What about Creusa? Intratextual echoes between the Creusa and Nisus and Euryalus episodes in the Aeneid
Rubén G. Fernández
It is not surprising for a habitual reader of the Aeneid to encounter instances in which Vergil reuses his own words, or even partial verses (‘et teniu telas discreverat auro’: Aeneid 4.264 and 9.75, to provide just one example). Perhaps such echoes create a causal or intentional relationship between the contexts in which they occur, or perhaps the majority of them are background noise and only a few are the true, intentional, meaningful intratextual echoes that the author clearly devised for the reader, to establish some sort of special relationship between (or among) them (Hinds 1998 and Farrell 1997). The phrase vestigial retro observata appears twice in the entire Aeneid. The first instance, 2.753-54, belongs to the episode in which Aeneas is about to leave the city of Troy with his entire household, but in the course of fleeing the city, his wife Creusa is presumed lost (2.562-804). The second instance, 9.392-93, belongs to the episode of Nisus and Euryalus (9.176-449), in which Euryalus disappears amidst the undergrowth of the woods during a night raid, Nisus goes back in search of his young friend, and both die, Nisus on top of Euryalus. The phrase occurs in enjambment in both instances, preceded by the copulative conjunction ‘et’ and followed by the principal verb of the sentence where it occurs. This analogous arrangement suggests a well-devised echo that interrelates both episodes.
I argue that Vergil, by means of this intentional intratextual echo, intended to provide emotional closure to Creusa’s loss, which has been poetically unresolved. Although Creusa’s and Euryalus’ episodes are quite different in theme, both characters are lost in the course of the action. The fact that Vergil uses the same phrase to tell the reader that their respective partners went back looking for them is significant. Nisus and Euryalus’ deaths provide the reader with emotional closure to the ambiguous disappearance of Creusa in Troy.
There are numerous other echoes in the Nisus and Euryalus story that recall Creusa’s episode. Before Nisus and Euryalus set out on their night raid, there is a reference to Creusa when Euryalus asks Ascanius to console his mother while he is away, and Ascanius replies that she (Euryalus’ mother) will be his mother only lacking the name of Creusa (9.297-98). Ascanius’ words open up various echoes and parallelisms between both episodes that will find their climax in the phrase vestigial retro observata. For instance, Euryalus follows Nisus at a distance (9.384-86), just as Creusa had followed Aeneas’ footsteps (2.711). Furthermore, Euryalus is hindered in his steps due to the weight of plunder (9.384-85), which recalls the image of Aeneas carrying Anchises on his shoulders, as though loaded with booty (2.707). In the course of their raid, the reflection of the moonlight on the plundered helmet that Euryalus wears (9.373-75) makes it possible for Volcen’s cavalry to hunt them down; however, this reflecting light appears in Creusa’s episode as the auspicious star that Jupiter sent to Anchises to guide the way to Mount Ida, the point of reunion to leave Troy (2.689-94). We read that Euryalus’ helmet betrays (prodidit, 9.374) their escape through the woods, just as Aeneas accused Creusa of having tricked/failed (fefellit, 2.744) her husband and friends when she disappeared. Even the pius amor (5.295-96) that Nisus felt for Euryalus, which can be interpreted as homoerotic or paternal love (Pavlock 1985), recalls the amor that Creusa felt for her husband (2.638-49), which corresponded to Aeneas’ pietas, excluding her from his male circle (2.711; on pietas implications, Perkell 1981). These instances, along with others that surround these intratextual parallelisms, find in the phrase vestigial retro observata their zenith, which leads to the death of Nisus and Euryalus. Their death will keep them together for eternity as Fortunati ambo! (9.446), and this provides the poetic and emotional closure to Creusa’s loss, who should have died with Aeneas in Troy, but Vergil and the Aeneid necessitated Aeneas to carry on with the fate of Rome.
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