Loveless Vergil

T.S. Eliot, Virgil and the Christian World:

“What key word can one find in the Divine Comedy which is absent from the Aeneid? One word of course is lume, and all the words expressive of the spiritual significance of light. But this, I think, as used by Dante, has a meaning which belongs only to explicit Christianity, fused with a meaning which belongs to mystical experience. And Virgil is no mystic. The term which one can justifiably regret the lack of in Virgil is amor. It is, above all others, the key word for Dante. I do not mean that Virgil never uses it. Amor recurs in the Eclogues (amor vincit omnia). But the loves of the shepherds represent hardly more than a poetic convention.

The use of the word amor in the Eclogues is not illuminated by meanings of the word in the Aeneid in the way in which, for example, we return to Paolo and Francesca with greater understanding of their passion after we have been taken through the circles of love in the Paradiso. Certainly, the love of Aeneas and Dido has great tragic force. There is tenderness and pathos enough in the Aeneid. But Love is never given, to my mind, the same significance as a principle of order in the human soul, in society and in the universe that pietas is given; and it is not Love that causes fatum, or moves the sun and the stars. Even for intensity of physical passion, Virgil is more tepid than some other Latin poets, and far below the rank of Catullus. If we are not chilled we at least feel ourselves, with Virgil, to be moving in a kind of emotional twilight. Virgil was, among all authors of classical antiquity, one for whom the world made sense, for whom it had order and dignity, and for whom, as for no one before his time except the Hebrew prophets, history had meaning.”

Image result for vergil and dante poets

Leave a Reply