19 June 2019

Two -- No, Three Echoes of Vergil



In Book One of the Aeneid Venus comes in disguise to visit her son shortly after his battered fleet reaches the shores of North Africa. Not until the last moment does he realize who she is, but it's what tips him off that is of interest here:

Dixit et avertens rosea cervice refulsit
ambrosiaeque comae divinum vertice odorem
spiravere; pedes vestis defluxit ad imos;
et vera incessu patuit dea.  
(1.402-05) 
She spoke and turning away blushed red as a rose,
And her ambrosial hair breathed forth a divine fragrance;
Her robe flowed down to the soles of her feet;
And by her stride was revealed a true goddess.*

The moment I first read that last line -- longer ago than I can believe possible, looking back at the wastrel lad that I was -- I immediately thought of my favorite line in Shakespeare's Sonnet 130:

'I grant I never saw a goddess go.'

Even if Shakespeare's Latin were as small as Ben Jonson thought it was, it would have included Book One of the Aeneid

Tonight I noticed something else about these lines, largely because a note in an edition of Book One I've been perusing pointed out that '"fragrance" was regularly associated with the presence of a deity.'** And that made me think of:

'"Hmmm! it smells like elves!" thought Bilbo....'
(Annotated Hobbit, 91)

Finally, there is part of Vergil's description of Charon:

iam senior, cruda deo viridisque senectus
'very old now, but for a god old age is fresh and green,' 
(6.304)

I have always loved (I believe) Fitzgerald's rendering: 'old age in the gods is green'.

And what strikes me as an echo in The Lord of the Rings:
'The countless years had filled [the trees of the Old Forest] with pride and rooted wisdom, and with malice. But none were more dangerous than the Great Willow: his heart was rotten, but his strength was green;' 
(FR 1.vii.130)
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* The translations are meant to be serviceable, no more. 

** The note -- in Randall T. Ganiban's Vergil: Aeneid Book 1, Focus Publishing (2008) -- goes on to cite Euripides Hippolytus 1391 and Aeschylus Prometheus Bound 115.