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Beastly Feasts:

Eating and the Earthly Monsters in Vergil‟s Aeneid

by
Adam David Breindel
B.A., University of Chicago, 1996

Thesis

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of


Master of Arts in the Department of Classics at Brown University

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND

MAY 1999
ii

This thesis by Adam David Breindel is accepted in its

present form by the Department of Classics as satisfying the

thesis requirements for the degree of Master of Arts

Date _______________ ________________________________________


Jeri DeBrohun, Director

Approved by the Graduate Council

Date _______________ ________________________________________


Peder J. Estrup
Dean of the Graduate School and Research
iii

I would like gratefully to acknowledge the assistance and contributions of the


faculty of the Brown University Department of Classics to the present work. In
particular, I wish to thank Jeri DeBrohun, who directed this thesis; Michael C. J.
Putnam, whose discussions of the Aeneid inspired the paper upon which this
work is based; and David Konstan, who provided support and advice both
intellectual and personal. I would like to thank the students of the Department of
Classics, especially Bill Tortorelli, who read a draft of this thesis; Michael
Fontaine and Warren Petrofsky, who helped answer historical questions; and
Phil Thibodeau, who was prepared to respond with insight to any question or
problem. I would also like to thank Ruthann Whitten, administrative assistant to
the Department of Classics, for help with innumerable things; the Andrew W.
Mellon Foundation and the U. S. Department of Education Jacob K. Javits
Fellowship Program for financial support; and Michael Sippey and Roy Feldman
of Viant Corporation for making every accommodation to assist me in
completing this work on schedule.
Beastly Feasts: Eating and the Earthly Monsters in Vergil’s Aeneid

Among the supernatural creatures which inhabit the universe of the

Aeneid, the mortal, earth-bound monsters command our attention in a peculiar

way. Sharing a world with natural creatures, they imitate that natural order

while somehow standing outside it. As part of the mimicry, they take on human

and animal behaviors such as eating, yet they defy normal roles of hunter,

predator, and prey. In the Aeneid, the essence of what it is to be a monster seems

not unconnected with appetite and food. This essay is an inquiry into the

phenomena in Vergil‟s text which lie at the intersection of eating and

monstrosity.

The sort of monsters I mean are those creatures which are unnatural

enough to fall clearly outside of the animal kingdom, but which reside on earth,

in the human world of the text.1 The creatures I will examine are not men nor

animals nor gods nor beings of the underworld. Thus, nymphs, gods, ghosts, and

furies are all excluded (although they certainly deserve study on their own

terms).

This paper will focus on the serpents which attack Laocoon, the Harpies

which are confronted by the Trojans, Polyphemus, from whom the Trojans

1They do not, though, always exist at the time of the poem‟s action. Cacus, for example, is destroyed before
the action of the Aeneid takes place.
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rescue a Greek refugee, and Cacus, whose death is celebrated by Evander.2 The

beasts will be examined with the goal of discerning the motifs and imagery

which connect the monsters to their food, their victims, and each other.

It has been argued that monsters in cultural artifacts are often

representative not only of what is alien to nature, but also of what is culturally

and politically alien. Concerning Homer‟s Polyphemus, for example, J. Cohen

writes:

The quintessential xenophobic rendition of the foreign … , the


Cyclopes are represented as savages who have not “a law to bless
them” and who lack the techne to produce (Greek-style) civilization.
Their archaism is conveyed through their lack of hierarchy and of a
politics of precedent. This dissolution from community leads to a
rugged individualism that in Homeric terms can only be horrifying.
Because they live without a system of tradition and custom, the
Cyclopes are a danger to the arriving Greeks, men whose identities
are contingent upon compartmentalized function within a
deindividualizing system of subordination and control.
Polyphemos‟s victims are devoured, engulfed, made to vanish from
the public gaze: cannibalism as incorporation into the wrong
cultural body.3

Another way of viewing deformity is to observe that what appears malformed or

contrary to nature is ipso facto alien to some construction of nature-unnature

present in a particular cultural artifact. Thus, we are actually drawing

conclusions about the culture‟s worldview (or at least the one presented in the

2 While other monsters are alluded to in the text, these four alone receive extended treatment. For example,
although Scylla certainly fits the proper genus of beast, Aeneas avoids facing her and Vergil summarily
describes this lack of an encounter: Helenus warns Aeneas to avoid Scylla at 3.420-32. Aeneas follows these
instructions and successfully avoids her at 3.684-6.
3 Cohen 1996, p.14.
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artifact), rather than about the monster.4

Such an observation is useful, but reading the Aeneid’s monsters is made

even more complex by the worldview of Vergil and his contemporaries. In

particular, these Romans held a set of beliefs by which the cosmos, the state, and

the body were held to be interrelated and reflective of one another.5 For example,

a link between the universe and the state is made clear by texts such as Cicero‟s

de re publica and the “origins of society” in Plato‟s Protagoras. Plato uses the other

two relationships as groundworks for an extended set of philosophical

arguments: in the Republic, body is state and state is body. In Timaeus, the

universe is a living body.

This trilateral figure of associations – a sort of proportion in three terms –

can be seen to provide a context for understanding monsters, because

deformities of any one of the terms (e.g., natural creature or body) can be seen to

reflect some deviation in one or both of the other two terms (universe or state).

This perspective on cosmos, state, and body, is codified in the practice of augury.

Taking auspices is an assertion that the examination of animals‟ bodies (or

observation of their behavior) results in knowledge about the state of the cosmos.

Further, this knowledge about the cosmos must inform the military actions and

the political appointments made by the state.

Such an explicit link between cosmos, body, and state, provides, on one

4See Hogle 1998, Schmitt 1997 pp. 135-55, Cohen 1996, Haraway 1991 esp. pp. 7-20, Levi-Strauss 1969,
Douglas 1966.
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level, a sort of Rosetta stone for interpreting the appearance of a malformed and

unnatural creature. On another level, however, it only becomes harder to

understand just what is written in the existence of a particular monster – and it is

the monster‟s unnatural presence itself that must be read, because we must look

past a surface symbology in order to ask Why this monster? Why here? Why

now?6

In the case of eating, we find ourselves again in a multi-valenced

landscape, where the marked dietal poles seem not only to be starvation and

gluttony (with some sort of “moderation” in between), but also savage, over-

refined, austere, and what we might call idealized. Further, different sorts of people

seem to travel different directions through the landscape of food to arrive at one

or another diet. Thus, a story of food is not only a story of How much? and of

What kind? but, equally, a story of Who does the eating and How far is the eater

from Rome?

We recognize that the Romans were self-conscious in the material critique

of their culture, viz. by reference to its food.7 The food could in turn be

characterized by reference to its national or cultural origin. E. Gowers writes:

The standard extremes of Roman eating, simple and luxurious


food, were used ... to mark out two different stages in the

5 “The idea that the state is analogous to, or even in some way identical with, the natural universe is
widespread in ancient thought…” Hardie 1986 p.2; “[The Greeks] conceived the citizen, the city, and the
cosmos to be built according to the same principles.” Haraway 1991 p.7.
6 “The monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and a projection, the monster exists only to be read...”

Cohen 1996, p. 4.
7 The Romans were not alone in this regard. For example, we can see a similar Greek critique by looking at

the foods consumed in Plato‟s model city, and comparing them to those consumed in his “feverish,”
“luxurious” city, Rep. 372be, 373a, 373c.
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mythology of Roman civilization: the pure, rustic nature of the


Romans‟ past imposed on over-sophisticated urban culture. The
contrast could be geographical as well as historical. The diet of
other races often threw Roman decadence into relief: when Tacitus
(Germania 23) says that the Germans eat fresh wild meat, wild fruit,
and cheese, and satisfy their hunger without trappings and
seasonings, that is really a reflection on his own society.8

Livy, to offer a Republican example, takes advantage of Gnaeus Manlius Volso‟s

activities with a Roman army in Asia (39.6.3; 187 BC) to remark on the Asiatic

source of luxuries undermining the city of Rome. At this time, says Livy, cooks

and elaborate food achieve respect in Rome which they had not had before:

Luxuriae enim peregrinae origo ab exercitu Asiatico invecta in


urbem est. ... epulae ... ipsae et cura et sumptu maiore apparari
coeptae. Tum coquus, vilissimum antiquis mancipium et
aestimatione et usu, in pretio esse, et quod ministerium fuerat, ars
haberi coepta. Vix tamen illa, quae tum conspiciebantur, semina
erant futurae luxuriae. (39.6.7-9)

For the beginnings of foreign luxury were introduced into the City
by the army from Asia. ... the banquets themselves ... began to be
planned with both greater care and greater expense. At that time
the cook, to the ancient Romans the most worthless of slaves, both
in their judgment of values and in what use they made of him,
began to have value, and what had been merely a necessary service
came to be regarded as an art. Yet those things which were then
looked upon as remarkable were hardly even the germs of the
luxury to come.

Livy does not here explicitly describe the fancy banquets as consisting of foreign

food. But his silence, perhaps, makes the point clearer: the items of eastern

luxury (e.g. bronze couches and tapestries 39.6.7) are, together with the female

lute players (39.6.8), the elaborate banquets, and cooks, grouped together and

juxtaposed implicitly with the habiliments of the Roman antiquis. The point here

8 Gowers 1993, p. 18.


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is not whether 187 was really a seminal year in Roman moral degeneration9 nor

even whether the Romans‟ golden age of culinary simplicity was exaggeration or

outright mythology.10 Rather, we are content to observe that the Romans

evaluated their political and moral health by reference to food.

Livy also shows how, in the next year (186), the tripartite analogy of

heavens, body, and state come together to create anxiety about impending

turbulence. After the ludi Taurii are held,

Novemdiale deinde sacrum tenuit, quod in Piceno per triduum


lapidibus pluerat, ignesque caelestes multifariam orti adussisse
cumplurium levi adflatu vestimenta dicebantur. Addita et unum
diem supplicatio est ex decreto pontificum, quod aedis Opis in
Capitolio de caelo tacta erat. Hostiis maioribus consules
procurarunt urbemque lustraverunt. Sub idem tempus et ex
Umbria nuntiatum est semimarem duodecim ferme annos natum
inventum. Id prodigium abominantes arceri Romano agro
necarique quam primum iusserunt. Eodem anno Galli Transalpini
transgressi in Venetiam sine populatione aut bello haud procul
inde, ubi nunc Aquilei est, locum oppido condendo ceperunt.
(39.22.3-6)

Then a nine-day feast took place because in Picenum through three


days there had been showers of stones, and especially because
flames shining in the sky in many places were said to have set fire
to the garments of many when a light breeze blew upon them. A
one-day period of prayer was also added by decree of the pontiffs
because the temple of Ops on the Capitoline had been struck by
lightning. The consuls atoned for this with full-grown victims and
purified the City. About the same time it was reported from
Umbria that a hermaphrodite about twelve years old had been
discovered. In their fear and awe of this portent they ordered the
prodigy to be removed from Roman soil and killed as soon as

9 Livy goes on to describe the importation of, and hysteria occasioned by, eastern Bacchanals in this same
year, 39.8ff.
10 Plutarch, in his Life of Marcus Cato, expresses in an admiring tone Cato‟s culinary simplicity and

frugality in many places (including 1.7, 3.2, 4.1, 4.3, 6.1, 9.4-5). And yet even Cato the Elder hearks back to
more remote days of yore, visiting (2.1-2) the hut which had once belonged to Manius Curius, a hero of
three triumphs whom a Samnite embassy found at his hearth cooking turnips.
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possible. In the same year Transalpine Gauls, crossing into Venetia


without any devastation or war, took possession of a site for
founding a town not far from where Aquileia now stands.

Natural prodigies are here juxtaposed directly with a deformed body and with a

foreign invasion of northern Italy. All are seen as threatening, but not each on its

respective terms. Instead, the natural-unnatural phenomena of meteor shower,

lightning, and the sudden “discovery” of a hermaphrodite are all read as signs of

political danger.

In the following pages I will attempt to outline the imagery which binds

Vergil‟s monsters to one another through their physical characteristics and their

behavior – especially their eating. Moreover, I will attempt to discover the

meaning that lies in their uncertain yet threatening presence – for the narrator‟s

voice in the Aeneid never even mentions their appearance. As if self-reflexively to

reinforce that the fabric of monstrosity is constructed in layers of text, only

Vergil‟s characters assert the existence of monsters.

Laocoon and the Serpents: 2.199-23111

An analysis of the serpent attack on Laocoon may be seen to provide a

skeletal outline of the threat which monsters pose to humans. The snakes attack

Laocoon, devour his children, and then slither off. This encounter scene provides

a base case upon which later scenes will elaborate. However, even though it is
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brief, we can readily examine the subtler elements of the scene through two acts

of what might be called verbal displacement in Aeneas‟ description. First, we

find that the blood which will have been shed in the attack is not mentioned

there; instead, sanguis is used repeatedly to describe the snakes as they approach

and to describe the frightening effect they have on the Trojans. Second, the attack

seems verbally to repress the children‟s explicit dismemberment, despite the fact

that the core of the scene consists in two beasts consuming humans. Instead of a

vocabulary of gory dismemberment (which will appear in the Aeneid’s later

monster scenes), the violence here is described in terms of wrapping, winding,

and binding images.

The displacement of blood onto the snakes‟ description is facilitated by the

similarity in sound between anguis (204) and sanguis. This sonic affinity is

exploited so that blood becomes the descriptive attribute of the snakes even

before they attack Laocoon and before they do anyone any harm. The serpents‟

crests and eyes are red (respectively sanguineae 207 and sanguine 210) like the

blood they will spill from their victims. At the sight of them, the Trojans scatter

exsangues 212.12 At the least, then, the Trojans go pale at the frightening sight. But

also exsangues are the umbrae in the underworld (6.401), where “bloodless”

suggests lifelessness in addition to pallor. Thus we understand the Trojans‟

scattering, their blood figuratively drained, as indicative of their upcoming

11When citing the Aeneid, I will omit book numbers when they are clear from the context. Where more than
one book is invoked, or the citation is otherwise unclear, I will revert to providing book and line numbers.
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collective destruction and of the immediate dismemberment of Laocoon‟s sons.

In any case, the blood-pallor/sanguine-pale contrast is established here, and will

be exploited heavily as a motif in confrontations of hungry monsters and their

victims.

Since blood is immanent in the description of the serpents before they

have actually started attacking, and the assault involves the necessarily bloody

act of chewing the limbs (morsu depascitur artus 215) of living humans, the

description of the assault itself is strange in light of its verbal bloodlessness. The

principal verbal figure in the attack is that of wrapping, seizing, and binding (as I

will discuss below), rather than bloody injury. The only apparent reference to

blood in the attack itself is at 221, where Laocoon is described as perfusus sanie

vittas atroque veneno. Observing Aeneas‟ diction precisely, Laocoon‟s chaplets are

not so much soaked with blood as with corrupted gore or bloody effluence

(sanie). The bands are soaked with black poison (atro... veneno) rather than black

blood, even though cruore would have fit the metrical position.13 The story, as

Aeneas tells it, seems to involve a displacement of the sanguis, which

accompanied the attack, onto the serpents themselves. As a result, the serpents

have eyes filled with blood but the attack, if not literally bloodless, avoids direct

reference to blood.

While the bleeding incurred by the snakes‟ attack seems to be shifted onto

12Perhaps we are also to hear in the line “ex sangues,” i.e., ex sangue, so that we see the Trojans flee from the
blood.
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the description of the snakes‟ advent, the attack is nevertheless vividly described.

This description is filled with images of wrapping, binding, and seizing: amplexus

214, implicat 215, corripiunt ... ligant 217, amplexi ... circum ... dati 218-9, nodos 220.

The injury (miseros morsu despascitur artus 215) is restricted to a single line.

Although this single line is thereby rendered striking, the verbal emphasis in the

scene is on the binding and subduing of the victim, on the impending injury.

Fear seems here to affect the way in which the attack is described. The

Trojans‟ fear, mentioned before the attack (diffugimus visu exsangues 212), is again

explicit upon the conclusion of the attack. The Trojans‟ breasts were set to

trembling (tremefacta 228). A new fear insinuat (229) into them, just as the snake

sinuat (208) on its way into shore, and thus the earlier fear is verbally connected

with that afterward. The Trojans‟ fear is likely strongest when they see the snakes

approaching and the attack beginning. Hence the poem emphasizes the horror in

their arrival, giving an extended description to the moment before they are

actually striking anyone, and in their subduing a victim, when the bite is still

impending. Fear will naturally figure in other monster encounters in the Aeneid,

and it will be useful to see how this fear – a sort of shadow cast in the text by a

monster‟s presence – helps to delineate the shape of the beast.

In interpreting the snakes‟ presence, we can note that the serpents follow a

simple political association of the monstrous and the foreign. When the serpents

attack, Troy still stands and the Greeks are the enemy who will sack it. The

13 Cf., e.g., 5.333: concidit immundoque fimo sacroque cruore. Forms of cruor occur 24 times in Aeneid; of these,
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serpents are aligned with the Greek force through their number (two, like the

Atreidai who command the Greek forces) and their direction of origin (the island

of Tenedos, to which the Greeks have temporarily withdrawn). Laocoon, as a

representative of the Trojans, is attacked, his sons consumed, by the enemy who

will shortly destroy his city.

When we inquire, however, just what about the snakes makes them

monstrous or unnatural, we arrive at a strange conclusion. The physical form of

the serpents is not, alone, what is horrifying. Even their behavior may not seem

shocking or disturbing, inasmuch as the snakes seem like brute beasts which

might attack a person the way that a bear does. The snakes‟ near-animal nature

make them different from, e.g., the quasi-civilized Polyphemus, who seems by

that very status the more barbaric when he eats the Greek men. The most

frightening thing about the snakes is just that they appear at a crucial moment.

Their appearance just when Laocoon might have saved Troy from the horse

suggests that they were “sent” in accordance with some divine will. Or, looked at

another way, it suggests that their appearance is connected to an inescapable fate

pronounced on the Trojans. Thus, while the Trojans in Aeneid 2 see the snakes‟

attack as an omen and mis-respond by opening their city to destruction, the

readers of these monsters can see them as omens of a different sort. They signify

that there is a link between cosmos, body, and state even if it is illegible, i.e.,

bound to be misinterpreted. Such a situation can only be a source of anxiety or

15 occurrences are line-endings.


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subversive unease when we bring to mind the glorious fate for Rome suggested

later in the Aeneid.

The Trojans and the Harpies: 3.209-67

Aeneas makes explicit the status of the Harpies: no monstrum, pestis, or ira

worse than these ever drew itself out of the Stygian waves (214-5). These beasts

are immediately associated with food (Celaeno and the others colunt [212] the

Strophades the way a farmer cultivates land; they took up residence after leaving

the mensas [213] at Phineas‟ house). Although this association of Harpies and

food is not itself the work of Vergil‟s text (Vergil seems to take up where Ap. Rh.

Arg. 2.223-300 leaves off), Vergil‟s scene reduplicates within the Aeneid itself that

link between eating and fear which was evident in the episode of Laocoon. The

present scene, however, goes beyond reiteration of language or of motif to

develop a sophisticated exchange between Aeneas‟ men and the Harpies.

Vergil‟s Harpies are not mere snatchers of food. They are set forth as

thoroughly controlling food on their island, and their ability to give or take food

– extended even into the future by their use of prophecy – enables them

ultimately to engender hysterical fear in the Trojans. Their designation as

monstrum, though metaphorically indicating their monstrous nature, points

literally at the portent they will provide: the prophecy of hunger.

We can see some of the aspects in which the Harpies control food by
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looking at the three negative characteristics programmatically attributed to the

creatures by Aeneas (216-18). Before narrating the Trojans‟ arrival in port (219),

Aeneas gives his audience a prologue of general information about the

Strophades and the Harpies:14

... Strophades Graio stant nomine dictae,


insulae Ionio in magno, quas dira Celaeno
Harpyiaeque colunt aliae, Phineia postquam
clausa domus, mensasque metu liquere priores.
Tristius haud illis monstrum, nec saevior ulla
pestis et ira deum Stygiis sese extulit undis.
Virginei volucrum voltus, foedissima ventris
proluvies, uncaeque manus, et pallida semper
ora fame. (210-18)

The Harpies have virgin faces (216) – so far, so good. The three subsequent

details help us bring together the monstrous essence of these creatures as well as

their control over eating and hunger.

First, the Harpies have a foedissima proluvies (216-17) from their bellies,

which is likely fluid from the digestive or reproductive tract of the beasts.15

Whatever it is, it seems to have significance by way of the Harpies‟ supernatural

capacity for contamination: contactu ... omnia foedant 227. The efflux physically

carries the Harpies‟ foul internal nature to the outside world, so that it can be

spread around by touch. It is a hermetic sort of agent which conducts pollution

across the boundary between the body‟s internal and external environment. As a

14 We should bear in mind that although this description is set as a preface to the scene, it is partly
composed of the information and opinions which Aeneas will only have gleaned by the end of the episode.
15 In light of the Harpies‟ pollution of food, I would speculate that the proluvies is a kind of excreta from the

birds‟ digestion. However, unlike normal fecal matter which is the remainder from proper digestion, the
proluvies of the Harpies is unnatural and foul because it results from incomplete or improper digestion,
whereby they remain perpetually hungry (they bear pallida semper / ora fame 217-18).
Breindel 14

result, the externally presented aspect of these creatures (that is, independent of

their malevolent or benign intentions) is a threat to humans‟ healthy production

and consumption of food.16

Second, the Harpies‟ hands are hooked or curved (uncaeque manus 217).

This detail is an indication of talons, in accordance with bird characteristics or

with the Harpies‟ eponymous role as “snatchers.” While the Harpies will not

attempt to eat the Trojans, or even to take their food away physically, they seize

the food symbolically by actively and repeatedly rendering it unusable and

hence denying it to the Trojans.17

Third, the Harpies‟ faces are perpetually pale with hunger: pallida semper

ora fame 217-18. In contrast to the serpents in book two, which were described as

bloody and which carried out the act of eating, these monsters show a bloodless

mien precisely because they either do not eat, or else eat without deriving lasting

nourishment. Thus, in a negative way, this later example reinforces the

alignment of food with blood. There is no blood shed in the Trojans‟ battle with

the Harpies, just as there is no food consumed in their presence. Pallor is

associated with the Harpies‟ foodlessness (fame) and fear (the Harpies fled metu

213) in addition to its normal physiological indication of bloodlessness.18 The

Trojans, who do not eat but do get scared after hearing Celaeno‟s prophecy, are

described in a way that conforms to this image: sociis … gelidus formidine sanguis

16 Douglas 1966, esp. pp. 137-153.


17 Putnam 1980, p. 5 and p. 5 n. 13.
18 Putnam 1980, ibid.
Breindel 15

deriguit 259-60. The Trojans do not exhibit pallor, but their blood runs cold. Or,

more precisely, it stiffens up – in the absence of eating there is an absence of

flowing blood.

I have argued that Aeneas‟ programmatic ascription to the Harpies of the

foregoing three characteristics begins to establish their role as beastly controllers

of food and hunger. But Vergil takes their control beyond the physical and the

present by allowing them to pronounce a prophecy whereby they sentence

Aeneas and his men to future hunger. Celaeno has been privileged to receive

word from Zeus (pater omnipotens 251) that the Trojans are fated to starve before

founding their walls. Celaeno has not only the power of speech but also

knowledge of the gods‟ speech; she is able to invoke the word of the gods in

retaliation for the Trojans‟ attack: bellumne inferre paratis ... ? accipite ergo ... dicta,

quae ... mihi Phoebus Apollo praedixit (248-52). At this revelation, terror strikes the

Trojans. As mentioned above, the Trojans‟ blood freezes stiff with fear, the only

mention of blood in the Harpy episode. Their spirits collapse and they exchange

arms for prayers (260-1). Anchises‟ cries to the gods are clearly an act of hysteria,

since, if Anchises believes the prophecy is truly Zeus‟ word, then he knows there

is no purpose in saying “prohibite minas” or “talem avertite casum” (265). Thus,

through her ability to pronounce on the future, Celaeno imposes upon the

Trojans a debilitating (cecidere animi) fear of hunger, and reigns omnipotent in

her control of food – at least on her island.

Celaeno‟s prophecy speaks to events far from the Harpies‟ island. But
Breindel 16

what we might call the “affective content” of the prophecy is soon countered by

Helenus‟ reassurances.19 Helenus says explicitly that Aeneas should not worry

about the gnawing of the tables (394-5), though he does not dispute that the

event will come to pass. That is, Helenus and Celaeno prophesy more or less the

same information, with the same authority, but with differing affective content.

The difference between the two versions is not obscure, but it will be useful to

state it explicitly: Helenus desires to reassure; Celaeno desires to frighten. Since

Celaeno chooses how to present the information in order to accomplish her goal,

we see that she chooses to exert her control over the Trojans‟ view of their

situation.

In the image of Celaeno speaking forth a prophecy, we catch a glimpse of

what may be the essential perversion of nature that is being expressed in the

Harpy encounter – a distortion or inversion of the practice of augury itself. For

how can one take auspices or read the birds if they have access to Apollo and are

intentionally manipulating their audience? The birds in augury are supposed to

be a passive substrate upon which the state of the heavens or an indication about

an event is impressed, as on a wax tablet. The bird is then read as a passive object

of examination, and meaning is drawn from reading this body. The Harpies

represent a multiple inversion of their “natural” role – for they are active, they

are speaking the prophecy, they are doing the interpreting of Apollo. And, rather

19By “affective content,” I mean the prophecy as it is understood by the listener, with emphasis on whether
the listener thinks the prophecy is good or bad. Since prophecies are famous both for literal accuracy and
for inspiring misinterpretation in a hearer, it seems useful to establish a term to represent what the listener
Breindel 17

than passively presenting a deformed body as a monstrum in the unexceptional

sense to indicate a deformation in the heavenly state, they leak a fluid with the

power of Stygian corruption and use it actively to produce corruption where it

was not before on earth.

If we consider what it means to suggest that (1) there is an external

ineluctable course of fate (as in Helenus‟ prophecy, the prophecies received in

the underworld, etc.) along with (2) legitimate omens which are bound to be

misinterpreted at the critical juncture (as in the serpent attack) and (3) perverse,

actively deceptive objects-of-augury-turned-knowing-subjects (as in the Harpy

encounter), then we can begin to perceive the real fear and anxiety behind the

presence of these monsters. One‟s view of appropriate action and proper

guidance of the state could end up – like Aeneas‟ men themselves when he is

telling the present part of his story – severely off course. Anxieties of this sort in

Vergil‟s own milieu are not hard to appreciate.

In addition, the poet‟s language suggests that it is not trivial that the

Harpies‟ control of food is localized to the island – their patrio regno (249), in

Celaeno‟s words. The control of food and the political control of the island are

bound together. For, in explicit terms, he presents the Trojan quest for a meal as

war, even before the Harpies first appear. Upon seeing that the herds are without

guard (nullo custode 221), Aeneas‟ men attack (inruimus ferro 222). The animals are

spoils (praeda 223, 244) and serve as dapibus opimis (224), perhaps humorously

thinks the prophecy means, and how he or she feels about it.
Breindel 18

alluding to spoliis opimis (which appear in the Aeneid at 6.855 and 10.449). After

the Harpies‟ first attack and the Trojans‟ first retreat, the meal is reconstituted

like a battle line (instruimus mensas 231).20 At this point, Aeneas “declares” war as

though on the local (human) population (edico ... bellum cum gente gerendum 235),

and the battle vocabulary continues: sociis 234, scuta condunt 237 (which hints,

behind its sense of hiding shields, at building fortifications), dat signum 239,

invadunt socii ... proelia temptant 240. After the second Harpy victory, when

Celaeno addresses the Trojans, she suggests both that the Trojans‟ made war on

account of the slaughtered herd21 (pro caede boum 247) and that the Trojan attack

is tantamount to an expulsion from her native land (patrio ... pellere regno 249).

The conjunction (by Vergil as by Celaeno) of war against the herd with war

against the Harpies establishes the political role of the Harpies as island-rulers

and food-deniers. That is, it makes clear that the Harpies‟ perpetual hunger is a

political status, and the island a sort of regime of starvation. On this account,

Aeneas‟ desire for food brings on war and represents a military-political threat.

If this encounter is overtly political and military, it is less overt what

political interests are at stake. For the Trojans (denominated thus by reference to

their ancestral king Laomedon [3.248], despite Troy‟s destruction) are presently

without a physical homeland. The national status of Trojan is restricted to

Aeneas‟ band of men. The status which will replace Trojan, namely future-

20 Thus Lewis and Short, s.v. instruo.


Breindel 19

Roman, is alive for the reader, but Aeneas does not even know what “Roman”

will come to mean until his descent into the underworld. For their part, the

Harpies control the island, but bear some curious similarities to the Trojans. R.

Rabel writes:

Though force … [in the Trojans‟ war against the Harpies] proves
futile and the Trojans are overmatched, the listener cannot escape
the impression that like is confronting like. Aeneas and his men
represent a threat to sojourners in exile. Whereas attempts at
renewal of the Trojan past in Thrace and Crete brought pollution
upon Aeneas and his crew … now the Trojan attack upon the
Harpies involves an attempt to “befoul” with iron (ferro foedare,
3.241) the wings of their foes: pollution confronts pollution.
Further, the remains of the sacrifice at the brief war‟s end are
described as semesam praedam (3.244), a phrase nicely ambiguous of
the results of piracy transformed by war into the plunder of winged
scavengers.22

In confronting the Harpies, the Trojans are, perhaps, confronting themselves.23 In

particular, they are confronting that appetitive element in the Romans‟ own

culture that will bring on what later writers (such as Livy, in the passages from

book 39 quoted above) view as the decline of the ancient, noble, and austere.

One point of comparison, which does not establish the point but does

provide some context, is offered by Vergil‟s contemporary, Horace. In Satires 2.2,

Horace treats the virtue of simple living. In doing so, he brings together (1) a

21 Unless she means that she provided the slaughtered animals so that the war was pro caede boum, with pro
meaning “in exchange for.” This sense serves my argument equally well, since it means that the Harpies not
only take away food, but provide it too – thus, their domain of control over food extends beyond just taking
it.
22 Rabel 1985, p. 319.
23 “The Harpies externalize the monster within us. They objectify grabbers who make us grab, living in a

landscape that turns us around or away from some more steadfast pattern of living.” Putnam 1980, p. 5
Breindel 20

contrast of Roman versus Greek habits24, (2) a contrast of small, simple food

versus excessive food25, and (3) a contrast of an appetite that enjoys modest fare26

versus an appetite worthy of the rapacious Harpies (Harpyiis gula digna rapacibus

2.2.40) that ruins decent food by its very gluttony and satiety (2.2.41-4). Horace‟s

contrasts, though not parallel (except by ironic implication), tempt us to the see

the Harpy-like appetite as opposed to the “real” (which is exactly the imaginary)

simple Roman diet.27 What Horace‟s work does establish is that the Harpies

“work” as an image for a contemporary critique of the Roman diet. That is, the

Harpies are at least compatible with the symbolic role assignment that I have

suggested.

On this view, although Aeneas‟ men do not leave victorious over the

beast, they do make two perverse gains from the encounter. First, they leave in

that fatigued, hungry condition that Horace suggests makes them ready to eat

cibum vilem (2.2.15). They need not slaughter a herd of cattle and fix dapibus

opimis for themselves, if their hunger makes them appreciate not only the pomis

agrestibus (Aen. 7.111)28 but even the exiguam Cererem (7.113) when they fulfill the

tables prophecy. That prophecy of the tables, then, is the second curious gain

24 ... vel, si Romana fatigat militia adsuetum graecari, seu pila velox molliter austerum studio fallente laborem (2.2.10-
12). Chasing a hare and riding an unbroken horse are likened to the Roman exercises. Practicing Greek
ways includes playing with a ball, where the deceptive effort softly covers the work.
25 ... cum labor extuderit fastidia ... sperne cibum vilem; nisi Hymettia mella Falerno ne biberis diluta (2.2.14-16).
26 ... laudas, insane, trilibrem mullum (2.2.33-4) only because it is rare, as that fish is by nature smaller. But only

ieiunus raro stomachus volgaria temnit (2.2.38).


27 Horace refers to the appetites of the ancients at 2.2.89-93 with what seems to be some self-conscious

merriment. Rancidum aprum antiqui laudabant ... Hos utinam inter heroas natum tellus me prima tulisset (2.2.89-
93).
28 In their taste for wild fruit, they resemble Tacitus‟ Germans, on whom Gowers comments (p. 18, quoted

above).
Breindel 21

which the Trojans make in the Harpy scene: on the surface, it is a terrifying

prophecy because it says the Trojans will be hungry; but, if hunger is aligned

with the meager meals of the Rome‟s noble fathers (as against the “luxury” of the

Asian identity now left behind), the tables prophecy appears almost a

benediction. For it pronounces that Aeneas‟ men will have one of the

characteristics which is proper to the founders of Rome.

The Trojans, the Greek Refugee, and the Cyclopes: 3.568-683

The encounter with the Cyclopes is substantially longer and more

complex than the encounter with the Harpies. Earlier motifs are reworked and

elaborated in the description of Polyphemus‟ gruesome appearance and

behavior.

For the names applied to Polyphemus we need only note line 658, where

he is monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, while his race is infandi (644), gentem

nefandam (653), and concilium horrendum (679). For the subtleties behind the

epithets, I would like to delineate three themes which Vergil follows in the

characterization of Polyphemus as monster. The association of blood and gore

with eating reappears, augmented by some variation from its earlier use;

Polyphemus‟ gluttony – which had been part of traditional Cyclops lore29 – is

depicted and elaborated with two features important for the Aeneid; and
Breindel 22

Polyphemus‟ speech – or lack of speech – gives us further hints about his proper

location in the taxonomy of monsters. I will also examine the role of fear, prayer,

and supplication in the encounter between Aeneas and the Greek refugee. The

characters‟ differing narrative positions with respect to the monster will be

shown further to illuminate the episode.

The horror of Polyphemus eating his victims is described in the present

scene (621-7) in expansive graphic detail (especially as compared to the serpent

attack on Laocoon). The description is set up gradually, however, in the Greek

escapee‟s speech. For we learn first that the Cyclops‟ cave is one giant, dark den

of gore and bloody meals (domus sanie dapibusque cruentis, intus opaca, ingens 618-

19), the language still hesitant about the concomitant eating and bloodying. The

Greek tells Aeneas that the Cyclops is rough and hard, and reaches the stars (619-

20), but before pronouncing the precise details of the Cyclops attack, the narrator

is apparently overcome with horror at the more specific details of the scene. He

cries out a prayer, asking di talem avertite … pestem (620), a cry to keep the man-

eater away. We can note that the Greek‟s prayer here is similar to Anchises‟ own

prayer after Celaeno pronounces the tables prophecy. Anchises, praying talem

avertite casum (265), asks that the gods keep off Celaeno‟s threat that he would not

eat (in contrast to the Greek, who is worried about being eaten). After the refugee‟s

exclamation, the gruesome details come forth:

nec visu facilis nec dictu adfabilis ulli;

Glenn 1972 discusses the extent to which Vergil accepts the various poetic exploitations of Polyphemus
29

which had arisen over the centuries.


Breindel 23

visceribus miserorum et sanguine vescitur atro.


vidi egomet duo de numero cum corpora nostro
prensa manu magna medio resupinus in antro
frangeret ad saxum, sanieque aspersa natarent 625
limina; vidi atro cum membra fluentia tabo
manderet et tepidi tremerent sub dentibus artus –
(3.621-7)

In these lines, we have a description more severe than earlier ones. It includes

vocabulary (sanguine … atro 622, sanie 625, atro 626) from the serpent attack scene,

but is supplemented with physical detail: Polyphemus feeds on (vescitur) entrails

(visceribus); he breaks his victims‟ bodies on rocks; the threshold swims with gore

and black putrid matter (atro … tabo 626). The blood, the eating, and the dark

color, like the darkness (opaca 619) of the cave itself, are all identified with

Polyphemus‟ consumption of men.

Lines 621 and 627, however, strengthen the description in a way that mere

adding of detail and of explicitness could not. Line 621 adds pathos and line 627

provides an allusion to the attack on Laocoon. Though line 621 may be taken to

say that Polyphemus was hard to look at and impossible to talk to, it may as

easily, in the present context, indicate that he did not soften at the sight of

anyone‟s face nor could he be reached by their cry, when he was about to eat the

individual. Such pathos extends the description beyond physical attack. Line 627

suggests a possible comparison to miseros morsu depascitur artus (2.215), Aeneas‟

description of the serpents chewing on the limbs of Laocoon‟s children. In 3.627,

the Cyclops‟ action is nearly the same as the snakes‟ had been in 2.215 – chewing

(manderet) on limbs versus biting (morsu) them – but the description at 3.627 is
Breindel 24

made more forceful by the subsequent reversal of grammatical subject.

Polyphemus chews limbs (membra) and the limbs themselves (artus) quiver

beneath his teeth. Both we and Aeneas‟ Trojans must recall the attack on

Laocoon‟s children, whose limbs will have quivered beneath the serpents‟ fangs,

though Aeneas spares his Carthaginian audience such a detail.

Beyond the eating of men, the Greek comments on Polyphemus‟ general

gluttony. For it was the Cyclops‟ willingness to eat (expletus dapibus 630) and

drink himself into a stupor (vinoque sepultus 630, somnum 633) that allowed

Ulysses and his men to attack (634-6). So much is part of the Polyphemus story

from Homer (Od. 9.371-400). The refugee, however, adds two elements which

distinguish his story and let it reach out to other passages and themes in the

Aeneid. First, Polyphemus eats the bloody viscera of people and drinks wine, but

when the Greek escapes he eats only the unhappy fare of berries, cornel-cherries,

and roots. His diet is provided by the roots (radicibus 650) and branches (rami

650) of plants. The Greek‟s diet is not animal, and features no blood. But

concomitant with the meat-free, bloodless diet is a sheer paucity of food: when

Aeneas‟ men first spy the refugee, his body is macie confecta (590). This

correspondence between vegetable diet and hunger is not surprising in a text

that has associated blood with eating and food, bloodlessness with hunger and

pallor.

The text almost seems caught between the extremes of starvation and

gluttony, unable to find a sensible middle ground. As suggested above, the


Breindel 25

fulfillment of the tables prophecy, with its feast of fruits and grains, may be an

attempt to stabilize or mediate between these dangerous extremes of eating. At

the same time, we are reminded not only of Roman political readings of food

(discussed above) but also of diet as political determiner at Rome. Adjustment of

the grain dole could make political fortunes, while soldiers on campaign – who

often subsisted on a diet close to the Roman austere ideal – might return with

victory paradoxically embodied by the luxuries of the east (as in Livy 39,

discussed above). Alternatively, as had occurred during the civil wars, the army

might itself become the man-consuming monster, figuratively taking on the

savage diet as it becomes arbiter of political power.30

The second special feature of the Cyclops‟ gluttony is his vomiting out of

gore, chunks of food, and wine (saniem eructans et frusta cruento … commixta mero

632-3). The vomiting up of his meal of bloody entrails immediately associates

Polyphemus with Aetna. Aeneas had described Aetna in eruption, when the

Trojans arrived at the land of the Cyclopes, as avulsaque viscera montis … eructans

(575-6). Thus the volcano too vomits up torn off entrails. In this way, a sympathy

is suggested between the landscape and the monster it houses. In the Cacus

episode a similar and perhaps stronger sympathy will be exhibited. The vomiting

is also connected with the Greeks‟ revenge on Polyphemus. Vomiting, inasmuch

as it is the unconsuming of the men Polyphemus had eaten, might be said to be

the reversal or undoing of his act of eating them. But, of course, vomiting saniem

30 For an analysis of what was eaten, how much was eaten, where it came from and who controlled it, see
Breindel 26

in no way undoes the crime, so it cannot substitute for the men‟s revenge; it only

supplements it. Haud impune quidem (628) is Polyphemus‟ eating of men and,

even if the Cyclops vomits out their gore before Ulysses acts, the Greeks still

gladly take revenge: laeti sociorum ulciscimur umbras (638). We will observe that a

similar physical reversal or undoing of crime will accompany Hercules‟ revenge

on Cacus in book eight.

The last theme I would like to discuss in connection with the Cyclops‟

characterization as a monster is his lack of speech. Vergil‟s text does not make

explicit that his Polyphemus cannot speak. But we can observe that he does not

speak; that he is not spoken to; and that the Greek refugee says he cannot be

addressed (nec dictu adfabilis ulli 621). In addition, although infandi and nefandam

are passive in form and meaning (these words are attributed to the Cyclopes at

644 and 653 respectively), they echo the sounds of active forms such as infans,

“unable to speak.” In any case, the Cyclops‟ lack of speech is one obvious point

of departure of Vergil‟s tale from Homer‟s31, in spite of Vergil‟s retention of the

name Polyphemus32, “many-voiced”33 or “much-speaking.” The facts that

Polyphemus doesn‟t speak and that the Greek refugee says he cannot be spoken

to place an additional level of remove between man and Cyclops. Unlike even

the Harpies, who are dreadful but intelligent in their own accursed way, Vergil‟s

Cyclops does not communicate with man and offers only a yell (clamorem … tollit

Garnsey and Saller 1987, esp. pp. 83-103.


31 Homer‟s Polyphemus speaks at Od. 9.250-5, 272-80, and elsewhere.
32 Vergil uses this name at Aeneid 3.641; Homer first uses it at Od. 1.69.
Breindel 27

672).

The absence of speech also produces a more unnatural, monstrous

position for the Cyclops in subtler ways. Because his name no longer makes

sense, Polyphemus has, in a way, fallen farther out of the natural taxonomic

hierarchy. Part of defining and controlling nature, as well as defining and

excluding the monstrous, consists in getting the names right;34 a taxonomic

hierarchy (whether that of Aristotle or of Linnaeus) seeks to circumscribe reality

at the same time it seeks to describe it. Where the Cyclops was already a literary

monster, Vergil has ejected him even farther so that he no longer even belongs in

his own group – the entity characterized by his own name.

Moreover, by taking up Polyphemus (as literary actor) after his encounter

with Odysseus, and removing his speech (i.e., deforming the beast), Vergil has

done in a meta-literary way to the Cyclops what Jupiter does to Ovid‟s Lycaon

when he turns him into the first werewolf.35

The horribly fascinating loss of Lycaon‟s humanity merely reifies


his previous moral state; the king‟s body is rendered all
transparence, instantly and insistently readable. The power of the
narrative prohibition [of Lycaon‟s ill behavior toward Jupiter]
peaks in the lingering description of the monstrously composite
Lycaon, at that median where he is both man and beast, dual
natures in a helpless tumult of assertion. The fable concludes when
Lycaon can no longer speak, only signify.36

33 Thus LSJ, s.v. polyphêmos.


34 “This refusal to participate in the classificatory „order of things‟ is true of monsters generally…” Cohen
1996, p. 6. The defining and categorizing of nature is discussed in Haraway 1991, pp. 71-80. Eco 1995 is a
discussion of “perfect languages,” some of which have tried to assert or restore a utopian correspondence
between the ontology of things and their names.
35 Metamorphoses 1.163-252.
36 Cohen 1996, p. 13.
Breindel 28

Reading Polyphemus in this way, we see that Vergil has further deformed him in

order that he indicate what he has done that may not be done. The lack of speech

itself lets his presence “police the borders of the possible.”37

Having discussed three themes which clarify Polyphemus‟

characterization as monster and which connect this monstrosity to other episodes

in the Aeneid, it will be useful to consider the actions of the refugee and of

Aeneas. Their actions will let us examine the role of fear, prayer, and

supplication in their encounter.

To put the problem simply, I will suggest that Polyphemus is described

with some pathos by Aeneas in 659-665, despite the Greek‟s terrifying

description of him and Aeneas‟ own description of him as monstrum horrendum in

the line immediately prior (658). Such a mixed description is reasonable precisely

because of the difference between the Greek‟s narrative position and Aeneas‟

narrative position relative to the monster. The Harpy episode serves well for

comparison because, there, Aeneas experiences the horror of the Harpies first-

hand, as the Greek experiences that of Polyphemus.

The narrative of the Greek refugee contains straightforward, unmixed

horror at the Cyclops. He prays that the Trojans take him away per sidera ... per

superos atque hoc ... lumen (599-600), asking only to die at the hands of humans

(hominum manibus periisse 606). He interrupts his own speech about Polyphemus

before beginning the most explicitly grotesque passage (line 621-7, discussed

37 Cohen supplies this geographical metaphor.


Breindel 29

above) to pray to the gods that they turn away such a plague (talem avertite ...

pestem! 620). In making these prayers, the refugee is in the same position as

Anchises when he prays that the gods turn away the event predicted by Celaeno

(talem avertite casum 3.265). That is, he has just seen the power of the monster and,

though not physically attacked himself, he is terrified about impending doom.

The refugee says that he trembles (presumably, in fear) at the sound of the

Cyclopes‟ feet and at their voice (648). He concludes his speech with the word

leto (654), having declared that he wants only to escape the Cyclopes‟ nefandam

(653) race and that the Trojans should destroy him however they will. He acts

out his words by behaving as a suppliant at Aeneas‟ mercy, wrapping himself in

fear and desperation to his host. On his first appearance he is literally supplex

(592) as he makes his way on the shore. Imploring the Trojans at least to let him

die among men, he wraps himself around and attaches himself to Aeneas:

amplexus … volutans haerebat (607-8).38

Aeneas, in contrast, holds a more removed position. The Trojans, who

have not been at the mercy of Polyphemus, can take on the refugee and are not

threatened by him or by his monster. That is, the monster constructed in speech

by the refugee is not necessarily the same monster whom Aeneas sees.39 Aeneas

has a perspective which allows more objectivity and some compromise in his

attitudes toward the refugee and Polyphemus. The refugee certainly receives the

38 See Plautus Rudens 560, 648, 690 for amplexus used of a suppliant wrapped around an altar.
Breindel 30

greater part of the Trojans‟ sympathy, with his body described as a forma ...

miseranda (591) even before he tells his story. And, after the Greek discloses his

identity but before he reveals the horror of Polyphemus, Anchises dextram ... dat

... atque animum ... pignore firmat (610-11). However, despite calling Polyphemus

monstrum horrendum, Aeneas seems to have some sympathy for him as well.

Aeneas describes how the Cyclops steadies his step (vestigia firmat 659) with his

walking stick and how his flock is his sola voluptas solamenque mali (660-1).40

Recognizing the troubles of another individual, let alone that individual‟s need

for comfort, are clear indicators of sympathy. I suggest that such sympathy is

present here, while absent from the refugee‟s speech and from Aeneas‟

description of the Harpies, precisely because these latter speakers are too

terrified by the encounter itself to assume an objective rhetorical standpoint.

Hence Aeneas‟ description of the Harpies in grotesque, physical terms (216-18,

228) despite both Celaeno‟s insistence on a higher-than-beastly status (Furiarum

ego maxima 252) and Aeneas‟ own implicit recognition of the Harpies as a quasi-

civilized military opponent (bellum cum gente gerendum 235, etc.)

We have seen that Aeneas takes a more removed view of the refugee‟s

encounter, while receiving the Greek himself as a suppliant and saving him. In

39 We should bear in mind that Aeneas‟ monsters are also monsters in speech (and not just the poet‟s
speech) because Aeneas is telling this tale to the Carthaginians. (This point is generally made with more
immediate relevance regarding Homer‟s Odysseus, because he is more suspect as narrator than Aeneas.)
40 Some may feel the need to enter the lists of textual criticism and insist upon the presence or absence of the

putative line-ending (661) “de collo fistula pendet.” According to R. Mynors‟ apparatus criticus, this ending
appears in the second hand of the Palatinus manuscript and in most of the ninth-century manuscripts
which he evaluated. He does not, however, include these words in his text. Glenn 1972 discusses the textual
likelihood of this line-ending and its implications for pastoral readings of the scene (pp. 55-9) . For my own
part, however, Aeneas seems to speak with pathos regardless of the status of this line.
Breindel 31

the Aeneid‟s context of Rome‟s future ascendance, this behavior may be informed

by a Roman mindset (or perhaps pretext) about military and political expansion.

In the cases of Macedonia and Greece in particular, Romans viewed assumption

of control over the territories as a byproduct of establishing or restoring order in

the Aegean and Near East. On this view, the Greek states needed Roman

protection from the destruction they were on the brink of bringing on themselves

in conflict with Macedonia and the Hellenistic kingdoms. Greece could

eventually be “freed” to enjoy Roman protection. Perhaps Aeneas, “freeing” the

Greek from the monster and bringing him along in his own company, is

embodying this paternalistic Roman sentiment. The Greek refugee‟s diet,

discussed above, may support this romanticized reconstruction of the rescue: The

refugee‟s diet of berries, cornels, and roots seems exemplary of the kind which

some Greeks and Romans envisioned themselves eating in an uncorrupted

state.41 The Greek, then, is not only what must be saved from the monster‟s

threat, lest it be destroyed, but is also an image of the innocent and uncorrupted.

If there is anything to such a reading, then we can invert the scene in

order to catch another glimpse of the anxiety underlying the monster‟s presence.

The unanswered question is Who will protect and rescue Rome from its own

monstrous politicians and civil wars? Will Caesar, like Aeneas, sail the ship of

state directly away from the island? Or will he, like Odysseus in the story that

41 E.g., when Socrates discusses food for the men in the ideal city, he suggests to Glaucon that “[F]or dessert
we will serve them figs and chickpeas and beans, and they will toast myrtle-berries and acorns before the
fire ...” (Rep. 372cd).
Breindel 32

Vergil‟s text represses, taunt and stir up the monster, get blown back toward

shore and earn the articulate beast‟s imprecation. Vergil‟s Aeneas tells us that

Polyphemus‟ last utterance is an inarticulate bellow, as the speechless Cyclopes

raise their heads skyward (caelo capita alta ferentis 678). But Homer‟s Odysseus

reports that the monster prays to Poseidon, “May he find woes in his house,”

and the dark-haired god hears him.42

The Trojans, the Arcadians, Cacus, and Hercules: 8.175-279

The Cacus episode is the last and, I suggest, most complex of the monster

encounters in the Aeneid. It brings together verbal themes from other monster

descriptions and elsewhere;43 it collapses distinctions which we are accustomed

to making when we analyze monsters, allowing Evander to place Hercules into a

middle ground where he is both monster and anti-monster; and its conclusion

serves as a sort of metaphorical spatium historicum dividing one class of Aeneas‟

mythological adventures from another, more historical class. P. Hardie argues

for the scene‟s pivotal position between mythology and history by pointing out

the appearance in Aeneid 8 of several “historical interludes,” such as “Evander‟s

guided tour of the site of Rome” and the Shield of Aeneas. As a symbol of

Gigantomachy (archetypal renditions of war between the gods and Titans), the

42 Od. 9.535-6.
Breindel 33

Cacus encounter assumes a key position among these descriptions:

The Cacus story is the first in this series of historical interludes, but
it is, strictly, out of chronological sequence, since the events it
describes post-date Evander‟s account of the early history of
Latium. But its priority is guaranteed if we regard it as a
recapitulation of the primitive battles of the gods against the Titans
and Giants, an emblem of what might be called a Roman
cosmogony, functioning as a grand and universalizing prelude to
the themes of human history that ensue…44

Thus Cacus stands at many thresholds – some geographical (he lives in a cave

where earth and underworld seem to meet), others chronological (he separates

two classes of stories about the Roman foundation). If Vergil positions Cacus

overtly at these several crossroads, acknowledging his mixed and liminal nature,

then it will fall to us to uncover the other, hidden or suppressed boundaries, the

transgression of which motivate his existence in this particular textual environ.

There are many passages in the Cacus episode which resonate verbally

with earlier monster scenes. Some will be referred to subsequently, in the context

of a particular argument. But it is worth seeing, at the start, how the earlier

episodes are woven into the present one. K. Galinsky argues that

[i]t is probably more than a coincidence that in the description of


[Cacus‟] death three words occur that are associated with the
serpent imagery in [book] II. Hercules seizes Cacus in a knot-like
embrace and close-entwined, he throttles him (259-61): “his Cacum
in tenebris incendia vana vomentem / corripit in nodum complexus et
angit inhaerens / elisos oculos et siccum sanguine guttur.” An even
more conclusive echo is angit, the root-word of anguis, which occurs

43 Hardie 1986, in comparing the encounter to other descriptions in the literary tradition of Gigantomachic
confrontations, comments that “[a]nalysis of Gigantomachic allusion in the Cacus-story is complicated by
the fact that a number of other models are present; the density and compression of these models is in itself a
further indication of the nodal function of the episode within the Aeneid,” p. 115.
44 Hardie 1986, p. 117.
Breindel 34

here for the only time in the poem.45

The feast recalls the fulfillment of the tables prophecy (7.107-134) and the meal

on the island of the Harpies (especially since pocula which were sublata are put

back, 8.175ff). These dapes (8.175) recall the spoiled dapibus opimis (3.224); this

couch (toro 8.177) in the grass (gramineo ... sedili 8.176) recalls the earlier couches

(toros 3.224), the flock the Trojans find among the grass (per herbas 3.221), and the

ruin of the meal, whereupon they must hide weapons in the same grass (per

herbam 3.236). In the present feast, Aeneas and the Trojan youth eat entrails

([Aeneas] vescitur extis 8.182-3), while Polyphemus has also eaten entrails

(visceribus ... vescitur 3.622), and the similarity of the words highlights the

difference in semantic content. In addition, when Evander describes the

landscape where Cacus had lived, he includes elements from the Harpy and

Cyclops episodes. Cacus‟ house (domus 8.192) was deserta (8.191) in a cliff (rupem

8.190) with overhanging rocks. Compare the Greek refugee from Polyphemus,

who had lived in the homes (domos 3.647) and deserta lustra (3.646-7) of beasts,

watching the giant Cyclopes from a cliff (ab rupe 3.647). Cacus‟ cave itself is in a

large hollow (vasto ... recessu 8.193) beneath the cliff. On the Harpies‟ island, the

Trojans try to arrange their meal the second time in a similar cliff: in secessu longo

sub rupe cavata (3.229). Moreover, the cliff above Cacus‟ cave provides a home to

nests of dirarum volucrum (8.235), which suggests the original ill-omened birds

dira Celaeno Harpyiaeque ... aliae (3.211-12). Lastly, Hercules tears out the cliff (silex

45 Galinsky 1966, p. 43.


Breindel 35

8.233) over Cacus‟ house by its roots (avulsam soluit radicibus 8.238). In the

Cyclops episode, Aetna spews torn-up entrails (avulsa viscera 575) and the Greek

refugee subsists on torn-out roots (vulsis radicibus 650).46 The point in the

foregoing examples is not to establish a systematic correspondence between the

Cacus episode and the earlier ones. But the examples should suggest that the

established terms of the earlier monster scenes are present and combined in this

later one.

Of the two combatants who will appear in this episode, Cacus and

Hercules, Cacus is the less ambiguously presented. He is characterized as a

monster in a straightforward way, while Hercules – ostensibly the avenging

savior (servati 189; ultor 201) who fights against the monster – acquires some of

the monster‟s characteristics himself. Hence, it makes sense to consider the

description of Cacus first because it is simpler.

Like Polyphemus, Cacus lives in a dark (solis inaccessam radiis 8.195) cave

soaked with blood (caede tepebat humus 196). This blood, we may assume, has

come from his human (virum 197) victims. Their pale faces (ora ... pallida 197: they

are now drained of blood) hang in bloodless but putrid gore (tabo 197) on Cacus‟

doors.47 This vocabulary of blood aligns Cacus with earlier monsters, for whom

blood was associated with ingestion, pallor with the draining of blood and with

being terrified, hungry, or eaten. Nevertheless, we are not given a trivial

46 Hardie 1986 discusses further verbal parallels and subtler genealogical connections between Aetna,
Cacus, and Polyphemus, p. 116.
47 Hardie 1986, p. 115.
Breindel 36

bifurcation of the monstrous phenomena into parallel pairs “life-death,” “light-

dark,” “blood-pallor.” For example, here the blood (eating) is dark and the pallor

(being eaten, hungry, or dead) is light. Cacus‟ cave, like the underworld to which

it is compared (243-6), is dark because it is inaccessible to the sun (195; the

underworld is dis invisa 245). But it is also pale, because marked by the dead ora

pallida, just as the underworld consists in kingdoms of the dead, called regna

pallida (244-5). Thus I do not suggest that Vergil has bound himself to a code of

contrasts. Rather, he has exploited contrasts in some places, but has chosen here

to complicate them with the near paradox of assimilating the dark and the light.

Another dark element employed by Cacus is the rock (saxo opaco 211) which he

uses to hide the cattle that he has stolen from Hercules. The similarity between

Cacus‟ theft of Hercules‟ cattle and Hermes‟ theft of Apollo‟s cattle (h. ad Herm.

73-8) has been noted.48 While darkness, blood, and monstrous eating are

associated within the Aeneid, we might see here an extension of the motif in

allusion to Hermes‟ erotic desire for flesh (laying down his lyre, Hermes is kreiôn

eratizôn 64) and to Hermes‟ need to conceal his activities.49

Cacus is also explicitly called both half-man (semihominis 194) and half-

beast (semiferi 267). In addition to labeling him, these denominations implicitly

suggest something about humans which complicates the scene. For we know

48E.g., by Small 1982, pp. 10-12.


49When Cacus‟ booty is revealed in his cave (263-4), it is called abiuratae. It is not clear from Evander‟s story
about Cacus in what way the booty could be said to be “sworn off” or to be “denied on oath.” The most
ready suggestions for making sense of this adjective would seem to be either that abiuratae is extreme
hyperbole for Cacus‟ act of hiding the cattle or else that it alludes to Hermes‟ denials when he is
interrogated about stealing Apollo‟s cattle (h. ad Herm. 368-86).
Breindel 37

that, in addition to Cacus‟ being half-man and half-beast, Vulcan is Cacus‟ father

(198), so Cacus is also half-god. We might understand from these facts only that

Cacus is part god, part man, and part beast. Viewed more literally, though, we

are compelled to recognize that his divine half cannot be the same as his beast

half nor the same as his human half. Further, in the literal view, Cacus cannot

consist out of three halves. Hence, the beast and human “halves” actually refer to

the same (viz. mortal) part of Cacus‟ makeup. In this way, Cacus suggests a

collapsing of the human and the beastly in the face of the divine. Such a

collapsing of an important distinction is similar to some other collapses in this

scene, including the paradoxical associations of dark and light mentioned above.

Additional distinctions which will be blurred or undermined include the

distinction between hero and monster in Hercules and that between criminal

eating and expiatory vomiting, when Hercules squeezes the blood from Cacus‟

throat and rips open the cave revealing the cattle, alive and metaphorically

undigested.

At the Arcadians‟ feast, Hercules is the individual who is celebrated.

Hence, he ought to be the unambiguous ultor (201) and victor (203) on the side of

the people, against the beast. In spite of this, though, Evander‟s speech in several

ways suggests that Hercules inhabits an ambiguous role: part victor and avenger

against the monster, but also part monster.

First, although the feast is in Hercules‟ honor because he delivered the

local people from Cacus‟ terror (the Arcadians have been servati 189), Hercules
Breindel 38

only incidentally confronts Cacus. That is, between Hercules‟ explicit arrival

(aderat 203) and departure (abitum 214, discessu 215) he intends no confrontation

with nor harm to Cacus. It is only when he discovers the theft of cattle that he

becomes angry and pursues Cacus. Because Hercules seeks only to avenge his

own loss, he is not the avenger on behalf of the local people insofar as being

avenger requires recognition of the local people qua beneficiaries. Second,

Hercules becomes angry because Cacus has pilfered cattle from his herd. But

Hercules stole those same cattle from Geryon (the cattle are Geryonae spoliis 202).

So, if Cacus arouses hostility because he is a cattle-rustler, then Hercules should

also arouse just so much hostility. Third, we have seen that fear, unsurprisingly,

is attributed to monsters‟ victims in the episodes of the serpents, the Harpies,

and the Cyclopes. According to a model derived from those scenes, in the

present scene Cacus should be doing the scaring and his victims ought to be

afraid. But the Arcadians‟ ancestors saw Cacus afraid (timentem 222) of Hercules.

Thus, if we suppose fear in monster scenes is a vector indicating the supposed

aggressor, then Hercules is the monster and Cacus his victim. Moreover, Cacus‟

fear is aroused when Hercules‟ indignation bursts out in flame with black bile

(exarserat atro felle 219-20). Hercules‟ flare-up recalls Cacus himself, who throws

up black fires (atros ... vomens ignis 199), further confusing who the monster is.

Finally, we can note two verbal alignments of Hercules with other monsters.

First, in his frustrated anger, Hercules gnashes his teeth (dentibus infrendens 230),

just as Polyphemus is dentibus infrendens (664) as the Trojans sail away from his
Breindel 39

island. Second, when Hercules seizes Cacus, he corripit in nodum complexus (260).

We recall the snakes, who corripiunt ... amplexi (2.217-18) around Laocoon and

who are called nodos (2.220) when Laocoon tries to escape them.50

Collectively, these aspects of Evander‟s speech blur Hercules‟ position.

The trouble is not that Hercules is a monster simpliciter, for this is clearly absurd.

Rather, the distinction between monster and victim is blurred. On the one hand,

Evander, like the Greek refugee from Polyphemus, appears to be unaware of the

complications in his speech and sees Cacus as an unmitigated monster. Consider,

for example, that Evander goes beyond the physically evident facts about Cacus

to attribute tricky and criminal motives (205-6) to Cacus‟ mind (mens 205), even

though Evander doesn‟t suggest the Arcadians were conversant enough with

Cacus to understand his perspective and motives. Aeneas, on the other hand, is a

third party to the monster‟s threat in Arcadia. Though he will enjoy the feast of

liberation, he likely cannot share Evander‟s one-sided perspective on the

Hercules-Cacus confrontation.

We have seen that both the status of Cacus and that of Hercules have

intriguing complications. Cacus‟ description, while clearly portraying a monster,

suggests the similarity of the human and the bestial. Hercules‟ description marks

him as hero but not without some reservations. The confrontation turns out to be

contingent on the interaction between Cacus and Hercules, and the Arcadians‟

feast is in turn contingent on that confrontation. By looking at this confrontation

50 See the comment of Galinsky, noted above.


Breindel 40

with an eye to the theme of vomiting, revenge, and reversal of crime, we can see

how the issue of monsters is resolved and Cacus‟ crime symbolically and literally

undone.

Before Hercules arrives in Arcadia, when Cacus is living in his customary

way, Cacus is said to cough up (vomens 199) black fires as a matter of course (the

finite verb in the sentence, se ... ferebat 199, is imperfect). When Hercules subdues

him, however, he only vomits forth smoke and empty fire: faucibus ... fumum ...

evomit (252-3), incendia vana vomentem (259). By these details, Cacus seems to be

compared to his own victims, whose pallid faces hung covered with gore (tabo).

The humans‟ faces had once held dark blood, just as Cacus used to vomit (real,

not empty) black fire. The pallor and tabo are the emptiness and effluence which

appear in humans when they are undone, just as the smoke and empty fire pour

out of Cacus. The present depleted state of Cacus is reinforced when Hercules

throttles him. The result is that the throat (faucibus 252) which had been belching

out smoke is now explicitly a throat dry of blood (siccum sanguine guttur 261).

Thus Hercules, though not intentionally avenging Cacus‟ crimes against humans,

enforces the result of Cacus‟ own crimes on Cacus himself. Cacus‟ vomiting of

empty flame is representative of the reversal of his crime, while another element

of Hercules‟ victory corresponds to this reversal and adds the stronger notion of

undoing: Hercules tears open the cave to get to Cacus. By doing so, he removes

what separates Cacus‟ dark house of terror from the outside world. In both this

episode and that of Polyphemus, the cave is (for humans) virtually the gullet of
Breindel 41

the beast, and entrance to the one is associated with entrance to the other. Thus

tearing open the cave is equivalent to tearing open Cacus‟ throat, opening the

vessel which closed around the swallowed victims. As confirmation for this idea,

we can look to what is revealed when the smoke clears. The doors to the cave are

torn away and abstractae ... boves abiurataeque rapinae caelo ostenduntur (263-4). The

cattle – which we may reasonably assume would have become Cacus‟ meal in a

short time – are released and revealed. Cacus‟ cave is thus associated with his

throat, down which the food would have gone. To open the cave and reveal a

living meal51 is metonymically to drain Cacus‟ throat of the food it has

swallowed. In this way, the vomiting theme is pursued (the cave vomits forth the

cattle) as a theme of reversal of eating and reversal of crime. But insofar as the

cattle are still alive, it is also an undoing. The cattle can rejoin Hercules‟ flock and

are not victims, despite their being snatched.

Thus, the conclusion to the Hercules-Cacus confrontation develops a

resolution to an attack differently from earlier monster scenes. In the serpent and

Harpy scenes, attempts to fight off the monsters‟ attacks or to avenge them are

unsuccessful; in the Cyclops episode, the Greek storytelling refugee escapes and

his band succeed in “avenging” their eaten comrades; in this last monster

encounter, Hercules takes vengeance but also succeeds in undoing the crime and

receiving back his cattle. Such a progression suggests that we see in this last

51The text does not make it explicit that the cattle are still alive. However, I conclude that they are alive
because one bellows (217-18), prompting Hercules to hunt down Cacus. Hence, unless Cacus kills them out
of spite while he is besieged in his cave, and Evander omits this detail, we should assume the oxen continue
Breindel 42

scene the possibility of eliminating entirely the supernatural monster‟s deeds. It

is not clear that Vergil wishes to produce an entirely satisfactory conclusion. To

Evander‟s understanding, however, the story has a happy ending, and he is

celebrating it in feast. Let us conclude our discussion of Cacus by looking at

Evander‟s feast as a final outcome of the Cacus-Hercules confrontation.

Evander‟s feast is occasioned by the monster in both a vague and a precise

sense. Generally, it a is celebratory feast for a hero, so the hero‟s actions and

opponent are remotely the “causes” for the feast. More precisely, though, the

confrontation between Cacus and Hercules comes about because of two

particular other eating acts. First, Hercules brings his cattle to graze. It is time to

leave the valley when the herd is fully fed (cum iam ... saturata moveret ... armenta

abitumque pararet 213-14). Thus, the occasion of grazing the cattle is the

opportunity for Cacus‟ crime against Hercules and is one of the necessary

antecedents of the confrontation. The second eating act is that implied by Cacus‟

appetite, a virtual feast which includes both his earlier consumption of victims

and the meal he surely plans with Hercules‟ oxen. From the conjunction of these

two food-directed desires52, comes the confrontation, the death of Cacus, and,

ultimately, the Arcadians‟ feast at which Aeneas eats.

The monster story is framed within the context of a happy feast, and

elements which we have seen in the monster stories are drawn outward into the

to live at the end of Hercules‟ attack. If, on the other hand, the cattle are dead, we might expect some
indication of it. Instead, they are called only abstractae (263).
Breindel 43

benign context of Evander‟s meal. Entrails (viscera 180) reappear, but they are

used for sacrifice (araeque sacerdos ... ferunt 179-80) or feeding humans (vescitur

Aeneas ... extis 182-3) and they come from animals (taurorum 180, bovis 183), not

people (cf. Polyphemus, who eats visceribus miserorum [=hominum] 3.622). The

bous eaten by Aeneas is a pleasant reflection of Cacus‟ abstractae boves (263) and

the boum armenta (3.220) which are fouled by the Harpies. Further, the entrails of

the sacrificial bull are cooked (tosta 180), whereas there is no mention of the

Trojans cooking on the Harpies‟ island, and the other monsters (snakes,

Polyphemus, Cacus) certainly do not cook their prey before eating. At Evander‟s

feast, the hunger is satiated (exempta fames et amor compressus edendi 184) and

speech ensues; in the Harpy confrontation, both parties go hungry, while

Polyphemus eats and drinks to the point of vomiting and stupor. After Evander‟s

speech, at the close of the meal, everyone pours libations, prays to the gods, and

is glad (laeti 279). This conclusive, happy prayer replaces the terrified prayers of

Laocoon53, of Anchises when he hears Celaeno‟s prophecy, and of the Greek

refugee on Polyphemus‟ island.

Like the eating habits of other monsters, Cacus‟ diet deserves scrutiny.

The Arcadians‟ feast may be placed beside Cacus‟ diet to provide a civilized-

savage contrast. The Arcadians are eating beef; Cacus ate people. The Arcadians

cook; Cacus did not cook. There is another aspect, though, to Cacus‟ diet which

52Admittedly, not only from these desires. For Evander suggests Cacus‟ was plotting crime (sceleris 206) for
crime‟s sake.
Breindel 44

relates to the scene‟s conflation theme (light and dark, human and beast, hero

and monster). Cacus ate people and he seemed prepared to eat the cattle which

Hercules was grazing. At first this might appear not to deserve comment. But I

suggest that the operating monstrous element here is Cacus‟ lack of distinction in

his diet. Along with other contrasts, he conflates the eating of people with the

eating of cattle. It is this lack of seeing a boundary (like Cacus‟ disregard for the

boundary between his human victims and the semi-divine Hercules) which

forms one of the underlying elements of his monstrosity. This point is not

remarkable – for example, it is arguable that cannibalism itself is not disturbing

qua consumption of people but rather qua disregard for dietal or behavioral

boundaries. Rather, the point helps in focusing attention on the differentiators of

the monstrous, rather than on practices which happen to be monstrous. The

Augustan anxiety which may be in play in this scene, as in the others, is a

concern that one might have exhausted the alternatives of diet (and perhaps, by

extension, culture). In particular, as discussed above, there is a consciousness of

danger in a hypercivilized (Horace‟s “Greek”) diet as not being robust or Roman;

but the primitive diet, while glorified, may be fictional, may not be robust

enough (recall the anemic Greek refugee who ate roots and berries), or may itself

be too uncivilized or savage (as when it appears in the mouths of barbarian

tribes). The problem continues to be in finding and recognizing a stable middle

ground.

53 No prayer is attributed to Laocoon in direct quotation. But, as priest (sacerdos 2.201), he is in the process of
Breindel 45

A seeking of stability seems to underlie the presentation of the Cacus

episode in other ways as well. Cacus represents an instance of savagery in the

heart of Italy, at the site of Rome. The death of Cacus and the removal of the

episode to the past, ritualized in Evander‟s feast, suggest success in stabilizing

the territory. Nevertheless, renewed warfare breaks out after the Arcadian feast,

continuing at least until Turnus‟ death. For Galinsky, the two deaths are

analogous and both are necessary to the founding of Rome on its proper site:

“Turnus has to be overcome so that Rome can be founded. It is equally

inconceivable that the city could have been founded with the Cacus monster

living at its site.”54 Taking Galinsky‟s comparison of Cacus and Turnus further,

one of the frightening attributes of Cacus is that paradoxically his death does not

solve one of the problems his presence creates; the monster lives in Turnus.55

There is an additional parallel produced by the Cacus scene which both

suggests and questions the achievement of stability, and which will serve to

introduce the final social questions of this paper. In considering the Greek

refugee‟s story of Polyphemus, it was noted that Aeneas‟ future Romans save a

Greek man from a Greek monster.56 It was then questioned who might serve in a

similar role for the Romans. In the Cacus episode, we have a rough mirror image

of the earlier circumstance. Cacus is fundamentally an Italian creature, and the

sacrificing (sollemnis ... mactabat ad aras 202) when he is attacked. Presumably, the sacrifice includes prayer.
54 Galinsky 1966, p. 42.
55 For Cohen, this pattern is “Thesis II: The Monster Always Escapes,” p. 4.
56 Polyphemus is Greek in the sense that his origin lies in the Greek literary and cultural tradition, though I

do not mean to preclude the possibility of his importation from older sources, near-eastern or otherwise.
Breindel 46

worship of Hercules (like Hercules himself) an importation from Greece.57

Italians, then, are saved from their own monster by a Greek.58 But then, it is too

early properly to speak of Italians, so perhaps this complementary monster

rescue points toward the future unity of the peoples. The Arcadians, fighting

alongside Aeneas, can be seen as an embryonic image of the Italian socii who will

be so important to Rome‟s future success. Galinsky thus interprets a fusion of

time periods in the narration of this episode:

The Trojans, the past inhabitants of Italy, fuse with her present
inhabitants into a future people, the Italians. The fact that Evander
anticipates this development and thus speaks of “we Italians” (VIII,
331f.) is not one of Vergil‟s “inconsistencies,” but serves to
underscore this theme explicitly. A last example of this interplay of
the various time levels may be taken from the Hercules-Cacus
episode itself. Evander speaks of Hercules‟ adventure as if he and
his men had been present (200-1) ... It would seem, then, that
Evander, Hercules, and Aeneas were contemporaries.59

The feast, set in the present and recalling a past conflict, evokes a false sense of

stability (i.e., one which will prove short-lived). The monster reawakens as

Turnus or as another potent creature metamorphosed into a nightmarish beast,

its character transformed in the very act of entering the protected space of Italy,

terra citerior, from the distant world of the other – the world which had to stop

on the other side of the Rubicon.

In light of this realization, the augury present in Cacus does indicate a

predetermined trajectory of events – but this literary body indicates what is

57 Fordyce 1977, ll. 184-279 n.; also Small 1982, pp. 4-5 and passim.
58 Additional parallels may be drawn between Aeneas and Hercules. See Galinsky 1966, pp. 26 ff.
59 Galinsky 1966, p. 22.
Breindel 47

known to be false and bears a consciously broken relation to the state of the

universe and of the city. As such, the Cacus-augury is a ritual not of prediction

but of fantasy and desire, two more attributes bound into the body of the

monster. The Aeneid‟s story of the feast, featuring its own story of the monster, is

an evocation of this fantasy. Cohen describes the social function of such an outer

narrative:

What Bakhtin calls “official culture” can transfer all that is viewed
as undesirable in itself into the body of the monster, performing a
wish-fulfillment drama of its own; the scapegoated monster is
perhaps ritually destroyed in the course of some official narrative,
purging the community by eliminating its sins. The monster‟s
eradication functions as an exorcism and, when retold and
promulgated, as a catechism.60

The tale recounted at the feast is, in this sense, the account given by Cacus‟

presence in the Aeneid itself, and not entirely different from the account we

produce when we assert the vitality of the text. Vitality is, in part, in the desire

still unfulfilled.

As the subsequent books of the Aeneid bear out, moving a monstrous story

into the past and reliving it in a convivial, civilized setting does little to produce

the wished-for control, to eliminate violence and predation which literally as

symbolically respect no bounds. And as Cacus‟ nature – semihomo, semifer,

semideus – hints, the human and the beastly are not so far apart as we might like.

Nonetheless, we may suppose that the Cacus episode brings to Vergil‟s desired

close the literal discussion of supernatural monsters. Everything mortal and

60 Cohen 1996, p. 18.


Breindel 48

monstrous, after Aeneid 8.279, is human.


Breindel 49

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