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Lacrimae Illae Inanes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2009


The source of the tears mentioned in the much quoted final line (449) has been the subject of diverse views. That the shedder of the tears is not specifically designated has been felt to create an ambiguity, and critics have been tempted to conjecture his or her identity according to their personal whims or prejudices. The point is of more than passing interest and is of relevance in the assessment of Aeneas' character and the understanding of Book 4. The tears have been variously assigned: to Aeneas (so Servius, Augustine, C.D. 9.4 fin., and a number of modern critics); to Dido and Anna (Heyne-Wagner, Conington-Nettleship), or Dido (Sidgwick, Page); to Aeneas, Dido, and Anna (R. Lesueur, L'Énéide de V. (Toulouse, 1975), p. 404). R. G. Austin (ed. Aen. IV, Oxford, 1955, p. 135) thinks it wrong to probe: ‘Virgil is purposely ambiguous, and why may he not remain so? The line is ruined by a chill analysis … These tears could not be denied to Aeneas: but … few could withhold them for ever from Dido.’ The position is summed up in Servius auctus: ‘quidam … lacrimas inanes uel Aeneae uel Didonis uel Annae uel omnium accipiunt’, to which we may add ‘〈uel totius generis humani〉’: cf. ‘Virgil has not said whose tears; by not specifying he widens the area of sorrow, generalises this particular conflict into the universal conflict of pity with duty’ (R. D. Williams (ed.), Aen. I–VI (London, 1972), p. 373; cf. too W. F. Jackson Knight, Roman Vergil (London, 1944), p. 205). That Virgil should in truth have intended such puzzling obscurity seems hard to credit. It is being assumed that in a detail of his narrative which closely concerns the leading characters and which cannot but excite the reader's interest this master artist is guilty of a vagueness for which another writer would be censured as negligent, if not inept. It appears to me that the evidence presented by the poet himself is nowadays commonly ignored, and, outmoded as the process may seem, a reasoned consideration of the actual Latin text may not be out of place.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1978

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1. ‘Ita mens, ubi fixa est ista sententia, nullas perturbationes, etiamsi accidunt inferioribus animi partibus, in se contra rationem praeualere permittit; quin immo eis ipsa dominatur eisque non consentiendo et potius resistendo regnum uirtutis exercet. talem describit etiam Vergilius Aenean, ubi ait “mens … inanes”.’

2. Henry, J., Aeneidea (Leipzig, Dublin, Meissen, 18731892), ii. 749 f.Google Scholar; Mackail, J. W. (ed.), Aeneid (Oxford, 1930), p. 151Google Scholar; Glover, T. R., Virgil 6 (London, 1930), p. 197Google Scholar; Rand, E. K., The Magical Art of V. (Cambridge, Mass., 1931), pp. 361 f.CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pease, A. S. (ed.), Aeneid IV (Cambridge, Mass., 1935), pp. 365–8Google Scholar; Pöschl, V. (Die Dichtkunst Virgils, Innsbruck, 1950)Google Scholar, The Art of V. trans. Seligson, G. (Michigan, 1962), pp. 45 f.Google Scholar; Quinn, K., Latin Explorations (London, 1963), pp. 40 fGoogle Scholar; Otis, Brooks, V., A Study in Civilized Poetry (Oxford, 1964), pp. 84, 269Google Scholar; Perret, J., Virgile 2 (Paris, 1965), p. 140Google Scholar; Anderson, W. S., The Art of the Aeneid (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1969), p. 48Google Scholar; West, D.. JRS 59 (1969), 44 f.Google Scholar

3. Cf. Ov. Her. 4.175 f.; 20.76;Met. 11.387, ‘uerbis que precatur et lacrimis’; 444, ‘talibus Aeolidis dictis lacrimisque mouetur’; 13.586, ‘genibus procumbere … Iouis lacrimisque has addere uoces’, Pont. 3.1.157 f., ‘nec tua si fletu scindentur uerba nocebit:/ interdum lacrimae pondera uocis habent’; Sen. Phoen. 500 f.; Val. Flacc. 4.11, ‘precibuslacrimis et supplice dextra’; 42, ‘lacrimisuoce’; 7.269–70; Stat. Theb. 5.275f., ‘nec dictis supplex quae plurima fudi / ante louem frustra lacrimisque auertere luctus / contigit’; 6.196, ‘talia fletu uerba pio miscens’; 10.719, ‘nec lacrimae nee uerba mouebant’. Thus the vocabulary is uoces (uox), uerba, dicta, or preces; fletus or lacrimae. Among prose writers the combination preces + lacrimae occurs several times in Cicero's speeches and in Livy: cf. Thes. Ling. Lat. lacrima 837.60 ff. (uerba etc. + lacrimae I do not find noted).

4. The meaning ‘kindly ears’ attributed by some to placidas auris (cf. Pearce, T. E. V., CR 82 (1968), 13 f.Google Scholar) seems, in view of Aeneas' inexorable rejection of all Dido's pleas, highly unnatural (cf. Dido's words 428, ‘duras … auris’). The use of placidus is illustrated by Sen.Dial. 1.2.2, ‘nec hoc dico: non sentit [uir bonus] illa [omnia externa], sed uincit et alioqui quietus placidusque contra incurrentia attollitur’ (cf. Cic. Tusc. 4.5.10); for the prolepsis, cf.Aen. 10.103, ‘premit placida aequora pontus’.

5. It may be noted that the form fletibus occurs nowhere else in V., flatibus only in Georg. 2.339.

6. Cf. too Quinn, op. cit. p. 41, ‘used of Aeneas’ tears, the word [inanes] implies tears of frustration because A. is not free to go against fate’.

7. A notorious example of words of Virgil subject to misunderstanding and misleading quotation is 1.462, ‘sunt lacrimae rerum’, where hic etiam must be supplied from 461 and the genitive is objective: the meaning cannot be anything like ‘tears are universal’ (Henry and others). Cf. too 6.126, ‘facilis descensus Auerno’ quoted without reference to what follows.

8. e.g. Mackail, Rand, Pease, Pöschl, Quinn, West: see n. 2.

9. On 444, ‘frondes: sicut lacrimae Aeneae.’ Servius' occasional fantasies are illustrated at 30, ‘sic effata sinum lacrimis impleuit obortis’, where some have strangely attributed the bosom to Anna (so Peerlkamp) and Servius, even more strangely, does not consider sinum to be a bosom at all, but refers it to the eyes (= palpebras), ‘about which interpretation’, comments Henry, ‘the less said the better’.

10. A. S. F. Gow-D. L. Page (Greek Anth., Garland of Philip (Cambridge, 1968), ii. 239Google Scholar; cf. i. 215) on øύλλων … ἄνεμοι suggest that ‘the detail may be significant, notmerely decorative; as the wind scatters the leaves though the oak remains steadfast, so Rome under Caesar will stand firm though the storm of battle strips her of men’. Would the poet be likely to symbolize Rome's fighters by ‘withered leaves’?

11. Besides the mention of the leaves, the two similes have these features in common: 4.441, ‘annoso … robore quercum’, and 2.626, ‘antiquam … ornum’; 4.443, ‘eruere inter se certant’, and 2.628, ‘instant / eruerecertatim’; 4.444, ‘concusso stipite’, and 2.629, ‘concusso uertice’.

12. Cf. Georg. 3.332, ‘antiquo robore quercus’ and echoes in subsequent poets; for these and for further references to aged trees in V. and elsewhere, see Pease on 441.

13. Note, again, the chiastic arrangement of the clauses, to which Austin (ed. Aen. VI (Oxford, 1977)Google Scholar) at 6.468 calls attention. The ideas centre on lacrimas–adfatus (455)– dictislacrimas (468), the two parts being separated by Aeneas' words.