December 22nd, 2009

breaking bad

Lavinia

I am reading Lavina by Ursula Le Guin. It is a retelling of the last half of the Aeneid, from the point of view of the young Latin princess that Aeneas marries prior to the founding of Rome. It is set in Bronze Age Italy, in a country of competing tribal groups: the Latins, the Etruscans, some Greek settlements. Lavinia has visions of the dying Virgil - a man of her far technological future - and she feels, truly or not, that she and Aeneas have life as characters within his poem, a vision she can't share with her companions.

The biggest interest for me is the portrayal of her early Indo-European culture, the rustic and earthy precursors to the sophisticated religious and civic institutions of Rome. We hear a few words of pre-Latin for example. The beliefs and rituals emerge from the business of everyday life, which we can extrapolate onto urban Roman culture, and onwards to European culture in general. Le Guin does not minimise the martial and patriarchal nature of the precursor society. It reminds me of the Ancient Greek stories of Mary Renault.

Here is part of a discussion Lavinia has with the spirit of Virgil, when he explains that Juno opposed Aeneas because he was the protegee of Venus.
I pondered this. A woman has her Juno, just as a man has his Genius: they are the names for the sacred power, the divine spark we each of us have in us. My Juno can't 'get into' me, it is already my deepest self. The poet was speaking of Juno as if it were a person, a woman, with likes and dislikes: a jealous woman.
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