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Virgil, Aen. 6. 304

  • R. D. Williams (a1)

In his note on Hesiod, WD 705 M. L. West tentatively suggests adeo for deo, saying rightly that ‘Charon is not a god in the literary tradition generally or in Virgil's scheme’ (see now Austin ad loc.). Palaeographically nothing could be more attractive than this emendation. But for all Virgil's fondness for adeo (see my note on Aen. 3. 203, Fordyce on 7. 427) he (like other authors) does not use it in this intensifying sense with adjectives other than those indicating number (Aen. 3. 203, 7. 629, Geo. 3. 242), nor does he ever use it later than the second foot (3 times out of 31, the other 28 being in the first foot).

The difficulty which West is combating is a very real one, but it is not solved by the removal of deo. Virgil's dilemma was that the old ferryman must be as timeless as all the other members of Pluto's establishment, and to achieve this object of portraying an unchanging picture of the machinery of the underworld he has elevated Charon to the rank of dues. In Olympus the gods are frozen at the point suitable for the anthropomorphic vision of them: Cupid is always a boy, Apollo young and handsome, Neptune older and more austere. Similarly Charon is frozen just as he has reached (iam senior) vigorous old age. He may not be, indeed is not, a real god, but he is a necessary part of the world of the gods and so must share their agelessness.

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The Classical Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0009-8388
  • EISSN: 1471-6844
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