The Imagery of Fire in Virgil’s Aeneid
In discussing fire imagery in the Aeneid I will attempt in the course of this paper to bring in an analytic device to aid in assembling the wide array of symbols into a more uniform set of meaning. Consistently throughout the Aeneid, fire serves to provoke the characters to action. Action which otherwise it is not clear they would enter upon. Fire clears the way for the juggernaut plot to advance. Juno, first of all, described as burning - pondering (with her hatred of the Dardans) goes to Aeolus with the idea of sending the winds to create an under-handed storm to destroy the Trojans, at the sight of their fleeing ships and successful escape from the Greeks (I.75)1. Fire from the Greeks burns down Troy. Forced by necessity to flee for their lives, Aeneas can gain his fathers acquiescence only with the portent of two flaming omens. Cupid in the form of Ascanius induces Dido with a fated love for Aeneas, consummated by their union in the cave. Jupiter with these words on his lips sends Mercury down to a lingering Aeneas at Carthage.
Mercury, carry across the speeding winds the words I urge: his lovely mother did not promise such a son to us; she did not save him twice from
Grecian arms for this–but to be master of Italy a land that teems with empire...to place all earth within his laws. But if the brightness of such deeds is not enough to kindle him...does he–a father–begrudge Ascanius the walls of Rome? (IV.310-311)
Mercury flies down to Aeneas and delivers these very words among others, Aeneas is struck dumb by this (and not for the last time) and afterwards He burns to flee from Carthage (IV.375). Much later , but significantly, the Fury Allecto is sent by Juno to Amata, wife of King Latinus and mother of Lavinia, and to Turnus prince of the Rutulians and infests both with the flame of certain madness, inciting them to make war on the Trojans, a war which shapes the third part of the Aeneid through to its conclusion.
The central characters are all described principally in terms of their incendiary capacity. Dido burns, and burns, and burns, and burns. The plan of Venus (and of Juno as well) is to inflame the queen to madness (I.920). Later: The words of Ana feed the fire in Dido, hope burned away her doubt and destroyed her shame, (IV.75). And unhappy Dido burns (IV.90), Whirled around in fire by the furies (IV.514).
Dido, broken by fate can only call for an avenger [to] rise up from my bones, one who will track with fire brand and sword the Dardan settlers, (IV.863). Turnus after the visit by Allecto burns with a continuous rage which compels him unalterably to murderous action. Aeneas does not burn, not so much, but instead is confronted with fire -destructive fire he must run through and away from. Ever endangered by fire it seems to surround him throughout the work. Fire threatens to cut off his escape, as when his ships at the beach in Italy only divinely escape destruction, fire is...