Lavinia: The Rightful Queen Of Rome

February 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Book IV of Virgil’s epic The Aeneid, the gods’ messenger Mercury advises the hero Aeneas that “An ever uncertain and inconstant thing is woman” (IV.768-7). As Aeneas makes his journey from the ruins of Troy to the potential glory of Latium, he discovers just that as he encounters several women whom he could marry, a decision based largely on whether or not they justify or disprove Mercury’s claim. Dido and Anna, the women of Carthage, reflect the fickleness of which Mercury speaks, while Aeneas’ Trojan wife Creusa, Queen Amata of Carthage, and the Volsican warrior Camilla refute his theory with their steady behavior. None of these women are fated to be Aeneas’ wife because of their strength, societal status, or race, so it is evident that a woman who separates herself from the others is destined and appropriate to fill this role. Although Lavinia princess of Latium is portrayed with very little character development in The Aeneid, her passivity and unquestioning obedience in addition to her race and royal status illustrate her suitability as the ideal Roman wife and queen to Aeneas. Dido ruler of Carthage nearly becomes Aeneas’ wife, but immediately she is deemed inappropriate for Aeneas. In her first appearance in the novel, she is overseeing the construction of her city and is described as having duties traditionally satisfied by a man, such as “dealing judgments…giving laws, [and] apportioning the work.” Although she is initially portrayed as overly masculine, Aeneas reveals later in the novel that she did perform one very wifely duty: making clothes, saying that “glad in that task, [she] had once made for him [twin tunics] with her own hands” (XI.96-7). Despite this accomplishment, which is not disclosed until almost ten books after her death, Dido still cannot be Aeneas’ wife primarily because of her persistent inconstancy. Throughout her behavior in the novel, Dido proves to be excessively susceptible to her furor when she reneges on her “sure, immovable decision not to marry anyone” (IV.17-8) and falls in love with Aeneas. When she once “in her joy…urged on the work of her coming kingdom” (I.710-11), she now forsakes it, leaving it “neglected” (IV.118), taken over by the frenzy and fire in her heart. Moreover, “She starts to speak, then falters and stops in midspeech” (IV.110-1) demonstrating an inconstancy in her dialogue. She then decides that her relationship with Aeneas is no longer a “furtive love. For Dido calls it marriage” (IV.226-7) even though she knows that it is nothing more than adultery against her husband’s memory and her city. Her most fluctuating actions, however, are triggered when she discovers Aeneas’ plan to leave Carthage. At this time, she who “deigned to join herself to him” (IV.254) now “attacks” (IV.409) Aeneas. She first begs, “Can nothing hold you back” (IV.412) then tells him “I do not refute your words. I do not keep you back” (IV.519-20) only to tell Anna later, “If he would only grant…this final gift to wait” (IV.590-1). This capriciousness, fueled by the fates, makes Dido’s personality much too volatile for a man with enough burden on his shoulders. Dido’s sister Anna exhibits similar traits when first she urges on Dido’s love, saying “How can you struggle against a love that is so acceptable?” (IV.48-9) then later blaming Dido alone for her actions declaring, “You have destroyed yourself and me…and all your city” (IV.939-42). This inconstancy, while important, is only part of why neither Carthaginian princess is meant to be Aeneas’ bride. Being from northern Africa, they are geographically and culturally opposites of Aeneas’ Trojan race, which is better paired with a European people like the Latins. Both women also foolishly try to fight the will of the fates when Anna hopes that Aeneas marries Dido and when Dido tries to convince Aeneas to stay despite the fact that they both know that his journey does not end in Carthage, as Aeneas has told her of his wife’s prophecy that he “will reach Hesperia” (II.1054) and have a new wife and kingdom there. Although Dido and Anna are very strong cases of capricious women, there are others who, despite their constancy, are still unsuitable to be Aeneas’ founding partner. Creusa, once Aeneas’ loving wife, for example is portrayed with constant loyalty and understanding of what is best for her husband and the future of Rome. She declares her love for him, calling him her “sweet husband” (II.1046) and as his voice of reason explains to him why they cannot be together saying, “this could never come to pass without the gods’ decree” (II.1048-9). Creusa knows what destiny lies ahead for her husband and is even eager for him to fulfill it without trying to interfere. Rather she accepts fate and instead is proud of her role on Earth as “a Dardan woman and wife of Venus’ son” (II.1061-2) and is grateful to the gods that she is “not to see the haughty homes of Myrmidons…or be a slave to Grecian matrons” (II.1058-61) as a prisoner of war. She is, in Aeneas’ words, “happy” (XI.205) to sacrifice herself in the name of Rome. Creusa is the ultimate Roman woman: unconditionally loyal, loving, pious and subservient to the gods, reasonable, self-sacrificing, and understanding of her role. Only she is a Trojan, and Aeneas’ destiny is not to found another settlement of Trojans but a completely new race, which cannot be produced by pure Trojan blood. Like Creusa, Queen Amata is also constant, but in all the wrong ways. She is unwaveringly loyal to her country and her will to make Turnus her son-in-law, weeping to her husband, “Shall Lavinia become the wife of Trojan exiles?” (VII.474-5). Her devotion to Turnus is so intense as to drive her to suicide, as Amata “prepared to die, held fast her raging son-in-law” (XII.76-7), declares to Turnus that “whatever waits for you waits for me too” (XII.84-5). Consequently, when she believes Turnus to be dead, she kills herself, foolishly crying out that “she herself is guilty” (XII.806) when she should accept that it was not her but the fates that caused his death. She is also always disobedient to her spouse; despite his “standing firm against her” (VII.497), she conceals Lavinia in the mountains, “stealing from the Trojan the marriage” (VII.515-6). Although one may argue that her hysterical behavior is caused by Allecto which “breathes its viper breath into her frenzy” (VII.464), it is stated by Virgil that Allecto merely strengthens feelings Amata already has within her: “a woman’s anxieties and anger” (VII.455-6). Although she shows constant behavior in her disobedience to her husband and loyalty to Turnus, her madness and utter hatred for the Trojans do not allow her to be a suitable match for Aeneas. Another Latin, Camilla the warrior shows some qualities of an ideal Roman woman, namely those of loyalty to her male leader (in her case, Turnus) and self-sacrifice, as she dies for her cause. She is also very courageous and proud, asking Turnus to “Let me try war’s first dangers” (XI.665-6) and telling a Tuscan upon his death, “This is no small glory…to have fallen beneath the spearhead of Camilla” (XI.908-10). Even in her own death she shows strength when “Dying, [she] tries to tug the lance [which hit her chest] out with her hand” (XI.1081-3). Although she is portrayed favorably in The Aeneid, extolled by Turnus as the “pride of Italy…above all praise or prize” (XI.669-72), she is an Amazon-like woman who, like Dido, exhibits very male behavior as a talented warrior and is therefore unsuitable to be a queen of Rome. Her Amazonian archetype also includes an unchanging character of mental and physical might, and because of this negative brand of constancy she exhibits, she would present too much competition for Aeneas’ manly strength. Of all the women in The Aeneid, only Lavinia is left to become Aeneas’ wife, and rightly so. During the quarrels of her parents over who will be her husband, she raises no argument, so it may be reasonably assumed that she will wed whomever her parents choose for her. She is also very loving of her mother, which is shown in her “hot cheeks…bathed in tears” (XII.89) as she hears her threaten to kill herself if Turnus is to die. Her adoration is demonstrated again when she hears of her mother’s suicide; she “rages; she tears at her bright hair and cheeks of rose” (XII.813-4). She also expresses regret and shame for having caused so much grief on the part of her mother and death of her people, “her lovely eyes held low” (XI.636) much like Helen, whom Virgil spares and exonerates earlier in The Aeneid. It can therefore be inferred that no blame is to be placed on Lavinia for having caused the death of so many people. Because of Lavinia’s ethnicity it may also be assumed that her bloodline carries the strength of her fellow Latins Amata and Camilla, that of loyalty to one’s culture. Also important to her fittingness as Aeneas’ wife is her place in society. As the princess of Latium, she is already of royal blood and therefore is genealogically merited to wed the half-god Aeneas and become queen of Rome. She is also of a European race unlike Dido and is non-Trojan unlike Creusa which allows her to birth a completely new non-Trojan non-Latin race of Romans with Aeneas.In the opening stanzas of The Aeneid, Virgil declares that “It was so hard to found the race of Rome” (I.49), part of the ordeal being to find a proper wife for Aeneas. While traveling the Mediterranean, starting at the ashes of Troy through Carthage and onto Latium, Aeneas meets a multitude of women, yet none of them are suited to be his founding partner of the great new nation of Rome because of race, societal status, or inconstancy of character. The perfect woman Lavinia, who is assumed to be betrothed to Aeneas at the end of the novel, is actually not explored extensively by Virgil, as she makes only a few appearances, but from what is presented, she is very passive, obedient, loving, and moral, all traits of the ideal Roman woman and wife, and from that alone it can be assumed that she becomes the future queen of Rome deservingly and appropriately.

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