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‘A Woman’
The Aeneid of Virgil, Book 1, Part 9
[the goddess speaks]
She spoke of innocence and fear
Of her weapons and attire
The lie ringing falsely in his ear
That they stood in the shadow of ire
.
Carthage, rough in war
Daughter of far Tyre
Rude in peace
A rising city they could see
.
Phoenician Dido ruled in shame
Who fled from her brother fiend
Pygmalion was his name
Who killed her husband king
.
Pygmalion soothed his sister with lies
The nation that warred over gold
Under a prince condemned by heaven
And the laws of men of old
Its true king slain at the altar
.
His ghost wandering its mortal house
Came to his bride’s unfulfilled bed
Revealing the dire fate of his house
To flee with her household gods
.
The young widow the shade shows
Her husband’s hidden treasures
To seek a refuge in remote abodes
He counsels her to seek far shores
.
Haunted to wakefulness
Her retinue fearing Pygmalion
Her friends his foes
An exile fleet is seized
.
Laden with Pygmalion’s treasure
The widow’s fleet sailed hence
Under Heaven-sent weather
Purchasing the place called Bursa [1]
After a hide they used to measure
Here rises turreted Carthage
.
Whence are you
What land gave you birth
What seek you
Strangers, on our Libyan earth
End 9
.
Notes
-0, the serendipity of a refugee people marooned in a land where earlier refugees are building a city, both in exile, may echo the age of the Bronze Age Collapse and the wanderings if the Sea Peoples as much as it might indicate a folk memory of a deluge, such as those found in Gilgamesh, Noah and Plato.
-1. Scandalously, a Dutch merchant once offered to purchase land from an Indian tribe in New York which would equal the precinct contained by a bull’s hide and then sliced the hide into string and bought for his enterprise some acreage. Virgil was crafting his epic to justify Roman rule. With Carthage having been annihilated by Rome it was important to show its founding as having been unjust on two counts: purchased by a woman rather than conquered by a man and that purchase conducted duplicitously after the merchant fashion.
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