Aeneas and Creusa in Aen. 2.

Luca Grillo
University of Minnesota

This paper argues that the Creusa episode is fundamental to the economy of book 2 of the Aeneid; more specifically, through allusions to earlier ‘husband-wife’ scenes, it marks Creusa as an ideal wife, while condemning Aeneas as both nescius and uncaring.

Creusa is represented as the quintessence of the Roman model of wife: she cares with affection (2.777) for her family (2.674), she is noble (2.787), loyal (2.785-7) and unselfish (2.788-9), and her words and deeds are full of obsequium and austeritas (Treggiari 1991; Dixon 1996).

More problematic is Aeneas’ attitude toward Creusa, and the interpretation of her disappearance divides modern scholars (Hughes 1997; Perkell 1981). Virgil does not express his judgment directly, but through a refined web of intertextual references.

Many references in Aen. 2 activate a connection with the Homeric episode of Hector and Andromache. Also the series of people Aeneas and Hector encounter is the same (Gall 1993): Helen, their mother (Hecuba and Venus), and lastly their wife (Andromache and Creusa). Intertextuality is clearly activated and the comparison Aeneas-Hector plays unfavorably for Aeneas. Hector does not join Helen in her self-blame, while Aeneas thinks of killing her; in the dialogue with his mother Hector is very responsible and pius (Il. 6.264-78); while Aeneas forgets about his wife and is overwhelmed by ferocious anger (Aen. 2.575-6). Talking to Andromache Hector sets his hierarchy of priorities for the day of the fall of Troy, clearly putting her first (Il. 6.454), unlike Aeneas, who, nescius, left her behind and forgot to look back (Aen. 2.711). Hector’s words and signs of affection for Andromache (Il. 6.450-5; 6.464-5; 6.485) are completely absent on Aeneas’ part: when he finally tries to embrace Creusa it’s too late.

But there is another intertextual link with the episode of Orpheus and Eurydice in Georgics 4. Aeneas’ situation is very close to Orpheus’ and marked by linguistic echoes which scholars already noticed (Paratore; Thomas). However the differences are not less striking: Orpheus calls his wife dulcis coniunx, and Aeneas is called by Creusa with the same expression. Orpheus loves his wife so much that turning to look at her, he loses her; while Aeneas never turns, and he loses her all the same. Both Orpheus and Aeneas leave their wife behind during the “escape,” but Orpheus acts under the conditions imposed by Proserpina, while Aeneas is free and disposes – poorly - as he likes.

There are some key words in this episode. Throughout Aen. 2 the Trojans as a community are repeatedly unaware of reality (Johnson 1999): the huge gap between the situation and its interpretation is expressed by words such as insania, immemores, nescio, etc. Interestingly after the death of Priam nescius will be the exclusive prerogative of Aeneas. There is a climatic path culminating with Aeneas’ loss of Creusa.

Discovering Creusa’s disappearance Aeneas says: Una / defuit, et comites natumque virumque fefellit (2.743-4). Does fefellit simply mean “escape notice” (Austin; Connington), or Aeneas is somehow blaming Creusa for her disappearance? If we look at its use in Virgil we see that this verb occurs seven other times, always in the end of the verse. In all these cases it expresses the disappointment coming from the breaking of a covenant (Aen. 4.15-19 and 6.343-48), the delusion of hope or expectation (Aen. 6.691 and 8.217-8) or an intentional cheat or misleading (G. 3.391-2, Aen. 7.215 and 12.246).

In conclusion the episode of Creusa marks the peak of the Iliupersis and helps us in characterizing both Creusa and Aeneas: Creusa is the model of Roman wife; but Aeneas is nescius and clearly lacks care and responsibility toward her.

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