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Closing Ceremonies: Iliad 24 and Aeneid 12

Christine Perkell

Emory University

Ceremonies that constitute the felt strong closure in Iliad 24 (supplication, lamentation, funeral, funeral feast), broadly “structures of care” (M. Lynn-George), affirm the meaningfulness of human lives, the care of (some) gods for human beings, and of (some) human beings for each other. In Aeneid 12 structures—not to mention “care”—fail on both the human and divine level. Violation or incompletion of religious ceremonies is a subtly adumbrated motif throughout Book 12 that is consequential for interpretation of the whole.

The first instance, treated at greatest length, is the violation of the treaty between the Trojans and Latins to end their war by a single combat between Aeneas and Turnus. The sworn oaths of Aeneas and Latinus are violated not only by Latin Tolumnius’ breaking of the truce (266), but by Messapus’ impious killing of Trojan Aulestes on the altar, calling him a “better sacrifice” than the animals (12.296).

Second, Turnus, by speaking the words devovi and di manes (11.440-442, 12.234), triggers memory of but fails to align with the heroic, selfless devotio of the Decii who sacrificed themselves to underworld gods to save the Roman army (cf. Livy AUC 8.9.4ff.; Panoussi, Pascal). At the last, when wounded by Aeneas, he asks (unforthrightly) to be spared.  

Third, the evocatio of Juno is equivocal: although she seemingly agrees to the bargain with Jupiter, she delays “coming out” from Carthage to Rome for several hundred years (if ever [Dyson Hejduk 2001]) after she is called out (Johnson, Feeney, Panoussi).

Fourth, Juturna’s direct address to Turnus is a failed lament. Alexiou describes the ABA form of laments, i.e., beginning and ending with direct address to the dead person; Juturna’s subject is not memorialization of Turnus but instead an indictment of Jupiter for his injustice towards her (Perkell, Dyson Hejduk 2020). There is, in fact, no praise of Turnus and, as no one (except readers) hears Juturna, there is no consolation. In thus deviating from lament conventions, this “lament” fails to fulfill its functions of affirmation and consolation on the human level.

Last is the claimed “sacrifice” (immolat) of Turnus by Aeneas, which is not a “sacrifice” (a term focalized through Aeneas, not the narrator), but a killing that Aeneas attributes to Pallas (12.948-9) (Anderson, Hardie, Scheid). As Tarrant observes, “calling it a sacrifice does not make it so.”

I suggest that a meaning implicit in this pattern of ceremonies that fail of their purpose is that culture (as manifest in the prescribed structures of ceremony) is inadequate to contain the forces that would subvert it. Juno’s furor (Vergil’s word) begins the story and, despite all the various intervening action, furor of Aeneas ends the story. In Vergil’s vision, furor pervades the cosmos, necessarily the beginning and end of every story.  Aeneas is not singular in his violent unreason but exemplary of all men (people) and gods.  Vergil would have us see that the consoling “structures of care” in Iliad 24 are only figments of Homer’s imagination.

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Virgil and Religion

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