Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A book report about how Dido was the world's most spiteful girlfriend

I was assigned to read The Aeneid twice in college, and I read it both times. It seems like The Aeneid is the only epic poem that anybody likes and remembers. Nobody stays up late reading Homer.

On Virgil days the professors were in top form. A frat guy I was friends with wrote a play using Aeneas as a main character. Like the Inferno and Gatsby and As I Lay Dying, The Aeneid was one of those books that everybody seemed to like.

Comic book synopsis: Aeneas was a Trojan warrior who made his debut in The Iliad. About 800 years later, Virgil writes a sequel about how Aeneas founds the Roman empire. After the fall of Troy, Aeneas and has crew knock around the Mediterranean. They spend some time in Carthage, where Dido falls in love with him, and then kills herself when Aeneas leaves for Italy. Aeneas travels to the afterlife to talk to his dad and hear some prophecies. Then, Aeneas, his son Ascanius, and surviving crewmembers land on the western shore of Italy. They fight a bloody war with the locals, Aeneas kills his arch-rival, and the stage is set for the Roman empire. The end.

Aeneas is a great guy, much more vivid and real than what Homer cooked up. He works hard. He's a family man -- a good dad to Ascanius, and during the fall of Troy, he carries his own dad on his back until they get to safety. He's also a great friend: he was about to let his enemy Turnus live, when he remembered how Turnus killed his buddy Pallas: "Decked in the spoils you stripped from the one I loved -- escape my clutches?" Aeneas says. "Never -- Pallas strikes this blow, Pallas sacrifices you now, makes you pay the price with your own guilty blood!"

Aeneas was the first action hero, and all-around awesome.

I reread The Aeneid over Thanksgiving. I hadn't read it since fall of '98, and the new translation was a good excuse.

One thing I forgot: Dido was a lunatic. She was the queen of Carthage and a stone fox, what Elizabeth I would have been if she'd looked like Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee were a Trojan. Aeneas and his team are on the way to Italy when their ships land at Carthage. "His looks, his words, they pierce her heart and cling -- no peace, no rest for her body, love will give her none." After a few days: "Dido cares no more for appearances, nor for her reputation, either. She no longer thinks to keep the affair a secret, no, she calls it a marriage, using the word to cloak her sense of guilt."

Still, Aeneas needs to go found Rome. The gods feel worried, so they remind him not to hang out in Carthage too long. Aeneas doesn't tell her this yet, but Dido still goes crazy. "You're running away -- from me?" she says. "Thanks to you, my sense of honor is gone, my one and only pathway to the stars." She complains to Aeneas that, "thanks to you, the African tribes, Numidian warlords, hate me."

To be clear: Aeneas has done nothing wrong. His hometown has been destroyed and he's been at sea for years. He didn't lie to Dido. She looked at him, flipped out, then accosted him until he banged her. The whole relationship is summarized in The Hold Steady line, "Guys go for looks. Girls go for status." Aeneas explains to her that he's responsible for his son and his people, and that he'd love to stay in Carthage with Dido. Her measured response: "She breaks off in the midst of outbursts, desperate, flinging herself from the light of day, sweeping out of his sight, leaving him numb with doubt, with much to fear and much he means to say."

What does Dido do next? I bet you don't remember all of the details. She tells her sister Anna to build a fire, and tells Anna to burn all of Aeneas' clothes. After that, burn her bed! "I must obliterate every trace of the man, the curse, and the priestess shows the way!" says Dido, shrieking her psychotic little heart out.

Shortly thereafter, Dido throws herself on one of Aeneas' old swords. She dies screeching.

You may think that I'm being too tough on Dido. I mean, I wish that was the case. I wish that she had redeeming qualities. But in Book Six, when Aeneas goes to the underworld, he runs into Dido. He sees her and feels terrible. He says a bunch of nice things and says that he feels bad that she died.

Imagine that you're a dead Carthaginian queen, and that you killed yourself because you lack self control and perspective. Now you're dead. The underworld is boring. Wouldn't you be excited for any company, let alone this guy you were, like, totally in love with?

No. After Aeneas says all of this great stuff, she refuses to speak to him. She glares, looks at the ground, and walks away.

I know this is not a fashionable spin on Dido's behavior. I remembered Dido as this really hot, sad queen that got shafted by Aeneas. That's probably how my professors taught the book. But that is not Dido, who was, in reality, the precursor to Coral from the Real World-Road Rules challenges.

How the hell could you not like The Aeneid? I just described 1 1/2 chapters of a 12-chapter book. Elsewhere in the poem, Euryalus and Nisus become the charter members of NAMBLA, Aeneas explains the Trojan Horse from the Trojan perspective, everybody badmouths Odysseus, and Virgil provides pages of splattered brains and split skulls.

And then Virgil throws in all the right details, like his sketch of the battlefield death of "Menoetes who, in his youth, detested war but war would be his fate. An Arcadian angler skilled at working the rivers of Lerna stocked with fish, his lodgings poor, a stranger to all the gifts of the great, and his father farmed his crops on rented land." And then you think to yourself, Shit, Aeneas is in this for the glory, but a guy like Menoetes, who only wanted to fish in his stream and lead a simple life, is the one who pays for it.


MM Agency said...

I came across your post online and you have quite the interesting comparison to Coral in your post.

I work with Coral and the other MTV Real World cast members as I book them for appearances.

I will forward her this post to get her thoughts on this :)

,MM Agency & the Real World Blog

Crunk Raconteur said...

Okay, if the above comment is true, it's about the most awesome thing in CSB history...mostly because I am now picturing Coral reading the Aeneid and getting increasingly angry.

Also, present in this mental image (although not reading the Aeneid): The Miz.

CrimeNotes said...

Wait, what? Did I just start a vendetta with Coral from the Real World?

Coral, if you read this, the more accurate comparison probably would have been Veronica from Road Rules.

Personally, I think it would be awesome if MTV reality stars showed more interest in Virgil.

Jaime said...

So you went home for Thanksgiving and played beer pong with a bunch of 20-year-olds, and re-read the Aeneid. You're my hero. And I think I might want to marry you.

CrimeNotes said...

Wow -- a post about Virgil gets Coral's attention, and an aspirational wedding proposal.

Jaime, if we get married I'll buy you a digital camera.

Jaime said...

That sounds fair.

crap said...

omg im blonde didnt red the messarge and thinmk u ar a litle spattic in a spatic word kissi yur muz bum askin 4 som choctkate smothie wit extra swetcon toppinz