In his ConfessionsAugustine regrets that during his schooling he wept more for Dido than for the fate of his own soul:

“For certainty the first lessons, which formed in me the enduring power of reading books and writing what I chose, were better because more solid than the latter, in which I was obliged to learn by heart the wanderings of Aeneas, forgetting my own wanderings, and to weep for the death of Dido, who slew herself for love, while I looked with dry eyes on my own most unhappy death, wandering far from Thee, O God, my life. For what is so pitiful as an unhappy wretch who pities not himself, who has tears for the death of Dido, because she loved Aeneas, but none of his own death, because he loves not Thee?

O God, the light of my heart, Thou hidden bread of my soul, Though mighty husband of my mind and of the bosom of my thought, I loved Thee not. I lived in adultery away from Thee, and all men cried unto me, Well done! well done! For the friendship of this world is adultery against Thee. Well done! well done! men cry, till one is ashamed not to be even as they. For this I had no tears, but I could weep for Dido `slain with the sword and flying to the depths,’ while I was myself flying from Thee into the depths of Thy creation, earth returning to earth. And if I was forbidden to read these tales, I grieved; because I might not read what caused me grief. Such lessons were thought more elevating and profitable than mere reading or writing. What madness is this!”

In The City of God, Augustine reads Aeneas’ impassivity in the face of Dido’s pleas as a figure for Stoic detachment:

Thus the mind, where this opinion [that one ought not to violate justice] is fixed, allows no disturbances, even though they affect the lower parts of the soul, to prevail in it against reason. Rather, it masters them itself, and exercises the rule of virtue by not consenting to them and by resisting them instead. This is the character that Virgil also ascribes to Aeneas, where he says “The mind remains unmoved, the tears roll down empty” (De Civ. D. 9.4).

Camille Bennett explores the presence of The Aeneid in the ConfessionsWilliam Werpehowski concentrates on this weeping as an index of sorrow and virtue in Augustine’s spiritual autobiography. Sabine MacCormack speculates about Vergil’s presence “in the Mind of Augustine” in her book The Shadows of Poetry.


Ottaviano Nelli – St Augustine Arriving in Carthage (after 1400)

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