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Tracy Jennings November 12, 2007 Bloomer, 30011 The Vignette of Nisus and Euryalus: Insight into Virgil’s View

on Excess “Arma virumque cano,” and so Virgil begins his great epic about the difficulties Aeneas faces in founding the Roman civilization (1.1). However, the main character of the poem remains unnamed until line 92, and this delayed identification emphasizes the role of man in general, virum, in this epic story. Aeneas is not the only figure to be remembered, and the Nisus and Euryalus passage in Book IX records the deeds of these two secondary characters for all of the following Roman generations (“nulla dies umquam memeori vos eximet aevo,” 9.447). While this story does function in the plot to anticipate the rage of Turnus and tragic death of Pallas, moreover, the behavior of Nisus and Euryalus can be seen as a foil to Aeneas’ character. Virgil plays with some of the basic type-scenes of epic poems to demonstrate his distinctive focus on human nature. Both Nisus and Euryalus are overcome with excessive desire and act in an extraordinarily un-heroic ways; however, their flaw of overwhelming lust, cupido, becomes tragic when it is centered on their love and loyalty to each other. Virgil recognizes the human tendency to get carried away and makes Aeneas’s rejection of glory and goods a marked sign of his heroism. The role of the gods in human activity is convoluted in the Aeneid, but Virgil clearly identifies that human action causes the great tragedy of Nisus and Euryalus. There is no pressing reason for Nisus to invade the Rutulian camp, but he cannot rest until he satisfies this great urge to go on a mission to gain renown for himself. He

2 wonders whether this drive comes from the gods or his own spirit (“dine hunc ardorem mentibus addunt. Virgil compares him to a hungry lion raging among sheep (9.333-34) highlight the intense degree of violence. That Nisus wonders at his cupido marks a recognition of a common propensity for it. cannot be satisfied with a simple messenger mission. The deaths of Euryalus and Nisus.344). which makes him into a beast. but by the description of their attack.” 9. Virgil seems to favor the latter.” 9. Euryalus’s condition is even worse because he gets carried away with plundering the camp. Again.339-41).314) and brings along young Euryalus. Euryale. are the result of human action and could have been averted.342). This portrayal dehumanizes Nisus and puts him on the level of an animal. In the same vein. which only adds to the pathos of this story. an sua cuique deus fit dira cupido?” 9. Euryalus also finds himself carried away in the murdering of the Rutulians (“nec minor Euryali caedes. Beyond the excess slaughter. and the intense description of Nisus’ viciousness and the gory detail Virgil uses (such as the graphic “atro tepefacta cruore terra. and he attacks the sleeping men with a brutal ferocity.” 9. Virgil provides detail that he kills them unaware (“ignaros”) and those without a name (“sine nomine. Nisus.” 9. he still chooses to venture forth (“egressi. This behavior is not to be admired. having been afflicted with this overwhelming desire for glory. Euryalus takes advantage of the situation to seize the Rutulians’ material possessions. however. The polysyndeton “Fadumque Herbesumque…Rhoetumque Abarimque” in line 344 marks the copious slaughter by Euryalus. Virgil seems to challenge the idea that the quest for glory must entail mass slaughter. . as well as their own slaughter of the Rutulians. behavior considered rather un-epic.184-85). Virgil uses polysyndeton to note his avarice in stealing the objects.

This expressed volition occurs directly after he sees the enemy’s horses tied up grazing on the grass.391-92). line 398. the shining helmet that he steals betrays his position in the woods. Virgil suggests that Nisus realizes he has overstepped his bounds or at least recognizes that his massacre is enough (“satis”). He himself recognizes that there was too much desire for slaughter and sword (“nimia caede atque cupidine ferri” 9. Whether Nisus truly is worried about the coming daylight or the sight of horses religatos rite spurs him to regain his senses. still with Messapus’ helmet. The word “rapit” describes both Euryalus’ looting of Messpus helmet in line 364 and his own capture. and this brief scene of restrained animals contrasts with the previous raging lion description.” 9.3 “armaque craterasque simul pulchros tapetas” (9. and Nisus. In his distress.384). . he chooses to stop the murder. favor turns to the Rutulians. he remarks about the state of the situation that “poenarum exhaustum satis est” (9. Euryalus continues his slaughter even after Nisus commands “Let us cease” (“Absistamus” 9.354). is overtaken by the opposing cavalry. reinforcing the link between his flaw and fate. He properly invokes the goddess Diana with reminders of past offerings and promises of future sacrifices before asking for help. he turns to the gods for aid and beseeches the moon above. At this point in the story. and he is unable to keep pace with Nisus because of this burdensome loot (“onerosa praeda.355).358). Nisus tells Euryalus before their adventure that glory would satisfy him (“nam mihi facti fama sat est” 9. the intense action ceases.356). and on the winding paths of the deceiving forest (“perlexum iter …fallacis silvae.195). frantically wonders what action to take. Ironically. distraught.” (9. looking back over the wreckage. He also makes a clear connection that Euryalus’ greedy behavior led to his death. Euryalus.

Its repeated use suggests that Virgil wants to correct his identification of his tragic flaw and associate Euryalus with his excessive loyalty. Up until this point. swearing that the young boy should only be faulted for loving too much (“tantum infelicum nimium dilexit amicum. He attempts to stop Volcens from killing Euryalus.” 9. The subject in the sentence detailing the successive murder of Sulmo is simply a hasta volens (9. becomes the new villain.412) or go (“it hasta. Affection for Euryalus overwhelms Nisus and causes Nisus to come to his partner’s defense. aided by the gods. not his crimes. The use of nimium recalls the earlier description of Euryalus’ killing spree. Volcens. and they become an archetype of loyalty and love. Nisus cannot be held accountable for their deaths and regains some virtue. Virgil adds an emotional element to . and is described to simply come (“venit. Here.” 9. but also places them in canon of famous loves.4 He asks her to guide his arrows against the enemy and confers his power to fight over to the gods. the story could have been any Homeric type-scene of battle.430).418). After so much bloodthirsty and needless destruction. their willingness to die for one another distinguishes Nisus and Euryalus. trusting that they will grant his wish. Describing his death using the language and symbols of classical amatory poetry not only romanticizes the relationship between the two. Nisus and Euryalus seem far from admirable or worthy of being memorialized in the history of great Teucrians. The syntax literally shows how the killing is taken out of his own hands through a transfer of agency from Nisus to his weapons. However. who is scathingly described as atrox. and he cannot see Nisus.411). shooting at his men. the tragedy of this tale begins. With divine help. although he could have escaped unnoticed. Beautiful details about the purpureus flos succisus and papavera invoke the erotic imagery of Sappho and Catullus.” 9.

the instigator of this tragic adventure is also the most active member.435-36). The cupido for glory Nisus feels does not last unlike his cupido for Euryalus. for their story will be an everlasting part of Rome’s history. The Sibyl reasons with . and his quest for glory ends in terrible tragedy. For his own part. eventually comes to rest lying on top of his friends body (9. befitting his flaw.187).5 the passage to recall both the tragedy in human life and the immortality of love. on the other hand. his story still deserves a place in the Aeneid to serve as an extreme example of fidelity. succumbing in battle like a withering flower (“purpureus veluti cum flos succisus aratro languescit moriens. his actions supercede human feats. and in this way. The account of Euryalus’ death.” 9.445). Aeneas is consistently referred to as insignis pietate and additionally is marked by even judgment and an affinity for stopping and standing– constitit–instead of being swept up by an overwhelming passion. Virgil concludes addressing Nisus and Euryalus as fortunate men despite the narrative’s incredible pathos. with divine assistance. Their glory lives on not because of the countless men killed or the masses of booty plundered but because of their incredible devotion. Nisus. who was so consumed by a need for glory he could not rest (9. Nevertheless. throws himself into the melee and dies thrusting a spear into Volcens. The utter commitment to avenging his companion’s death is what ultimately satisfies Nisus. lack the previous force and intensity. Additionally. elevate his death to an epic level. Nisus. He is characterized by passivity in the end. they invokes pity and sorrow. Nisus seems to have a weakness for excessive desire. Appropriately. Virgil repeats the verb quiesco to show a complete conclusion of the story. while still colorful and vivid. instead. Nisus can only take revenge for Euryalus’ death with the gods’ help.

Divine power can guide human tendencies. Virgil perhaps wanted to use the example of Nisus and Euryalus as a subtle commentary on the contemporary Roman state. Many times the gods have to remind Aeneas of his purpose to settle Italy. the faithfulness of Nisus and Euryalus might serve as a reminder of the importance of loyalty and a warning against overwhelming lust for glory or goods.6 Charon to let Aeneas cross the Styx because he only has honest intentions to talk to his father. Dido’s love and his own proclivity for dwelling on the past threaten the advancement of the Teucrian race. which can lead to great tragedy. one among many other examples from this tumultuous period. The gods. Virgil immortalizes Nisus and Euryalus as tragic figures not to be forgotten in the larger epic of Roman history. play a large role in Aeneas’ steadfast ways. To go beyond its significance in the poem. . but ultimately.” 6. humans independently determine their own course of action. In the light of the proscription of Cicero by Octavian. however. and he would have escaped unharmed had his great love for Euryalus not tragically exceeded his own safety.405). The gods grant Nisus’s prayer. nothing else (“nullae hic insidiae tales. and Aeneas consistently prays to the heavens.

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