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Love And Duty In Virgil’s Aeneid And Augustine’s Confessions

1626 words - 7 pages

In his Confessions, Augustine relates that, in his school years, he was required to read Virgil’s Aeneid. The ill-fated romance of Aeneas and Dido produced such an emotional effect on him. Augustine says that Virgil’s epic caused him to forget his own “wanderings” (Augustine 1116). He wept over Dido’s death, but remained “dry-eyed to [his] own pitiful state” (Augustine 1116 – 7). Augustine later rejects literature and theater because he believes that they distract the soul from God. Nonetheless, Augustine shares many of the same experience as the characters in the Aeneid. Augustine discovers that love can be destructive, just as it was for Dido. Both Aeneas and Augustine of them give up love for the sake of duty. Aeneas leaves Dido to fulfill his calling given by the gods. Augustine ends his lustful affairs in order that he may devote himself to his God.

In the Aeneid, love is depicted as an uncontrollable emotion. Venus and Juno promote the romance between Dido and Aeneas. Dido, the queen of Carthage, begins to fall in love with Aeneas, even though she has vowed to her late husband that she would set her “face against marriage” (Virgil 975). Aeneas falls in love with Dido and remains with her in Carthage, even though he knows that he must continue his travel to Rome. Love is a passion which consumes the soul in spite of its will. It is an “inward fire” (Virgil 976). Juno arranges it so that Dido and Aeneas consummate their love in a cave during a storm. Again, mortals have little or no control over their loves. The gods are the ones who cause people to fall in love.

The story of Dido and Aeneas also shows what happens when one loves too much. Dido’s love is destructive. Dido falls so deeply in love with Aeneas that she cannot bear to live without him. Dido views love as being eternally-binding. When she discovers that Aeneas is planning to leave Carthage, she is outraged. She confronts him asking, “Can our love/Not hold you…?” (Virgil 983). She says that if Aeneas leaves her, then she is a “dying woman” (Virgil 984). When Aeneas persists in his decision to leave, she insults him and angrily sends him away. She calls him a “liar and cheat” (Virgil 985). Dido’s heart is broken at Virgil’s forsaking of her. She becomes inflicted by a “fatal madness” and is “resolved to die” (Virgil 988). After praying for enmity between her descendants and Aeneas’, she climbs atop a pyre of Aeneas’ belongings and stabs herself. Love becomes an obsessive passion to Dido; her life is empty without it. She does not have the will to live forsaken by her lover. She kills herself for love. The poet exclaims, “Unconscionable Love,/To what extremes will you not drive our hearts!” (Virgil 986).

Augustine considers his greatest sin to be the sin of lust. He is held fast by the chains of love and its physical pleasures. Augustine says that his “one delight was to love and be loved” (Augustine 1118). As an adolescent he “could not distinguish the white light of...

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