“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,…”
— 1 Peter 1:8 ESV —
Paradise is often beyond reach. It is a place of the imagination before it is a place of residence. Vergil’s Aeneid explores the journey required of Aeneas and the Trojan exiles as they journey to a new homeland a place where a new race will be birthed and a new culture established. This new city with its deified future required much suffering and tragedy along the journey. Being the result of competition between the gods, these tragedies shaped the journey and strengthened the imagined beauty of a homeland yet to be. However, along the way, Aeneas and the wearied Trojans would be tempted to divert their journey to comforts at hand. It is often at the end of a tiresome struggle that any immediate rest is sweet and tempting. The alluring comforts of rest delay the journey while at the same time shape the final discovery. Although Aeneas is the hero king, he is also mortal and when weakened by tiring seas and the tragic loss of Troy, beautiful distraction in Dido and comfortable Carthage serve to be evil rather than a divine blessing. Jupiter intervenes to keep the dream of Rome alive by causing Aeneas to leave Dido. The beauty of the unseen future homeland was made more grand as Aeneas’ experience of overcoming the allure of Dido’s Carthage forced him to return to his original destiny.
Vergil’s Aeneid tells of various stops in Aeneas’ exile from Troy. As they land in Crete, his men occupy empty homes for the taking. Since Crete was the ancient home of their fathers, they felt this was a good place to settle. The young married and crops were planted. However, this new settlement was not to last as sickness ran through the people and the crops failed. What appeared to be an end to the exile, turned out to be the wrong choice. “Do not shirk Hard travel to a new home, since Apollo Did not intend your settling here in Crete.”#Along the journey to paradise were appealing distractions. Aeneas learns through further tragedy at Crete the choices were not in the will of the gods. This in turn results in his constant push to obtain the favored land where prophecy would reveal the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Aeneas received a prophecy to seek a new land of hope. As Aeneas and his Trojans were tossed upon the sea they were driven by the winds to the African shore. After seven years of wandering the seas landing in Carthage seemed to be a gift from the gods. Although the desire was to land in Italy, Aeneas and his ships were ready to receive any hope of rest. Since the journey on the seas were directed by the gods, upon landing on the African shore one would assume that this was the gods’ desire. Doubt and frustration lent to the desire to stay and journey no further. “The god’s wings rowed him Through the vast air, to stand on Libya’s shore.” Weakness will come with exhaustion and new lands become very alluring. Aeneas obviously questions whether perhaps the initial prophecy was being altered. “Is this our new realm, won through righteousness?”
Because Aeneas had not yet seen the city that would be Rome, the beauty of Carthage brought hope. As Aeneas waited for the Queen Dido, he marveled at the beauty of the temple and was struck by the frescos depicting battles of Troy. Familiarity gave him a sense of settledness. This prepared his spirit to be tempted and led away from his journey all the while thinking the gods will was at play. Certainly, with the familiarity of Troy in the stories of the art, they would be at home in Carthage.
One could argue that the stops in Crete and Carthage were not part of the journey set forth by the gods. If this be the case, then the question remains as to whether the relationship of Aeneas and Dido served good or harm to the journey leading to Latium. On one hand, the relationship was called out by Jupiter as wrong and was intentionally a distraction established by Juno. Had Aeneas remained in Carthage, then surely Rome would have failed to come about. So in this sense, the fated relationship had faults. On the other hand, the opening lines of the Aeneid indicate that the the founding of Rome was costly. If then the road to Roman dominance required so much, then would it not then stand to reason that all events in that journey caused the value of Roman society to be heightened. And if this was the case, then perhaps the diversions in the journey had value as well. The beauty of Rome was made much more so by the contrasting struggles to obtain the paradise.
The promises of the gods can be mistaken as an easy blessing. After all, any divine guidance implied to the mind of man the peace and comfort of the divine Other. Anchises called on the gods for safe journey. “Deities who rule land and sea and storms: Be gracious, send a wind, make our way easy.”# However, time and again Aeneas is reminded in the Aeneid that the road to Rome will not be easy.
As Aeneas finished his tale of struggle and woe, deeper passion grew in Dido toward the hero. Although through the conniving of the goddess Juno, Aeneas and Dido unite in passion although not true marriage.# True marriage would be the honorable path, but the relationship between the two royals was merely a distortion of the truly beautiful union of marriage. Blinded by the beauty of Dido and Carthage, Aeneas settled into comfort. Yet the task before him remained. Rome was his destiny. This distraction felt right, but was not. Due to the nature of Aeneas fate, the gods would not allow this to persist and intervened in miraculous fashion. Mercury sends the message. Aeneas is struck with alertness to his folly.
Aeneas proves again his honor, his pietas.# Although his choice to remain in Carthage resulted in anguish, the suffering produced deeper conviction. His heroism in leaving Carthage by command of the gods proves his loyalty to the cause. “Just as relentless were the words that battered the hero. In his noble heart he suffered, but tears did nothing. His resolve endured.” The founding of Rome required endurance. And endurance was only proven through opportunities of testing. Aeneas time and again showed the fortitude necessary to take his people to Italy. The stops along the way merely enriched the history of his people showing that nothing could stop the glorious beginnings of a wonderful culture. The beautiful result of overcoming the alluring power of distraction was a glorified Rome. The adventurous tragedies along the way brought beauty to the unseen future of Rome.