Friday, September 20, 2013

The Aeneid: The Creusa Problem

While Aeneas recounts to the fangirl Queen Dido about the tragic end to the Trojan War, he tells her how he made his escape.  He convinces his elderly father Anchises to get on his back (as in piggyback ride) and he takes his son Ascanius by the hand, and sets out of the burning Troy…telling his wife Creusa to walk behind them at a safe distance. 

What, Aeneas, you put your daddy on your back and you hold your son’s hand, but you can’t bother making sure your wife is safe?  You have two hands, don’t you?  Take your son’s hand with one and your wife’s with the other.  Sure, you may argue that “Oh but I have to carry my household idols with my other hand.”  Ummm have your son carry them for you.  He’s not a baby!

 
Here is Aeneas giving his dad a piggyback ride at an inappropriate time.
"Hey Dad, you've spent your entire life on my back, why break that habit now?"
Note that Creusa is just barely out of shot.  Her foot reaches out like "Don't leave me off the Grecian Urn, random ancient potter!" (Okay so it's just the photograph, but coincidence?! I think NOT!)
Source: http://100swallows.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/anchises-greek-vase1.jpg

They get out of the city before Aeneas notices that his wife is missing.*  Now all the sudden he’s worried about her, and so he runs back into the pillaged city and we readers find out that not only is Creusa dead (which is pretty obvious from the get-go, since we know she’s not eating this feast with Aeneas and Dido in the future), but she didn’t even get an “on-screen” death scene.

Instead she shows up as a “shade” or ghost, telling Aeneas it’s totally okay that he abandoned her to an unspecified death, and that he needs to follow his destiny of founding Rome and marrying some other chick. 

Until this point of the story I was enjoying The Aeneid, if only because of its unintentional melodrama.  Creusa’s speech about Aeneas being awesome and following his destiny got on my nerves.  And unfortunately for me, this is only one of the first of TONS of speeches just like it.  Spoiler Alert: Almost every developed character in The Aeneid except Aeneas dies.  I would argue that pretty much every death is either directly or indirectly caused by Aeneas himself.  We’ll take Creusa for an example.  She dies because Aeneas didn’t notice she got lost in the smoke of the burning city.  Yet Creusa’s ghost is totally fine with this arrangement, even the prophecy that Aeneas needed to be single so he could get hitched to some Italian princess later on.

I’ve mentioned before that I dislike characters who we are constantly TOLD are good, without having much action to back it up.  Aeneas is one of those characters.  He’s called the True and Pious, but he’s not true to his wife, or Dido, or really anyone but himself.  Every plot point in the story is about how great and perfect he is, but to my modern mind it all comes across as self-centered. 
 

*This guy could actually give the narrator/hero of H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds a run for his money in regards to how much he actually notices his wife’s presence…or lack of it.

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