… I was forced to memorize the wanderings of some Aeneas or other, while I had no sense of my own wanderings; and to bewail the death of Dido, because she “died for love,” when all the time I endured dry-eyed the utter misery of myself dying away from you, God, my life.— Saint Augustine, Confessions 1.20
Virgil’s Aeneid is an epic poem written between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who traveled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans and founder of Rome. According to Ronin’s footnote, “in book 4, the Carthaginian queen Dido commits suicide when abandoned by her lover, Aeneas.”
Augustine notes how his response to both stories reveals something ominous about himself. How is it that the death of Dido evoked visceral emotions in him, yet his own death did not? Dido at least died for love, but Augustine was dying because of indifference. Dido killed herself because she loved Aeneas, Christ was killed by those he loved, and Augustine was killing himself for not loving the one who loved him.
I sense in Augustine a self-awareness that is so lacking in many of us. We are brought to tears by many stories without allowing fiction to do its work in us. How many times have we cheered for the humble guy yet we remain arrogant. How many times have we cheered for the heroes yet we remain villains? How many times have we desired good to win yet we remain evil? Moreover, a little less to Augustine’s point but still related: how many times have we been brought to tears by seeing self-sacrifice on the big screen or in our books, yet when we hear the story of the cross we remain dry-eyed and indifferent? We mourn the death all around us without ever mourning the death happening within us.
Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!
Lord, may I weep for the decay that occurs in me when I am far from you, that I may return to you to be brought to life again.
Note: These are my daily reflections as I go through Saint Agustine's Confessions. Unless otherwise noted, I am using Sarah Ruden's translation of the original text, and the NIV.