Not Saussure

September 11, 2006

Lacrimae rerum

Filed under: 9/11, Blogroll, Books — notsaussure @ 9:28 pm

Rachel from north London: Lacrimae rerum

Rachel writes, with her usual eloquence, sensitivity and honesty, of the emotions the anniversary of 9/11 evoke in her as a survivor of the Kings Cross bomb last year.

She concludes her piece by quoting a line from Virgil, which used to be very well known and is, like all the best poetry, pretty well impossible to translate,

sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt (Aeneid, 1. 462)

(literally, there are tears of things — that is, people weep for things — and things subject to death touch the mind).

In its context, though, it’s surprisingly optimistic; Aeneas and his comrades, fleeing Troy after its fall at the end of the Trojan War, have been shipwrecked in Libya, where they come upon Queen Dido and her people building the new city of Carthage (later, of course, to become Rome’s great enemy). Aeneas has already been given a bit of a heads up by his mother, the goddess Venus, who’s suggested he and his shipwrecked friends seek help from Dido; anyway, approaching the new city with some trepidation about what sort of welcome they’ll receive from the locals, they come across a newly built temple with a fresco depicting — what else? — the Trojan Wars.

Aeneas points this out to his comrades, trying to raise their spirits. ‘Look,’ he’s saying, ‘even here, they’ve heard of us and the fall of Troy and are moved by it. Because even here, in the middle of nowhere, sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt, we can be sure of a welcome.

The line seems to me to refer to the sort of compassion and practical sympathy for others which Rachel so exemplifies in her writings and which is a cause for hope.

Footnote: students of Latin literature will, of course, be aware that Aeneas shamefully exploits Dido’s sympathy and behaves in a thoroughly ungentlemanly manner because of his sense of his own, and his comrades’, imperial destiny and divine mission. I could make a political point out this, but not today.

Advertisements

3 Comments »

  1. Thank you for that. I love the Aeneid, though it takes me much longer to read in Latin these days, and I need adictionary. Some lines just stick in the mind though, and are better than anything we have in pith and reach and timelessness

    Comment by Rachel — September 12, 2006 @ 12:27 am

  2. Thank you for that. I love the Aeneid, though it takes me much longer to read in Latin these days, and I need a dictionary on hand. Some lines just stick in the mind though, and are better than anything we have in pith and reach and timelessness

    Comment by Rachel — September 12, 2006 @ 12:27 am

  3. Thanks for the info, I appreciate it.

    Comment by mrskin — September 27, 2006 @ 9:46 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: