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
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/ The inward fire eats the soft marrow away… (IV. 92-93)

Here, the "inward fire" most likely refers to Dido's longing desire, as bestowed in her by Cupid, to pursue Aeneas. However, because their love will be consummated sexually, this desire could literally be a sense of physical arousal.

As Aeneas tells Dido of his destiny to "sail for Italy not of [his] own free will," (IV.499) he begs Dido to release him from the pain that their love causes.

So please, no more / Of these appeals that set us both afire.


Literally, he begs for it to end. He begs for the fire to be put out and the romantic, lustful love to cease.

As Aeneas leaves, Dido is overcome with a maddened "fire."

From far away I shall come after you / With my black fires, and when cold death has parted / Body from soul I shall be everywhere / A shade to haunt you! (IV.533-536)

Dido is now consumed by her own "inward fire" and it causes her to pledge to haunt Aeneas with "black fire," a sign of pure evil. She vows that Aeneas "will pay for this," (IV.536). Noting the transformation from the use of "inward fire" as a medium for "desire" to a more hysterical, crazed type of passion is essential in understanding the ultimate failure of romantic and lustful love in the Aeneid.

Finally, as Dido unleashes her own "inward fire" all
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