Kevin E. Moch
Previous accounts of Vergil’s Camilla have focused on her literary models (Arrigoni, Horsfall, Fratantuono), her violation of gender norms (Boyd, Becker, Viparelli, Raymond-Dufouleur), and her ethnic background as either Italian (Williams, West, Quint) or Volscian (Rosenmeyer, Trundle, Pyy). Although most scholars recognize the warrior’s importance to the Italian cause, little work has examined closely how Camilla’s unique characterization informs the Aeneid’s complex representation of Italian identity. To that end, this paper aims to show that Vergil’s Camilla represents an alternative, unrealized future for a unified Italy, one united not by a homogenizing and masculinist Roman/Augustan imperialism, but instead through a more gender-equal Italian collective identity that coexists unproblematically alongside local and regional affiliations.
Camilla’s characterization evokes the idea of a unified Italy in a number of ways in the poem. The sight of Camilla is able to unite geographically disparate Italians in wonder at the end of the catalogue of Italian troops (7.812-14; cf. Boyd 1992). Additionally, Turnus calls Camilla the “glory of Italy” (decus Italiae, 11.508), and she leads a talented coterie of warrior women identified as the “Daughters of Italy” (Italides, 11.657). Finally, the Volscian warrior’s death inspires Italian mothers of diverse backgrounds to patriotically fight from Laurentum’s walls (verus amor patriae, 11.891-95). Nevertheless, the collective Italian identity Camilla inspires does not preclude local allegiances, as demonstrated by, for example, repeated emphasis on Camilla’s Volscian origins (7.803; 11.432) and the Sabine-, Alban-, and Samnite-inspired names of the Italides (11.655-58). This well-balanced incorporation of local and group identities finds reflection in an integration of masculine and feminine traits in Camilla that is not contradictory (as suggested by, e.g., Becker, Viparelli, Pyy), but both harmonious and complex enough to avoid becoming mere stereotype: in her aeternus telorum et virginitatis amor (11.583), devotion to chastity precludes her becoming an avatar of Clytemnestra or Penthesilea, while, as a weapon-obsessed bellatrix, she avoids a Daphne’s fate.
Most strikingly, the balanced integrations of gender and ethnicity Camilla inspires are effected emphatically through “women’s networks” (Keith 2006): through mothers (7.813; 11.581), maidens (11.655, 820), and Diana and her followers (11.532-96, 836-65). Moreover, not only does Camilla fulfill a political role (Arrigoni, Pyy, Egan), she herself has carefully selected the Italides to act as warriors and just civil servants who serve Italy as “good attendants of peace and war” (pacisque bonas bellique ministras, 11.658). This quasi-gynecocratic, gender-equal governance of Italy, with Camilla respected by Turnus and others as a warrior and general (e.g. 11.508-21), contrasts sharply with the misogynist stance of the Trojan allies (11.677-89, 699-724, 725-40) and of her killer Arruns—likely an Italian partisan and ally of Turnus who is driven by intense misogyny to slay Camilla (Fratantuono 2006, Morello 2008)—through whom the problematic femineo amore (11.782) is focalized, as has been demonstrated recently by Morello and Sharrock.
Camilla’s Italy, then—opposed to both Anchises’ imperialist instructions for Roman rule (6.851ff.) and Jupiter’s homogenizing (uno ore) assimilation of Trojan and Italian (12.834-42)—stands for various more feminist, ethnically heterogeneous Italian futures (cf. Oliensis 1997, McAuley 2016), just as Ascanius signifies possible Roman/Augustan futures (Rogerson 2017). Yet these Italian futures are doomed never to exist: as comparison with the likewise catalogue-final Marcellus shows (6.868-86), Camilla’s are futures unfulfilled: as a virgo, she is infelix (11.563)—“unlucky”, but also “barren” (cf. Mitchell-Boyask 1991). She is a daughter-in-law hoped for in vain (11.581-84), and, as representative of a gender-equal, ethnically unassimilated Italy, she is, as Servius suggests, the symbol of a future that bears no fruit: praesagium est infelicitatis futurae (Serv. ad Aen. 7.803). It is the loss of these potential futures that makes Camilla’s own loss so hard to bear.