David Hadbawnik

from The Aeneid, Book 1 (parts 1 and 2)

"O dea certe" - from The Aeneid, Book I (part 1)

[Aeneas, shipwrecked and separated from most of his men, wanders in the woods outside of Carthage. Venus, his mother, decides to put on a disguise and help him find his way.]

His mother came down to the woods to meet him,
disguised as a Spartan maid armed to the teeth.
She'd slung a bow over her shoulder like a huntress,
and her hair hung free in the wind, legs
bare at the knee, where she'd tied a knot
in her dress. "Hey," she said, "you guys--
did you happen to see any of my sisters,
wearing quivers and spotted lynx hides, shouting
after a boar spewing foam on the path?"
So Venus spoke, and her son replied:
"No. I haven't seen or heard anyone like that.
But who are you? Not human, surely.
You're a goddess. Or sister to the sun. Or--
a nymph, maybe? Whoever you are, please
bless us with some information. Let us know
where on earth we are. Because honestly,
we have no clue. We're shipwrecked here.
I swear, I'll go straight to your altar and make
a giant sacrifice!" Venus said, "Well,
I'm hardly worthy of that.
All the women here dress this way, with quivers
and purple bound up high on their calves.
What you see is the Phoenician realm; the Tyrians,
and Agenor's city. But these are the borders
of Libya--a people tough in war.
Dido, having fled her brother in Tyre, is in charge.
It's a long story ...
But I'll give you the gist of it.
Dido's husband was Sychaeus, richest guy in Phoenicia,
but sick in love with her. Ever since she was a girl
she'd been promised to him in marriage.
But her brother held Tyre--Pygmalion,
wickedest man that ever was.
He went crazy. And blind, with love of gold.
One night he lured Sychaeus out to the altars
and killed him there in cold blood--
some brotherly love! Worse, he mocked Dido
with false hope, feigning grief.
But the ghost of her unburied husband
floated up in her sleep, raising its white face
in a marvelous way, letting her know what
happened, showing her where the sword
had gone through out front of the altars. Run,
he told her. Get out of the country, fast.
To help he explained where she could find
hidden treasure, a massive horde of silver and gold.
Dido woke up to the danger and rallied her friends,
who'd hated or feared the tyrant all along.
Finding ships ready to go, they loaded them up
and took off. So they got away
and ripped off Pygmalion in the process ...
and a woman arranged the whole thing.
They landed here, where you can see the giant walls
of New Carthage springing up.
But what about you? Where did you come from?
Where are you going?"
Aeneas sighed.
He dragged his voice out dramatically:
"O goddess, we could stand here all day talking,
and I still couldn't do the story justice.
We're what's left of Troy--if you've ever
heard of it--storm-driven
pell-mell, hither and yon to Libyan shores.
I'm one of the good guys--Aeneas--who
rescued household gods from the enemy,
known all the way up in heaven.
My blood's from Jove, and I seek Italy.
I set out with 20 ships, doing just as my mother,
a goddess, told me. Scarcely
seven remain, shattered by wind and waves.
Lost and needy, I wander the Libyan deserts,
driven from Europe and Asia. I--"
But Venus could bear it no more.
She cut him off mid-sigh, saying, "Whoever
you are, the gods can't hate you all that much.
You're still breathing, and you've made it this far.
Go to the queen. I'm telling you,
your friends and your fleet are safe,
or I don't know augury.
See those swans--two groups of them,
broken up a minute ago by Jove's eagle?
Now some of them in a long line look down
at the others, alighted on land, sporting
there with their wings while their friends
flock and sing in the sky. Likewise,
your ships and men either hold the port
or sail in easily now ... Go.
Wherever the road leads, that's the way."
After she spoke, she turned away.
Her cheeks and neck glowed, and the sweetest smell
came from her hair, while her dress fell
to her feet. Stepping out of it, no one could doubt
she was a goddess.

* * *

"Infelix Dido"--from The Aeneid, Book 1 (part 2)

[Having revealed himself to Dido, Aeneas and his friends are reunited in Carthage, where the queen welcomes them to remain as equals. Aeneas sends for his son, Ascanius, to bring gifts from his ships.]

But new tricks and schemes spun in the heart of Venus.
She decided that Cupid, disguised,
should come in place of dear Ascanius, that he might
inflame the queen to madness with gifts and encircle
her very bones with love's fire. Indeed,
she feared a home amidst the double-tongued Tyrians;
Juno's cruelty tormented her, and worries returned at night.
Thus she spoke to Cupid:
"Son, my strength, my great power, you who alone
scorn the Typhean thunderbolts of highest Jove--
I come to you for help, I seek your divine aid.
You know how your brother Aeneas is tossed around
in the sea, thrown by the harsh hatred of Juno;
often you've grieved with me. Now,
Phoenician Dido detains him with slick words,
and I fear that the maneuverings of Juno
may divert him--she'll stop at nothing--
so I plan to strike first, surrounding the queen
with such flames of passion that no divine power
breaks her from the spell of love for Aeneas.
Listen: I'll tell you how to accomplish this.
His father has summoned the prince, my own
dear pet, to Carthage, and he prepares to go,
bearing gifts rescued from the flames of Troy.
I will lull him to sleep and take him away
to Cythera or Idalium, and hide him
lest he learn of my plot and wander
into the middle of it. You must--for just
one night--put on the appearance
of that boy yourself, so that, when
Dido drunkenly takes you in her lap
amidst the hubbub and flowing wine,
embracing you with sweet kisses,
you can breathe into her a hidden fire
and poison her unawares."
Love obeyed. Just as his dear mother said,
he took off his wings and walked around
like Ascanius, amusing himself.
Meanwhile, Venus spread quiet through Ascanius'
limbs, causing him to grow calm with sleep.
She lifted the cherished child in her lap
and carried him off to the groves of Idalium,
where she embraced him with soft flowers
and shade, breathing sweet perfume.
And Cupid, as she'd asked, carried
kingly gifts, happy in Achates' guidance.
When he arrived, the queen had already arranged herself
among luxurious curtains on a gold couch.
Aeneas and the Trojan youths had gathered,
reclining on purple cushions.
Servants came around with water for their hands,
bearing bread and fine-spun napkins.
They marveled at the gifts, wondered at Ascanius,
the fiery-faced god, who had gone under cover...

Especially unhappy, doomed to future destruction,
her mind unable to rest, sat Dido, moved
equally by the gifts and the boy.
When he embraced Aeneas he hung
from his neck and filled him with feigned love.
Then he sought the queen. Her eyes, her whole heart
fixed on the boy, and all the while Dido
fondled him in her lap, oblivious to how mighty
a god plotted against her. But he, minding his mother,
began little by little to erase Sychaeus from her heart,
and sought to surpass with living love
her long-sluggish thoughts and unused feelings.
After that came the first lull in the feasting.
They took away the tables and set up great
mixing bowls loaded with wine.
There was an uproar, and voices rolled through
the great hall. Lamps hung down from
the gold-paneled ceiling and flames
overcame the night.
The queen reached for a golden goblet,
heavy with jewels, and filled it
with strong wine, as Belus and his descendants
had done; then she called for quiet.
"Jupiter, you who set the rules for hospitality,
make this a happy day for Trojan exiles
and Tyrians alike, one that will be remembered
by all our children someday.
Let Bacchus, giver of delight, and gracious Juno
bless this gathering. And you, Phoenicians--
As she said this she poured out an offering
on the table. Then she took a sip of the wine
herself. Then, making a challenge, she passed it
to Bitias--he drained it eagerly, dunking
his face into the full gold cup.
Other lords did the same.
And wretched Dido, drinking deep
of love, dragged out the night with
all kinds of talk, asking many things
about Priam, much about Hector.
What kind of arms had Memnon
worn to Troy? What sort of horses
did Diomedes have? How great was Achilles?
"Indeed," she said, "tell us from the beginning,
guest--the Greeks' treacheries, the fall of your people,
your wanderings since; it's been seven summers
now that your journey has carried you
through all lands, all waters."

--end Book 1--

David Hadbawnik is a poet and performer currently living with his wife in Buffalo, NY. In 2011, he edited Jack Spicer's Beowulf for the CUNY Lost and Found Document series (with Sean Reynolds), and published Field Work (BlazeVOX Books). Other publications include the books Translations From Creeley (Sardines, 2008), Ovid in Exile (Interbirth, 2007), and SF Spleen (Skanky Possum, 2006). He is the editor and publisher of Habenicht Press and the journal kadar koli. He began studying towards his PhD in poetics at SUNY Buffalo in fall 2008, where he directs the Buffalo Poets Theater.