Thursday, February 02, 2017

Virgil's 'The Aeneid' (circa 25 B.C.): Camilla, Daughter of Italy

The epic Aeneid, completed by Virgil around 25 B.C., is filled to the brim with striking imagery, myth, philosophy and poetry. The descriptions are fierce and there is far too much to get at in one go. So, from my father's copy of the excellent Robert Fagles translation published by Viking in 2006, let's consider Camilla in battle, fighting in Italy against the Trojan exiles whose descendants are fated to help build Classical Rome.

'And round Camilla ride her elite companions, Tulla,
young Larina, Tarpeia brandishing high her brazen axe --
daughters of Italy . . .'

'Who is the first and who the last your spear cuts down?
How may dying bodies do you spread out on the earth?
Eunaeus, son of Clytius, first. His chest, unshielded,
charging Camilla now, who runs her enemy through
with her long pine lance and he vomits spurts of blood,
gnawing the gory earth, twisting himself around his wound
as the Trojan breaths his last . . .' (pages 346-347).

The characters in The Aeneid range from the dueling Juno (Hera) and Venus (Aphrodite) to the lowly humans who are largely their playthings, albeit with some wiggle room for freedom of choice. 
Camilla slaying Aunus (1600s), Wenceslas Hollar collection, University of Toronto
Camilla is backed by Juno, and on she goes, ranging against her Trojan foe:

she kills a pair of massive Trojans, she stabs between the helmet and
breastplate, just where the horseman's neck shines bare
and the shield on his left arm dangles down, off guard.
And fleeing Orsilochus now
as the Trojan drives her round in a high ring,
Camilla tricks him, wheeling inside him, quick,
the pursuer now the pursued as she rears above him ---
praying, begging for mercy -- her battle-axe smashes down,
blow after blow through armor, bone, splitting his skull,
warm brains from the wound go splashing down his face' (page 347-348).

Woah! Virgil/Fagles do not sugarcoat brutal acts of war, the urge for which has little changed in the past 2000 years. Noteworthy about Camilla and her "elite companions" is that they are women warriors, and all those they kill in battle are men.

Virgil, The Aeneid. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Viking, 2006.

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.   

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