Thy Wars Brought Nothing About
THE OTHER POWERLESS TO BE BORN
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
—Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”
Hand-in-hand with the Aeneis’s rejection of imperial destiny as subject is a rejection of the framework of Vergil’s epic.1 Whereas books 1–6 of the Aeneid (Vergil’s Odyssey) trace the hero’s growing awareness of and conviction in his task as he travels from Troy to a new homeland, Dryden’s Aeneas—or rather Aeneases—wander, from beginning to end of the translation, in an undefinable present against the backdrop of an idealized epic past. Likewise, Vergil’s concern with the purpose behind the Latium wars of books 7–12 (his Iliad) has no place in the Aeneis, dominated as it is by the poet’s sense of historical crisis and continual questioning of the type of conquest he had celebrated in Vergilian-style in Annus Mirabilis.2
Naturally, Dryden’s dismissal of Vergil’s key structural principle accentuates the nature of his own fragmented poem, in which, as Aeneis I demonstrates and as Sloman puts it, “separate sections… elicit whatever response seems appropriate for that section” and “virtually any character can become either [the] object or [the] mouthpiece” of his satire at any given moment.3 The effect of this wandering narrative is to transfer to the poet himself the authority attributed by Vergil to history and the divine purpose, and the method anticipates that of Fables where