Virgil's Aeneid: Semantic Relations and Proper Names

By Michael Paschalis | Go to book overview

BOOK 11

I. OVERVIEW

1. Mezentius (1-21)

a. truncus, exuuiae, and tumulus

Aeneas erects on a 'tumulus' a 'tropaeum' clothed ('induit') with Mezentius' arms and armour ('exuuias') and dedicates it to Mars. In 10. 762 ff. Orion-like Mezentius was seen brandishing a huge spear, the trunk of an ash-tree [δóρυ], and in 10. 833-6 he was seen washing his wound in the waters of the Tiber and leaning against a tree-trunk ('arboris acclinis trunco'), while his helmet was hanging from the boughs of the tree.1 Now the tree-trunk is stripped of its leaves and clothed with Mezentius' 'exuuiae'. A 'tumulus' is 'terra tumens' and interacts semantically with 'exuuiae' ('empty' armour). The relation of tree-trunk [δóρυ] to 'tumulus' and 'exuuiae' (the latter include Mezentius' broken 'tela', δóρατα) varies the relation of Laocoon's spear [δóρυ] to the hollow of the Wooden Horse [δóρυ]. The trophy is in addition an offering [δῶρον] to a god.

The 'tropaeum' or effigy of a slain warrior is an oak ( 10. 423 and 11. 5 'quercus') trimmed of its branches ( 11. 5 'decisis undique ramis') and hence 'trunca', and is adorned with the spoils ('exuuiae', 'spolia') of the vanquished, among which are broken-off spears ( 11.9 'telaque trunca'). 'Truncus' (noun) means both 'headless body' and 'tree-trunk', and 'truncus' (adj.) means both 'mutilated' and 'trimmed of its branches'. The two meanings of the word are almost never kept distinct in the Aeneid, and in the 'tropaeum' of Aeneid 11 'sinistrae' ('left side') and 'collo' ('neck') are applied to the trunk clothed with Mezentius' armour. Also 'uires' ('strength') interacts semantically with 'robur' ('oak' or 'strength'). Keeping in mind that a tree is kept alive by its branches, the mutilated tree is identified with the mutilated warrior who is deprived of his 'uires'. The detail of the 'tumulus' is Virgilian; the grotesque replica of Mezentius is placed on tae 'tumulus', where one would normally be buried.2

____________________
1
Ch. 10.I.6e, 6g, and 6i.
2
On 'exuuiae' cf. Introd. IV.9.3; on 'truncus', Ch. 12.III.2; on 'robur' and 'uires', Introd. 11.4.

-358-

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Virgil's Aeneid: Semantic Relations and Proper Names
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations and Bibliographical Note xv
  • Note on Structure and Conventions xvii
  • Introduction 1
  • Book 1 34
  • Book 2 70
  • Book 3 111
  • Book 4 149
  • Book 5 181
  • Book 6 209
  • Book 7 244
  • Book 8 275
  • Book 9 302
  • Book 10 330
  • Book 11 358
  • Book 12 380
  • Conclusion 409
  • References 419
  • Index of Selected Names and Words Discussed 431
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