Anger and Imagination in Dante and Virgil.
Keywords: Ovid, Old Testament, Brunetto Latini, Virgil.
Dante deals with the issue of anger in Purgatory 16 and its relation to the imagination in the first 45 lines of canto 17. In the initial address, Dante asks the reader if he remembers being caught in a fog in the Alps, when he could only see dimly, as through a veil, like a mole. Dante asks because he was similarly blinded, but when the humid and thick vapours began to disperse, and the light of the sun started to filter slowly through the fog, he saw the light of the sun, and by keeping pace with Virgil, he emerged to the dead rays of the sun that were about to set in the lower coast. (1)
Ricorditi, lettor, se mai ne l'alpe ti colse nebbia per la qual vedessi non altrimenti che per pelle taipe, come, quando i vapori umidi e spessi a diradar cominciansi, la spera del sol debilmente entra per essi; e fia la tua imagine leggera in giugnere a veder com'io rividi lo sole in pria, che gia nel corcar era. Si, pareggiando i miei co' passi fidi del mio maestro, usci' fuor di tal nube ai raggi morti gia ne' bassi lidi (Purg. 17:1-12). (2)
At stake in this allegorical address is the issue of seeing, or reading, through the thick fog created by a poet's imagination when dealing with anger. The implications of this initial comparison concern the difficulty of seeing through--which is the same as understanding --the workings of the poetic imagination. However, the passage implies that there is hope to make it through the fog by keeping close to the poet, as Dante did by keeping step with Virgil: "Si, pareggiando i miei co' passi fidi/ del mio maestro, usci' fuor di tal nube". In other words, the reader can find his or her way out of the fog by a close reading of how the poets, which Dante mentions, make use of their imagination.
In the second address to the reader, Dante explores the issue of the imagination and compares it to anger. They are similar to the extent that when a man is possessed by either anger or the imagination, he loses his ability to see and to understand. A thousand trumpets could sound and he or she would not be able to hear them.
O imaginativa che ne rube tal volta si di fuor, ch'om non s'accorge perche d'intorno suonin mille tube, chi move te, se 'l senso non ti porge? Moveti lume che nel ciel s'informa per se o per voler che giU lo scorge (Purg. 17: 13-18).
In these lines, Dante poses the question of what moves the imagination when it does not depend directly on the senses. The imagination can either be moved by a light that originates in heaven for its own sake ("nel ciel s'informa per se"), or by a will that acts for material or practical reasons ("per voler che giu lo scorge"). Dante goes on, then, to provide examples of each type of imagination as they relate to anger.
The first example, from classical literature, is the story of Procne and Philomela from Ovid's Metamorphosis 6, which Dante recalls in the form of a bird ("uccel"):
De l'empiezza di lei che muto forma ne l'uccel ch'a cantar piu si diletta, ne l'immagine mia apparve l'orma (Purg. 17:19-21, italics mine).
This is the well-known story of Procne's vengeance on her husband Tereus whose mad lust for her sister Philomela made him sacrifice everything just to have her: "Or rape her at the cost of war and terror. Stormed by the heat of love, nothing could stop him." (3) Tereus cuts out her tongue so she will not reveal the outrage and accuse him, and keeps her prisoner while he tells Procne that her sister is dead. Unable to speak, Philomela weaves a tapestry to tell her story and sends it to her sister who takes her revenge on Tereus by killing their son Itys, who looks very much like him, and feeds him to him. The two sisters are transformed into birds to escape his revenge, and when Tereus himself seeks revenge he is also converted into a bird. The example shows how Philomela, unable to speak, uses her imagination by weaving a tapestry to tell her story and reveal Tereus' guilt. However, at issue, is Ovid's imagination which is responsible for the metamorphosis of the two sisters and Tereus, into birds. As Procne and Philomela are being pursued by Tereus, who is about to slay them with an axe, their prayers for help are answered by the gods and Procne is changed into a nightingale, Philomela into a swallow, and Tereus into a plover. (4) Ovid's solution to anger is to metamorphose the wrathful into birds. This solution baffles Dante like a man caught in a fog, because he does not understand the relation between the crime and the punishment:
e qui fu la mia mente si ristretta dentro da se, che di fuor non venia cosa che fosse allor da lei ricetta (Purg. 17: 22-24).
The second example is from the story of Hester, in the Old Testament. It is the story of Haman, minister of Ahasuerus, who angry at Mordecai wants to hang him with all the Jews of the kingdom. When Queen Hester discovers the plot, she tell King Ahasuerus of Haman's treachery who condemns him to be hanged the same way he had planned to hang all the Jews. However, what rains in Dante's imagination is not a scaffold, but a crucifix:
Poi piovve dentro a l'alta fantasia un crucifisso, dispettoso e fero ne la sua vista, e cotal si moria; intorno ad esso era il grande Assuero, Ester sua sposa e '1 giusto Mardoceo, che fu al dire e al far cosi intero (Purg. 17: 25-30, italics mine).
The manner of Haman's death by crucifixion is not Dante's invention. Dante is referring indirectly to Brunetto Latini's version of the story, as Singleton relates it in the Commentary to Purg. 17: 26-30. In his Tresor, Latini makes Haman a Christ-like figure since he is being persecuted by the Jews, as he writes in Tresor I, 58 : "And she [Hester] crucified Haman because he wanted to destroy the people of Israel." In the Bible, Haman is neither a figure of anger nor is he "dispettoso e fero". On the contrary, he humbly begs Hester to spare his life. Furthermore, if Assuero "fu al dire e al far cosi intero" it means that he hung Haman the way he wanted to hang Mardoceo. Latini's version of Haman's death by crucifixion is, therefore, another case of anger and imagination, which is baffling.
The third example focuses on Amata, the Queen of the Latins, from Virgil's Aeneid 12: 596-607. Believing that Turnus has been killed in the duel with Aeneas and fearing that her daughter Lavinia will have to marry Aeneas, and that she herself is the cause of all the evils of the war, Amata hangs herself with her robes. Lavinia and the other Latin women mourn her by tearing their faces and clothes. Consistent with the previous examples, Amata's suicide should have been the sign that left an imprint on Dante's memory, but the only vision that appears is "a young girl" ("una fanciulla"), Lavinia, who is angry at her mother for killing herself:
surse in mia vision una fanciulla piangendo forte, e dicea: "O regina, perche per ira hai voluto esser nulla? Ancisa t'hai per non perder Lavina; or m'hai perduta! Io son essa che lutto, madre, a la tua pria ch'a l'altrui ruina (Purg. 17: 34-39).
This example also differs from the others because Lavinia's rebuke of her mother is not in Virgil's poem and could not have left a trace on Dante's memory. The passage is Dante's invention, the product of his imagination. Virgil describes only Amata's guilt and madness at the tragic events for which she believes to be solely responsible:
The queen, looking forth from her roof-top, saw the advance of the foe, Their assault on the walls, the flaming material flung at the houses, But nowhere the Rutuli, no opposition from Turnus. She believed, alas, that her warrior had lost his life in the desperate Fighting. The shock and anguish of this unsettled her mind. Crying out that she was the cause, she only to blame for the disaster, Talking wildly, distracted by paroxysms of grief, Death in her heart, she tore the crimson gown she was wearing And hung from a beam the noose that would horribly make an end of her (Aen. 12: 595-603). (5)
In the episode, Lavinia is not even mentioned by name, she never speaks; she only mourns her mother with the other Latin women:
When the poor Latin women got word of this calamity,
Led by the queen's daughter [Lavinia], who tore at her flower-bright tresses And rose-petal cheeks, they soon were all of them in a frenzy Of grief around her: the palace resounded with lamentations (Aen. 12: 604-607, italics mine).
Lavinia's thoughts on the futility of her mother's suicide reflect Dante's own comments on the futility of anger which is the theme of Purgatory 16. However, Lavinia's vision differs from the previous examples of Procne and Haman not only because she is not an example of anger but because she denounces its senselessness. Like the previous examples, however, Lavinia's rebuke points to Virgil's imagination and his senseless use of anger in the Aeneid for reasons that are not apparent at first but that relate to Amata's madness and death by suicide.
Dante's purpose behind the vision of Lavinia becomes clear when we realize, from reading the Aeneid, that Amata is not responsible for her mad anger. Her anger at the Trojans and her ensuing madness are inflicted on her by the Fury Alecto, who does the bidding of Jupiter's wife Juno. The story of Juno's aversion to the Trojans dates back from Homer's Iliad and Virgil, at the beginning of the Aeneid, recounts the reasons why she hates them. He mentions three reasons for her hostility: her love for Carthage and hatred for the future Rome, which is destined to destroy her favorite city, in what will be known as the Punic wars. She is also angry at the Trojans because Paris, a Trojan, awarded the golden apple, the prize for the most beautiful goddess, to Venus and not to her. Finally, she hates the Trojans because Ganymede was the founder of Troy and the favourite of the gods (Aen.1: 12-22). Because she is powerless to prevent Aeneas' victory in Latium and the future foundation of Rome, which have already been foretold by Fate, she hopes to delay the event of their victory for as long as possible. When Aeneas and his Trojans arrive in Latium, at the base of the Tiber, she sends the Fury Alecto to start a civil war between the Latins and the Trojans, and to prevent the marriage of Aeneas to Lavinia, who had been promised to Turnus. The Fury Alecto, whose name translates as "implacable or unceasing anger," (6) is the personification of anger and she goes to work by taking over the body of Queen Amata. Whereas the gods have sent omens to King Latinus to dispose him favorably toward Aeneas and the Trojans, and to give his daughter Lavinia in marriage to him, Amata fueled by Alecto, opposes his decision arguing that their daughter had already been promised to Turnus. She hides Lavinia in the woods and incites the other Latin women to rise up against the Trojans. She also appeals to the surrounding peoples, to King Mezentius and the Etruscans, to rise up against the Trojans (Aen. 7: 343-405). Then, disguised as Juno's priestess Calybe, Alecto appears to Turnus in a dream to incite hatred and anger for the Trojans by telling him that he lost his bride to Aeneas, and to persuade him to take arms against him (Aen. 7: 406-74). Thus, Juno's vindictive anger is responsible for the main conflict in the second part of the Aeneid, not Amata. She and Turnus are the victims of Juno and the Fury Alecto who hoped to cause as much damage to Aeneas and to his Trojans, for her own vengeance. She gives up only at the end of the poem, when she can no longer save Turnus, and it becomes clear that Aeneas will marry Lavinia, as Fate has willed.
Even though, thematically, this is the official version of the reasons for the war in the Latium, at a closer look, Juno's anger is the product of Virgil's imagination. It is Virgil who, as the poet of the Aeneid, narrates her hatred against Aeneas and the workings of the Fury Alecto. His reproach of Juno's hatred at the beginning of the poem: "Can a divine being be so persevering in anger?" ("Tantaene irae caelestubus animis?") (Aen. 1: 18), is only a rhetorical device to blame the Latins for the war in the Latium and shelter the Trojans from guilt. Lavinia's anger at her mother's suicide is, therefore, Dante's way of exposing Virgil's dissimulation of Juno's anger and of falsely attributing anger to Amata and Turnus. Scholars of Virgil have long examined Virgil's use of Amata's anger and madness. Paul F. Burke, for instance, sums up her role as essentially Virgil's scapegoat who takes all the blame for the war in Latium and for the Latin's downfall:
By re-examining this aspect of Virgil's Latin queen, I will demonstrate that Amata's role in the Aeneid is essentially that of a scapegoat; that is, her depiction as a guilty agent of Juno and furor allows her to take onto herself much of the responsibility for the blasphemous war in Latium, leaving Latinus, Lavinia and the Latin people as a whole relatively blameless (Burke 24). (7)
Burke sees Amata as part of Virgil's solution in the composition of the second half of the Aeneid.
Surely one of Virgil's main difficulties in composing the second half of the Aeneid was to portray the war in Latium as an act of blasphemous insanity against Fate and the will of Jupiter without showing the Latins, who are necessarily responsible for the war (since Aeneas must not be a warmonger), as unworthy of being allies and co-founders of the new Roman state. Amata is part of Virgil's solution to this dilemma (Burke 28).
As Burke suggests, Amata's anger and madness are really part of Virgil's strategy to place the entire blame of the war on the Latins and on Turnus, but especially on Queen Amata. Lavinia's reproach to her mother that she died in vain is ironic, in this context, because Amata's death served Virgil's poetic purpose. Lavinia's rebuke to her mother is Dante's rebuke to Virgil for his compromised poetics and his loyalty to Augustus, to whom he sacrificed his poetry and his imagination. Amata's madness and death are an essential part of Virgil's celebrations of the Romans and Augustus, which is more evident in the second part of the Aeneid, in the encomiastic Book 6 where he celebrates the great Romans of the past. (8) In Dante's terms of what moves the imagination, we could say that Virgil's imagination is "moved" by a will that is guided downward: "per voler che giu lo scorge" (Purg. 17:18); a will driven by "greed" as Dante believed. In Purg. 22, in the encounter with Statius, Virgil is made to repeat his invective against greed in the Aeneid:
per che non reggi tu, o sacra fame de l'oro, l'appetito de' mortali? (Purg. 22: 40-41) I "To what lengths is the heart of man driven By this cursed craving for gold"] ("Quid non mortalia pectora cogis, Auri sacra fames" [Aen. 3: 56-7]).
This time, however, Virgil's invective is directed against him since in this canto both prodigality and its opposite, avarice, are punished. If Statius is punished for being prodigal, Virgil is punished, indirectly, for being avaricious, or guilty of greed. This is Dante's indirect way of punishing Virgil for his greed, as a "miser" ("avaro") (Purg. 22: 32). (9)
Amata, however, is not the only guilty one. In Virgil's general conception of the Aeneid, she shares with Turnus the dubious title of being responsible for the war in Latium. With their deaths, peace and reconciliation are finally possible, just as Virgil claims in Inf. 1, when he mentions Camilla, Euryalus, Nisus, and Turnus who died for the well-being of Italy:
Di quella umile Italia fia salute Per cui mori la vergine Cammilla, Eurialo e Turno e Niso di ferute (Inf. 1:106-108, italics mine).
As I have shown in my analysis of these verses, Turnus does not belong to this group of warriors as he is, on the contrary, the main obstacle to Italy's "salute". (10) Dante places Turnus between Euryalus and Nisus, the two inseparable friends, to point to Virgil's biased poetic justice. In this group of warriors Turnus is a figure of irony as it separates the inseparable friends who Virgil celebrates as the symbol of the unity and inseparability of the power of his poetry and the everlasting rule of Augustus:
Ah, fortunate pair! [Fortunati ambo] if my poetry has any influence, Time in its passing shall never obliterate your memory, As long as the house of Aeneas dwell by the Capitol's moveless Rock, and the head of the Roman family keeps his power (Aen. 9: 446-49, emphasis mine).
Turnus's presence puts an end not only to the influence of Virgil's poetry but also to the House of Aeneas that no longer rules on the Capitol. While the memory of these warriors has been forgotten what is not forgotten are their crimes and Virgil's deceit to cover their guilt. Turnus' presence is a reminder of Virgil's biased justice because Turnus, by killing Pallas for his baldric, is just as guilty as Camilla, Euryalus and Nisus, and unlike them he is punished when he is killed by Aeneas in "just" punishment, at the end of the poem, in a dubious act of vengeance for the death of Pallas.
Having lost the duel to Aeneas, Turnus appeals to him to spare his life. He is defeated, Aeneas is now free to marry Lavinia, and there is no more reason for further hatred or killing. But if Aeneas must kill him, Turnus begs him to render his dead body to his father:
I know, I've deserved it. I will not beg life. Yours was the luck. Make the most of it. But if the thought of a father's Unhappiness can move you--a father such as you had In Anchises--I ask you, show compassion for aged Daunus And give me back to him; or if that is the way it must be, Give back my dead body. You have won. The Italians have seen me Beaten, these hands outstretched. Lavinia is yours to wed. Don't carry hatred further (Aen. 12: 930-37, italics mine).
While Aeneas is undecided on what to do, he happens to see the baldric of his young friend Pallas on Turnus' shoulders, a sign that he is the murderer. Rage overcomes him and he kills Turnus in just vengeance for his friend's death:
Aeneas fastened his eyes on this relic, this sad reminder Of all the pain Pallas' death had caused. Rage shook him. He looked Frightening. He said: Do you hope to get off now, wearing the spoils You took from my Pallas? It's Pallas who strikes this blow--The victim shedding his murderer's blood in retribution! So saying, Aeneas angrily plunged his sword fully into Turnus' breast. The body went limp and cold. With a deep sigh The unconsenting spirit fled to the shades below (Aen. 12: 944-52, italics mine).
Scholars of Virgil are divided on the meaning of these lines, but the majority are in agreement that they do not represent Aeneas in a good light. He is described as possessed by rage and full of anger, attributes that do not conform to the pious and magnanimous hero which is how Virgil portrays him in the poem. Critics are also divided as to whether Aeneas killed Turnus in just vengeance for the death of Pallas. On the basis of his complaint in the last line of the poem, most critics agree that Virgil meant his killing to be a "murder" and Aeneas' excuse to be rid of Turnus once and for all. (11)
The episode is modelled on Homer's Iliad, on the duel between Achilles and Hector. Once he is defeated, Hector pleads for his life, but Achilles kills him in vengeance for the death of his friend Patroclus. Later Achilles, in sign of pietas, gives Hector's body to his father Priam. However, as Michael Putnam points out, there are important differences between the two episodes. (12) Whereas it was known that Hector was fated to die at the hands of Achilles, the same is not the case with Turnus. For Putnam, Turnus' death at the hands of an enraged Aeneas, reflects precisely Virgil's intentions to show his pious hero in a negative light: "[that] Virgil means us to visualize this conduct in a negative light is clear" (Putnam 154). (13)
In this episode, there is a reversal of the practice that Virgil employs with Camilla, Euryalus, and Nisus. Whereas in the earlier episode, Virgil first reveals their violence and greed and later he covers up their guilt, making them appear as if they died for the well-being of the country, with Aeneas, Virgil represents him first as a pious and magnanimous man and later as a man possessed by mad rage and bent on revenge. The reversal has even greater implications for Aeneas, the symbol of pietas, since his father Anchises, in their meeting in Hades, had preached to him and to the Romans, to respect and obey above all the rules of pietas and to respect the conquered:
But, Romans, never forget that government is your medium! Be this your art:/--to practice men in the habit of peace, Generosity to the conquered, and firmness against aggressors (Aen. 6: 851-3).
Anchises voices Virgil's belief of the importance of pietas, which is fundamental to the laws that govern the Roman Republic, but also Augustus' Empire. Against this background, Virgil makes Aeneas appear "impious" for the first time in Book 10, when he shows him to be deaf to Lausus' call for pietas to save his father Mezentius, which Aeneas is about to kill. Before killing Lausus Aeneas mocks the young man for his loyalty to his father and for his pietas: "Why rush upon death like this? You are too rush, fighting out of your class; / And your loyalty's tempting you to your ruin" (Aen. 10: 811-12).
Aeneas mocks Lausus for the very virtue which he himself is known to embody throughout the poem, and which Anchises had urged him to respect. (14) In Book 12, in killing Turnus, Aeneas shows not only the same impiety but also the violence and rage that he shares with the other Trojan warriors mentioned by Virgil. In the final episode, in showing Aeneas possessed by mad rage Virgil undermines not only his own fiction of a pious Aeneas but also of a benevolent Augustus, of whom Aeneas is the prototype. The poem's last words describing Turnus' "unconsenting" spirit are also Virgil's who, close to death, left the poem unfinished and willed it to the flames. This was Virgil's last redeeming act and his way of atoning for his compromised poetics. (15) Ironically, we owe it to Augustus if the poem was not destroyed but preserved for future generations.
But there is another more important reversal. If Aeneas from pious becomes impious, Turnus from being impious becomes pious. His appeal to Aeneas' piety to give him his life now that he has won and that he can marry Lavinia or, at least, to render his dead body to his father Daunus, shows him in a new light. Turnus now is made to uphold those same values of piety that Anchises had tried to teach Aeneas and that Lausus had reminded him in vain. In the end Turnus becomes, ironically, the spokesman for the values of piety and morality that Virgil himself advocates in the Aeneid. This reversal is not lost on Virgil's scholars who have pointed out this new aspect of Turnus' humanity. Putnam, for instance, describes the reversal as an exchange of qualities between Aeneas and Turnus: "the anger that accompanies Turnus as he readies for battle becomes an attribute of Aeneas, as does the adjective fervidns. This epithet belongs to Turnus when he is in power, but Virgil allots it to Aeneas at the moment of closure as he furiously kills his pleading victim." (16) In the end the reader's sympathy is with Turnus and not with Aeneas whose failure as a man of pietas condemns his killing of Turnus as murder and not justice. Turnus' final appearance as a suppliant and as a victim of Aeneas, writes Putnam, "elicits the enormous sympathy of poet and therefore reader alike" (Putnam 2011: 97).
Dante's vision of Lavinia reveals Virgil's bias as the author of an epic that was written to celebrate Augustus and his Empire.' (17) In Virgil's case, however, the issue of anger and imagination is more complex than in either Ovid or in Brunetto Latini since it relates to his role as an epic poet. In this case, the "dissimulation," which entails feigning to say one thing while meaning another, has greater implications than when applied, as I have already indicated, to the episodes of Camilla, Euryalus and Nisus. (18) The initial deceit, as it relates to anger, occurs at the beginning of the Aeneid when Virgil feigns that Juno is the sworn enemy of the Trojans when, in fact, her actions, by means of the Fury Alecto, really favor the Trojans and not the Latins. Virgil's dissimulation is to make Juno's anger appear to be the cause of the war in Latium when, in fact, it is his poetic strategy to make everyone appear guilty of the war, except Aeneas and his Trojans. As I have indicated, this relates to Virgil's greed and opportunism as the poet of Augustus and the Empire, but also to his role as an epic poet. In defining what moves the imagination Dante had stated that when it does not depend on the senses, it is moved by a light which is formed in heaven by itself or by a will that discerns it: "Moveti lume che nel ciel s'informa/ per se o per voler che giU lo scorge" (Piirg. 17:13-18). In the case of the epic poet, the deceit consists in his inspiration which, supposedly, comes from heaven, from the gods or the Muses, when, in fact, it comes from the poet's imagination. It is in the deceit of an inspiring heaven that anger and imagination really become one because as the examples of Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey show, inspiration or imagination is at one with anger. When Homer in the Iliad asks the Muse for inspiration, it is to relate Achilles' anger: "Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son/ Achilles and its devastation" (Iliad 1:12, italics mine). In the Odyssey, where it is not a question of Odysseus' anger, there is Polyphemus' anger and his curse that determines Odysseus' fate. After Odysseus blinds him and takes pride in doing so by revealing who he is, Polyphemus curses him and asks his father Poseidon to make good on his curse:
"Hear me, Poseidon, earth-enfolder, thou dark-haired god, if indeed I am thy son and you declare yourself my father; grant that Odysseus, the sacker of cities, may never reach his home, even the son of Laertes, whose home is in Ithaca; but if it is his fate to see his friends and to reach his well-built house and his native land, late may he come and in evil plight, after losing all his comrades, in a ship that is another's; and may he find woes in his house." So he spoke in prayer, and the dark-haired god heard him (Odyssey 9: 525-40).
In the Aeneid, Virgil follows Homer's models of the Iliad and the Odyssey to sing of Aeneas' "anger." In this case, however, it is Polyphemus' curse which Virgil adopts as the model for Juno's anger and her decision to delay the arrival of Aeneas in Latium and his victory.
I accept it's not granted to me to withhold the Latin kingdom, and by destiny Lavinia will still, unalterably, be his bride: but I can draw such things out and add delays, and I can destroy the people of these two kings. Let father and son-in-law unite at the cost of their nations' lives: virgin, your dowry will be Rutulian and Trojan blood, and Bellona, the goddess of war, waits to attend your marriage (Aen 7: 315-25).
Virgil had meant to use both Homeric epics in their historical order, as models for the Aeneid, but this would have meant narrating Aeneas' anger first, and then his journey, on the model of Odysseus' wanderings. This was the initial order, if we go by Virgil's words at the outset of the poem that claim to speak first of the war and then of the man: "I tell about war and the hero" ("Arma virumque cano") (Aen. 1:1). Kenneth Quinn points out that Virgil meant to deal first with Aeneas the warrior (arms), to reflect the events of the war at Troy in the Iliad, and then Aeneas' travels (man), to reflect the events of Odysseus' wanderings. (19) However, this order is reversed in the poem, as we receive first the story of Aeneas' wanderings (the hero) and then the war against the Latins (arms). The reasons for this change are not clear but are logical. It would not have made sense for Virgil to sing first of Aeneas' anger because readers would have clearly seen in it a reference to Augustus. (20) The reversal explains why the anger shifts from Aeneas to Juno and to Amata and Turnus, through the Fury Alecto.
I tell about war and the hero who first from Troy's frontier, displaced by destiny came to the Lavinian shores, to Italy--a man much travailed on sea and land by the powers above, because of the brooding anger of Juno (Aen. 1.1-4, italics mine).
In the earlier part of the poem, Aeneas is mostly represented as pious and magnanimous, but he gradually becomes an Achilleslike figure who goes against the values of pietas of his father Anchises to the final scene, which is modelled on the Achilles-Hector duel, where Achilles seeks vengeance for the death of his friend Patroclus.
Dante denounces Virgil's fiction of Juno as the goddess that relentlessly pursues Aeneas with her anger in the first canto of the Inferno when Virgil introduces himself to the pilgrim:
Nacqui sub Julio, ancor che fosse tardi, e vissi a Roma sotto '1 buono Augusto nel tempo de li dei falsi e biigiardi (Inf. 1: 70-2, my emphasis).
The last line has always been read within a Christian context that the pagan gods are false and liars, but in the context of Purgatory 17, the line refers, ironically, to Virgil and to his invention of Juno's anger. The pagan gods, like Juno, are "falsi e bugiardi" (false and liars) not because the only true God is the Christian God, and the pagan gods are false, but because they are the invention of poets like Ovid and Virgil who, in their name, lie and deceive for their own (poetic) self-interest. Lines 70-72 are ironic because Virgil's statement of living under the good Augustus during a time when the gods were "falsi e bugiardi", are a reference to his dissimulation, which characterizes his poetic practice in the Aeneid.
Purg. 17: 1-45 explores the role of the imagination in the representation of anger with examples from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Latini's Tresor and Virgil's Aeneid. In Ovid's pagan world, anger is resolved by the gods who answer Procne's and Philomela's prayers by transforming them into birds. In a modern author like Brunetto Latini, Haman is rehabilitated and instead of being hanged as a common criminal, as in the original Biblical story, he is crucified by the Jews as a figura Christi. In Virgil's Aeneid, anger and imagination are at the service of a compromised poetics that places the blame on the gods and on the enemies of Rome like Amata, Turnus and the Latins in order to celebrate the "pious" Romans and the "good" Emperor Augustus. In all these cases, anger is only displaced, not resolved. In Ovid, the imagination is employed to displace anger, in Latini to distort it and in Virgil to deceive. Because of their failure to deal with anger, one could say that Ovid, Latini and Virgil expiate their misuse of poetic imagination, indirectly, in this canto. Dante's solution in Purgatory 16 is radically different. His solution for the punishment of the wrathful is to untie the knot of anger, to undo the knot that anger created: "d'iracundia van solvendo il nodo" (Purg. 16: 24).
Dante's vision of Lavinia's rebuke of Amata denounces Virgil's dissimulation by echoing Virgil's question to Juno at the outset of the poem: "Can a divine being be so persevering in anger?" (Aen. 1: 11) The indirect reference to Virgil, which dissolves Dante's own knot of anger, translates into a process of close reading that Dante refers to as matching his own steps with Virgil's, "pareggiando i miei co' passi fidi/ del mio maestro" (Purg. 17: 10-1). The process is not mimetic but allegorical because the aim of the comparison is to go beyond the "mole-like" vision of readers caught in the fog of Virgil's imagination to the light of understanding Dante's close reading of the Amata's episode. The process, therefore, is ironic because the purpose of the close reading is to expose and denounce Virgil's dissimulation and his greed. By following closely in Dante's steps, or, his reading of Virgil, allegorically and ironically, but not literally, the reader will be able to find his or her own way out of the fog of dissimulation created by Virgil's poetic imagination and gain an insight not only of Virgil's epic but also of how the poetic imagination can easily blind us, just as anger does, unless we read as Dante does Virgil, step by step.
(1) On Canto 16 see John Scott, "A World of Darkness and Disorder." Lectura Dantis Purgatorio, 167-77. In the same volume for Canto 17, see Jo Ann Cavallo, "On Revenge." 178-190. On the topic of "Anger" see also Patrick Boyde's Perception & passion in Dante's Comedy, 245-74.
(2) I am quoting from Purgatorio, a.c.d. Natalino Sapegno.
(3) The story of Procne is from Ovid, Metamorphoses.
(4) Singleton comments in Purg. 9: 15, that other versions have Procne changed into a swallow, Philomela into a nightingale and Tereus into a hawk.
(5) The translation of Virgil's Aeneid is by C. Day Lewis.
(6) See Paul F. Burke, "Virgil's Amata." Vergilius, No. 22 (1976), 24.
(7) Burke, 24.
(8) See Kenneth Quinn on the genesis of the Aeneid in Virgil's Aeneid. A Critical Description, 23-38.
(9) For a more extensive reading of this episode and Dante's critique of Virgil see my Reading Dante Reading, 141-53.
(10) See my Reading Dante Reading, 35-55.
(11) See Michael C.J. Putnam, The Humanness of Heroes. Studies in the Conclusion of Virgil's Aeneid, 116.
(12) Michael Putnam, Virgil's Aeneid. Interpretation and Influence.
(13) In his study of the Conclusion of the Aeneid, Putnam argues that "Aeneas remains a vengeful Achilles, but an Achilles without the latter's redeeming pity for Priam, a pity that Turnus asks him to show toward his father Daunus but to which Aeneas fails to respond" (116). See Michael C.J. Putnam, The Humanness of Heroes. Studies in the Conclusion of Virgil's Aeneid, 116.
(14) Another instance of rage in Aeneas occurs at the death of Pallas, which parallels Achilles' rage at the death of Patroclus, and requires the "gruesome sacrifice" of eight human victims. For Putnam this event, together with the arms he receives from Vulcan, marks a turning point in Aeneas' attitude. From the arms he gains power over his destiny, from Pallas' death all thought of clementin disappears. See Michael C. J. Putnam, Virgil's Epic Design. Ekphrasis in the Aeneid, 204.
(15) Putnam (2011) speculates that the reasons that led Virgil to wish his manuscript destroyed stemmed from "his worry about the moral quality of that empire's headship and therefore of the Roman Empire itself, or of any empire" (116).
(16) Michael Putnam, The Humanness of Heroes, 93.
(17) See Kenneth Qu inn, "Genesis" in Virgil's Aeneid. A Critical Description, 23-38.
(18) For the trope of dissimulation in Dante see Convivio III, x, 6-8: "And this figure [dissimulation] is very praiseworthy, and even necessary, that is, when the words belong to one person and the intention to another; since it is always praiseworthy and necessary to admonish but it is not always convenient on the lips of everyone [...] this figure is very beautiful and very useful, and is called "dissimulation" (Conv. III, x, 6-7, my translation). Dante learns this figure from Virgil who, as we have seen, uses it very effectively in his dissimulation of Juno's anger. Virgil's own dissatisfaction with his poetic practice, as I have indicated, is made clear in the second part of the Aeneid in the Lausus' episode where Aeneas goes against the accepted norms of piety dictated by Anchises and, in the last episode, by registering his discontent with Turnus' displeasure at the injustice received: "With a deep sigh / The unconsenting spirit fled to the shades below" (Aen. 12. 951-52, my emphasis).
(19) See Quinn. Virgil's Aeneid, 1-22.
(20) See Quinn, 54: "The ideal contemporary reader [...] would take it for granted that, somehow or other, Aeneas was Augustus."
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