Cross-posted from my blog
. As always, comments are greatly appreciated:
Link to text on Perseus
As last time, we'll lead off with a couple of minor but delectable examples of Vergil playing with language and meaning. First, one that I just noticed from the previous passage - in lines 160-161, Vergil has placed omnis and the word it modifies, unda, particularly far apart (there are 7 words between them) - they are broken apart, split up, just as the waves themselves are broken and split by the island. Moving on to this passage, Vergil may be going for a similar effect in line 186 by putting longum at the start of the clause and agmen at the end of it - in doing so, he mimics the length of the column of deer. A couple lines before, in 184, we experience a very brief moment of hope - Navem in conspectu, '[he sees] a ship in sight' - before it is crushed by the addition of nullam modifying navem.
We turn now to the passage as a whole. This is the first time that we have seen Aeneas acting as a hero (his actions and speech during the storm are hardly heroic). In many ways, his actions here are anticipating his speech that immediately follows - while he is surely disappointed not to see the ships of any of his comrades, upon spying the deer, he immediately represses that disappointment and takes advantage of the situation to provide for his men. As we will see a few lines later, his speech is meant to fortify his men mentally, just as the deer he has killed has fortified them physically. Looking ahead to line 209, right after his speech, Vergil states that Aeneas premit altum corde dolorem ('presses down his deep sorrow in his heart'), and although it is unsaid, the same must be the case in this passage.
Another question that we might raise about this passage (one that I will leave open for comments) is whether it is significant that Aeneas' first act upon landing in Libya is an act of violence - killing these deer (and beginning with the three leaders). It is interesting to note that Dido is later compared to a deer struck by an arrow (conjecta cerva sagitta, 4.69) and that the initial cause of fighting once the Trojans land in Latium is the killing, by Ascanius, of a sacred deer. I'll also note that the Trojans once before have immediately begun killing animals after landing in a foreign land, and as a result they were attacked and then cursed by the Harpies. Are their meaningful connections to be made with any of these other scenes, or are they just coincidence? Can Aeneas' actions here be understood on a symbolic level as well?