Snubs and Sensibility

T.S. Eliot, What is a Classic?

“I think that we are conscious, in Virgil more than in any other Latin poet – for Catullus and Propertius seem ruffians, and Horace somewhat plebeian, by comparison – of a refinement of manner, springing from a delicate sensibility, and particularly in that test of manners, private and public conduct between the sexes. … I have always thought the meeting of Aeneas with the shade of Dido, in Book VI, not only one of the most poignant, but one of the most civilized passages in poetry. It is complex in meaning and economical in expression, for it not only tells us about the attitude of Dido – still more important is what it tells us about the attitude of Aeneas. Dido’s behaviour appears almost as a projection of Aeneas’ own conscience: this, we feel, is the way in which Aeneas’ conscience would expect Dido to behave to him. The point, it seems to me, is not that Dido is unforgiving – though it is important that, instead of railing at him, she merely snubs him – perhaps the most telling snub in all poetry: what matters most is, that Aeneas does not forgive himself – and this, significantly, in spite of the fact of which he is well aware, that all that he has done has been in compliance with destiny, or in consequence of the machinations of the gods who are themselves, we feel, only instruments of a greater inscrutable power.”

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