The Madness of Epic: Reading Insanity from Homer to Statius

By Debra Hershkowitz | Go to book overview
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2
Vergil's Aeneid: The Romans and the
Irrational

I

As the battle between Italians and Trojans reaches a climax in Aeneid 12, a messenger informs Turnus of the desperation of the situation: Latinus is wavering ineffectually about the treaty and the war, Amata has rather more decisively committed suicide, and now all look to Turnus as the city's last hope (suprema salus, 653). The report has a shattering effect on Turnus:

obstipuit uaria confusus imagine rerum 665
Turnus et obtutu tacito stetit; aestuat ingens
uno in corde pudor mixtoque insania luctu1
et furiis agitatus amor et conscia uirtus.
ut primum discussae umbrae et lux reddita menti,
ardentis oculorum orbis ad moenia torsit 670
turbidus eque rotis magnarn respexit ad urbem.

Turnus was stunned, confused. by the shifting images of things; he stood there silent, staring. In his one heart swelled mighty shame, and insanity mixed with sorrow, and love driven by fury, and virtue aware of itself. As soon as the shadows were scattered and light returned to his mind, he twisted the burning globes of his eyes to the walls, disturbed, and looked back at the great city from his chariot. (12. 665-71)

Turnus' reaction is marked by antithesis. His body's initial motionless demeanour2 contrasts sharply with the violent emo

____________________
1
Cf. the description of Mezentius at 10. 870-1. The description at 12. 665-71 presents a much more detailed portrait of Turnus' mental experience than is given of Mezentius; in such a context, 12. 667 can be considered more than a simple formulaic repetition. On the text and possible interpolation of 10. 872 see S. J. Harrison ( 1991) ad loc.
2
Turnus is stupefied, a state marked by silence, stillness, and staring (for Turnus' stare see below); cf. Aeneas at. 1. 495, and Caelius Aurelianus, On Acute Diseases 2. 74. Stupefaction is a characteristic response of those experiencing epiphanies: cf. e.g. Il. 16. 791-817; Hymn to Dem. 190, 281-3 with Richardson;

-68-

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