid., 27) compares Vulcan's sleep on Venus's lap with the slumber of Ascanius--warm, snug, and cherished--on Venus's gremium, as she transports him to her Idalian grove (691-94); cf. Austin 1971, ad 692.

(42) Cupid feigns passivity but, just as Venus infuses (aspirat, 8.373) love into her words to tempt her husband, it is he who is instructed to "breathe" (inspires, 8.688) secret fire into the queen and ultimately tempts her heart (8.721-22). Unlike Cupid, Vulcan has no hidden assets; the cunning boy of Aeneid 1, who borrows the vultus of Ascanius to kindle in the queen the flames of love, leaves his narrative trace on the description of his mother's verbal camouflage under the tropes of a virtuous wife's speech.

(43) Aen. 1.673-74; 4.330 (referring to herself as omnino capta ac deserta [utterly vanquished and deserted]); 4.434: victam; see Lyne 1987, 19-20, and cf. Newton 1957. In Aen. 4.318-19 Dido entreats Aeneas to pity her "crumbling," "falling" (labentis) house.

(44) Aeneas's own animus is described as labefactus (shaken) by his great love for Dido (multa gemens magnoque animum labefactus amore, 4.395), but he, unlike Vulcan, resists the "loosening" of his soul and firmly clings onto the commands of destiny (iussa tamen divum exsequitur ..., 8.396).

(45) See, e.g., Foucault 1986, 78-93; Edwards 1997, 67-69, 83ff.

(46) Cicero is hard pressed to find words to describe the disguised Antony's behavior as he falls into his wife's arms after having witnessed her tearful reading of a letter professing his loving devotion: "So she wept all the more until her softhearted lord could bear it no longer and, throwing off his muffler, fell into her arms. What a good-for-nothing!--What else shall I call him? I can find no term more appropriate" (cum mulier fleret uberius, homo misericors ferre non potuit, caput aperuit, in collum invasit. o hominem nequam! quid enim aliud dicam? magis proprie nihil possum dicere, Phil. 2.77; trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey). (I owe this reference to the Helios reviewer.) See further Edwards 1993, 84-86; for the English Renaissance, see primarily Orgel 1996, 25-30.

(47) The rekindling of Vulcan's love may be another backward-looking link to the reawakening of Dido's long-slumbering erotic feelings in Aen. 4.23: "I recognize the traces of the old flame" (agnosco veteris vestigia flammae; cf. section [section]2 above), but, as Philip Hardie in personal communication has suggested, it could also be taken meta-textually, that is, it is the sort of flamma and the sort of calor that usually appear in erotic narrative of this kind. Moreover, it is fun to think of the god who melts all metals in his fire, Mulciber (called thus for the only time in the Aeneid in 8.724), as himself melting and therefore softening in the fire of love. For the ancient etymologists' derivation of Mulciber from mollire (e.g., Festus 144: Mulciber Vulcanus a molliendo scilicet ferro dictus. mulcere enim mollire est), see Maltby 1991, 394, s.v. "Mulciber."

(48) The largely (though not exclusively) elegiac "love as fire" motif (see, e.g., Propertius 2.24.8, 3.9.45; Tibullus 1.8.7, 2.4.6; Ovid, Am. 1.26, 1.2.43; Horace, Od. 1.6.19, 1.19.5; Vergil, Ecl. 2.68, Aen. 7.355-56; and Pichon 1996, s.vv. ardens, ardere, flammam, urere) is abundantly exploited in the narrative of Dido's love in Aeneid 1 and 4 (1.713, 4.2, 4.23, 4.54, 4.66, 4.68, 4.101), which, as Cairns (1989, 129-50) has amply demonstrated, displays in itself a strong dose of elegiac coloring. For the "heat" of love (intravit calor) in elegiac texts, see Pichon 1996, s.vv. calere and calor.

(49) See, e.g., Tibullus 1.1.55, 1.9.79, 2.4.3-4, 4.13.23; Propertius 3.11.1-4; Ovid, Am. 3.11.3. On the enchained lover as a staple of the servitium amoris motif, see Murgatroyd 1981, 596ff. The image is, of course, ironically playful when associated with Vulcan, the divine "binder" par excellence, and, as critics have never failed to note, the line itself--tum pater aeterno fatur devinctus amore (8.394)--recalls the line aeterno devictus vulnere amoris in the Lucretian tableau of the adulterous liaison of Venus with Mars (Lucretius 1.34; cf. Gransden 1976, 41, on Vergil's Augustan readers as "unable to avoid mentally resubstituting Mars for Venus"). The linguistic patterning upon Lucretius offers the reader the opportunity to bring to mind the cuckolded Vulcan, not bound to Venus by the shackles of love but himself shackling, in a fit of jealousy and anger, his sexually promiscuous wife and her lover in their bed (Lucretius's erotic tableau is in itself modeled on Demodocus's song of Hephaestus, Ares, and Aphrodite in Od. 8.266ff.).

(50) See, e.g., Propertius 1.9.1-4, 2.13.35-36, 3.11.1-4; Tibullus 2.4.1-4; Ovid, Am. 1.3.4, 1.6.46-47. On the motif in Latin elegy, see, e.g., Copley 1947; Lyne 1979 and 1980, 78-91; Murgatroyd 1981. On its social implications, see the fascinating studies of Hallett 1973; Sullivan 1972; Wyke 1989 and 1995; Kennedy 1993.

(51) Playing on the implicit connection of uir-es (strength) with uir (man), Vulcan's address to his wife in lines 403-4 ("Stop doubting your own strength by praying to me") transfers happily to her the quintessential quality of his own sex--vir-ility; cf. Plutarch, Coriol. 1.2-4, and Lyne 1987, 42: "Venus the female and wife does not in his view have to 'precari'; therefore she can, as would more naturally suit the husband and male, command. And to Venus the female he attributes the 'uires,' a 'strength' or 'power,' which is very masculine in its connotations"; Putnam 1998, 170-71: "... Vulcan's final words of capitulation are an acknowledgment not only of her formidable power but of its masculinity."

(52) Among a vast bibliography, see, e.g., Richlin 1983, 92; Kennedy 1993, 31.

(53) Roman poetic genres are "gendered," and critics have often emphasized the extent to which the poetic texture of Roman elegy, having appropriated mollitia as the quintessential quality of femininity, advertises itself self-consciously and programmatically as mollis; see, e.g., Fedeli 1981, 229; Quadlbauer 1970; Wyke 1995, 117; Kennedy 1993, 31-33.

(54) See McNamee 1993, 226, on the participle complexus.

(55) Ibid., 226: "When in poem 6 the poet considers abandoning his girl (his kind of elegy), she wraps herself around him to restrain him."

(56) Worth noting is again the metaphorical value of -plico (in implicui = "fold," "wind together") as part of the process of literary composition, a value well exploited by Augustan poets.

(57) Propertius 1.10.5-6: "When I saw you, Gallus, swooning, as your girl was wrapped around you [complexa ... puella], and draw out words with long delay"; 1.13.15-16: "I've seen you, Gallus, overcome and swooning and, neck tightly pressed against her, cry for a long time, with your arms thrown around her."

(58) Just as night "enfolds [amplectitur] the earth with its dark wings" (8.369) in the line preceding Vergil's description of the erotic scene in the celestial bedchamber.

(59) Hymn. Hom. Ven. 56-57: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]/ [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ...

(60) See, e.g., Lyne 1987, 43-44; Putnam 1998, 172. Putnam actually reminds us that a character in Macrobius (Sat. 1.24.6-7) considered the immorality of this scene as the reason why Vergil wanted his Aeneid to be burnt!

(61) The male gendering of war business is laid down again and again in epic texts, where a male voice speaking in authoritative fashion relegates the female to the house with its loom and distaff or to the temples of the gods (Il. 6.490-96; Vergil, Aen. 7.443-44). The epic narrative itself, however, problematizes such dichotomies; see Keith 2000, 65-100.

(62) Greek iconography testifies to the existence of the transvestism detail in the Heracles/Omphale myths as early as the fifth century B.C.E. In his study of Heraclean iconography, Vollkommer (1988, 32) considers an Attic red-figured pelike of about 430 B.C.E. as its "oldest and only sure representation in Attic art," while on a Boeotian red-figured skyphos dating from the same period Heracles is depicted as giving to a woman (Omphale?) his bow and as being prepared to offer her his other attributes as well. Vollkommer (ibid., 32) interprets the two vases as testifying to "the beginning of such representations in art, with no general iconography established."

(63) See Griffin 1985, 41: "But Octavian's propaganda went one step further and with brilliant success represented Antony as enslaved and bewitched by Cleopatra;... his conduct was systematically interpreted as that of an enslaved sensualist throwing away military glory and self-respect for her." "Above all, Antony is the slave of the woman" (ibid., 43).

(64) For a balanced assessment of the varieties of opposition to Augustus in the years after Actium, see Raaflaub and Samons 1990. For a brilliant reading of contemporary or post-Vergilian "readings" of the Aeneid as "oppositional," see now Thomas 2001.

(65) Kennedy 1992, 40: "The dominated voice may not be heard but is not absent; the potentiality for subversion is inscribed in every use of every word.... Establishment discourse is shaped by and contains traces of its opposition (and vice versa), even if the conflicting voice is not heard in its own right." Of course, although Kennedy is right in stressing that "The degree to which a voice is heard as conflicting or supportive is a function of the audience's--or critic's--ideology, a function, therefore, of reception" (ibid., 41; original emphasis), in the case of an artist creating poetry under a regime such as that of Augustan Rome subversive overtones cannot be easily thought of as "dominant" or overriding. As Hinds (1987b, 25) has put it, "If he [i.e., Ovid] was subversive in his writing ... how could he possibly proceed but by indirection and nuance? In any but the most powerful or the most reckless of Romans, publicly voiced anti-Augustanism must needs be a rhetoric of ambiguity and innuendo" (original emphasis).

(66) Although it has to be conceded that this "space" is to a certain extent shared with Venus too, who, in her clever enactment of her role as a "woman in love" and her flattering entreaties to Vulcan brings to mind Ovid's advice to his readers/pupils in Ars am. 1.439-42: "Let that wax tablet carry your blandishments [blanditias] and words that play at being the lover [imitataque amantem uerba], and, whoever you are, add copious entreaties. Achilles gave Hector back to Priam moved by prayers [prece motus]; an angry god is swayed by a praying voice [voce rogante]."

(67) In a similar move from love to war, Polyneices jumps out of erotic bed and wifely embrace to plan the expedition against Thebes (Statius, Theb. 2.332-74): "So he said, and hurriedly he brought himself out of the chamber he loved" (363).

(68) Plutarch, Comp. Dem. et Ant. 3.5: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(69) See Thomas 1979, esp. 195ff. On the topos in Ovid, Am. 1.2, see Buchan 1995, esp. 58-62.

(70) Callimachus, Ep. 27.praef.3-4 Pfeiffer: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] / [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], on which Thomas (1979, 200) comments: "So carefully crafted is that poetry [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] that it causes for the poet the same symptom induced in the lover."

(71) See Nagy 1996, 64. For Helen's web and poetic composition in Il. 3.121ff., see Bergren 1983, 79. For other instances of the metaphor, see, e.g., Pindar, Nem. 4.44-46, Ol. 6.86-87, frag. 179 Snell-Maehler; Bacchylides, Od. 5.9-10; Propertius 2.1.35. See Snyder 1981; Scheid and Svenbro 1996, 116ff.

(72) See, e.g., Ovid, Met. 1.4; Horace, Od. 3.30.13-14, Ep. 2.1.225; Propertius 1.16.41; Vergil, Georg. 3.10-11, Ecl. 6.5: deductum dicere carmen (with Servius: tenue; translatio a lana, quae deducitur in tenuitatem; and Macrobius, Sat. 6.4.12: deductum pro tenui et subtili eleganter positum est).

(73) Although this meaning could well be very prominent at this particular juncture, taking the reader back to the well-known topos of the humble beginnings of Rome, a matter of pride to the Roman race and an indicator of moral purity. Following Servius's rejection of the possibility that tenui could mean here "fine" work (Servius, Ad Aen. 8.409), editors generally prefer the meaning of "humble." See, e.g., R. D. Williams 1973, ad 8.409-10; Fordyce 1977, ad 8.410: "The meaning 'fine' for tenui ... does not suit this context: it is rather 'humble,' 'unpretentious'"; Gransden (1976, ad loc.) translates "by the humble spindle."

(74) For parallel Vergilian images of weaving as symbols of neoteric poetic composition, see Circe in Aen. 7.14 (with Thomas 1975, 65-66) and Ecl. 10.70-71.

(75) Already in the Odyssey this artisan is "Callimachean" avant la lettre, fashioning, as he does, his exquisitely "fine," "delicate" web ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Od. 8.280), in order to trap his wife and her lover. See section [section]1 above.

(76) Gransden 1984, 42; cf. Hardie 1985, 87: "The Shield ... may also be read as an image of epic poetry itself.... The Shield may also gesture beyond the Aeneid, to the genre of historical epic narrative taken as a whole, and specifically to Ennius as the immediate model for the Aeneid ..."

(77) Cf. Thomas 1975, 68 (on Aen. 7-12): "The letter of that programme [Callimachean] may have been rejected, but Vergil is at pains to demonstrate that his mode of composition adheres to its spirit."

(78) Cf. Thomas 1975, 72 n. 8: "Being 'Callimachean' ultimately connotes having a certain view of style, compositional methodology, and so forth, rather than pursuing any particular formal prescription;" cf. Zetzel 1983, 100: "The ultimate import of the Alexandrian definition of genre in strictly formal terms was that genre no longer mattered. The true poet could shape his chosen genre or genres in whatever way he chose;... as Virgil, Horace, and Propertius came to maturity ... there was room for a new Homer, a new Pindar--not mere copies of the old ones, of course, but with the subtlety, complexity, and versatility required of an Alexandrian poet." Cf. Sharrock 1994b, 133.

(79) See, e.g., Hardie 1986, 103 n. 48: "Aeneid 8 is in general unusually full of Callimachean reminiscence ... even in episodes of a sort not normally associated with Roman Callimacheanism ..." For a more detailed discussion, see George 1974.

(80) Cf. Zetzel 1983, 103: "Given the universality implicit in Alexandrian poetics, the emphasis on the small and humble together with the grand and heroic, it is important to recognize that both sides of the poem [i.e., the Aeneid] are necessary, that neither would be possible without the other."

(81) As the Lucretian subtext (cf. section [section]2) revolves around the symbolical polarities of Venus/Love, peace, pleasure, and Mavors/Strife, the doctus reader would have been quick to respond to the mollitia versus duritia contrast that my reading detects in this scene. See Gale 1994, 40-41 and chap. 6. Similarly, Hardie's "Lucretian" reading of Venus's seduction of Vulcan as "an invitation to extract a more serious and philosophical allusion, or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], to the hieros gamos as cosmogonical allegory" (see Hardie 1985, 91) is entirely plausible when set within the intellectual frame of a contemporary reader's literary and philosophical "encyclopedia."

(82) See, e.g., Propertius 1.7.6, 1.16.18, 1.16.35-38, etc. Cf. Fedeli 1980, ad Propertius 1.1.10.

(83) Kennedy (1983) on surgamus at the end of Vergil, Ecl. 10.75: "Surgamus implies not only rising from the position characteristic of the pastoral singer, recumbent in the shade of a tree ... it also presages the poet's move from a genre avowedly humble ... to something more elevated." Cf. Ovid, Am. 1.1.27: "Let my work rise [surgat] in six feet, and settle down in five"; 1.1.17: "Each time a new page rises well [surrexit] with the first verse ..."; Propertius 2.10.11: "Rise up [surge], my soul, from the humble; take on strength now, my songs [iam, carmina, sumite uires]"; see Sharrock 1994b, 102-3.

(84) An early version of this paper was presented at the 1997 CA Conference held at Royal Holloway, London. My thanks go to all the participants for their useful input and especially to Monica Gale. Richard Hunter, Alison Sharrock, and Philip Hardie read and commented painstakingly on drafts at various stages of this essay's composition. While they bear no responsibility for the final outcome, they helped me restructure or refine the argument in manifold ways; where I have been stubborn enough to disregard their advice, I have done so with the greatest misgivings. Finally, thanks are due to the anonymous reader of Helios for references and eye-opening suggestions.
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Author:Lada-Richards, Ismene
Publication:Helios
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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