Edited by: Christopher Francese, Meghan Reedy, et al.
Aeneid 1.34-123 essay
By Meghan Reedy
We catch but a brief glimpse of the Trojan refugees in 34–5: they are sailing happily off the coast of Sicily: Vix e conspectu Siculae telluris in altum vela dabant laeti et spumas salis aere ruebant, … but then Juno’s contemplations and their aftermath take center stage.
In what she says to herself, Iuno … haec secum (36–7), Juno links her frustration at being unable, so far, to stall Trojans’ efforts to establish themselves in Italy (Mene incepto desistere victam nec posse Italia Teucrorum avertere regem? 38) with her jealousy toward another goddess, this time of Minerva (Pallasne …, 39–49). She remembers how Minerva once burned the Argive navy (remember the Argives are dear to Juno, caris … Argis, 1.24) and drowned the sailors, all because Oileian Ajax raped Cassandra (Pallasne urere classem Argivum atque ipsos potuit summergere ponto unius ob noxam et furias Aiacis Oilei? 39–41). Exactly how she did it also bothers Juno: Minerva herself hurled Jupiter’s own thunderbolt and tore things apart with a storm (ipsa, Iovis rapidum iaculata e nubibus ignem, disiecitque rates evertitque aequora ventis, 42–3). Ajax himself she struck with lightning, and then picked him up in a whirlwind and spiked him on a sharp rock, illum exspirantem transfixo pectore flammas turbine corripuit scopuloque infixit acuto (44–5). Juno complains to herself that she, sister and wife of Jupiter, is losing face because she cannot do the same (46–9).
What follows seems to be an effort to correct both things at once: using methods of her own Juno creates a violent storm—which both imitates Minerva’s revenge on Ajax, and stalls the Trojans’ progress. But the differences too are telling.
Minerva had usurped for a moment Jupiter’s signature weapon and emblem of power, lightning (rapidum … ignem 42), but Juno usurps instead his bureaucratic control. We are told in 58–9 that if the winds were just left ranging around according to their own devices they would sweep through far too fast. Fearing this, Jupiter had them incarcerated under a mountain, with a client king, Aeolus, watching over them, who lets them out by turns according to instructions (61–3). And it is this king, Aeolus, whom Juno bribes (65–75) to let the winds out all at the same time.
I would like to draw attention to two things that seem small but that can help to orient us in this scene and in the larger narrative.
One is the way that we are invited to see Juno and Jupiter in contrast. Back in line 23, when Virgil was enumerating Juno’s reasons for being so very very angry, he summed up her response to hearing that a Trojan-descended people were fated to destroy Carthage as fear: id metuens …. And in line 3 and again in 29–32 we are told that because of her anger, which is caused (in part) by this fear, she tosses the Trojans at sea whenever she can (multum ille … iactatus et alto 3; iactatos aequore … errabant … maria omnia circum 29–32). Jupiter also has a fear, named as such in the same way in line 61: hoc metuens …. But his fear is of unintended storms (58–9). His response to his fear is containment, physical (he puts them into a mountain prison, 61) and legal (he makes a contract with a king, via foedere certo, 62). He exercises what we might call pre-emptive restraint, where Juno feels compelled to cause pre-emptive chaos, both of them acting because of fear.
Secondly, this contrast between Juno and Jupiter is not a clash between them. They are not acting at the same time, for instance: Jupiter set Aeolus up some (long?) time before now, and when Juno approaches Aeolus to strike her deal with him, they are (we suppose) alone. Nor is either one’s action aimed at the other; each responds to the circumstances they perceive as relevant.
There is no real clash at all. No resistance to Juno comes even from Aeneas, who is one of the intended victims of her storm-strategy. When the storm hits, darkening the sky suddenly and completely (eripiunt subito nubes caelumque diemque Teucrorum ex oculis, 88–89), Aeneas raises his hands to the sky and wishes he were already dead, wishes he had died at Troy: O … Tydide! Mene Iliacis occumbere campis non potuisse tuaque animam hanc effundere dextra … (96–98). In this moment, in the teeth of this storm, he wants what Juno wants. Further still, once the storm has thrown ships every which way (onto rocks, 108–9; onto sand-bars, 109–10), and people and things start tipping into the sea, there is a moment when it seems the whole story is about to drown before it even gets going: Apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto, arma virum tabulaeque et Troia gaza per undas (118–19). Arms, men, Trojan treasure—all in the sea.
In this moment, one of the many things we might marvel at is the sheer scale of this scene. Not just the hugeness of the storm, but the vastness of the gulf between the power of the gods (vi superum, 4) on the one hand, who can impose a jailer on the winds or cajole that jailer into letting them loose, and on the other hand the tiny, despairing man (virum cano, 1).
A great deal is happening at once when this storm happens. Philip Hardie, in Cosmos and Imperium (pp. 90–97), shows how this storm is an allegory for the gigantomachy, the war the Titans wage against the gods. He also shows how—at the same time—this storm is profoundly influenced by the scientific meteorological descriptions of Lucretius (pp. 180–3 and 237–40). Lucretius spends a great deal of effort offering such explanations in his De Rerum Natura, in hope of dispelling fear and superstition about the gods, but here, as Hardie shows, Virgil is re-mythologizing the storm using Lucretius’ scientific terms. In addition, the “air” was attributed to Juno as her natural element through etymologies from her name Hera; as is shown in part in Aeolus’ flattering response to her. This, and more besides, is discussed by Oliver Phillips and others.
Anderson, W.S. 2005. The Art of the Aeneid 2nd ed., 24–6. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci.
Hardie, P.R. 1986. Virgil’s Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium, 90–97. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Levitan, W. 1993. “Give up the beginning? Juno’s mindful wrath (Aeneid 1.37).” Liverpool Classical Monthly. 18: 14.
McKay, A.G. 1989. “Vergil’s Aeolus episode.” In Daidalion: Studies in Memory of Raymond Schroder, edited by R.F. Sutton, 249–56. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci.
Phillips, O. 1980 “Aeole, namque tibi.” Vergilius. 26: 18–26.
Smith, R.A. 2005. The Primacy of Vision in the Aeneid, 12–20. Austin: University of Texas Press
Williams, R. D. 1965–6. “The opening scenes of the Aeneid.” Proceedings of the Virgil Society. 5: 14–23.