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Blogging the Aeneid: Book 10: the Council of the Gods

As always, cross-posted from http://apvergil.blogspot.com.

Homework this weekend was to read Book 10 in English, so this post will be somewhat different than the past few; I've decided to write about a scene that I find one of the most fascinating in the entire Aeneid - the council of the gods (lines 1-117). This post will focus on Juno and Venus, and I plan on addressing Jupiter in the following post.

A couple questions come to mind in looking at these opposing speeches - who is convincing (or meant to be convincing)? Are Venus and Juno accurate and honest in their claims (it certainly would not be surprising if they weren't - Roman politicians, whether speaking in the Senate, to the people, or in the law courts, generally do not feel the greatest attachment to the truth)?

Venus begins by claiming that the Trojans are about to be destroyed while Aeneas is far away and unaware; this is technically true - Aeneas at this moment is unaware of the pressure the Trojan camp is under, but war had already been declared when he left to seek allies, and his instructions to the Trojans to remain within their walls surely shows that he anticipates this situation. Juno essentially makes this point in lines 68-71 - she has not put Aeneas and the Trojans in this particular situation. Venus goes on to bring up the prophecies that support the Trojans' settling in Italy, while very effectively playing the pity card ('go ahead, kill them, just let me save dear little Ascanius' - you can almost imagine her looking at the other gods with sad, puppy-dog eyes). Juno counters by claiming that the Trojans have grossly misinterpreted the fates, driven on solely by Cassandra's mad words. This, though, is demonstrably not true - we have heard of the Trojans' destiny several times from different prophetic sources, not least of which is Jupiter himself in Book 1 (lines 257-296).

Juno adds two more points in her speech, first claiming that Aeneas is the one who has chosen to fight, and that she has nothing to do with it. This is a fairly bold lie - after all, it is Allecto, on Juno's instructions, who has stirred up Turnus and the Latins to war; Aeneas is clearly hopeful of settling there peacefully when he first lands (hence the embassy and gift exchange). Her second point is that this entire situation is Venus' fault because she caused the Trojan War by helping Paris steal Helen of Troy. While this is certainly looking fairly far back in time, and Aeneas and his men have little to do with this original crime, the point is generally valid, and perhaps this is what seems to win Juno at least some support from the other gods, who variously mumble assent or dissent.

The final verdict is a difficult one (Jupiter certainly seems to have a tough time); Venus, at least in my mind, comes out slightly ahead, but she is also arguing from a position of strength. It is interesting to see, though, the extent to which these goddesses misconstrue or flat out lie in their arguments. No rhetorical punches are pulled, to say the least. There are certainly periods of Roman history when arguments of this style are commonplace - for example, the rivalry of the politicians/gang leaders Milo and Clodius in the 50s B.C. or, for that matter, between Cicero and Clodius. It is an interesting question to wonder whether such debates are still present under Augustus; if they were, he might certainly play the same arbiter role as Jupiter, though he may have frowned upon such disputes as compromising the unity and peace of Rome.

I have meandered through these speeches somewhat, but I'm curious to know what others think of them. Is our understanding of Venus and/or Juno changed or enhanced particularly by these speeches? Do the speeches themselves have particularly interesting features? More to come soon on Jupiter's response...

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