A Pointed Purpose

Yo, Ernest,

The informal greeting is an indication that, unfortunately, I do not anticipate this letter being the sort of thing I’ll be copying onto parchment any time soon—which is a real shame, considering how many other things there are that I copy onto parchment on a regular basis.

Well, here’s a quotation and a translation:

At pius Aeneas, quamquam lenire dolentem

solando cupit et dictis avertere curas,

multa gamens magnoque animum labefactus amore

iussa tamen divum exsequitur classemque revisit.


But pious Aeneas,

although he longs to sooth her pain with solace

and turn her from her cares with gentle words,

Much grieving,

and labefied, his soul, With great desire,

he nonetheless pursues the god’s commands

And returns to his fleet.

Aeneas heroically carries his father, Anchises, out of troy as the city burns behind him.

Pious is a common epithet that Vergil uses to describe Aeneas.  It had broader implications in the context of ancient Rome than it does today, including a dutifulness not only to the gods, but also to one’s family and one’s state.  In the excerpt which I have so translationally quoted, it seems to bring out the purpose for which Aeneas is leaving Dido.  He is choosing to serve the gods, his family, and his future state.  By pursuing Rome instead of remaining in Carthage with Dido he is providing his son with a perspective principality—however unfulfilled that prospect may end up—while serving also his father by making a legacy of his bloodline.

In your last letterThey serve to point.

But Dante, who we know to be more clever than he’s, took advantage of the change in meaning that this word underwent over the thirteen centuries between their lives.  In his Comedy, pietate refers to pity.  Dante understands that all these reverences that Vergil thought of as shows of piety are really earthly passions—cares for the vicissitudinous and the mortal, which can be nothing else but sorrows and depravities.  The fact that Dido’s curse comes true, that Aeneas son, Ascanius dies before he can inherit the throne, demonstrates the shortsightedness of these investments.  And for Dante, even his reverence for the ‘gods’ is a folly.

How can an earthy purpose point to a heavenly one?


Your servant,



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