By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tears of Things

Portion of the legendary walls of Troy (VII), ...
Portion of the legendary walls of Troy (VII), identified as the site of the Trojan War (ca. 1200 BC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the Aeneid of Vergil, there is a famous line that has rightfully earned its way into the English language:
sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt (Aeneid 1.462). 
I like the translation by the late Robert Fagles
"The world is a world of tears, and the burdens of mortality touch the heart" (link).

Here is the context. Aeneas is a refugee from his destroyed native city of Troy. He is on the run with other Trojan refugees under his leadership. A storm pushes them onto the shores of North Africa; and they come to Carthage, the city of Queen Dido. There they find a temple to Juno in which there are depictions of scenes from the very Trojan War that Aeneas experienced firsthand. He looks at these scenes and weeps. 

The reaction is not simply sad, but is bittersweet. Aeneas recognizes that the fame of Troy continues in unexpected places. Trojan greatness and tragedy have, at least, not been forgotten.

Yes, tears of things. Some tears are expressed, some are not expressed. We are moved to tears, hidden or overt, when we see the trials and sufferings of those close to us or even of strangers. Yet, in this complex world, there is also a gift of tears: we are moved by the beauty, depth, and complexity of a world full of overwhelming beauty and order. Like all else in Vergil, the reality is complex; and in that complexity and in the graceful, delicate expression of that complexity by the artist, there is even more beauty added to the world.

(A book I recommend on this topic is Virgil: Father of the West by Theodor Haecker, published in English in 1934. It is not easy to find, but worth looking for through your local library. See an apparent excerpt here.)

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