I Stood There Alone or the Fall of Troy
In lines 2.730-2.742 of Virgil’s Aeneid Aeneas is describing the terror that hefelt when he finally realized that Troy was falling to the Greeks. In these ten linesVirgil uses careful diction to create an image of a solitary Aeneas pausing for a briefmoment to observe the demise of his city. By elaborately detailing each of Aeneas’sthoughts Virgil achieves an effect of time slowing down: To the reader, it seems thatthe frenzied action of a city coming to its knees is slowed down while one mancollects his thoughts. On another level, Aeneas is describing his terror to QueenDido and her court, and he is attempting to evoke a strong sense of pity from hislisteners, the Carthaginians, whom he will soon need to help him build boats. In thispassage, Virgil’s wording, imagery and subtle parallel meanings help him to create apassage that can be appreciated for the tremendous mental picture it elicits as wellas the numerous interpretations that can be found within it.
Virgil’s precise choice of words greatly accommodates the metaphoricalmeanings of the passage. In the first line Aeneas says that for the “first time thatnight” he began to realize the dire state of affairs in that had befallen Troy. Thewords “first time” indicate that Aeneas has been in a sort of dream state in theevents that occurred previously. Since Aeneas is relating this story to a crowdstating that it is the “first time” he has felt fear or “inhuman shuddering” it appearsthat he is bragging about his courage; in other words, neither the ominoussnake-signs of the previous day nor his nightmare of Hector, nor awakening to findhis city in flames, nor his dangerous skirmishes with Greeks were enough to scarethe brave Aeneas. In fact, if “night” is interpreted to mean the bad luck of war thathas befallen Troy for the past ten years Aeneas is telling the crowd that he was neverscared throughout the entire war with the Greeks! Either way, Aeneas was notscared and did not even realize the desperateness of his situation until he saw KingPriam killed. Only then did the “inhuman shuddering” take him “head to foot”.
Virgil’s description of Aeneas’s shuddering as “inhuman” is interestingbecause it causes the reader to ask What is inhuman? This adjective lends itself to acouple different interpretations. If “inhuman” is read as “not human” – godlike-then the reader can assume that the gods have filled Aeneas with fear for somereason, possibly to make him flee and save his life. If “inhuman” is read as “nothumane” then it is possible that Virgil is pointing out that the Greeks are acting ininhuman ways and are therefore creating an atmosphere in which Aeneas isquaking with “inhuman shuddering”. Finally, it should be noted that Aeneas didnot willingly shudder. In a brilliant use of a verb Virgil has Aeneas say that”inhuman shuddering took me” implying that Aeneas played a passive role inexperiencing fear: Aeneas didn’t fear, fear took Aeneas.
Virgil’s careful word choice manifests itself again when Aeneas describeshimself standing “unmanned” – a word that has several different connotations. Onthe one hand “unmanned” can be interpreted as meaning that Aeneas is standingalone, without anyone to help him as he watches the blazing conflagration of Troy.On another level “unmanned” can mean that Aeneas himself has been “unmanned”,i.e. he is helpless and no amount of manly bravery will get him out of this disaster.
In the lines that follow, Aeneas gives a dissertation about his loved ones. Heimagines his father dying in the same fashion as King Priam has just died. It ishard to imagine that Aeneas would be more heartbroken by any other event thanseeing his own father killed by a Greek. By comparing Anchises to King PriamVirgil is inferring that Aeneas’s love for his “kingly” father outweighs everything inAeneas’s heart. Aeneas’s first thought when he realizes that his homeland is beingdestroyed is to preserve the life of his father, who represents all of the glory andtradition of Troy in its better days. Next, Aeneas thinks of his wife “left alone”: It ispossible that Aeneas is picturing what Creusa’s life will be like if he dies in a final,pointless battle with the Greeks. Then Aeneas thinks of his “house plundered”which signifies the corruption of the household gods – another symbol of Trojancivilization. Finally he realizes that there might be “danger to little Iulus” whorepresents the hope that one day the surviving Trojans will be able to rise again.”Danger to little Iulus” equals danger to the Trojan race, which will be unable tothrive without a future leader.
In the final lines of this passage Aeneas looks about him to see how hiscomrades are dealing with the destruction of their city. Aeneas says “But all hadleft me” indicating that Aeneas is truly “unmanned”. Aeneas describes his men asbeing “utterly played out” – a phrase which yields an image of men giving up theirlives in absolute despair because there is no reason left to live. It is interesting thatVirgil chooses the word “played out” when perhaps a more appropriate choicewould be “worn out”, “tired out” or “fought out”. By using “played out”, however,Virgil suggests that the ten year long war and its culmination on one dreadful nightis like a game in which whoever is “played out” first loses. Being “played out” isparalleled in the Iliad when the Greeks are happy to play war games even afterwatching dozens of their countrymen die and in the fifth book of the Aeneid whenthe surviving Trojans participate in warlike games after narrowly escaping the realgame of war. Virgil’s use of “played out” gives a morose irony to his next lines inwhich the men are “Giving their beaten bodies to the fire/ Or plunging from theroof”.
The fact that his countrymen are giving up, some even committing suicide,emphasizes the grave situation in which Aeneas finds himself. As he stands andwatches his fellow Trojans kill themselves Aeneas thinks to himself “It came tothis,/That I stood there alone”. These last two lines indicate that Aeneas is totallyalone; no one will help him to fulfil his destiny. In this moment of despair he hasthree choices: to commit suicide like the other men, to make one more fruitlessattempt to save the city and die gloriously at the hands of a Greek, or to run to theunknown path of the future. Virgil subtly commends Aeneas’s character when hehas Aeneas choose the last, smartest, and possibly riskiest option. Aeneassimultaneously commends himself because he is describing all of this to QueenDido’s court, and at that point in the story it is obvious to all that he made the rightdecision.
In conclusion, Virgil makes Aeneas seem even braver than before by havinghim admit that he has been taken by fear. Virgil is also able to point out thestrength of Aeneas’s character by highlighting the fact that unlike other Trojans,Aeneas did not give up by committing suicide. The magnitude of the moment whenAeneas pauses to realize he is scared and think about those whom he loves isenhanced by the vivid imagery Virgil supplies of a lone man standing in the midst ofthe holocaust of his civilization. By choosing the right words at the right timesVirgil is able to show that Aeneas stands apart literally and figuratively from otherTrojans and that he alone has the mental character to pick up the pieces of hisfatherland and start afresh somewhere else.
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