Friday, January 09, 2015

2015-01-06 - A Year With The Harvard Classics - Warned by Hector's Ghost

January 6 - Warned by Hector's Ghost:  In the dead of night Hector's ghost appeared to warn Aeneas of the impending doom to come upon the walled city of Troy. Aeneas lifted his aged father on his back and, taking his son by the hand, sought safety in flight.  Off to Latium! (H. Schliemann, discoverer of ancient Troy, born Jan. 6, 1822.) Read from Virgil's Aeneid, Vol. 13, pp. 109-127.

Read the 2nd Book of the Aeneid HERE

"I blurted out these words, and was rushing on with raging mind,
when my dear mother came to my vision, never before so bright
to my eyes, shining with pure light in the night,
goddess for sure, such as she may be seen by the gods,
and taking me by the right hand, stopped me, and, then,
imparted these words to me from her rose-tinted lips:
“My son, what pain stirs such uncontrollable anger?
Why this rage? Where has your care for what is ours vanished?"

What interests me most about the introduction to the reading for Jan. 6, is that it leaves out of it what I take to be a pivital point for Virgil.  The introduction suggests that the text is only about the visage of Hector, supreme Trojan warrior, who is killed in the fall of Troy and then visits his friend Aeneas to warn him of impending doom, at which point Aeneas picks up his father and holding the hand of his son, retires to the safety of Latium.

However, the more important point of this episode, may not involve Hector at all, but is to be found in the interlude between these two scenes (that of the visage and the other of leave-taking) when Aeneas, paragon of virtue, is on the verge of killing Helen of Troy for her part in bringing about the fall that now besieges them both. (A temptation that he considers after witnessing the gruesome execution of Trojan Prince Polites and King Priam on his own altar.)  It is here that Aeneas is visited by his mother Venus (which some scholars suggests is symbolic of his conscience) and is convinced not murder the woman with a face that launched a thousand ships but to return to his father Anchise, his wife and his son and to take them to safety.

Why is this episode so important?  To me it represent's Virgil's attempt to humanize Aeneas, to show that virtue is not a gift, but a constant struggle with temptations and forces that might ultimately provide each of us with the means to be less than we are capable of being and becoming.  

In a strange way, reading this episode I flashed to the 1988 Presidential debate between V.P George H. W. Bush and Gov. Michael Dukakis, when the debate moderator, Bernard Shaw asked Gov. Dukakis "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis [his wife] were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?"  Dukakis reply pointed toward his continued opposition to the death penalty.  Many believe that this incident and the campaign ads which followed utilizing it cost him the election.  

I wonder whether we'd have had a President Dukakis if he'd risked saying in that moment, "As a husband I'd've wanted to pull the switch myself.  As Governor, I would have relied on those around me to remind me of my truest self and help me make a more just response." Like Virgil's Aeneas, perhaps the reminder that as human beings we often struggle to do the right thing and in the end outcomes, which make for a better world, make the struggle worth every ounce of energy and anxiety it takes.

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