The Role of Fire in Romantic and Family Love on Reading the Aeneid

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There are two integral pieces of love in Virgil's epic Aeneid: the romantic, lustful love (as felt by Dido for Aeneas) and the grounded, honest, family love (as felt between Aeneas and Anchises). There is a dynamic relationship between the two sides of love which causes each to emphasize the other – an emphasis that is facilitated by Virgil's common use of fire and flame imagery to describe both types of love.

Upon analyzing the lustful episode between Dido and Aeneas and the image of Aeneas fleeing troy bearing his father, Anchises, on his back and holding his sons hand (beautifully sculpted by Bernini, see attached), it becomes clear that the love in each situation is very different, despite the common use of the Latin words flamma (flame) and ignis (fire).

In Book 4, Virgil used the flame/fire motif in a number of different fashions, all of which end up conveying a more lustful type of love.

This man alone has wrought upon me so / And moved my soul to yield. I recognize / The signs of the old flame, of old desire. (IV.30-32)

Love is described as a "flame." Now a popular nuance in contemporary love "Jack and Diane" love stories, the "burning passion" idiom has been "burned" into our minds as a common emotion. However, this passage carries with it a supreme sense of lust, hinted at by the use of the word "desire," that is not implicit in the now hackneyed idiom.

Dido is repugnant to the idea of recanting on her promise to her former husband.

Had I not set my face against remarriage / After my first love died and failed me, left me / Barren and bereaved – and sick to death / At the mere thought of torch and bridal bed / I could perhaps give way in this one case / To frailty. (IV.22-27)

Here, the "torch" indicates love and passion. Yet, the reference to the "bridal bed" again implies sexual love rather than emotional passion, as does the idea that her former husband had "failed" her by dying....
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