The Kiss of Ascanius in Vergil's Aeneid, the Roman d'Enéas and Heinrich von Veldeke's Eneide

by Rosemarie Deist
The Kiss of Ascanius in Vergil's Aeneid, the Roman d'Enéas and Heinrich von Veldeke's Eneide
Rosemarie Deist
The German Quarterly
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University of Sun Francisco

The Kiss of Ascanius in Vergil's Aeneid,
the Roman d'En4as
and Heinrich von Veldeke's Eneide

A key figure in the Aeneas tale is Dido. The conception of Aeneas's character and the events in the first part of the plot are centered around her. Ever since she is first mentioned, there is a continuous crescendo of emotions with no interludes or stops. In Vergil's work, as in the French and German romances, Dido is characterized by love. At first glance, the idea of love in Vergil and the medieval poets appears to be similar. Erich Auerbach's general observations con- cerning the Camilla episode in the Aeneid and in the French Enbas apply to the con- ception of love specifically: the medieval poet, like Vergil, describes the inception of love and, through it, the development of character; however, he conceives of a fundamentally different internal progression.1

The narrative unfolds according to the historical framework and the political en- vironment in which each poet lives. The in- fusion of psychological observation and the interaction of character and motivation were understood by Verg-rl's audience.2 In medieval romance, the motivation of a character is directed to the understanding of an aristocratic feudal audience, where the hero is fashioned according to the re- quirements of the vernacular language.3 But in the conception of character, author- ialintentions surface which are exclusively each poet's own. The three Didos act in two spheres: in the realm of the sovereign, where each poet explains his perception of public duty, and in the private sphere. It is in Dido's conduct as a private person, as a woman, that the poets literally "expose" her in her human traits and in the psychologi- cal complexities of her feelings in love. These emotions are revealed through meta- phorical images and specific structural de- vices. In this sense, each poet has "com- posed" or "constructed" his very own Dido. And it is through the Dido figure that the poets voice their intentions and convictions for their works. Vergil in particular projects himself into Dido's mind from the opening passage. The conduct ofAeneas in the three works becomes a primary vehicle for illu- minating her character. But the essential figure is Ascanius. He releases Dido's in- nermost emotions and thereby exposes the core of Dido's character. Hiskiss, the central event, sets the love denouement in motion. All events before and &r emanate from there. The landing of the shipwrecked Trojans in Carthage prepares the reader for the encounter with Ascanius.

Vergi14 points to Dido's destiny and her strong and noble character when Jupiter sends a messenger to instill in the queen a benign countenance toward Aeneas andhis men (I: 297ff.l.That Dido's destiny is willed by divine forces is an event inhistory (lead- ing to the founding of Rome) and, at the same time, a psychological process, since it establishes Dido's fundamental emotional disposition of strength and nobility5 This is affirmed when Aeneas, hidden in mist and enraptured with her beauty, observes her strong and just governance over her people: dispensingjustice, institutinglaws, assigning tasks among her people (I:


The German Quarterly 67.4 (Fall 1994) 463

The insertion at this point of Dido's beauty and Aeneas's rapture unknown to her-in other words, the juxtaposition of her seductive qualities with her effective and -led functioning as a queen wit- nessed by Aeneas-is a dramatic structural device which strongly foreshadows her coming tragedy. It is the interval between Aeneas's first knowledge of Dido and their actual encounter.' Before Aeneas ever sets eyes on her, Vergil alludes to Dido's fate and character, when Venus recounts to him the queen's marital history. Venus's descrip- tions give an insight into Dido's mind, her emotions, and her destiny: chosen to be deeply unhappy in love (magno miserae dilectus amore; I: 344). The emphasis is on Dido's loving relationship with her hus- band and her despair and grief over his death. She experiences double cruelty: the disappearance of her husband Sychaeus, followed by empty hope that he will return, then, the certainty of his murder by way of a vision of the slain Sychaeus. The emo- tional impact of gestures and images could hardly be stronger: the ghost of her mur- dered husband raising his pale and lifeless face to her, baring the sword wound on his pierced chest, and advising her to flee (I: 35246). Dido's accomplishments as the founder and sovereign of Carthage, her dgdied behavior as a widow and as a queen who is still grieving over her beloved hus- band, the betrayal of her own brother and the forced exile hm her homeland-all are munmed up in Venus's exclamation to Aene- as: 'and the leader of the work is a womann (dwc femina facti; 1:364). Venus unravels Dido's past as an emotional process. From the life with Sychaeus to the landing in Carthage, the mist, and the temple, Aeneas learns about the ethos and character of the remarkable woman and queen Dido. In the first book, Dido is at the peak ofher powers in beauty, strength of character, and nobil- ity as a sovereign. At the end of Book I, the narrative shifts away from Aeneas and con- centrates on the psychology of Dido to fore- shadow the tragedy in Book IV.8

These tragic elements a~ eliminated in the 12th-century versions. The medieval poets replace Vews enigmatic mythologi- cal style and syntax by discourse and dia- logue, by methodical description and imme- diate effe~t.~

In the Enhs, Vergd's psycho- logical approach is compressed into a measured and ordered account of Dido's past (381ff.).1° The outstanding trait of the French Dido is engin, cunning and clever- ness in the purchase of the land after arriv- ing in Africa (the famous trick with the bull's hide; 391ff.), and in the prowess and skill of her governance as queen in hostile male territory (404ff.). Engin describes Dido's behavior, wit, and manipulative qualities: the art, in other words, of control- ling situations. Such artfulness and skill are also evident in the construction of Carthage itself, whose magnificent citadel is a visual demonstration of the capability, Dido's specifically, to shape a human envi- ronment to one's advantage.ll The struc- ture of the reception scene is as ordered and rational as Dido's welcome for EnBas's dele- gation out of pitie' (619). The emphasis is exclusively on the capabilities of Dido the queen. Nothing is mentioned of Dido the woman, ofher beauty or her seductiveness, which would prepare for her ensuing pas- sion. Indeed, Enbas does not see her in per- son until his arrival in Carthage. And even then, one hears of gracious hospitable man- ners, but not of Dido the woman. Vergil's psychological complexity and dramatized tension are rejected here in favor ofhuman grace and fallibility. The medieval poets re- veal in their characters, particularly in Dido, contemporary habits and customs. In this new social environment, Dido will become human with more private and acces- sible personal emotions. Whereas Vergd's poem stresses the relationship between individual and community, the medieval po- ems focus on personal motivations.12

Vergil describes solely Aeneas's godlike beauty (deo similis; I: 589) when the hero and Dido meet face to face for the first time. This beauty is made clear in the repeated references to lght, when the mist suddenly disperses and clears away intothe open sky. Venus has shed it on Aeneas: the shining light and glory of youth (lumenque iuventae purpureum) as well as grace and joy in his eyes (laetos oculis adflarat honores; 590f.). The simile which follows takes up the images of light (592ff.).The description of Aeneas as godlike is matched by Dido's beauty (formapulcherrima Dido),which is equal to that ofthe goddess Diana when the queen enters the temple to hold court (495ff.).13 The description ofDido's external attributes evokes interest, in both Aeneas and the reader, in her inner characteristics. But Dido's beauty links her with Aeneas's other essential features as well: nobility and humanity.14 Aeneas's tale of his heroic past touches a responsive chord in Dido's heart. Viktor Poschl thinks that this tale reveals the essence of her noble and heroic personality, and that it is the actual cause of her passion.15 Bernard Fenik upholds that Dido's human features, her warmth and generosity, her loneliness and her fal- libility would have made her fall in love with Aeneas even without divine interven-


Aeneas's account awakens the queen's attraction to him, of which he is unaware. However, the agent that unleashes hervery personal, innermost feelings and sets her infatuation in motion is Ascanius. He becomes the trigger for Dido's destruction by initiating her private feelings and, later on, by being-along with Anchises-the reason for Aeneas's departure.17 Dido's feel- ings for Ascanius are unique, and they unfold on multifarious levels. Vergil stresses exclusively the aspect of Ascanius as a child. Through Ascanius, one sees Aeneas as a tender, caring father (1: 645f., 715).18 Again, Vergil evokes images of glowing light when Cupido, in the shape of As- canius, appears at the banquet to the queen who is seated on a golden couch, while her guests are placed on purple coverings (I: 697ff.).The splendor of Aeneas's gifts to Dido rival the child's own beauty. The guest. and the queen gaze in astonishment at the boy with the blazing looks of a god. He delights the queen's eyes and her heart, and both become fixed on him (haec ocdis, haecpectore toto haeret; 718). She holds and warms the boy on her lap and near her heart. While she is holding him, the mem-

ory of Sychaeus becomes weaker little by little. Through a child, love and affection are aroused in the queen's heart, which is beginning to live again with feeling. This remarkable passage is worth quoting: At memor ille / matris Acidaliae padatim abolere Sychaeum / incipit et vivo temptat pravertere amore / iampridem resides ani- mos desuetaque wrda (I: 719ff.: "But he, mindful of his Acidalian mother, gradually begins to efface Sychaeus and with a living passion tries to preoccupy her soul and heart, both unmoved and unused to love since long ago").

The tragedy of Dido's private nature is summarized in these few lines. An innocent child rekindles in the queen the instincts of a mother and thereby brings her again in touch with long suppressed feelings.lg It is the child Ascanius, not the man and future lover Aeneas, who reawakens in Dido affec- tion and warmth. And it is through the tenderness and innocence of a child that the memory of Sychaeus and her vow of eternal faithfulness, the visible expression of Dido's self-respect, begin to recede. By stressing the aspect of innocence and child- hood, Vergd inserts yet another tragic ele- ment. That Dido does not hold faith to her first marriage isa failure to uphold an ideal of traditional Roman morality, and thus constitutes part of her ~ulpa.~~

Emotionally transformed, Dido is now capable of seeing and admiring Aeneas, not solely from her innate capacity for nobility as before, but as a woman who has won again her very own emotions.

But the queen's personal tragedy unfolds on another level as well, just as she had suffered manifold sorrow through the murder of Sychaeus. Dido caresses the child in her arms, whose innocence erases her loneliness and grief. Yet it is precisely through this act of innocence and openness on Dido's part that her human destiny is sealed by multiple levels of deception. Dido embraces Cupido in the human shape of Ascanius. From this external delusion, the exchange of shape, follows Dido's self-illu- sion: she opens her own selfto the child and thus becomes psychologically transported to an earlier happiness. But, tragically un- knowing, by embracing the child she un- does her newly gained peace and happiness and induces, in a physical and psychologi- cal sense, her future sorrow. Vergil sums up the extraordinary complexity of the As-canius-Cupido exchange in his enigmatic and condensed style: Gremw fovet, insciu Dido, insidat quantus miserae deus (I: 718f.: "She warms and holdshim on her lap, unknowing Dido, how much a god has set- tled there for her sorrow").

The motifof insciu foreshadows the deer simile ofBook IVand Dido's state ofincauta (lY70), of blindness and tragic unaware- ness. Thisimage is paired with Aeneas, the hunter who is unaware of his shot (pastor nescius; IS?71f.).21 In Vergil's epic, nothing is said or done without corresponding con- nections throughout the poem. Every epi- sode or image is repeated elsewhere and reflects a new depth of meaning. Motif and plot, structure and authorial intention be- come thus integrated in a complex web of narrative and psychological design.

The events with Ascanius determine Dido's destiny in the medieval works as well. But the French poet andveldeke have eachentirelyreworked the personage ofAs- canius. Consequently, they have created a new Dido. Whereas Vergil describes by way of images and interconnected motifs, the medieval authors follow reason and logic. The construct of the Ascanius episode and ofAscanius himself differ in two fundamen- tal aspects from Vergil's version. The rela- tionship of Aeneas to Ascanius as that of a father who centers his tender GUE and con- cern on his child is omitted. Furthermore, passionate love is transmitted by Venus through the kiss and its eroticqualities. Be- fore Ascanius's entrance into Carthage, Ve- nus kisses him and endows him with the power to instill love. Empowered by Venus with a kiss-for Dido and Enhas in the French work (769ff.)' and for Dido alone in Veldeke's version (37, 25E)22-Ascanius remains passive and uninvolved in the love plot. Moreover, in contrast to Vergd's Ascanius, the exchange of physical shape does not take place; hence, Ascanius's human appearance is never touched. He is merely the transmitter of love and does not ever come alive in the expressively human quali- ties which characterize him throughout Vergil's narrative. Here, hanius's role is relegated solely to the inception of love, after which he disappears from the narra- tive.23

By being restructured as the transmitr ter of love through Venus's kiss, Ascanius is imbued by the poets with an eroticism which, in turn, requires further essential changes in his construct. Ascanius is not presented as a child, but as a young man who approaches Carthage to join Aeneas with his own entourage of ktughts, in ac- cordance with social customs.24 In this ca- pacity, he transmits love through the kiss of Venus, the goddess of voluptuousness and sexuality. This kiss is effected on the mouth, and it drives the experienced queen of a kingdom out of her senses. Such a framework reveals the perception of love and the character of Dido to be fundamen- tally different from their depictioninvergil. The kiss is realized by physical contact, which reinforces the frenzied uncontrollability of Dido's passion. Through the kiss, the mindset of each poet in the love denouement and, above all, the psychologi- cal composition of each Dido become unveiled.

Embraces and kisses on face and mouth are exchanged between Enbas, Dido, and Ascanius in the French work (804ff.), be- tween Dido and Ascanius only in Veldeke (38,5).Solely the carnalkiss, which sends its recipients into rapture, is initiated by

contact of the mouth and lips (oscdumcorporale).25 The erotic qualities of the kiss are further reinforced by Venus, the inspiration of amorous desire.z6 The fact that the kiss is executed in a different manner for each Dido has fundamental implications for their respective character evolvements. In the French work, the love is reciprocal through the kiss (both Dido and Enbas are kissed). Dido alone is kissed in Veldeke's perception; thus, only Dido suffers from the effect of the kiss in a one-sided love affair. The physiological and psychological effect of the kiss is symbolized by firefor Veldeke's Dido; for the French Dido, it ispoison which runs through her veins. The nightly tor- ment and the relationship each Dido has with Aeneas, now as a woman in her in- tensely private nature, ensues in accor- dance with these symbolicimages. The pro- gression of the hunt, the consummation of their love, and Dido's suicide are deter- mined as well by such symbols. All these events, their structural arrangement, their psychological significance, and their syrn- bolic meaning, issue from the kiss of As- canius.

Through Ascanius's kiss for Dido only, and through the subsequent effect of burn- ing fire (38, lm.), Veldeke affrms his intention for the entire work: that of balance and mdz. By contrast, the image of a deadly potion effected by the kiss, and poi- soning Dido from inside, abounds in the French work (813ff., 1260fl). The poet makes it clear that this is a serious imbal- ance, which must be corrected. Dido will be judged as a lover and a monarch in accor- dance with each author's principles and in- tention~.~~

From the opening passage, Dido ispresented by Verg.11 and the medieval po- ets as having a dual role in the narrative. She functions asqueen in the official realm and is revealed as a private human person in the amatory sphere. Through the kiss of Ascanius, and not in her first encounter with Aeneas, Dido here becomes visible to the reader in her innermost human per- sona.

The human uniqueness of each Dido, established through the kiss, will develop in the love plot. Through Ascanius as a child, Vergil shows the private Dido in two complex psychological stages. As a woman whose maternal feelings are aroused, she becomes capable of being the woman who loves Aeneas. At the same time, the emo- tions of a mother constitute the inception of her guilt by the fatefid erasing of Sy- chaeus in her mind, which culminates in her negating the vow of faithfulness to her dead husband.

In the French work asin Veldeke's ver- sion, Ascanius's kiss has manifold func- tions. The poets accentuate Dido's private nature through explicit symbols effected by the kiss. Moreover, the kissestablishes the crucial relationship between Dido and Aeneas. By the medieval poets' restructur- ing of Ascanius as a young man, he is en- dowed with an implicit virility. Thisis reinforced by the projection of Venus and sexuality into the love plot, which elimi- nates the exchange of shape so essential for Vergil's Ascanius. Hence, in the medieval versions, it is the eroticism of the kiss of Ascanius, not the innocence of the child Ascanius, which sets the love plot in motion. In the three Dido versions, the key to the queen's personal character is to be found in the kiss of Ascanius.


'Erich Auerbach, Literatursprache und Pu- bZikum in der Zateinischen Spatantike und im Mittelalter (Bern: Francke, 1958) 141.

2Kenneth Quinn, Vergil'sAeneikACritical Description (AnnArbor: U ofMichigan P, 1968)

309. On Vergil's historical intentions, see also Marie-Luise Dittrich, Die EneideHeinrichs von Veldeke.I. Teil:QuellenkritischerVergleichmit dem Roman d'Endas und Vergil's Aeneis (Wiesbaden: Shiner, 1966) 133ff.

3Auerbach 155. 4Vi,Aeneid, ed. G. P. Goold, 2 vols. rev. ed. (Cambridge:Harvard UP, 1978). 5Vitor Poschl, The Art of Vergil: Image and

Symbol in the Aeneid, trans.Gerda Seligson (AnnArbor: U of Michigan P, 1966) 74. The de- struction for Dido embedded in Aeneas's path is established in the opening lines of the poem through Juno's unwavering wrath:ob iram (I: 4).

GAlso, in the firm treatment of Aeneas's storm-wrecked ships and his delegation, whom Dido forbade to enter her shores and whose speaker Ilioneus voices his exasperation (I: 539ff.), Vergil constrasts strongly Dido's strength and wisdom as a monarch (I: 561ff.) with her fate, which Jupiter hassealed by now.

7Bmoks Otis, Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry (Oxford.. Clarendon Press, 1963) 66 sees in the mist a symbol of Aeneas's spiritual removal. This psychological distance closes with the temple fXeze, where Aeneas views Dido's humanity and moves hm isolation to emotion- al encounter.

81bid. 65,67.

9Cf. Auerbach's (155) explanations on the transformation of style in concordance with se ciologidpolitical transformations and audience reception: here, an aristocratic, feudal audience. Sources for the medieval description of love in the manner of Ovidian love casuistry canbe found in Edmond Faral, Recherches sur les sources latines des contes et romans courtois du Moyen Age (Paris: Champion, 1913).

lOAlbertoVarvm, '? nuovi valori de Roman d%nbas," Filologia e letteratura 13 (1967): 115 points out Vergil's rhetorical ordo artificialis as compared to the chronological order of events in the Enbas, the ordo naturalis. See also Da- niel Poirion, "De l'Edide h SEdm: Mythologie et moralisation," Cahiers de civilisation dclikvale 19 (1976): 219; Edm, ed. J.J.Salverda de Grave, tome I (Paris: Champion, 1973).

11Engin (ingenium) in 12th-century courtly texts means intelligence and ingenuity to con- trol situations. It is the virtue of fallen man, who is weaker but, as a result of that experi- ence, more knowing to overcome the imperfec- tions of his existence. Hence, engin is a guide for judging him as an individual. Cf Robert W. Hanning, The Individual in Gelfth-Century Romance (New Haven: Yale UP, 1977) 106 for engin in the Enbas 108f.

12varvaro 126-28; Auerbach 164K; Penny Schine Gold, TheLady and the Virgin: Image,

Attitude, and Experience in Iluelfth-Century

France (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985; repr.

1987) 35.

13Poschl(68) observes that the triple sym- bols of the huntress (Venus, Diana, Dido) indi- cate connected events.

14Poschl 191. See also Peter Schenk, Die Gestalt des ~musin Vergils Aeneis (Konig- steinR'aunus: Hain, 1984) 368.

15PoschI 72.

16Bernard Carl Fenik, 'The Influence ofEu- ripides on Vergil's Aeneid" (AnnArbor, 1960; Dissertation on University Microfilms) 184€., 218-22. Dido is, nevertheless, very really victi- mized by the gods (Juno and Venus) because her tragedy is not conceivable without this in- tervention (185). Through the combination of divine figures and personal psychology, Vergil has expressed, like Euripides, the twofold char- acter of all events in the world (191), the basic human dilemma of personal responsibility for one's actions and forces beyond human control. See also Gold (34) on this point.

17Cf. Dittrich (90) and Alfi-ed Kosthorst, "Die Frauen- und Jiinglingsgestalten invergils Aeneis," Diss. Miinster 1934 (Bochum: Pop pinghaus, 1934) 108 on Vergil's Ascanius as a historical link to establish the ancestry of the Augustan emperors: spes=ZukunRshoffnung." Also, see Michael C. J. Putnam, The Poetry of the Aeneid (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1988) 99, Illon Ascanius as the historical future.

18Also, compare Aeneas's fatherly tender- ness when exhorting Ascanius before returning to battle (XII: 432K). See also Kosthorst (108ff.) on the development of Ascanius hm infans to puer, his developmental stage when he sits on Dido's lap; Kosthorst estimates that he cannot be older than eleven years.

lgOtis (67) mentions in passing the excite- ment of Dido's bated feelings," but there is certainly more to this passage than that. Kosti horst (43),on the other hand, recognizes that Dido's passion for Aeneas issues hm the Asca- nius encounter. PijschI (72) points out that the structural opposition of Dido's nature and childlessness with the young child Ascanius in- dicates an inner event. The importance of the child Ascanius's innocence is atfirmed in Book IVduring the hunt, where only his psyche is open and innocent, i.e., freeof culpa Cpuer Ascanius; IV 156K).See also Otis (67) and Kosti horst (108); William Hunt, Forms of Glory: Structure and Sense in Virgil'sAeneid (Carbon- dale: Southern Illinois UP, 1973) 76 and Louis H. Feldrnann, "The Character of Ascanius in Virgil's Aeneid," Classical Joud 481 (1953): 306 on the child "as a foil to its deep tragedy."

20Cf. Fenik 217. On Didb's culpa as inextri- cable hm furor, the being blinded by passion to the exclusion of everything else, see Fenik 216ff. and 181-95, Otis 80ff., Hunt 70ff., Schenk 20ff. and 341ff. The association offuror with "blindness," i.e., the preoccupation with one thingonly, in Cicero (caecitas) and Horace, is pointed out by Fenik 183, n. 3. Horace also has the furor-caecitas-culpa connection.

21See Otis 81. For "blindness," cf. n. 20.

22Henric van Veldeken: Eneide, ed. Gabriele Schieb and Theodor Frings (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1964). For the Enkm, see n. 10.

%ompare also Dittrich (95-97) on these points.

24The emphasis is on feudal terms, particu- larly in the French work: Ascanius with his knights (Ascanius o son barnage, 781); later, a similar reference occurs to outline Turnus's du- ties as a feudal knight (qui semondre vont lo barnage, 3900). On this point and the shifting to social customs, see Varvaro 135.

wf. Poirion 224E: 'la bouche, la magie f& tichiste du contact." On the gradations of the kiss, see Nicolas James Perella, lThe Kiss Sacred and Profane (Berkeley: U of California P, 1969), esp. 69E; 108, on the medieval associa- tion of carnalkiss and rapture. For the nature of the kiss and for literature on the kiss, see Rosemarie Deist, "Sun and Moon: Constella- tions of Character in Gottfried's %stan and CWtien's Yvain," Intentationale Forschungen zur Allgeminen und Vergleichenden Literatur- wissenschaft, ed. F'riedrich Wolfiettel (Amster- dam: Rodopi, 1994).

260n the kiss and Venus, see Jean Cheva- lier and Alain Gheerbrant, Dictionnaire des symboles (Paris: Seghers et Jupiter, 1973) 159, 370; also, see Perella (191) on an epithalamium by the late Roman poet Claudian, whereVenus counsels the newlywed couple in the joys of the kiss and sexual love.

27The uniquely individual character devel- opment of theRoman, the French and the Ger- man Dido during the nightly torment and in the subsequent episodes as Aeneas's lover isdire& ly linked to the complex interconnected sym- bolic contents of fire, poison, and the dart (the latter, particularly in Vergil). This will be the subject of a futurestudy of mine.

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