see entire series on Virgil's Aeneid here
Since my last post on Virgil's Aeneid, we've enjoyed some -30 weather and New Year's festivities and all that good holiday kind of stuff. Thinking back on the first part of Book VII, it seems to me that Virgil is telling us how the Golden Age comes to an end. What is it that causes humanity to fall out of paradise? The descriptions of Latinus and his almost immediate knowledge of the will of the gods is a picture of an earlier time: man was in harmony with nature and with the gods. The prophecies were clear; Latinus knows that Aeneas is "the man called for by fate" (VII.369). If the Aeneid were done by a Disney writer, or perhaps by a Greek idealist, the story would end there. The will of fate is known, destiny is known, and the Golden Age of the Latins would continue.
At Jove's unpitying queen. (389)
In the midst of this certainty about Fate, Juno makes her return. Her thoughts are laid out in lines 388-440. She has come back with a vengeance. She too, knows that Aeneas is the fated man, but they are to her a "hateful race" (388). Juno gives us a summary of what she has tried against the Trojans thus far:
Could they be beaten? Troy on fire, did Troy
Consume her men? Amid the spears, amid
The flames, they found a way.
The Trojans have persevered despite circumstances. "They found a way" is at the heart of the Roman pragmatism as articulated by Virgil. It is moving forward as Fate dictates, despite whatever may happen in the world of circumstances, the world of Fortune. Not only has Juno tried to stop "fate" through manipulating human circumstances, even the very forces of nature were used against the Trojans: "The strength of sea and sky has been poured out against these Teucrians" (409). Juno laments that the Trojans are "unworried by deep water or by me". Juno even recognizes that she was untrue to her own principles as goddess of marriage in arranging the delay of Dido (Bk 4, post here): "To leave no risk unventured, lent myself to every indignity". Finally in exasperation she declares what she thinks is the crux of the matter: "I am defeated, and by Aeneas!" (423).
This is where Juno is mistaken. She has not been defeated simply by Aeneas. She has been defeated by Fate working through Aeneas. The only reason Aeneas (the pious, the dutiful) has been able to "defeat" Juno (the greatest goddess, "sister and consort of Jove") is that Aeneas has aligned his own will with that of Fate. He cannot, in the end, fail. The will of Fate will be accomplished. Juno's defeat is really her own failure to acknowledge Fate. She cannot alter Fate from above, she can only delay it from below:
It will not be permitted me, so be it,
To keep the man from rule in Italy
By changeless fate Lavinia waits, his bride.
And yet to drag it out, to pile delay
Upon delay in these great matters - that
I can do: to destroy both countries' people,
That I can do.
Now this, to Virgil, is an interesting question: how can one "delay" Fate? What gives Juno the power to "drag out" Fate? It is a question which has much in common with questions asked by Christians. How is the "will of God" accomplished? Can God's purpose and will be thwarted, delayed, moved? In other words, what is the relationship between the eternal will of the Divine, and the actual course of events in an ever changing world? If Fate has decreed something, does it not have the power to make it come to pass in the way it wants? Or does Fate simply decree that it will happen, but not how it will happen? Juno seems now aware that she cannot change the "that" of Fate, but she will use everything in here power to influence the "how".
What does Juno have within her power? As she said, if she cannot change Fate ("I can sway no heavenly hearts") she will use her power in the less-than-heavenly places: "the world below". Juno summons Allecto, one of the Furies, from "the dark underworld" (443). Allecto is described as the Daughter of Night, so miserable and terrifying that "even her father Pluto hates this figure" (447). You know you're at the bottom when the king of Hades thinks you are bad news. Juno summons Allecto to enter the paradise of the Latins and cause havoc. And cause havoc she does. She can cause men to be whipped up into mobs. She can drive Latin queen Amata into a Bacchic frenzy (559). She can cause Turnus to awake in a sweat after horrifying dreams and grab for his weapons in a fit of rage (634).
The power of the underworld has entered the scene, and the Golden Age is gone in a moment. What is the reason for the fall out of paradise, the end of the Golden Age? The answer is found in the question. What happens is that reason ceases to rule, and the force of unreason, of irrationality, begins to take over. In that sense there is no "reason" for the Fall. It is pure irrationality in action. And this is what Allecto brings from the underworld. The kingdom of Latinus collapses as his people, goaded on by Allecto and Juno, become less a kingdom and more a mob. His kingship is "wrecked, swept away by storm" (816). Latinus knows that his golden age has come to an end:
And dropped the reins of rule over the state