Sunday, October 17, 2010

From Vergil's "Aeneid:" A Song for the Dumped

I know it's been a while since I last posted myself, so I've been saving up a good long one. Enjoy.

What most people don't know about me is that I was a Classical Languages major at Carleton College. Why don't most people know this? Because it has nothing to do with my life now. I had anticipated this. At college, I spent most of my time doing improv stuff; in fact, I gave little attention to schoolwork, and pretty much phoned-in a Bachelor's from a top-tier liberal arts college. But everyone needs a major.

My academic strengths (if you could call it that- it would more aptly be described as the stuff I was least shitty at, or more specifically the only things I tried to do well) were the humanities, namely history, philosophy, and literature. I had always been a good writer, especially adept at English grammar. I had started taking Latin in the seventh grade, since my middle school, oddly, had a solid Latin program. When I got to high school, I was placed in a high level class, and advanced AP level classes by Junior year. Although quite skilled in Latin, being in AP classes didn't stop me from my other major strength- being a smart-ass.

So I was good at Latin, the least marketable and most irrelevant of academic studies. When Sophomore year of college rolled around, forced to select from a variety of majors that didn't officially include improv, I picked Classical Languages, and true to form totally half-assed my way through it. I figured, correctly, that a liberal arts degree was what it was (essentially worthless) regardless of major.

I enjoyed reading the Latin poets. Caesar wrote some pretty bad-ass accounts of the wars in Gaul, in which the Roman Army rolled in and cut the balls off the ancestors of the French and Germans. Catullus wrote love-poetry and was a moody fuck. Imagine The Notebook in iambic pentameter, full of sexual references and constant bitching about girls who dumped him. Ovid was the ultimate storyteller, and his signature work, Metamorphoses, told the famous tales of Icarus, Pygmalion (the dude who was sculpted by his wife), Daphne, Romulus and Remus, Perseus and Thisbe (later ripped off by an Elizabethan bullshitter and turned into a whiney love-story that nobody cares about.)

But my favorite, and by far the best work of Latin poetry was The Aeneid, an epic poem composed by Vergil late in the 1st century B.C.

Vergil was already a best-seller in stoneback when he was commissioned by Augustus (son of Julius Caesar and the first Emperor) to tell the mythological/historical account of the founding of Rome by Aeneas of Troy. Essentially, Vergil was commissioned to give Augustus a literary handjob (see photo below) to further glorify his reign and justify the complete submission of the rest of the world at the time.
Aeneas was a Trojan noble who escaped getting the shit kicked out of him by the Greeks when they sacked the city in an event completely ruined in film adaptation by Wolfgang Peterson. After dodging a few thousand flaming arrows and carrying his dying father out of town on his back (nobigdeal), he and his crew took to the high seas, destined by Fate to found a new nation on the shores of Italy.

The goddess Juno (Zeus' wife and eternal bitch) plays the role of Roman cock-block, tormenting Aeneas and his crew with torrential weather and other unfair hurdles, motivated somewhat inexplicably by a hatred for all Trojans (perhaps anticipating later failed efforts at contraception? whatever.)

Aeneas and the boys play Deadliest Catch for about ten years, stopping here and there along the road to the glorious founding of Rome. One of the last stops before Italy is Carthage, a city-state located somewhere in modern-day Tunisia, which later became famous for the complete badassery of Hannibal, who after crossing the Alps on fucking elephant-back, took his crew to Rome and didn't even have the courtesy to take any names after kicking so much ass.

Anyways, Aeneas rolls into Carthage and finds Dido, known around the Mediterranean as the "hot" Queen; or alternatively, "I'd give her a 7/10" Queen."
Still quasi-mourning the loss of her husband Synchaeus (he died, and we're not supposed to care how), she's looking for a rebound real bad, and in rolls a dashing prince and soon-to-be founder of the greatest empire the world has ever seen with the boyish good looks of Hugh Grant, packin' heat with a sword and indubitably in his pants. Dido totally pulls a girl boner.

Juno and Venus (goddess of luuuuuv) pull a little ancient to hook the two up. Their motivations are clear. Juno really just wants to fuck with Aeneas, and sees the perfect opportunity to lay Dido's considerable emotional baggage on Aeneas' proverbial and literal ship. Venus always just wants to see people fuck. They send the two out on a "hunting mission" deep into the woods, blow in a massive thunderstorm which conveniently drops them right next to a cave.


Now, true to form, Aeneas The Dude mostly considers this a notch on his belt, but tells Dido how in love he is with her and how gladly he'd forget about his Fate-driven, Gods-endorsed mission to birth a nation, and instead settle down with her. Dido The Chick considers their one-night cavestand DE FACTO MARRIAGE. She runs back to Carthage gabbing to all her girlfriends and starts picking out his and hers bath towels and shingles for their palace.

Zeus gets word of the whole thing and sends his mercenary Mercury (the dude with the wings on his shoes) to knock some sense into stud-muffin Aeneas. Reminded of his mission, and no doubt goaded by the fact that his crew has been chillin on the ship, probably deprived of ass while Aeneas got a taste of Carthaginian girls-gone-wild, Aeneas decides to peace out.

The epic literary break-up ensues. I'll spare you the actual text, but the conversation went something like this.

Dido: Aeneas!
Aeneas: Hey...
D: So, the wedding's on Friday, I love you so much, our union has the Gods' favor, I love you so much, I've been thinking we should name our son Dineas, I love you more than ever, do you think this cloth makes my hips...
A: Can I just interrupt for a second? You! I just want to say, you're great.
D: I love you!
A: Right. So...this...this has been fun, but I really gotta go.
D: Oh, are you on your way to the market? I need some wheat...
A: No, I mean leave. I'm leaving Carthage right now on my ship so that I can go found the most powerful Empire the world has ever seen.
D: What!?
A: ...Yeah.
D: But...but...(weepy)
A: (pause) Well good talk.
D: You asshole! I loved you!
A: And I had a great time too. But we both know it won't work out. It's not you, it's the gods. You know how it goes. They tell me jump, I ask how great and fated of a nation and where exactly in Italy. So...
D: I got divorced for you!
A: He was dead.
D: I'm gonna kill myself!
A: Right. g2g. kthnxbi.

And off he goes. Needless to say, Dido has a hard time getting over it, and a couple of days later, she decides to build a big fire, grab a sword, and fall on it. A little overboard, sure, but let's think about her options moving forward. Nobody wants to be the rebound of a rebound who was the Prince of Troy and progenitor of Rome. Doomed to be Aeneas' eternal sloppy seconds, no way man.

The best part happens a couple of books later. Aeneas finally arrives in Italy. No sooner does he drop his bags ashore when he encounters the Sibyl, basically an all-knowing lady-oracle who, like everyone the fuck else in the epic, has been "waiting for him." She tells him that the only way to proceed and fulfill his destiny is to descend into the Underworld, down to Hades the God of Death himself, see his past and view the future that is to come. Literary metaphor aside, this trip is a crossroads for Aeneas, crossing the barrier between past and present, life and death, Troy and Rome, Homer and Vergil. I know a thing or two about this part of the Aeneid, folks.

I wrote my fucking Senior Thesis about it. Good solid waste of time and paper, but that's college.

After some sacrificial stuff, Aeneas and The Sibyl do a swan-dive down into the Underworld, cross the river Styx (while "Come Sail Away" plays in the background), throw a bone at Cerberus the badass Three-Headed dog, and enter the realm of the damned.
These are the people who decided to take matters into their own hands and kill themselves, a spurn to the Gods for taking fate into their own hands. After perusing the usual suspects, among them Ajax, the great warrior/Schwarzenegger impersonator who bit his own bullet, guess who shows up?

Eeesh, it's Dido. Super. Duper. Awkward. Here's what happens:

Aeneas: Hey...Dido! What are the odds? Didn't expect to see you. (cough) How've you been?
(Dido looks down, no response)
A: Cool. So, what's been going on. I see you're dead now, jeez. Wait a minute, you're in the realm of the damned...did you...oh killed yourself?
(no response)
A: WTF? I'm sorry, ok? I mean, look, it's not my fault! I loved you so much. Really. I was going to stay, but I had to go found Rome, like I said. Shit shit shit you killed yourself god dammit. I mean, not God Dammit, but, rascals! I'm really sorry. Can you forgive me?
(no response)
A: Really, nothing? Just give me some kind of sign. Tell you what. Blink once if you forgive me. Blink twice if you don't.
(no response)
A: OK, well, my love for you is as strong as ever. Hey...maybe after I fight another 10 year war in Latium, found Rome, and bring glory to my ancestors, and can come back and we can-
(Dido walks away)

How about that shit? I think this is one of the coolest moments in all of Ancient literature.

Not a lot of what was written back then is relevant today. An example would be the sacrificial burning of dead bodies being perfectly legal and, in fact, encouraged. Or slavery. Or man-boy love. Or paying with your weight in salt. Or magical powers. But this is different.

If you've ever been dumped, like really dumped, like in a bad way that makes you hurt and wish you had never known the person and wished they would be hit by a truck, then this part of the Aeneid should make you really happy. Because I think we'd all love to be Dido here. Not in the sense of having committed suicide and spending at least 10 years in the Realm of the Dead before applying for parole to Paradise, no.

How much have you ever wanted to be Dido here? Your ex comes back to you. Wants you back. Sure, the right thing to do would be to forgive. But you know what? Sometimes you don't. Sometimes you're filled with anger and hatred and resentment that won't go away, and it feels good to tell that person to just go fuck themselves. And the most awesome way to do that is by saying nothing at all. Stone cold.

Hey, Aeneas: what's that? You're sorry? Well fuck you. I'm not even going to look at you. Go do whatever the hell you gotta do. Oh, and fuck you.

Way to go, Dido. Such a badass move, Vergil. Get that nose fixed.

Go and read The Aeneid. You can tell your friends, and they'll think you're smarter. And if you just got dumped, be sure to catch Book 6. It's a Song for the Dumped Ben Folds would be proud of.

Thanks for reading today.


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  2. Awesome! Just read The Aeneid and I gotta say, your version was almost as good. Almost. Keep on rockin!